In a devotional to BYU-Idaho students in May 2016, licensed counselor Reed Hendricks said overcoming the natural man “is hand-to-hand combat that will stretch us to our very limits.”
At some point in our lives, it is likely we have felt this way. Whether we are trying to overcome an addiction, facing the consequences of sin, or simply weighed down with our weaknesses, putting off the “enemy to God” can feel both exhausting and impossible.
No matter what stage you are in, here are some ideas to help you stay in the fight and get through another round.
Have a Consuming Desire to Do Better
In the Book of Mormon, Alma teaches us that everything begins with desire. We can let our good desires work within us until we have the strength to act. If you are fighting the natural man, ask yourself: is the largest desire of your heart to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ?
If not, try to educate your desires. Examine what you want most and how much energy you spend trying to get there. Are the desires worthy of your time right now? Can these desires lead you closer to God? Do you sacrifice time with God for things of the world?
Desire is a powerful thing; if we begin our fight with the natural man with a true desire to come off conquerors, then our motivations will be pure and our likelihood of success will be greater.
Increase Acts of Faith & Obedience
We cannot change without God’s help. It is only through him that our nature can be transformed. By showing our faith through obedience, we gain access to God’s power and promised blessings. Many times, when we fall short or sin, we believe we should give up. Satan tells us there is no point in trying. First and foremost, we need to have faith that there is always a reason to try again. No matter what happens, make the decision to try again tomorrow.
We cannot simply just rid our lives of darkness. We must add light. Keeping the commandments allows us to add light into our lives, drop by drop. You may think your efforts are too small to make a difference, but God is able to take any act of faith on our part and magnify it for our good. So, don’t give up. Don’t stop trying to stare the natural man down with a faithful attitude and determination.
Bridle Your Passions
The natural man has a voracious appetite. Yet, no matter how we try to satisfy it, the hunger will always remain. When we feed the flames, they’ll only grow higher. We are filled with many natural passions and desires. This can include physical passions, including sex and substances, to emotional passions, craving attention, power, or glory. The Lord would have us be temperate and find balance in all things.
The Lord also wants us to exercise self-control. In the scriptures, we are directed to “bridle all your passions.” To bridle something means we are bringing that thing under control. We can bridle our passions by setting up safeguards to avoid situations that may tempt us, asking for help, and consistently be trying to build good habits in our lives.
Avoid Selfishness & Focus on Service
Elder Neal A. Maxwell labeled selfishness as the primary characteristic of the “burdensome natural man.” He said, “Thus, in all its various expressions, selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion!”
The natural man is preoccupied with how it can best be satisfied. It is only concerned with its own needs and wants. The best way to overcome selfishness is to serve. We can pray for others, fulfill our callings, do our home and visiting teaching, and think more about what we can give in a relationship rather than what we can get. This can be hard to do when the pain we feel from the natural man is consuming us. We can find strength in knowing that Jesus Christ is our perfect example of turning out to others and that he can help us.
Understand & Feel Your Eternal Purpose
When we know who we are and whose we are, we can find the motivation to move forward. It is a sure foundation to build upon. Not only do we need to know that we are children of God with eternal potential, but we also need to feel it.
There are many ways to gain a better testimony of your divine nature. It comes through prayer, patriarchal blessings, temple visits, and, as Brother Hendricks said, “experiences in our lives that we see have been minutely choreographed by our Father in Heaven and could have happened no other way.”
Be Patient With Yourself
Overcoming the natural man is a lifelong process. Winning the fight doesn’t happen easily. Be patient with yourself as you struggle. God sees the road we are on and is focused on how he can help us get there. We will stumble. We will stumble a lot! Time is one of the most precious things God has given us, and if we waste it on berating and belittling ourselves, we lose so many chances to improve and grow.
Feel godly sorrow. Recognize guilt for sin. Examine your weaknesses and know what you need to improve on. But never let that stop you from moving towards your eternal goals in faith.
Let Christ Carry You
At the end of the day, even if we have given as much as we can, we still need the grace of Christ to carry us through. We should let him! The natural man wants to succeed alone, keep pain hidden, and rely on no one. This goes against the very Atonement Christ made for us. We will fail without him. We should vulnerably reach out, again and again, until that perfect day when we are reunited to with that God who gave us life. This act of humility and faith will be the ultimate final blow to the natural man dwelling inside of us.