We live in a world that encourages and pushes us into self-focused mindsets. Phrases like “you do you” can influence us in positive ways to embrace who we are, but they can also make us focus on doing everything our way without considering if other opinions or directions might actually be better for us.
Agency and obedience make an interesting comparison. The ability to choose and the direction to follow may seem contradictory at times, so understanding the relationship between these principles can help us become better disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our Gift of Agency
Agency, or the ability to choose for ourselves, is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. He has given us the ability and option to have options. We can choose what we do, how we dress, where we go, who we spend time with, and so many other choices that I can’t even list here.
Agency is powerful. Though we can be pressured in our decisions, our choices are ultimately our own, and those choices can direct our lives.
Agency is generally a concept our society supports. Make your own choices, be your own person, don’t worry what anyone else thinks. But there’s a second part to agency that isn’t as popular – and some people actually pretend doesn’t exist.
Responsibility for your actions and dealing with those consequences.
See, it’s true that we can make any choice we want to make – but those choices will always, always, always have consequences that we don’t have a say over. Some may be good, but some are definitely not. And if you don’t want to deal with a consequence, then it’s best not to make the choice that will lead to it.
We really can’t just do what we want without worry. Doing so will lead to tough consequences. So we need guidelines to help us make decisions that won’t hurt us or others. And that’s where obedience comes in.
Obedience to God
Obedience is actually closely connected to agency, though we might not always consider the two closely related. Obedience is the choice to follow the laws God (or our parents, etc.) has given us. That means that obedience can’t exist without laws, but it also can’t exist without the ability to break laws.
Now, just because we have agency that allows us to break given laws doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to break them as much as we want. True, none of us is perfect and we all will make poor choices. But just like we can choose not to follow God’s laws, we also can choose to follow them. That’s why we can be held accountable for the choices we make – we have the ability to choose either way. We can’t be forced to obey and we can’t be forced to break the law.
God gave us agency hoping that we’d use it to follow Him and obey His laws. But He doesn’t force us to do so because we wouldn’t have agency if He did. If we want to follow God, then we need to choose to be obedient to His will. It’s as simple as that.
Desire and Intention
When it comes to obedience, it can be easy to beat yourself up when you aren’t perfect in your obedience. But remember that we are human and aren’t expected to be perfect right now. God asks us to put in effort to be obedient, to use our agency well, and to be growing and improving. He accepts our efforts even when we fall short.
Part of obedience is desire. We aren’t perfect, but if our goal really is to follow God and obey His laws, then our desire is in the right place. It can guide us. Our good intentions can be our efforts while we work to become better. The last thing God wants us to do is give up or belittle ourselves because we don’t measure up to an impossible standard. Instead, He wants us to remember that we are loved and valued, and that our efforts are enough to bring us to Him.
Jesus Christ is the one who saves us; we don’t save ourselves. When we come to Christ, He takes care of everything else. Obedient use of our agency can look like turning to Christ and asking for His help and healing. It can be relying on grace. The real purpose of obedience is to lead us close to Christ and to keep us near Him so we can be redeemed by Him.
So if all you feel you can do right now is desire to be obedient, stick with it. That desire alone can turn you to Christ. And as you turn to Christ, His love will give you greater desire and strength to be more obedient.
Prophets and Laws
Something to remember with agency is that it isn’t just the scriptures that we need to follow. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a prophet and apostles who lead the Church and receive revelation from God to direct us. Our prophet is a mouthpiece of God Himself. When our prophet gives direction to the whole Church, we should consider that direction as though it came directly from God.
When God speaks to us, we need to be obedient to His words, even if those words came through the prophet – or rather, especially when those words come through the prophet.
We always have agency, so we always have the choice of listening to and obeying direction from our prophet, or not. Our prophet won’t force us to do so, but he will encourage us to listen and obey because he knows the direction is from the Lord.
Obedience to the prophet’s words is not a result of brainwashing or being a mindless follower. Instead, it’s the recognition, faith, and trust that the prophet speaks the word of the Lord. It’s desiring to do the Lord’s will and following through when His will is made clear.
You don’t have to obey the commandments of the Lord. You don’t have to listen to or obey the words given to us through the prophet. But you can choose to do so. You can choose faith and trust. You can listen to the Holy Spirit. The Lord will guide you when you choose to do these things with an open mind and heart.