Agency is one of those principles in the Church that we all know by a short quip, “the right to choose,” but not by much else. Our right to choose caused a war in heaven that has been carried down to earth with us. It is this same battle for our souls that continues to rage all around us every day of our lives. All of it is based upon, and is manipulated through the use of our moral agency.

This makes our agency a very big deal. How well do we really understand what the rules are that are associated with agency? Someone can give away our agency, but who? Agency can be used to damn us or exalt us, but how? Agency directly affects our honesty and integrity. We often are willing to fight for our own right to choose, but heaven forbid our neighbor should have the same right. They might do something that is inconvenient to us. Why can’t we curb the agency of others? Why doesn’t God step in and stop people from doing things that hurt others?

This work talks about all of this, and more. As you read, I hope you will find new ways in which you can see your agency at work in your life, and find new ways to use your moral agency to free yourself from sin.

Note: This is a short 30+ page book. I wrote this almost 10 years ago, but only recently discovered I hadn’t ever published it. I believe this to be one of the most important things I have ever written. With all that has been written about the gospel in the Church, I don’t believe anyone has ever expounded on the laws that govern our agency, so this may be a first. Enjoy!

The Origins of Our Agency

In the Book of Mormon, Lehi was talking to his sons and made this statement about the creation of all things in the universe in 2 Nephi 2:14.

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

Everything in the universe has been created in one of two states, either to be acted upon by another force or to act for itself in whatever limited sphere God created it. As God’s children we were created with the ability to act, to choose what we will do.

There are several aspects (or laws) that govern the principle of agency that we need to be aware of as we enter into this discussion of how agency can change our lives. Here are five of them.

1. Our right to choose is inviolate. God will not take it away from us, nor will He allow anyone else to take it away from us. As long as God loves us and desires that we become like Him, agency is ours to do with as we please. And I don’t see His love for us diminishing anytime soon.

2. Only we can give away our agency. It cannot be taken by any power in the universe. There is only one limitation placed on our right to choose.

3. Our right to choose is limited only by the application of the punishments that come because of the laws we break in the use of our agency. This means we can choose our behavior unimpeded until the final judgment. That also means there is a time limit on how long we will be allowed to flaunt God’s laws. I should point out that the moral agency we now enjoy is purely a mortal thing. Exercising our agency to do evil in the presence of God would have gotten us thrown out of heaven, like Lucifer and one third of our siblings.

Our moral agency only works now because we are already cut off from the presence of God. Once we are resurrected we will not have the same kind of agency we now have, because we will no longer be in mortality. So the moral agency we experience in mortality is a once-in-the-eternities thing. We haven’t been told yet what kind of agency we will work with after the resurrection. I talk more about all this later.

4. Our ability to be saved from the full punishments of the laws we break in the use of our agency come from Christ’s atonement. It is He who makes it possible for us to continue to use the agency God gave us. It is part of His atoning sacrifice (Mosiah 5:8, Galatians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 7:22). All three of these verses tell us that freedom of choice is available only through the atonement.

5. No force is allowed in the execution of one’s agency. We are completely free to make whatever choice we wish, and at any time we wish. It makes no difference if we choose to harm ourselves/others or to help ourselves/others, the law of agency forbids interference with our choices. The prohibition on interference includes God, Himself. People exclaim all the time, “How could a loving God allow such and such to happen?” Well, now you know. He has given us our agency, and He will allow no one, not even Himself, to interfere with our choices. By not interfering with our choices His judgments become truly just. We’ll talk about that later.

Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life

Free versus moral agency

We hear of “free will,” “free agency,”  and “our right to choose.” What I am about to say may be a finer point of contention, but it is one that needs to be said. Our agency is not free, except that it was freely offered to us. We are held accountable for every choice we make. It is truly our will that we are expressing, but we are not free to choose just anything. I can’t choose to have all the wealth in the world transferred into my bank account. I can’t choose to make someone love me. Even staying young is not a choice.

Our choices in this life are primarily limited to the realm of moral choices. I can choose to be good, to do good, to practice kindness, etc. Being mean, petty, vengeful, etc., is also something I can choose. Note that I am not talking about choosing which socks to wear. I am referring only to those choices that will make us acceptable to God or turn us away from Him. These days we as a Church have stopped using the term “free will” and “free agency” and normally refer to our choice-making ability as moral agency. Most of the time in what follows I will just say “agency.” But I always mean moral agency.

D. Todd Christofferson

Moral Agency (Note that the recording does not follow the printed text very closely. I suggest you listen as you read the text so you can see where things are being changed or left out. There are many verses of scripture he does not read that are in the text, for example.)

