In a recent Mormon General Conference (a semi-annual conference broadcast world-wide) Thomas Monson spoke to the men and boys of the Mormon Church on the importance of making wise choices. He broke down the process into three aspects, all beginning with the letter R to make them easier to remember: Right, Responsibility, and Results.
To understand the beginning of the talk, you must understand one important doctrine in Mormon beliefs. Mormons believe we lived in Heaven with God before we were born. We were spirits, meaning we didn’t have a physical body, but we did have our own personalities. We were ourselves and we were spending that time preparing to come to earth. We learned the Gospel and developed a close relationship with God. We began to develop our testimonies and to decide what kind of person we were and how much we cared what God was teaching us. We were setting the stage for our future lives. Those who have children know children are born with distinct, identifiable personalities. Those personalities can be molded and shaped by parents, life experiences, and our own choices, but we start out as unique people.
After a time, God told us it was time to leave home and go out into the world. As parents know, children really find out who they are when they are on their own and making choices without their parents right there. He assured us we would have a Savior to atone for our sins, consistent access to God through personal prayer, and the ability to repent. We would also have a very essential gift, one we had from the moment we were created as spirits. We would have agency, the ability to choose for ourselves. When we learned about God and Jesus Christ we would be free to reject or to accept—but of course, we would also have to accept the consequences.
When this plan was presented, Satan rebelled against it. President Monson said, “We know that we had our agency before this world was and that Lucifer attempted to take it from us. He had no confidence in the principle of agency or in us and argued for imposed salvation. He insisted that with his plan none would be lost, but he seemed not to recognize—or perhaps not to care—that in addition, none would be any wiser, any stronger, any more compassionate, or any more grateful if his plan were followed.”
Satan’s plan was that we would have every action, every thought, every decision made for us—by Satan—and that all our love and loyalty and worship would go only to him, not God. Because we had our agency, the very agency Satan wanted us to use to volunteer to give up our agency, God allowed us to choose for ourselves. We could follow Satan and turn away from God’s plan if we chose. But we could also, instead, choose to follow Jesus Christ, who offered to serve as our Savior if we would follow God’s plan. Thomas Monson explained,
“We who chose the Savior’s plan knew that we would be embarking on a precarious, difficult journey, for we walk the ways of the world and sin and stumble, cutting us off from our Father. But the Firstborn in the Spirit offered Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all. Through unspeakable suffering He became the great Redeemer, the Savior of all mankind, thus making possible our successful return to our Father.
The prophet Lehi tells us: “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 in the Book of Mormon).
Sadly, one third of the spirits in Heaven preferred the safety they thought Satan was offering them. They could not be persuaded that Jesus was offering the only way to true happiness. They chose to follow Satan and were denied, as was Satan, the right to be born and to enjoy the blessings of the Savior Jesus Christ’s atonement. All others came to earth to live out God’s plan, which means that if you are here, you chose wisely.
This, then, is the first R, the right to choose. Having the ability to make choices gives us the opportunity to become everything God ever dreamed for us—or to reject it and to waste our lives. The choice is ours. President Monson often reminds us, as he does in this talk that decisions determine destiny. Every time we make an important decision, we are deciding the fate of our eternal lives. It is in our hands. God and Jesus Christ lovingly set the stage and provided us with all the tools we need. We cannot make it back to Heaven without them. We don’t have the ability to receive eternal salvation without God’s grace and the blessings of the extraordinary unselfish gift of atonement the Savior gave us when He took on our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and died for us on the cross. But if we accept those gifts and make them the central part of our lives, we can return home to God. They have done their part and stand by ready to help us as we ask for their help, but it is now up to us. Do we love God enough to keep His commandments and to find out what is true?
This is what is meant when President Monson says we have a responsibility to choose. Responsibility is the second R in the talk.
“We cannot be neutral; there is no middle ground. The Lord knows this; Lucifer knows this. As long as we live upon this earth, Lucifer and his hosts will never abandon the hope of claiming our souls.
Our Heavenly Father did not launch us on our eternal journey without providing the means whereby we could receive from Him God-given guidance to assist in our safe return at the end of mortal life. I speak of prayer. I speak too of the whisperings from that still, small voice within each of us, and I do not overlook the holy scriptures, written by mariners who successfully sailed the seas we too must cross.
Each of us has come to this earth with all the tools necessary to make correct choices. The prophet Mormon tells us, “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil”(Moroni 7:16 in the Book of Mormon).
Sometimes it might seem that God has set us on a path that is too hard. There are so many choices, so many temptations. President Monson reminded us that if we choose to have God’s help and live worthy of it, the Holy Ghost will whisper directions to help us along our way. Temptations come, but none are insurmountable. Paul, Jesus’ apostle, promised, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, King James Translation of the Bible).
The final R is that of results. Each time we make a choice there is a consequence. We can choose what to do but we cannot choose the consequences, either for ourselves or for others who are affected by our choices but who didn’t make the choices themselves. Sometimes, being mortal, we make mistakes. President Monson reminds us that when this happens, the Savior’s atonement allows us to repent. When we repent fully, God forgets our sins.
Life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it when we experience the wonderful eternal blessings God has promised us.
“Eternal life in the kingdom of our Father is your goal. Such a goal is not achieved in one glorious attempt but rather is the result of a lifetime of righteousness, an accumulation of wise choices, even a constancy of purpose. As with anything really worthwhile, the reward of eternal life requires effort.”