27 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. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 2)What is the difference between liberty and freedom? Let's look at the Oxford dictionary definitions. Liberty is defined as the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behaviour or political views. Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. So the way I understand this, liberty allows us to act free of limitation from our environment and freedom is the internal power to exercise our options.
No one can take away our freedom, or what we call agency, our capacity to choose. Liberty on the other hand can be forfeited by the choices we make and sometimes by the choices of others. When we keep the commandments we choose liberty. When we do not, we choose captivity. Captivity is oppression from "society."
Here is an example; you disobey a law, say, you steal from a store. There is a punishment associated with that law when violated. You do not lose your freedom, but you do lose your liberty. The consequence of stealing is imposed upon you. You may be charged a fine, be put in jail, or have to do community service. These consequences are a limitation on your liberty: your liberty to spend money as you wish, the liberty to go where you want to go, or the liberty to use your time as you wish. Freedom still exists because you have the capacity to accept the consequences or reject them (which will likely lead to further consequences.)
There are higher laws than man's laws, but the principle applies the same way.
17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 42)
When an eternal law is violated, we are no longer protected by the law, but are subject to punishment.
Here is the thing about eternal law though:
16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 42)
5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 2)
The liberty we lose when we break an eternal law is much greater: it affects our entire reality. When we continually violate eternal laws, our capacity to recognize things as they really are becomes more and more skewed. We begin to lose faith. Why? Because faith is a hope for things which are not seen which are true. When we sin, we hope that those things unseen are not true.
Stephen Covey's 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' teaches that there is a moment between stimulus and response. That moment is when our self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will grant us the ability to consider our response. We develop habits when we react to the same stimulus the same way each time we experience it. To break a habit, we must change our responses, but that change has to come from within us. Self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will are all under your jurisdiction. Because you have freedom, you cannot be forced to do anything, especially not to change.
These principles allow us to make a fair comparison to sin. There is a moment between temptation and sin. That moment is when our conscience (the light of Christ within us) or the Holy Ghost (which is an external force) warn us that the choice we are making, or are about to make, is incorrect. It is when we allow our imagination, self-awareness and independent will to take precedence over those warnings that we give into sin. We imagine that the satisfaction of sin will be greater than the punishment, instead of the reality that the punishment is much greater. Our self-awareness deceives us as we seek the temporal satisfaction of sin and leads us to believe that we are choosing happiness. The word of the Lord can not be disputed, for in reality, "wickedness never was happiness," and it never will be. Our independent will becomes infected by pride, for we think we know better than the will of God.
Every man who comes into the world has the light of Christ. If we do not give heed to it, it dims over time. When we follow those feelings we are led to truth. When the truth is found it is confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost. If continually followed it will lead that man to the waters of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Just as one might upgrade his or her anti-virus software as updates become available, we can upgrade our conscience to provide additional defense as new trials and temptations confront us daily, by receiving the Holy Ghost.
How do you receive a gift? Let's make a birthday analogy:
- Birthday presents are received on your birthday, or at least close to it. The fact that it is your birthday makes you worthy of the gift. In order to receive a spiritual gift, you must be worthy to receive it as well. Do we have to be perfect? No, but we should be striving for it. The nice thing is we can be worthy more than once a year.
- Do you want to receive birthday gifts from others? Then you had better send out some invitations to your party. Your close friends may already know when your birthday is, but how will they know when and where to bring you your birthday gift? We must invite the Father to send us that gift of the Holy Ghost. We work toward perfection, and we let Father know where we are at in this process of perfection. When we stay on track, He sends us the Holy Ghost.
- Just as we prepare for and expect our guests to arrive at our birthday party, we should prepare for and expect the Holy Ghost. If we are not prepared, if we are not listening for its promptings, we might miss it.
- What if after all that preparation, your guest attend your party bearing gifts but you never open them? What good does that do you? You wont know what the gift contains and without that knowledge you can't use it. Revelation is like a little present that float down from heaven, but if we do not open them when they come, they will float away.
- Would your friends keep sending you gifts if you never opened them? What if you did but you never used them? Or what if you never expressed gratitude for those gifts?
The Holy Ghost will be even more present in our lives as we learn to recognize and give heed to it. It strengthens our conscience and allows us to be more firm in our decisions. This will strengthen our faith. Father helps us to preserve our liberty through the guidance from the Spirit.
How do we lose liberty? When we sin we become subject to the adversary. He is able to oppress us if we disobey God's commandments.
13 Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 15)
6 And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 12)
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 12)Some will find it interesting that the key to overcoming captivity is obtaining knowledge of God's commandments and submitting to them. Although it may appear that laws oppress us, they actually liberate us. The world does not understand how liberty comes from subjection to the law. This concept is best understood by the Spirit as we put it into practice in our lives. In fact, all concepts are best learned through the Spirit by revelation. I am grateful that the Lord has granted me an understanding of these principles, though I recognize there is still much to be learned.
If you live every commandment you can be completely liberated.