Agency as a Two-edged Sword

“Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress. Yet with agency we could make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again.” Robert D. Hales (Oct. General Conference, 2010)

Agency is a two-edged sword, meaning it cuts on both sides of the sword, or in this case on both sides of the principle. If we are without agency we have no ability “to make right choices and progress.” By using the word “progress” Elder Hales means we cannot learn how to become like God. To become like our Father in Heaven requires that we learn how to think like Him, feel like Him, and act like Him. Without agency – the ability to choose what we will do, how we will do it, and when we do it – we cannot make our own choices to learn how to be like God – hence no progression.

Imagine, if you will, a teenager who never makes a decision of his own. He is obedient, in that he does what he is told, but he never takes the initiative to make his own decisions, and live with the consequences of those decisions. How far can someone in that position progress toward becoming a responsible adult, let alone like God? How many of our life’s lessons are learned because we made a choice that had negative consequences, and living with those consequences taught us valuable lessons about life and accountability? Yes, we can be “perfect” without agency, that is, we can be without sin, but we can never measure up to the stature of our heavenly parents. Nor would we be able to experience the depth of joy they feel because of the experiences they have had and the lessons they have learned. It would be an empty sort of perfection, one also achievable by a machine.

On the other hand, when we have agency and can choose for ourselves we decide what we will do from moment to moment. We decide how we will behave to those around us. We decide what moral code or set of ethics we live by. We decide how consistent we are in living a certain way. It is up to us to decide if we will change our mind about something, and are free to decide to live a completely different kind of life today than what we were living last week.

Being able to make these choices allows us to seek after the kind of life our Heavenly parents have. Having agency allows us to experience the gaining of godly character traits that cannot be learned any other way. Character traits such as patience, long suffering, forgiveness, charity, generosity, and so forth, all require agency for us to learn.

Let’s look at an overly simplistic view of our Father in Heaven. As God, He must be acutely aware every second of what is going on in the entire universe. He cannot slack His vigilance or the results would be catastrophic. He is constantly deciding what should happen where and when for the future projects He has in mind. The consequences of His actions are always at the forefront of His awareness. God is an ultimately responsible individual, trustworthy, and ready at all times to act for the benefit of others. He is never a slacker, or selfish, or irresponsible, or any of the things we have to fight each day to overcome. If we did not have agency I have a difficult time imagining how we could possibly learn to be the kind of people He would trust with the running of a universe. It takes agency to learn all the most important of the godly virtues and traits. Would you feel comfortable putting a person at the head of your government who had never had to make any real decisions about life? Would you want someone who had always been told what to do, in charge of your destiny, or that of your children? Agency is the key to growth and development, learning and progressing.

The Council in Heaven

Once we had grown and matured in the spirit world to the point that we were ready for our final test of mastering life with a physical body, our Father in Heaven convened a family council wherein He laid out His plan for our experience in mortality. We sometimes think of the plan of salvation as just encompassing our mortal life, but the plan is much bigger than that. It started in premortal life with the assignments for mortality, included everything having to do with earth life, the foreordination of God’s leaders for His family while here, the assignment for the one who would perform the atonement for us, what would happen in the spirit world when we died and who would go where, and finally, how we would all be held accountable for our behavior and choices, and the final assignment to our respective kingdoms of glory. It is a complete package, with no detail left unaddressed.

Every rule was laid down, every consequence for choices made, everything. We knew that if we kept our second estate (earth life) by keeping all of the commandments our Father outlined for us that we would move on to receive a glorified body at the resurrection. We knew that failure to be obedient would still result in a kingdom of glory, but not in exaltation. He made very clear all His requirements and expectations. Acts 17:26 tells us that God set the times each of us would come to earth and set the “bounds of [our] habitation” or where we would live while here.

It was in this council where everything was laid out for us and the call for the Savior was issued. He who would be our Savior had to volunteer for the sacrifices that would be required of him. He also had to agree to all of the Father’s terms before God would turn over all His children to the performance and honor of this one man. When he called for volunteers two answered. In Abraham 3:27 – 28 we have this account.

27 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.

28 And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.

There was a lot more to the story than what Abraham tells us. We get a few additional details in Moses 4:1 – 4 though not in the same order and not much more than in Abraham.

1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;

4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.

By threatening to destroy the agency of man Lucifer (Satan) came out in open rebellion of God’s plan of happiness for us. Remember the first two aspects of agency? The first is that no one can take it away from us. Even God will not touch it. The second is that we can give it away to someone else, but it has to be our choice. This is why verse four above says that Satan is able to blind everyone and lead them captive at his will if they do not hearken or listen to God’s voice. If we do not listen to God then we give power to Satan to blind our minds and lead us captive into the darkness. That is our choice, and slavery is the consequence of that poor choice.

