Preserving our Moral Agency

Abide ye in the liberty wherewith ye are made free; entangle not yourselves in sin, but let your hands be clean, until the Lord comes

Doctrine & Covenants 88:86

In recent years, we have seen far less use of the term “free agency” in the Church. The reason, roughly stated, is that the phrase reflects questionable doctrine. Even though God as given us the freedom to make choices, we are not free from the consequences of those choices. As I’ve told my children for years, when you make a decision to act, you pick up both ends of the stick: The action and the consequences. Thus, we now hear more about “moral” agency than “free” agency.

That certainly is more consistent with our understanding of our Heavenly Father’s Plan. At the core of our doctrine is the idea that God sent us to earth to allow us to make moral choices and to become more like Him. On the other end of the spectrum, Satan is the eternal enemy of agency. He would see us be slaves. Thus, it is not surprising that many of Satan’s most powerful temptations lead us to sins that can destroy our ability to exercise our agency. The adversary abhors agency and is sworn to destroy it.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are counseled to “abide” in liberty, and not become “entangled” in sin. The message, I think is clear: How we use our moral agency today can determine how much agency we have tomorrow.

Consider our modern “age of addiction.” Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, gambling, and pornography all have the effect of weakening our wills and dictating our conduct so that we act out of compulsive need rather than moral choice. The same is true of addictions that are not necessarily thought of as sinful, such as food (I have been known to willfully hand my moral agency to Hostess and Nabisco), gaming, or social media. Anything that can lead us to acting because we have to instead of because we want to, is destructive of our agency. We become literally entangled in the weeds of addiction.

We also can surrender our agency through sins that are not typically addictive. Any time that we make a decision against the counsel of God, we distance ourselves from the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. With diminished light comes poorer vision and an inability to see things as they really are. When our vision and understanding are compromised, we cannot intelligently exercise our agency. We find our direction dictated more by chance than choice.

We can even compromise our agency by not taking care of our physical bodies. I was counseled once that there is no more difficult time to resist temptation than when you are tired. Exhaustion, illness, even depression weaken our resolve and our ability to do good. None of us can avoid such conditions completely, but taking steps to care for our physical bodies can help strengthen our spirits as well. I know from experience how hard it is to think through options or make good choices when illness has reduced you to something unable to act, but only to be acted upon. If we can avoid such challenges, we should try to do so.

Ultimately, how we use our moral agency will determine the degree to which we are able to continue to use it. This is what is meant by the truth making us “free.” Wrong conduct in the name of “freedom” is not liberating. Only through proper use of the divine gift of choice can we abide in liberty.

Yes, moral agency allows you to choose what you will, but you cannot control the outcome of those choices. Unlike the false creations of man, our Father in Heaven determines the consequences of your choices. Obedience will yield happiness, while violation of His commandments will not.

Richard G. Scott

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