“Not only do we ‘find’ ourselves in terms of acknowledging divine guidance in our lives, but the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others—indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!” Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Jul 1978, 3
"The important consideration is not how long we can live but how well we can learn the lesson of life, and discharge our duties and obligations to God and to one another. One of the main purposes of our existence is that we might conform to the image and likeness of him who sojourned in the flesh without blemish---immaculate, pure, and spotless! Christ came not only to atone for the sins of the world, but to set an example before all men and to establish the standard of God's perfection, of God's law, and of obedience to the Father" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 270).
"The parable of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-32] typifies the condition of too many of our fellow men, who mistakenly feel that squandering their inheritance in riotous living will bring them happiness. But it also portrays those who make another type of mistake---feeling that their righteousness makes them superior to their less-disciplined brethren. Both brothers in the parable desperately need the Lord to free them of their burdens. This is the message of the parable. "We learn from this parable that all of us, regardless of our status or condition, have an absolute need of the Lord's saving grace. We are all dependent on him for peace in this life and for eternal life" (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 33).
"Satan knows truth, but he has no intelligence, or he would yield obedience to that truth. Knowing the truth isn't the thing that saves us. I think that perhaps loving the truth is the only thing that can give one the capacity to avoid sin. The scripture doesn't say: 'If ye know me, you will keep my commandments,' but it says, 'If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments'" (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 104-105).
"One of the greatest benefits derived from meeting together is the experiencing of new and uplifting thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are not always those expressed by the speaker. Words do not convey thoughts---they only call up thought; but those who, while listening, experience new thoughts or noble feelings always derive one of the greatest blessings that come to those who meet together" (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 147).
“Those who are taught when they are young to love God and believe He lives will more often continue their spiritual development and increase their feelings of love as they mature. However, a child, even one raised with great love and care and carefully taught, may choose, when an adult, not to follow those teachings for a variety of reasons. How should we react? We understand and respect the principle of agency. We pray that life’s experiences will help them regain their desire and ability to live the gospel. They are still our children, and we will love and care about them always. We do not lock the doors of our house nor the doors to our heart.” Robert D. Hales, Ensign, Nov. 1993, 8
“Emerson once made this meaningful statement: ‘Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is to you.’ How true! What wise counsel! We cannot get away from ourselves. We must continue to live with ourselves, and what we do every day and how we respond to life determines the kind of YOU we are going to be and live with and how successful and happy we will be with the YOU we are.” N. Eldon Tanner, Ensign, Feb. 1976
"To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility. You ask, "How might we achieve these goals?" I answer, "By gaining a true perspective of who we really are!" We are sons and daughters of a living God, in whose image we have been created. Think of that: created in the image of God. We cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power." (Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, June 2010, p. 4).
What comes to your mind when you think of Independence Day?
Although I have a very strong testimony of the blessings of freedom as they pertain to our country, with today’s lesson I’m going to focus on an even greater freedom that we all have.
What do you feel when you hear the word “force?” In comparison, what do you feel when you hear the word “choice?”
I think that these feelings show that there is something within us that recognizes that freedom of choice is a divine gift, one that we should treasure and hold sacred.
President David O. McKay has written, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. … Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift to every normal being. … Everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency—man’s inherited and inalienable right.” (Improvement Era, Feb. 1962, p. 86.)
Hearing that quote makes me feel so thankful to Heavenly Father for giving us such a wonderful gift!
How would you complete this sentence? Agency is….. Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined it as: Agency is the ability and freedom to choose good or evil. Ability means being able. To be able we need to have enough power and knowledge to do something. In Elder McConkie’s definition, freedom means being able to make choices without being forced or coerced.
How would you feel if your freedom of choice was suddenly taken away and you were no longer allowed to choose what you did or didn’t do? Why would such a situation go against Heavenly Father’s plan?
Agency is a direct gift from God. Force, on the other hand, emanates from Lucifer himself. Satan is trying to keep us from individually achieving the great divine purposes for which we came to this earth, including the exercise of our free agency.
He can do it by destroying our freedom of choice, and he does this by enticing us to give up our right of free agency to other persons or to other institutions and allow them to make our choices for us, He also does it by trying to encourage us not to come to a knowledge of our Heavenly Father by not listening to the prophets, by not studying the scriptures, and therefore by not knowing the consequences of our choices. He says to us, “The scriptures are irrelevant today. They were written a long time ago. Don’t pay any attention to them. There are no such things as prophets upon the earth; they ceased at the time of Christ.” Or he says that the heavens are sealed; there is no revelation today. He even says that God is dead! Thus in one way or another he tries to entice us to become like him and to become subject to the misery and unhappiness that he now experiences.
Joseph Smith has said that if Heavenly Father or Satan forced us to do good or evil we would not have our agency. Listen to an account of what he said in a sermon on May 16, 1841: “He commenced his observations by remarking that the kindness of our Heavenly Father called for our heartfelt gratitude. He then observed that Satan was generally blamed for the evils which we did, but if he was the cause of all our wickedness, men could not be condemned. The devil could not compel mankind to do evil; all was voluntary. Those who resisted the Spirit of God, would be liable to be led into temptation, and then the association of heaven would be withdrawn from those who refused to be made partakers of such great glory. God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not” (History of the Church, 4:358).
