From a talk I gave a few years ago:
Tis one thing to be tempted . . . another thing to fall." So says Lord Angelo in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure wherein we learn the fate of one seeking worldly power and glory. In short, Claudio is arrested by Lord Angelo, temproary leader of Vienna. Angelo is strict, moralistic and unwavering in his decision-making; he decides there is too much freedom in Vienna and takes it upon himself to rid the city of [immoral activity]. Laws against such already exist, Angelo is simply enforing them more stricktly. And so Claudio is tried as an example to the rest of the city. Now, he was correctly accused, however, the way in which Lord Angelo proceeded was all for the seeking of honors unto himself.
This sounds all too familiar when we go to Doctrine & Covenants 29:36-39,
And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the ghosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;
And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels;
And, behold, there is a place prepared for them from the beginning, which place is hell.
And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet—
The War in Heaven
This battle in heaven gave us the opportunity to make a choice, to be agents unto ourselves. In Doctine & Covenants 58:27-28 we read, "Verily I say, men should be aanxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward."
How do we obtain this gift of agency? Only through Heavenly Father's plan as well as the choice of our Savior, Jesus Christ, "But, behold , my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever (Moses 4:2)." "He died to make men holy, " now it is up to us to "live to make men free" (Battle Hymn of Republic).
How do we do this, how do we "make men free?" Elder Teixeira stated in General Conference, April 2009, "One gift that will help us navigate our lives is the gift He has given to all, the ability and power to choose. Our choices have the undeniable power of transforming our lives." Our choices are the key to making us truly free, spiritually and temporally.
Liberty vs. Captivity
Recently in Sunday School the teacher asked us, "What would you teach your children as your last sermon before you die?" There are several accounts thoughout scripture that show us the dying words of a father. In 2 Nephi 2 we read a beautiful sermon, probably my favorite of all scriptures. Herein we find Lehi's dying words to his son Jacob.
We first learn that "Men are instructed to know good and evil (v.5). Without sorrow we wouldn't know happiness, without pain we wouldn't know true joy. However, I find it interesting that there are two ultimate choices here. "And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death and power of the devil . . . (v. 27)." Two choices: Liberty and Eternal Life or Captivity and Death.
Reading this made me wonder what it would feel like to choose one or the other. What would it be like to experience "captivity"? Well, couple of years ago I got two speeding tickets in one year. One consequence option was to pay the full amount of the ticket to get it off my record. One gliche. If I happened to get another ticket in the next year both tickets would go back on my record. And so for a year, I was on probation of sorts. Any time I drove by or even saw a police car I would slow WAY down, I'd get all nervous and my heart would start beating really fast! That's about as close as I could think of getting to "captivity and death." There are choices we make in life that lead to such consequences.
However, we learn from the scriptures the opposite feelings as we make choices that lead to eternal life and liberty. As the people of King Benjamin listened to his words, they were "filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come . . . (Mosiah 4:3)." And I love the words from John 16:22, "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." No joy taken from you! Now, that is liberty!
We must be cautious. Elder Hales states, "[The Adversary] does lie at our door . . . Every decision we make we are either choosing to move in his direction or in the direction of the Savior." In other words, closer to captivity or closer to eternal life. And yet, we must also remember what Brigham Young taught us, "The Lord has given us the ability to overcome evil and cleave to the good." We are agents unto ourselves. We have all the power to choose. Going back to Lehi's final words, we have the choice to "act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon, save it be by the law at the great adn last day (2 Ne. 2:26)."
Act Not be Acted Upon
What does this mean? Elder Hales tells us, "We must avoid being acted upon by acting for ourselves to avoid evil." We give up our freedom to choose and are acted upon when we give in to the temptations of the adversary. For example, am I choosing to live in misery and captivity because of the demands placed upon me by others (i.e. children, spouse, callings, etc.) or by my own negative thoughts regarding these sacred responsibilities? OR am I choosing liberty and eternal life by freely choosing to serve and be "anxiously engaged in a good cause" because I want to become more like the Savior in this life so I can live with Him in the next?
Another example: Am I allowing myself to be acted upon by media, others around me, my boss, and the half truths of the adversary in decided what I think, what I do, how I feel and ultimately who I am? OR am I choosing freely to esteem God and obedience to His commandments above all others to determine my actions and feelings of self-worth?
In 2 Nephi 2:25 we are told, again from Lehi, "Men are that they might have joy." I love what Elder Hales has said regarding this scripture, "Sometimes we forget that our Heavenly Father desires that each of us have this joy." Sometimes we think, "Who am I to be happy when I have all these many faults and weaknesses?" And yet we must remember to whom we look for that true joy and happiness. It is through the "mercy of the Messiah" (2:8) and God's "matchless power" (Mos. 4:6-7) that we find joy.
In conclusion, Elder Hales has said, "How we choose to feel, and think, and act every day is the way we get on the path, and stay on it, until we reach our eternal destination." We must exercise our agency, this amazing and powerful gift, in righteousness. We must answer as the Savior answered in the first of many wars: "Thy will be done." Only then do we experience that peace of conscience, that true freedom, that joy that cannot be taken away. "Our use of agency determines who we are and what we will be. . . . As we use our agency to follow [the Savior], His light will grow within us brighter and brighter until that perfect day." "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty( 2 Cor. 3:17)."