But God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, ?that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.?2 It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life?s drama. God will not live our lives for us nor control us as if we were His puppets, as Lucifer once proposed to do. Nor will His prophets accept the role of ?puppet master? in God?s place. Brigham Young stated: ?I do not wish any Latter Day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ,?the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves.?
But the Restoration is not only for those of us who rejoice in it today. The revelations of the First Vision were not for Joseph Smith alone but are offered as light and truth for any who ?lack wisdom.?3 The Book of Mormon is the possession of mankind. The priesthood ordinances of salvation and exaltation were prepared for every individual, including those who no longer dwell in mortality. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its blessings are intended for all who want them. The gift of the Holy Ghost is meant for everyone. The Restoration belongs to the world, and its message is especially urgent today.
Whatever it may be, we cannot escape the fact that we need to understand and live the principles of the restored gospel as best we can for our invitations to be inviting. It is something often referred to today as authenticity. If the love of Christ dwells in us, others will know that our love for them is genuine. If the light of the Holy Spirit burns within us, it will rekindle the Light of Christ within them.10 What you are lends authenticity to your invitation to come experience the joy of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps it goes without saying that despite genuine love and sincerity, many, if not most, of our invitations to share the message of the Restoration will be declined. But remember this: everyone is worthy of such an invitation???all are alike unto God?;11 the Lord is pleased with every effort we make, no matter the outcome; a declined invitation is no reason for our association to end; and a lack of interest today may well turn to interest tomorrow. Regardless, our love remains constant.
The societies in these two examples were sustained by the blessings of heaven growing out of their exemplary devotion to the two great commandments: ?Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind? and ?Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.?6 They were obedient to God in their personal lives, and they looked after one another?s physical and spiritual welfare. In the words of the Doctrine and Covenants, these were societies with ?every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.?7
A growing number of people consider that belief in and allegiance to God are not needed for moral uprightness in either individuals or societies in today?s world.12 I think we would all agree that those who profess no religious belief can be, and often are, good, moral people. We would not agree, however, that this happens without divine influence. I am referring to the Light of Christ.
?[Alma?s] inspired decision was not to spend more time trying to make and enforce more rules to correct the behavior of his people, but to speak to them of the word of God, to teach the doctrine and have their understanding of the plan of redemption lead them to change their behavior.?20
Nevertheless, when secularization separates personal and civic virtue from a sense of accountability to God, it cuts the plant from its roots. Reliance on culture and tradition alone will not be sufficient to sustain virtue in society. When one has no higher god than himself and seeks no greater good than satisfying his own appetites and preferences, the effects will be manifest in due course.
Reflecting on this and other examples of once flourishing societies that later foundered, I think it safe to say that when people turn from a sense of accountability to God and begin to trust instead in the ?arm of flesh,? disaster lurks. Trusting in the arm of flesh is to ignore the divine Author of human rights and human dignity and to give highest priority to riches, power, and the praise of the world (while often mocking and persecuting those who follow a different standard). Meanwhile, those in sustainable societies are seeking, as King Benjamin said, to ?grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created [them], or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.?
Editor-at-large Gerard Baker wrote a column earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal honoring his father, Frederick Baker, on the occasion of his father?s 100th birthday. Baker speculated about the reasons for his father?s longevity but then added these thoughts: ?While we may all want to know the secret to a long life, I often feel we?d be better off devoting more time to figuring out what makes a good life, whatever span we?re allotted. Here, I?m confident I know my father?s secret. ?He is from an era when life was defined primarily by duty, not by entitlement; by social responsibilities, not personal privileges. The primary animating principle throughout his century has been a sense of obligation??to family, God, country. ?In an era dominated by the detritus of broken families, my father was a devoted husband to his wife of 46 years, a dutiful father to six children. He was never more present and vital than when my parents suffered the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child. ? ?And in an era when religion is increasingly a curiosity, my father has lived as a true, faithful Catholic, with an unshakable belief in the promises of Christ. Indeed, I sometimes think he has lived so long because he is better prepared than anyone I have ever met to die. ?I have been a fortunate man??blessed by a good education, my own wonderful family, some worldly success I didn?t deserve. But however proud and grateful I feel, it?s eclipsed by the pride and gratitude I have for the man who, without fuss or drama, without expectation of reward or even acknowledgment, has got on??for a century now??with the simple duties, obligations and, ultimately, joys of living a virtuous life.?11
I think we would all agree that those who profess no religious belief can be, and often are, good, moral people. We would not agree, however, that this happens without divine influence. I am referring to the Light of Christ. The Savior declared, ?I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.?13 Whether aware of it or not, every man, woman, and child of every belief, place, and time is imbued with the Light of Christ and therefore possesses the sense of right and wrong we often call conscience.
A society, for example, in which individual consent is the only constraint on sexual activity is a society in decay. Adultery, promiscuity, out-of-wedlock births,15 and elective abortions are but some of the bitter fruits that grow out of the ongoing sexual revolution. Follow-on consequences that work against sustainability of a healthy society include growing numbers of children raised in poverty and without the positive influence of fathers, sometimes through multiple generations; women bearing alone what should be shared responsibilities; and seriously deficient education as schools, like other institutions, are tasked to compensate for failure in the home.16 Added to these social pathologies are the incalculable instances of individual heartbreak and despair??mental and emotional destruction visited upon both the guilty and the innocent.
Some might say, ?I can make good choices with or without baptism; I don?t need covenants to be an honorable and successful person.? Indeed, there are many who, while not on the covenant path themselves, act in a way that mirrors the choices and contributions of those who are on the path. You might say they reap the blessings of walking a ?covenant-consistent? path. What, then, is the difference of the covenant path? Actually, the difference is uniquely and eternally significant. It includes the nature of our obedience, the character of God?s commitment to us, the divine help we receive, the blessings tied to gathering as a covenant people, and most importantly, our eternal inheritance.
With covenants, we are intent on more than just avoiding mistakes or being prudent in our decisions. We feel accountable to God for our choices and our lives. We take upon us the name of Christ. We are focused on Christ?on being valiant in the testimony of Jesus and on developing the character of Christ.
Too often our problems or challenges are self-inflicted, the result of poor choices, or, we could say, the result of ?unforced errors.? When we are diligently pursuing the covenant path, we quite naturally avoid many ?unforced errors.? We sidestep the various forms of addiction. We do not fall into the ditch of dishonest conduct. We cross over the abyss of immorality and infidelity. We bypass the people and things that, even if popular, would jeopardize our physical and spiritual well-being. We avoid the choices that harm or disadvantage others and instead acquire the habits of self-discipline and service.
We must defend personal accountability against our own inclinations to avoid the work that is required to cultivate talents, abilities, and Christlike character...We must exert ourselves, repent, and choose God for Him to be able to act in our lives consistent with with justice and moral agency.