One of the more frequently quoted yet misunderstood passages of the Book of Mormon is found in Alma 34:3234, where Amulek declares that this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. . . . Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
Critics have suggested that these verses contradict the LDS belief in preaching the gospel to the dead, since Amulek says that "there can be no labor performed" after death. But his words were addressed to the Zoramites, who had dissented from the Nephite religion and had already "received so many witnesses" (Alma 34:30). Unlike those who die without having heard the gospel (see D&C 138:3234), the Zoramites had heard and accepted the gospel but then had rejected it. Amulek was calling upon them to repent and return to the fold lest they die in their sins, thereby placing their souls in eternal jeopardy (see Mosiah 2:33; D&C 76:3138).
Another misreading of the passage has led some people to believe that the "same spirit" (Alma 34:34) refers to a person's own spirit, which they suppose cannot change after death. Occasionally, some have suggested that this means that a smoker, for example, will still have a craving for tobacco after he dies, but that his spirit will not be able to satisfy this craving. However, a careful reading of the next verse shows what Amulek meant. Speaking to these people who had already been members of the church, he declared:
[I]f ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:35)
From this it is clear that the "same spirit" that possesses the wicked person and will continue to possess him in the hereafter is the devil, not the individual's spirit. Those who do the devil's will and refuse to repent will come under his power both in this world and the world to come. This is particularly true of those who have already entered into the covenant by being baptized.
King Benjamin taught this same principle to his people assembled at the temple in Zarahemla:
[I]f ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom's paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preservedI say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness. . . . Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, . . . mercy hath no claim on that man. (Mosiah 2:3639)
By John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew P. Roper