In Alma 53, a group of men desire to enlist in the Nephite army, but Helaman forbids them to do so, telling them they will lose their souls if they participate in the battle. But then another group of men steps forward to enlist, and they are welcomed into the army and even blessed by God with miraculous protection.
How can this be? How can the same exact actions be wrong for some people and OK for others? Don’t we all serve the same God?
The answer lies in understanding that although there are some actions that are equally wrong for all and some that are equally required for all, there are other actions that need to be viewed within the context of a person’s own individual relationship with God.
For example, in the story above, the first group of men are the converted Lamanites — known as the people of Ammon (originally called Anti-Nephi-Lehies) — who were so repentant for killing people prior to their conversion that they made a promise to God that they would never again take up arms against other people. They even went as far as burying their weapons in the ground to seal their promise with God. Clearly, for these men to enlist in the army would mean they were breaking their promise to God.
On the other hand, the people of Ammon “had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies” (verse 16). Since these young men had not been involved in the same promise to God (they were children or not even born when the promise was made), it is perfectly OK for them to enlist in the army, and God blesses them for doing so.
This same example applies to us today. If you make a promise to God that you will refrain from a certain activity, then clearly it would be sinful for you to engage in that activity. However, depending on the activity, it may not be sinful for me to engage in it.
For example, suppose you’re obsessed with football — it’s always on your mind, you follow the scores during Church services, etc. Finally, you see that this obsession is interfering with your service to God, so you promise God that you won’t watch football anymore. For you, this is an admirable step to improve your personal relationship with God. However, should you now start telling others that watching football is sinful? No, this is a case where something can be wrong for you but OK for me.
The same concept can apply in the opposite direction. For example, suppose God puts it on your heart that you need to focus on helping homeless people. This is obviously an admirable thing to do, an activity encouraged by the Word of God. However, should you now start telling your brothers and sisters in Christ that they are not serving God as they should be if they are not as focused on the homeless as you are? No, He placed it on your heart to do this, so it would be wrong for you to not be fully engaged in that activity, but it might be OK for me to not be as involved, especially if God has directed me to focus on some other activities. God gives different assignments to His various servants so that all of the work of God can be accomplished.
The point here is not that there is no standard of behavior that applies to all of us. Clearly there is — as defined by the Word of God. However, there are also many activities where the rightness or wrongness may well differ from one person to another, depending on each person’s individual relationship with God.
When it comes to these types of things, let’s not get caught up in judging each other. Instead, focus on your own service to God and what He wants you to be doing (or not doing), making sure that any “personalized direction” is consistent with the Word of God. And trust that your fellow servants of God are doing the same — even when their personalized direction differs from your own.
A person’s desire to please God and what’s in their heart are what’s important, not whether their behavior matches yours in every way. Remember that certain activities may well be required for you but not for me while other activities may be wrong for you but OK for me.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.