In the Bible Dictionary at, it states the following.

Although one-third of the spirits became devils, the remaining two-thirds were not all equally valiant, there being every degree of devotion to Christ and the Father among them. The most diligent were chosen to be rulers in the kingdom (Abr. 3:22–23). The nature of the conflict, however, is such that there could be no neutrals, then or now (Matt. 12:30; 1 Ne. 14:10; Alma 5:38–40).

It is important to note that last sentence. There is no such thing as neutrality. In the premortal world we had to choose a side, our Father’s or Lucifer’s. In mortality we are free to change sides, but the war still rages on for the supremacy of our souls. In the following sections we will talk about the rules of agency, the properties of agency, and how this war is being fought. Finally, we will talk about how agency can be used as the supreme tool to create the personal power we need to overcome Satan’s temptations and wiles.

Role of Agency in the Plan of Salvation

In section one I talked about the five aspects of agency we need to understand to begin to grasp how powerful this concept of choice is. In this section we will look at the role agency plays in the plan of salvation. Let’s work our way through 2 Nephi 2:4-30. This is a lot to take in, but if we take it a piece at a time it should make more sense.

4 … And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.

Actually, the way was prepared for mankind to return to our Father in Heaven even before the fall of man. And since everything the Lord does is based on choice, the salvation offered to us is freely offered, and just as freely can be accepted. All we have to do is choose it.

I need to make something clear at this point. I talk about choosing good over evil or evil over good, but we all know there is much more to it than just choosing. Every choice is followed by an action. Even “inaction” is an action of sorts. When I speak of making a choice, I include the appropriate action that needs to follow that choice. To choose good implies that we then DO good. If we say we have chosen good, but then DO evil then we really have chosen evil, not good. What we do is what we have chosen, not what we say we choose. Actions really do speak louder than words.

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.

In order for us to use our agency we have to be able to understand right from wrong, and good from evil. Without that ability to understand the nature and consequence of our choices the Lord could not fairly judge us based on the choices we make. To this end the plan of salvation is supported by the Light of Christ, our conscience that teaches all men everywhere the difference between right and wrong. Those who do not have the ability to understand the difference between good and evil are automatically saved through Christ’s atonement, specifically because they were not able to exercise their agency to choose for themselves. The general rule is this: where there is no law, there is no punishment. If a person cannot understand the law then it is as if there is no law. Hence, those who are innocent are saved purely by the grace and love of God through the atonement.

As to who is chosen to be in this special category or why they are chosen is something you will have to take up with God. Remember that it was He who set up all the ground rules and made those decisions before we ever came here. It was fair enough that we all supported the plan and fought on the side of good in the war in heaven. Now is not the time to second guess the plan.

One of the caveats or difficulties with having agency is that we are held accountable for the choices we make. This means that the first time we break a law of God we cut ourselves off from His presence forever. God cannot tolerate sin with the least degree of allowance, so once we have sinned we ban ourselves from ever entering His presence again. This is why the verse says that no flesh, no one who is mortal, is justified. It is because we all break the commandments and choose to do evil at some point in our lives. It only takes once. Without an atonement we truly would become miserable forever. For without the atonement we would end up as angels to the devil forever.

6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.

7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.

To redeem is to purchase, to reclaim, or to buy something back that was pledged or given away. It is the Messiah who redeems our souls once we have forfeited them through sin. But there is a price for that purchase, and it is that we have to come to Him on His terms with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and demonstrate a willingness to be obedient. It is important to point out that ONLY those who come to Christ, and under these conditions, are offered redemption from sin and an open doorway back to the Father. The scriptures are very clear about that. Anyone who rejects His sacrifice will have to pay the ultimate price in suffering for the laws they break, and will never see the Father again.

8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

This sacrifice that Christ has made for us is so crucial to our eternal happiness that there is no greater message we could possibly give to the people of the world than that there is a way to be free from the punishments we will have to face because of our sins. Verse eight then points out that Christ’s sacrifice includes resurrection and immortality for everyone who has kept their first estate and comes to earth. No matter how messed up our experience on earth, all of us will receive a resurrected body of some sort. Christ resurrected himself and is considered the firstfruits of them that are dead, or in other words, he was the first to resurrect from the dead and get a glorified eternal body.

9 Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.

