Personal Responsibility and Free Agency

Church leaders often talk about how the world is drifting one way and the Church is staying a steady course. The gulf that separates the two will only get wider and wider, and I would not be surprised that that gulf will eventually bring the day that the terms Mormon and LDS become, once again, a hiss and a by-word. In fact, judging by the protests outside several temples over the last few days, that day has arrived for some.

There are a great many people who stand up for the Church, and they have my thanks. But as the gulf expands and the Church continues to maintain that course, the day will come when many supporters both in and out of the Church will be too firmly planted on both sides of the divide to stand and maintain their foundation. They will make the choice then whether the sacrifice is worthy of the reward. That is their choice, and the consequences for good or bad, are their own.

Discussing free agency often makes me laugh. The only people who consistently cry “free agency” are, in general, the same who use that same cry to justify their right to go against the will of God. Free agency, while an intrinsic and essential part of the gospel (I’d go as far as to call it one of the most fundamental principles), is only brought to the forefront when used as an excuse to “live my own life” or “make my own choices.” Those with a testimony of the Gospel and a correct understanding of free agency understand that, at its core, free agency correctly exercised involves making choices as directed by divine revelation, spiritual promptings, and inspired leadership. Our free agency is more a matter of choosing between God’s will and Man’s will rather than total freedom to live as one wants. After all, with all choices, good or bad, come consequences, and the determining factor between the consequences will not be the choice made as much as the course chosen. Choosing God’s will, no matter what that may be, leads to salvation. Choosing Man’s will, no matter what that may be, does not.

This Sunday, I am teaching the lesson in Elders Quorum as part of Ward Conference. I’ve been pondering deeply what should be taught for almost four months now. Recently, the idea of personal responsibility and free agency came to me. It seems a timely topic. I think the quorum needs to understand that the time of standing on the fence is coming to a rapid close, and we won’t have the time or opportunity to make the choice of side then. If we haven’t made our choice before then, it won’t really matter because the gulf will be too wide, the friends left behind too great in number, and the “embarrassment” of standing for Christ too large.

Our agency is our own to do with as we please. To choose for Christ, or not. But with each choice comes our personal responsibility to accept the associated consequences. Moreover, we maintain the personal responsibility of our own testimonies, our own ability to listen to the Spirit and accept divine counsel, and our own willingness to follow inspired leadership no matter the voices that gather against us. As my current stake president said not long ago:

“Remember this: If God is for us, truly who can be against us, and does it really matter if they are?”

Choose to stand, choose to stand today, and do it with courage.

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4 Responses to Personal Responsibility and Free Agency

  1. Matthew Andreasen says:

    Discussions about agency, particularly on the blogs lately, make me laugh too – unfortunately it’s usually in a stunned, out-of-body-experience, numb sort of way.

    McConkie called the Creation, Fall, and Atonement [events] the 3 pillars of eternity. I believe that agency is so fundamental to the gospel that I think of the 3 pillars of eternity [principles] as Justice, Agency, and Mercy. (It could also be stated as Justice, Accountability, and Mercy, because I think Agency and Accountability are so linked, that they are almost synonymous principles in the actual LDS view.)

    To me, Agency describes both the freedom to act for ourselves and the reason we are legally bound to the consequences of our actions. It is the legal foundation upon which accountability rests.

    I would tend to stay away from the non-scriptural term “free agency” since it seems to muddy the waters. When we talk about agency, we often focus on the first part of agency as I defined it, the ability (or freedom) to act for ourselves. Some completely miss the second part of agency wherein we are bound by law and justice to the consequences of our actions. Being bound by the law sounds like captivity, not freedom, and many do not want to acknowledge that aspect of agency. (Lucifer tried to deny it in the pre-mortal existence, and tried to deny that consequences existed in the Garden of Eden: “You shall not surely die”).

    I believe that the primary reason for agency in God’s plan is not so much to allow us to do whatever we want, but to make us accountable as this is absolutely required by His plan. If we do evil, we will justly be damned, but if we follow Him, we can attain Eternal Life:

    2 Nephi 2
    26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
    27 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.

    The Fall and personal sin condemn all mankind to Death (Justice). Jesus made Eternal Life possible through the Atonement (Mercy). Agency (the right for mankind to act for themselves, see v.26), allows the plan to work. Agency and Accountability allow us to make the real, big choice–Eternal Life or Death (see v.27).

  2. daveloveless says:

    Excellent comments. Thank you for your additions.

  3. Matthew Andreasen says:

    How did your Elders Quorum lesson go?

  4. daveloveless says:

    I think it went rather well. I decided to make cookies for the lesson, so I brought in a microwave and made no-bake cookies. I compared the recipe I was using to the commandments and our own personal responsibilities with each ingredient representing an essential piece to the cookie as a whole.

    To help carry the point, I replaced the sugar with salt (two full cups) and then offered the cookies to some elders. I had a change of heart right when they went to bite in to them and told them it was salt.

    The main idea of the salt was that the cookie looked like a cookie and smelled like a cookie, but it did not taste like one. We are much the same when we choose to live our lives in only partial obedience to the commandments.

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