'Free to choose liberty or captivity'
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Freedom comes through obedience, Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy and Commissioner of Church Education said during a campus devotional at BYU on Nov. 6.
"Agency is essential to our progress and ability to become like our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ," he said.
"Part of our earthly experience consists of being enticed by both good and evil and then learning how to choose good over evil. How could we become like the Savior if we did not have agency to make those choices?"
By using agency to choose the right, individuals begin to put on the divine nature — to pattern their lives after His. They find peace, happiness and freedom as they make right choices, Elder Johnson said.
"Satan will now deceive and blind men, and lead them captive at his will. If he is leading people captive, doesn't that sound like he is destroying agency? The fact is, he couldn't destroy agency in the pre-earth life and he can't do it now either. If he can't destroy agency then how could he lead us captive? He does it by enticing individuals to sin. When we sin we subject ourselves to him. We, in effect, give part of our agency to him. He can't take it from us, but we can relinquish it."
When individuals yield to temptation they become subject to the will of the devil, Elder Johnson said. "Even though he can't destroy or take away our agency by force we can give it up."
Satan's ultimate goal is to make each individual miserable like he is. Since he can't impose this misery, he has to find ways to convince individuals to choose it.
"It sounds more like 'Mission Impossible' — 'Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to convince people to choose misery over joy, bondage over freedom.' It just sounds ridiculous. And yet, by all observations, he has been fairly successful in the world at large. And to the degree we have chosen to commit sins, he has even been successful with each of us."
Satan's influence has convinced even good people who are generally choosing righteously in life to commit sin.
"The evil has to be enticing or it would be no test — no challenge — no real choice, and thus we would not experience real growth," he said. "But by us choosing good in the face of an alternative that is truly enticing our characters are shaped, and we start to reap the rewards of freedom and peace. We learn more deeply that we trust in a God that cannot lie and our faith increases."
It is through lying that Satan is able to make evil and sin seem enticing and sell misery, bondage and disappointment.
"The only way he could sell sin is to portray it as something it isn't," he said. "He has to convince people that evil is good, or in other words, that sin is right, that momentary pleasure equates with long-term joy, and that sin leads to freedom and happiness rather than bondage and misery. ... Satan is a master at marketing. He has been at it for a long time, but the foundation of his marketing scheme is always lies."
The adversary doesn't stop after someone has decided to commit one sin. He wants people in his power, and will do all he can to bring people into bondage. There is a tendency to use bondage to sin as an excuse for sinful behavior. One of Satan's most effective tools is to clothe bondage in the costume of liberty, Elder Johnson said.
"Today there are many individuals promoting or condoning sin and also parts of our culture carry these dangerous messages," he said. "For example, we see in the media a lot of modeling of sins with seemingly no negative consequences. We see meanness, law-breaking, disrespect, breaking the law of chastity, immodesty and profanity in almost a constant stream. Many times goodness and righteousness are portrayed as naive and silly at best and evil at worst. Each of us has sins which easily beset us and bind us down. No one is exempt. You might struggle with something different than what I face."
Deliverance and liberty come through the Savior's Atonement. No matter what the nature of the sin is — dishonesty, pride, hypocrisy, laziness, greed, challenges with the law of chastity, addictions, anger, Word of Wisdom problems — whatever sins one struggles with can be redeemed from bondage through the Savior.
"When we obey Satan we give him power. When we obey God He gives us power. This is not the message we get from the world, but it is the truth. Real power, like the Savior, is only found in obedience. Real freedom is found in obedience, in subjecting ourselves to God's will rather than the will of the flesh or the will of the devil. Freedom through obedience. ... Obedience brings power, freedom, joy, peace and hope."
By being obedient and living righteously, Satan will have no hold, he said.
"If we have something in our life that has bothered us and bound us down to some degree let's repent. Let's get rid of it and increase the freedom in our lives. ... Agency — the ability to make choices — is a crucial and wonderful gift and we rejoice that we are here on earth able to choose good over evil and to progress toward exaltation. As we use our agency to choose the right, reject evil and love God, His grace is sufficient for us and by that grace we will become perfected in Christ."