This month, as we reflect on the blessings of liberty, we need look no further than to the Source of all freedom. The ideals embodied in our national character - freedom, liberty and human dignity - reflect the personal values held dear by millions worldwide. These values are God-given blessings.
While it is unfortunate that some governments today may tread heavily on their citizens' personal liberties, the largest threat to individual freedom comes from our surrender to sin and evil-doing. We can only remain free - both individually and as nations - if we choose to follow God and obey His commandments.The apostle Paul reminded the Galatians: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (Gal. 5:1.)
And Nephi pleaded with his brethren: "O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep . . . and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe." (2 Ne. 1:13.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley has counseled against surrendering to sin: "Today there are persons numbered in the millions, who, in a search for freedom from moral restraint and peace from submerged conscience, have opened a floodgate of practices that enslave and debauch. These practices, if left unchecked, will not only destroy these individuals but also the nations of which they are a part. . . . Nations and civilizations have flowered, then died, poisoned by their own moral sickness. As one commentator has remarked, Rome perished before the Goths poured over its walls. But it was not that the walls were low. It was that Rome itself was low." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, pp 380-382.)
If we yield to sin, we are, in effect condemning not just ourselves but our communities and our countries. We may think we are merely "exercising our agency" when we choose not to follow the Lord's commandments, but in reality we are worshiping the devil and giving him veto power over our souls.
Paul reminded the Romans: "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? . . . Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." (Rom. 6:16-18.)
The Lord declared, "According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
"That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own own sins in the day of judgment."
"Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another." (D&C 101:77-79.)
In order for man to exercise his agency, he must be free to do so.
Freedom is not free. History has shown that to be true.
Freedom, President Spencer W. Kimball declared, takes work. "We think freedom could never end. But it could. . . . The only way we can keep our freedom is to work at it. Not some of us. All of us. Not some of the time, but all of the time." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 405.)
With freedom also comes responsibility. No one who truly has the spirit of freedom would shirk his responsibilities to help ensure that we remain free.
But, sadly, when we don't work at it on a personal level, our national character can suffer, also. If we, ourselves, can remain unchained from sin, we can help advance the cause of freedom on other fronts. Personal freedom encourages us to confront other less desirable elements of community and national character.
Equating national freedom and personal freedom is wholly appropriate. A nation can be only as good as its people. The love of freedom transcends issues of patriotism. When men and women exercise the spirit of freedom within them, they tap into the Spirit of God, which is also the spirit of freedom. (Alma 61:15.)
May we heed the counsel of our prophets regarding our individual liberty. May the spirit of freedom burn brightly in our hearts - the freedom from sin, the freedom from bondage, the freedom to choose for ourselves.