The Blessings of Submission to God: Freedom
Our submission to God is not simply a question of duty or obligation. The blessings that flow from welcoming God's rule in our lives are so enticing, and the alternative so appalling, that if we see things in their true light, we cannot be kept from walking in wisdom's paths. Among the greatest of the blessings that come from yielding to His will, though it seems ironic to some, is freedom. Let me explain.
First, we must recognize that there are only two options available to us, two paths. Alma put it this way:
Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? [Alma 5:38–39]
Other prophets have stated the same truth. Elijah said simply, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). I particularly appreciate Lehi's statement:
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. [2 Nephi 2:27]
There is no third or neutral way. Our choice in this life is not whether we will or will not be subject to any power. We will be. Our choice is to which authority will we yield obedience: God's or Satan's? As Lehi stated, it is a choice between liberty and captivity. If it is not one, it is necessarily the other.
It is important that we understand this choice because not knowing the truth could lead us into serious error. As I noted at the outset, there is a philosophy abroad in the world that, in essence, places man in the role of supreme being. This philosophy argues that there is no higher law than one's own preferences or feelings, one's own desires and opinions. Each person becomes a law unto himself or herself and should not be subject to any other authority. By this reasoning, whatever one feels is right for him is necessarily right, and the rest of the universe must acknowledge and accept that judgment. In Korihor's phrase, "whatsoever a man [does is] no crime" (Alma 30:17). No one can judge the right or wrong of another's choices.
People are not yet willing to accept the end result of this sophistry that would, for example, preclude punishment of a man who commits murder if he felt it was right for him to do it. We still want to define some actions as crimes and prohibit them because of their effects on others. But society has already moved a significant distance down the road toward nonjudgmental acceptance of any and all behavior. Adultery is no longer considered a crime in many jurisdictions despite its devastating impact on others, especially innocent parties. It is preached that such conduct is a personal choice, and the participants decide whether it is right or wrong for them. I have read of students who in their own minds cannot condemn the Nazi Holocaust because to do so would be imposing their values on others--something strictly forbidden by this code of moral relativism. Presumably such persons would not oppose any future genocide. The philosophy that makes each man or woman his or her own lawgiver clearly leads to a lawless and dismal end.
The Lord has said:
That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still. [D&C 88:35]
License is not liberty. Self-absorption and self-indulgence are not freedom. It is yielding to the discipline of God's will and His love that brings true freedom--the freedom to excel, to create, to bless. The gospel, said President Gordon B. Hinckley, "is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior" (Gordon B. Hinckley, "A Principle with Promise," Improvement Era, June 1965, 521). This path is one of increasing knowledge and capacity, increasing grace and light. It is the freedom to become what you can and ought to be. But for your freedom to be complete, you must be willing to give away all your sins (see Alma 22:18), your willfulness, your cherished but unsound habits, perhaps even some good things that interfere with what God sees is essential for you.
My aunt, Adena Nell Gourley, told of an experience from many years ago with her father--my grandfather, Helge V. Swenson, now deceased--that illustrates what I mean. She related:
Last week my daughter and I were visiting in my parents' home. Along about sundown my mother asked if we would like to step out on the back porch and watch Father call his sheep to come into the shelter for the night. Father . . . is a stake patriarch, and you'll understand and forgive me when I say he is the personification of all that is good and gentle and true in a man of God.
About a block and a half away from the edge of the back lawn, five . . . sheep were quietly grazing on the stubble of last summer's wheat field. Father walked to the edge of the field and called, "Come on." Immediately, without even stopping to bite off the mouthful of food they were reaching for, all five heads turned in his direction, and then they broke into a run until they had reached his side and received his pat on each head.
My little daughter said, "Oh, Grandmother, how did Grandfather get them to do that?"
My mother answered, "The sheep know his voice, and they love him." Now I must confess that there were five sheep in the field, and five heads went up when he called, but only four ran to Father. Farthest away, clear over on the edge of the field, looking straight toward Father, stood [a] large [ewe]. Father called to her, "Come on." She made a motion as if to start but didn't come. Then Father started across the field calling to her, "Come on. You're untied." The other four sheep trailed behind him at his heels. Then Mother explained to us that some few weeks before this, an acquaintance of theirs had brought the [ewe] and had given it to Father with the explanation that he no longer wanted it in his own herd. The man had said it was wild and wayward and was always leading his other sheep through the fences and causing so much trouble that he wanted to get rid of it. Father gladly accepted the sheep, and for the next few days he staked it in the field so it wouldn't go away. Then he patiently taught it to love him and the other sheep. Then, as it felt more secure in its new home, Father left a short rope around its neck but didn't stake it down.
As Mother explained this to us, Father and his sheep had almost reached the [straggler] at the edge of the field, and through the stillness we heard him call again, "Come on. You aren't tied down any more. You are free."
I felt the tears sting my eyes as I saw [the sheep] give a lurch and reach Father's side. Then, with his loving hand on her head, he and all the members of his little flock turned and walked back toward us again.
I thought how some of us, who are all God's sheep, are bound and unfree because of our sins in the world. Standing there on the back porch, I silently thanked my Heavenly Father that there are true under-shepherds and teachers who are patient and kind and willingly teach us of love and obedience and offer us security and freedom within the flock so that, though we may be far from the shelter, we'll recognize the Master's voice when He calls, "Come on. Now you're free." [Adena Nell Swenson Gourley, I Walked a Flowered Path (unpublished manuscript, 1995), 199–200]
It is exciting to realize that we can expand our freedom by perfecting our obedience. In President Boyd K. Packer's words, "We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see" (Boyd K. Packer, CR, April 1983, 90; or "Agency and Control," Ensign, May 1983, 66).
D. Todd Christofferson, "Allegiance to God", BYU Devotional, October 19, 1999