Why can’t Satan make us do things we do not wish to do? Why won’t Heavenly Father force us to do things we don’t want to?
Although we have many choices to make during our mortal existence, our test in life is to choose good over evil, as 2 Nephi 2:27 shows: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to chooseliberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)
How do we choose liberty and eternal life? What is the key to retaining our free agency? How does obeying the commandments help preserve our freedom?
Our Father’s plan of happiness incorporates the exercise of agency, but it also, of necessity, incorporates accountability and judgment. With the gift of agency also comes the responsibility to use it correctly. After all, we can make our own choices, but we can’t choose the consequences.
The psychologist Erich Fromm called the wish to escape the consequences of one’s actions a desire to escape from freedom. For being free requires being responsible. The very word freedom connotes the ability to judge rationally between alternatives and the willingness to accept the consequences of one’s decisions.
God has paid us the ultimate compliment: He holds us responsible and respects us as free, rational beings. He has given us this freedom through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The concepts of individual freedom and personal responsibility are at the very center of the Atonement.
Note this great truth: once we have accepted responsibility for our own actions, the grace of God is extended to us. For freedom implies not only accountability but also the ability to repent, and repentance, grounded upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, brings sanctification and holiness—the ability to transcend the consequences of our actions and to be restored as children of our Father in Heaven.
Adherence to divine commandments will protect us from those consequences that are most damaging to our quest for sanctification and exaltation. If we abide strictly by the commands of our Heavenly Father, we may not necessarily be protected from adversity, but we will be protected from that which is most deadly—the weakening of our integrity, alienation from God, the surrender of our divine destiny as children of God, and the destruction of our soul. Consequently, when we disobey the commands of God and the counsels of the living prophets, we always pay a price. No rationalization, no excuse, no complaining will alter the consequences.
Some people think that when we obey the commandments we give up our freedom. Do you agree or disagree? Why? Why are we allowed to suffer the consequences of our actions? How would our mortal experience be diminished if God averted war, prevented crime, and destroyed poverty? How do we lose freedom by making bad choices? How do we gain freedom by making good choices? Why do you think the obedient are more at peace in this life?
“Obedience—that which God will never take by force—he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of—the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. Strangely enough, the key to freedom is obedience” (Obedience, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 7 Dec. 1971], pp. 3–4).
How is it different to obey God’s laws because of love rather than because of fear of punishment?
Just as following wrong alternatives restricts free agency and leads to slavery, so pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one’s agency and leads to perfect liberty. As a matter of fact, one may, by this process, obtain freedom of the soul while at the same time being denied political, economic, and personal liberty.
True liberty in individuals consists in the enjoying of every right that will contribute to one’s peace and happiness, so long as the exercise of such a privilege does not interfere with the same privilege in others. It consists not in doing what one likes to do, but in doing what one ought to do. It is the right of each individual to be master of his own time and actions consistent with fairness and justice to his fellow men and with harmony with the laws of God. … It is freedom of choice, a divine gift, an essential virtue in a peaceful society. Let’s keep in mind what it says in 2 Nephi 10:23: Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves- to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
I hope that we’ll all remember that Independence Day is not independent of God. It is because of His great gift to us that we are allowed such freedom. I pray that our hearts will be filled with gratitude today, and every day for the blessing of agency that He has given us.
There will be a Relief Society Temple Trip next Thursday, July 15th, for an 11:00 am session. You must call and make your own appointment with the Temple and call Rita by this Sunday if you'd like to carpool.
"Do you want to be happy? Forget yourself and get lost in this great cause. Lend your efforts to helping people. Cultivate a spirit of forgiveness in your heart against any who might have offended you. Look to the Lord and live and work to lift and serve His sons and daughters. You will come to know a happiness that you have never known before if you will do that" (The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 597).
“Agency, or the power to choose, was ours as spirit children of our Creator before the world was. (See Alma 13:3; Moses 4:4.) It is a gift from God, nearly as precious as life itself. “Often, however, agency is misunderstood. While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences of those choices. “We are free to take drugs or not. But once we choose to use a habit-forming drug, we are bound to the consequences of that choice. Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will!” Russell M. Nelson, “Addiction or Freedom,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 6
“Jesus spoke frequently of having hearts that could know and feel, ears that were capable of hearing, and eyes that could truly see… Each of us knows those who do not have sight. We also know many others who have their eyesight but who walk in darkness at noonday. These in this latter group may never carry the usual white cane and carefully make their way to the sound of the familiar ‘tap, tap, tap.’ They may not have a faithful seeing-eye dog by their side nor carry a sign about their neck which reads, ‘I am blind,’ but blind they surely are. Some have been blinded by anger, others by indifference, by revenge, by hate, by prejudice, by ignorance, by neglect of precious opportunities. Of such the Lord said, ‘Their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’ [Matt. 13:15]” Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, May 1999, 54
“Faith and knowledge without practice are of no value. All the knowledge in the world would not amount to anything unless we put that knowledge into actual practice.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 33
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