Selected Teachings on
The Carnal, Sensual, Devilish Nature of Man

"[T]he devil ... did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind
becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil."
~Mosiah 16:3

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Definitions of Carnal, Sensual, and Devilish

Carnal adj.  1. pertaining to or characterized by the passions and appetites of the flesh or body; sensual.    2. not spiritual; temporal; worldly. Refers to the physical rather than the rational or spiritual nature of human beings. CARNAL, although it may refer to any bodily need or urge, most often refers to sexuality. (adapted from Random House Webster's College Dictionary 1996)

Sensual adj.  1. arousing or preoccupied with gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal.    2. lacking in moral restraints.  3. worldly; materialistic; irreligious.  SENSUAL refers to the enjoyments derived from the senses, esp. to the gratification or indulgence of physical appetites: sensual pleasures. SENSUAL most often describes the arousal or gratification of erotic urges. See also carnal. (adapted from Random House Webster's College Dictionary 1996)

Devilish adj. 1. Partaking of the qualities of the devil; diabolical; very evil and mischievous; malicious; 2. Having communication with the devil; pertaining to the devil. 3. Excessive; enormous; in a vulgar and ludicrous sense; as a devilish cheat. (adapted from  American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828)

Bruce R. McConkie (Quorum of the Twelve)

After the fall of Adam, man became carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature; he became fallen man. (Moses 5:13; 6:49; Mosiah 16:1–4; Alma 42:10; D. & C. 20:20.) All accountable persons on earth inherit this fallen state, this probationary state, this state in which worldly things seem desirable to the carnal nature. Being in this state, ‘the natural man is an enemy to God,’ until he conforms to the great plan of redemption and is born again to righteousness. (Mosiah 3:19.) Thus all mankind would remain lost and fallen forever were it not for the atonement of our Lord. (Alma 42:4–14.) (Mormon Doctrine, p.267–68)


[CARNAL:] In this fallen state [all men] are subject to the lusts, passions, and appetites of the flesh. They are spiritually dead, having been cast out of the presence of the Lord; and thus "they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God." They are in a "carnal state" (Alma 41:10–11); they are of the world. Carnality connotes worldliness, sensuality, and inclination to gratify the flesh. (Mormon Doctrine, p.113)


[SENSUAL:] That which is sensual is carnal and base; it relates to the body rather than the Spirit. Thus sensuality embraces free indulgence in sensual, fleshly pleasures—lewdness, licentiousness, lasciviousness. Since the fall, men in their natural state have been carnal, sensual, and devilish. (Mormon Doctrine, p.702)


[DEVILISH:] Any persons over whom the devil has power, who subject themselves to him, who submit to his enticements (following the carnal and sensual allurements of the world), are devilish. (Mormon Doctrine, p.195)

Neal A. Maxwell (Quorum of the Twelve)

There are those who, reading certain scriptural descriptions about the nature of man (such as that man is "carnal, sensual, and devilish," Alma 42:10) brush by these scriptures hurriedly, even nervously, because they feel so uncomfortable upon reading them....    There is a danger, however, in ignoring these scriptures and the profound message they contain.... Though these scriptural insights concerning the natural man may seem to put us sternly in our place, when they are combined with the fullness of the gospel, we are shown our immense possibilities and what we have the power to become. Are we not wiser to understand our fallen nature and then, with equal attention, to be taught about how we can be lifted up? Indeed, for one to ask "Where do we go from here?" he must know where "here" is! (Notwithstanding My Weakness, p. 70)

Jeffrey R. Holland (Quorum of the Twelve)

More extreme language than that of "natural man" or even "enemy to God" is Abinadi's pronouncement that as a result of the Fall and the increased influence of Satan in the fallen world, "all mankind [became] carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.

"Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.

"But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God." [Mosiah 16:3-5]

The brother of Jared made reference to that mortal alienation between man and God when he plaintively cried to the Lord, "O Lord, . . . do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually." [Ether 3:2]

Because this doctrine is so basic to the plan of salvation and also because it is so susceptible to misunderstanding, we must note that these references to "natural" evil emphatically do not mean that men and women are "inherently" evil. There is a crucial difference. As spiritual sons and daughters of God, all mortal men and women are divine in origin and divine in their potential destiny. As Doctrine and Covenants 93:38-39 teaches, the spirit of every man, woman, and child "was innocent in the beginning." But it is also true that as a result of the Fall they are now in a "natural" (fallen) world where the devil "taketh away light" and where some elements of nature—including temporal human nature—need discipline, restraint, and refinement. It is as if men and women are given, as part of their next step in development along the path to godhood, raw physical and spiritual ingredients—"natural" resources, if you will. Those resources are not to run rampant but are to be harnessed and focused so that their power and potential (as is sometimes done with a "natural" river or a "natural" waterfall) can be channeled and thereby made even more productive and beneficial.

Natural man, with all of his new and wonderful but as yet unbridled and unregenerated potential, must be made "submissive" to the Holy Spirit, a spirit that still entices and lifts us upward. The brother of Jared acknowledged the inherent goodness of the soul when he said that our mortal transgressions and temporal natures can be overcome when we call upon God and from him "receive according to our desires." Our deepest desires, our premortal yearnings, are still divine in their origins, and they are still deep in our souls. The echoes of our earlier innocence still reverberate, and the light that forsakes the evil one still shines. Our hearts can—and in their purity, do—desire that which is spiritual and holy rather than that which is "carnal, sensual, and devilish." If that were not so, we would be in a hopeless condition indeed, and the idea of real choice would be jeopardized forever. We praise God our Father that our true heritage is of him and that by yielding and submitting to his eternal influence we can overcome the enmity which separated us from him and turn those gifts from nature to our blessing rather than our cursing. (Christ and the New Covenant,  p.207)

David A. Bednar (Quorum of the Seventy)

An essential part of the test of mortality is having and properly using a physical body. Please listen carefully to the following statement by President Brigham Young:

... The spirit that the Lord puts into a tabernacle of flesh, is under the dictation of the Lord Almighty; but the spirit and body are united in order that the spirit may have a tabernacle, and be exalted; and the spirit is influenced by the body, and the body by the spirit.

In the first place the spirit is pure, and under the special control and influence of the Lord, but the body is of the earth, and is subject to the power of the Devil, and is under the mighty influence of that fallen nature that is of the earth. If the spirit yields to the body, the Devil then has power to overcome the body and spirit of that man, and he loses both.

Recollect, brethren and sisters, every one of you, that when evil is suggested to you, when it arises in your hearts, it is through the temporal organization ... [and] many, very many, let the spirit yield to the body, and are overcome and destroyed. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 69-70)

Now brothers and sisters, the statement of Brigham Young and these verses from 2 Nephi [vs. 26-29] must be studied thoroughly and pondered prayerfully. Neither the statement by President Young nor the scriptures we just read assert that the physical body is inherently evil. Rather, we live in a fallen world. The very elements out of which our bodies were created are by nature fallen and ever subject to the pull of sin, corruption, and death. Thus, the Fall of Adam and its consequences affect us most directly through our physical bodies. And yet as President Young stated, we are dual creatures, for at the same time that we inhabit a physical body that is subject to the Fall, we also have a spirit that represents the eternal part of us; we are the spirit sons and daughters of God and have inherited divine qualities from Him. The precise nature of the test of mortality, then, can be summarized in the following questions: Will my body rule over my spirit, or will my spirit rule over my body? Will I yield to the enticings of the natural man or to the eternal man? That, brothers and sisters, is the test. We are here on the earth to develop godlike qualities and to learn to bridle all of the passions of the flesh (Alma 38:12). (Ricks College Devotional, January 11, 2000)