Two of my favorite verses of scripture are in the twenty-fourth Psalm:
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
If we refrain from evil acts, we have clean hands. If we refrain from forbidden thoughts, we have pure hearts. Those who would ascend and stand in the ultimate holy place must have both. What do these teachings about feelings and desires mean for each of us?
Are we sure to be guiltless under the law of God if we merely refrain from evil acts? What if we entertain evil thoughts and desires?
Will hateful feelings go unnoticed in the day of judgment? Will envy? Will covetousness?
Are we guiltless if we engage in business practices that are intended to deceive, even if they involve no act that is punishable by law?
Are we guiltless under the law of God just because the law of man provides no compensation for our victim?
Are we eligible for blessings if we seem to seek the things of God, such as by preaching or publishing the message of the gospel, but do so to obtain riches or honor rather than with an eye single to his glory?
Our answers to such questions illustrate what we might call the bad news, that we can sin without overt acts, merely by our feelings and the desires of our hearts.
There is also good news. Under the law of God, we can be rewarded for righteousness even where we are unable to perform the acts that are usually associated with such blessings.
The desires of our hearts will be an important consideration in the final judgment. Alma taught that God “granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; … according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction. Yea, … he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires.” (Alma 29:4–5.)
That is a sobering teaching, but it is also a gratifying one. It means that when we have done all that we can, our desires will carry us the rest of the way. It also means that if our desires are right, we can be forgiven for the mistakes we will inevitably make as we try to carry those desires into effect. What a comfort for our feelings of inadequacy! As Alma said:
“It is requisite with the justice of God that … if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. …
“If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.” (Alma 41:3, 5–6.)
via lds.org -> “The Desires of Our Hearts” Dallin H. Oaks June, 1986