This verse repeats what we have already covered. To make intercession is to be the go between, the mediator between God and God’s children. Since we have cut ourselves off from our Father’s presence, we need someone to plead our case for us. That someone is Christ. That is why we pray to our Father, but do it in Christ’s name. We have no right to ask for favors from God when we have broken His laws and willfully rebelled against Him. But Christ steps in and pleads for us to the Father and asks that He grant our prayers. God answers our prayers because of Christ’s personal worthiness and sacrifice on our behalf. So we do all things in Christ’s name.

10 And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement—

Sorry to interrupt you in the middle of that sentence, but I need to make a point before you go on to the next few verses. Here is where we stand. We have cut ourselves off from ever being able to return to God because we have broken His laws. Christ has paid the penalty for those sins for us because of His love for us. But that payment is only able to cover those who come to Christ willing to follow His every commandment. If we are humble and contrite then His payment allows us to go back to live with God and receive exaltation.

The laws that comprise the plan of salvation (the gospel) include the full spectrum of both blessings and punishments. Just as it is possible to be forgiven of all sin and be glorified and immortalized as a god, it must also be possible to suffer the wrath of God and be completely stripped of any status we have ever achieved and be banished from His presence forever. Remember that the scriptures tell us plainly that we are free to choose either result, and either result has to be available for us to truly have agency. Refer back to the five aspects of agency in section one.

Part of the nature of agency is that is it based on opposites. Without extreme opposites then we only have partial agency. But as God’s children we have been granted complete agency, so all opposites apply. In this next verse note that Lehi is telling his son that without opposition in all things then even basic things for example, like life could not exist because in order to have life there has to be death as well.

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

Lehi is extending the logic to its natural conclusion. If something exists without opposites then it has been created without purpose. For God to create something without reason or purpose would destroy the wisdom of God and would destroy all of His godly qualities, like justice and mercy, etc.

In the next verse Lehi extends this analogy by bringing it down to our level. We cannot claim God gave no law, because without a law then there cannot be any sin. Sin is the breaking of a law, so you cannot have one without the other. This is the very reason that God does not judge those who die without the law. This is why they are automatically saved. He cannot judge, i.e. punish, someone who is without sin because they knew no law. Hence little children and those of limited mental capacity are saved in the kingdom of God because of Christ’s atonement for them.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

Hopefully verse thirteen is self explanatory. Happiness is brought about because of the laws of God. They are the laws He lives by and the laws that bring Him happiness. If we do away with those laws then there is no happiness nor misery (because you can’t have the one without the other). God experiences a fulness of joy because of the laws He lives by. Take those away, and you have erased what makes God, God. Since we are created by God, then you erase our existence too.

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

Adam and Eve had to be given an opposing option. God had told them that they could eat from the tree of life, which would keep them alive forever. He also forbade them from eating from the tree of knowledge, because it would cause them to die. The one kept them in a state of innocence, and the other would make them mortal and give them knowledge. The choice had to be theirs to make, because God had already guaranteed their agency.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

This is a repeat. God had already given them agency, but agency requires two opposite choices. Having God alone is only partial agency, there had to be a dissenting voice to entice them so they could choose for themselves between the two voices.

This brings up an interesting point. To cut man off from the presence of God, to place the veil over our minds so we could not remember Him any more, Man had to choose to separate himself from God. God could not cut us off for no reason, it had to be as a result of some sort of misdeed. So mortality had to be Adam and Eve’s choice. They had to choose to fall from the presence of God and begin the mortal experience. To force that upon them would have violated their agency. See law number five. Even after Eve partook of the fruit, Adam still had to make his choice. The fall of mankind was no accident. It was the choice made individually by both Adam and Eve.

17 And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

18 And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.

Satan was the dissenting voice. Because he rebelled and was cast out of heaven, he now seeks our misery and destruction just as ardently as God seeks our eternal life and happiness. We now have two equally convincing choices. We can now exercise the full use of our agency. The one leads to eternal happiness and the other to eternal misery, but the choice is ours. Adam and Eve had the right to make their personal choice, just like we do. God could not force them to disobey, but yet they needed to become mortal of their own free will and choice. The Savior had already been selected and was awaiting to begin the mortal part of His role, but there had to be sin of some kind before His assignment could kick into full gear. Adam and Eve did not sin, but they did transgress a law by breaking one law in order to keep another one. This small infraction of God’s law was all that was needed to cut them off from His presence. Now they needed a mediator. Now they needed their Savior.

19 And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth.

20 And they have brought forth children; yea, even the family of all the earth.

21 And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents.

It is true that we are lost because of the transgression of our first parents, but we are not condemned because of what they did. We are only mortal because of what they did. We condemn ourselves with our own sins. This life, this short period of time is granted to us to see if we will choose to follow Christ so he can forgive our sins and in the end exalt us in the presence of the Father. This life is a proving ground to see what choices we will make.

