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Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson Lesson 3: Freedom of Choice, an Eternal Principle

Freedom to Choose

Our Agency is Inviolate

We often hear people complain that no loving God would allow such cruelty in the world. That is Satan’s line to get us to hate God for the decision we made to follow our Father in Heaven, instead of Satan in the war in heaven. We chose the Lord’s plan of eternal progression, His plan of happiness, which includes freedom of choice, the ability to choose eternal joy or eternal damnation.

In order for our Heavenly Father/Christ to be able to judge us fairly on the choices we make in mortality, God has to take a hands-off approach. If He were to interfere with our choices then His judgments would not be just. The choices we make about how we behave have to be completely our decisions to make. So I can choose to be kind and loving or a complete barbarian to others, but it is my choice. I will personally answer for each and every choice I make. The Savior’s atonement will make up for all the mean things I do to others, but if I don’t repent of them, I will pay the price for what I have done. This is why God does not interfere in the acts of men. His own law of justice prevents it.

Only You Can Give Away Your Agency

The original debate over our right to make our own choices was between us having the right to choose, even if it meant eternal damnation, and giving up our right to choose with a guarantee that all of us would be saved, though at a lower level of glory. We chose the first option. Though there was war in heaven over that discussion, the war did not end there.

Here in mortality, Satan continues to try to get a hold of our agency. God won’t touch our agency. We are allowed to make our own decisions. He will never take our agency away from us. But we can, and often do, give it to Satan. Done enough times, our agency will belong to him. Only we can give up our agency to someone else.

My children, when they were teenagers, were habitual procrastinators. Trying to get them to make decisions was a herculean task. I finally told them that if they were not willing to make their own decisions, there were plenty of people in the world who would love to make those decisions for them. Those willing to make the decisions would benefit from being able to choose what had to be done by someone else. I told my children if they don't choose to go to college or get some kind of skill training, then someone else will decide how much money they make in life. Someone else will decide where they can live, what kind of car they drive, how much insurance they can have, and what happens to their children.

The same is true for me. When I choose to ignore or break a commandment, I limit my options and choose to give up a tiny part of my agency. All sin leads to some form of addiction or bondage. It is the very nature of sin. Sin, or the breaking of commandments weakens us and strips us of our use of agency. For example, if I choose to tell a lie, I have just cast a web of deceit. I am no longer free to tell the truth without an unpleasant consequence involved. But since I have told a lie, I now have to keep track of that lie so I remember who I told it to, and what the details were, so I don’t get caught. Now I have to lie to cover up the lie I just told. It becomes messy very quickly.

We tend to believe that when we sin there either won’t be a consequence or that the consequence is a long way off and perhaps won’t ever catch up to us. That is the lie Satan tells us. The truth is, each sin traps us in such a way that we are left morally weakened, and more vulnerable to Satan’s suggestions.

Choice Times Two

It is not uncommon in life that we have to make a choice more than one time. Agency is more than just a menu of choices. Agency does allow us to set the course and direction of our life toward a specific goal, but that is just the beginning. Once we have determined what we want to accomplish, we have to follow up our original decision with supporting decisions.

If I say that I want to be active in the Church, but then whFen Sunday morning rolls around I choose to stay in bed, I haven’t really chosen to be active in the Church. In order for my original choice to hold any weight, I have to be willing to follow it up with more choices that support my original decision. When that alarm goes off on Sunday morning, I need to choose to get up and get ready for church. This has to be repeated every week from that time onward.

There is power in making good choices. Just as we make ourselves weaker when we make unwise choices, we make ourselves stronger when we make good choices. The more we choose to do what is right, the more power and capacity we receive to continue on in that course of action. The day will come that we come to think and act like God and seek to be like him in all things. But our agency is all ours to exercise as we choose.

The opposite is also true - the more sin we commit, the less ability we have to resist that course of action. If pursued long enough, and with enough persistence, the day can come when we no longer have any ability to tell Satan “No.” This is the nature of all addictions. At that point we will have become his servants, with only his will to lead us. The choice is ours in the beginning. Only good use of our agency keeps it as our choice.

Agency as an Act of Discipline

Agency, as I stated before, is not just about a menu of choices. The purpose behind our agency is that we can use it to discipline ourselves to live within the laws of God. This is what it means to be justified before God. When the law has no hold on us, because we have kept the law, then we are free to move and make decisions freely. But we have to take control of our decision making. It has to be a conscious choice on our part to choose the good over the evil.

Conclusion

Agency is an easy concept to understand, but far more difficult to implement. Through practice and repentance we can learn to use our agency in a way that will give us strength to progress and become better people. Without agency, we could never hope to become like our Father in Heaven. Agency, as President Benson mentions in the lesson, is the golden thread that runs throughout the gospel plan.

Read President Ezra Taft Benson's teachings at lds.org.

Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.

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