Yesterday in gospel principles class in church we talked about agency, the freedom to makes choices, a gift we’ve all been given by God. This is a gift we had in the pre-existence as well.
Agency is the same principle over which the war in heaven was fought, and a major principle over which wars are fought today. The book of Moses explains how during the war in heaven Satan rebelled, sought to dethrone God and eliminate man’s ability to make choices, and to instead force them to follow and worship him:
“Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:3-4)
I’ve always thought it very ironic that in the pre-existence Satan used his agency to attempt to destroy the agency of others. We know he was successful in doing this to many of God’s children, as the Doctrine & Covenants tell us that because of Satan’s rebellion against God, “a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from [God] because of their agency”. This third lost their right to receive a physical body and lost the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of eternal life.
Because we are here, we know that the rest of us made the right choice in following God’s plan of salvation. Our choice guaranteed that we would receive a physical body and required that we come to Earth and be tested again, whether we would choose to follow Christ or whether we would allow Satan to deceive and overcome us.
We read part of 2 Nephi chapter 2, which explains that the only way for us to truly be tested and for righteousness to exist, is that there must be “opposition in all things”. Without opposition, “…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad”. And so it is for us in this life that we must experience trials, hardship and temptations.
Verse 16 has an interesting phrase, which says God gave us the ability to act for ourselves, and that “man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other”, meaning enticed by good or by evil.
One person in the class a made the point that the word “enticed” in this verse is important because tempation can be enticing to the physical body and carnal mind. If it wasn’t enticing no one would sin and it wouldn’t really be a difficult choice to not sin. On the other hand following God’s commandments is enticing to the spirit because of the power of the Holy Ghost and the promise of blessings and eternal life if we are faithful.
We read about how we can discern which potential choices are good and which aren’t:
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. (Moroni 7:17)
We talked about how certain actions can limit our choices. One member of the class is a nurse and talked about working in the hospital and seeing people who were addicted to smoking and now required breathing machines, and how they lost their ability to choose to smoke or not smoke because of their addiction. We talked about other addictions and how they enslave and and limit one’s ability to choose. We also discussed how avoiding those types of addictions, following God’s commandments opens up more choices for us, and how making good choices strengthens us to be able to make more good choices. One example was how choosing to learn a skill or get an education can open up more options for a career.
We read a few more scriptures, one in the book of Alma that tells us the way to be sure we always make good choices is to “watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit…” Another scripture in 2 Nephi explains it is ultimately up to us whether we are free or in bondage in the eternities:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty 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)
At the end of the class we read this quote, which a friend of mine recently showed me and which I feel sums up the great consequence of our choices:
“Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character—and our character will determine our eternal destiny.”
–Ezra Taft Benson
I know that our freedom to choose is a gift from God, and that we really can determine our own eternal destiny by the choices we make. These choices always begin with our desires and our thoughts. God’s way is not to force or manipulate, he lets us choose for ourselves. He uses love, kindness, encouragement and gentleness to persuade us to do good and to choose to follow Christ. When we choose to follow Christ in the big and small things in our life, we become strengthened, more able to do good and to help other people do good. Making right choices and following God’s commandments helps us become more like the Savior, makes us more free and will enable us to live with our Heavenly Father again and receive eternal life, through the atonement of Jesus Christ.