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

This last verse is a very important scripture. I said before that God experiences a fulness of joy. Why else would He have children if not for them to experience what He experiences? We live with the end goal of having a fulness of joy as a family unit, back with our parents, living with our siblings and children and posterity. This wonderful plan of happiness, the gospel, accounted for everything.

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

The Messiah’s atonement extends backward and forward in time to cover all of God’s children, no matter when they are born. Because he paid the debt of eternal laws, the payment covers all of us who break those eternal laws. Obedience to His commandments is what allows Him to redeem or get us back from our lost state. This is what makes us free to make righteous choices forever. I’ll discuss what happens when we make poor choices in another section. When we obey the commandments the laws of God have no ability to punish us, because we are now abiding by those laws and are in harmony with them. This is what it means to be justified before the law, it is to be living in harmony with the law so the law has no hold on us. Now the only thing the laws can do is bring us joy.

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.

This verse tells us that we don’t have everything, but we do have everything that is expedient or necessary for us to gain happiness. The next sentence in verse twenty seven is very important. It clearly states that the result of obedience is liberty and eternal life (joy) and the result of disobedience is captivity and death, meaning the second death, being cut off from the presence of God forever. This brings ultimate misery, the opposite of being in the presence of God, which is ultimate joy. Just as Christ wants us to be as happy as He is, so Satan wants us to be as miserable as he is.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

The flesh of the body is considered evil because it has appetites that are contrary to the will and commandments of God. God’s commandments teach us how to overcome these appetites of the flesh, while Satan exploits these appetites and tries to saturate us with the desires or lusts of the flesh.

30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part, according to the words of the prophet. And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls. Amen.


We must have opposition in all things. Without opposition in all things we don’t have full use of our agency. God has promised us that we will have full use of our agency because without it we cannot become like Him. We have opposites presented to us in mortality in all things. We have a Savior who will guide us back to God and eternal life and happiness, and Satan who will lead us down to misery and woe, making us slaves to his will. Just as we have the opportunity for eternal life, we also have the option of eternal damnation or being cut off from the presence of God forever. What we get is completely our choice.

Agency is what makes the plan of salvation work. Agency is the weapon of evil and the tool of charity. God uses agency to entice us to do good and to come home to Him. He allows Satan to entice us using that same agency to enslave our souls and trap us in ruin for eternity. This is the price God pays for giving us the opportunity to become like Him. He knows He will lose many of His children along the way. A third of the children were lost before we even made it to earth. But we agreed to this. According to Job we shouted for joy when we were told we could come to earth and gain bodies like our parents. Earth is a time of proving and testing. This is where we demonstrate how we will use our agency. Here we show we can be wise in our choices and that we will choose happiness over misery.

Agency and Opposition

Satan has many ways to trick us into misusing our agency. Each and every method has the same result, that of pulling us farther away from God, our Father, and enslaving us to Satan’s will a little more. I find it interesting that in the premortal world it was God’s desire that we make our own choices and choose to become like Him. It was Satan’s desire to exalt himself by enslaving all of us so that he, our master, received all the glory for everything that was done. In mortality that scenario continues to play itself out with each choice we make. When we choose the better part we become more free to make choices in the future, and the laws of God are able to bring us closer to a state of happiness. When we sin and violate those laws of happiness, our ability to make choices in the future become limited, Satan has more control over what we do, how we do it, and when we do it. We gradually become his slaves, stripped of our own free will and ability to make our choices. It is a gradual process that goes in both directions.

Satan uses our Weaknesses

This is the most apparent and obvious ploy used to get us to sin. The list of what may be used to ensnare us is legion, and is different for each person. One person may have pride as an issue, another may be very timid. One may be spoiled in this life, while another is deprived of all necessaries. ANYTHING Satan can exploit to get us to become angry or vengeful or lustful or rebellious, etc., is fair game to trip us up and trap us into doing his will.

In God’s infinite foreknowledge, meaning He knows what will happen in the future long before it happens, He deliberately gave each of us a set of challenges to deal with. Some are strengths we can use to help ourselves and others, but we also have a set of weaknesses designed to humble us and help us learn godly ways, humility, and a host of other celestial character traits that we would not learn or not learn well without these particular challenges.

It is hard to accept – it is a hard pill to swallow sometimes that the Lord deliberately makes me struggle with certain weaknesses just so I will learn humility, and will have to come to Him in order to have it turned into a strength. Ether 12:27 says,

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Our weaknesses do not have to stay our weaknesses if we take them to the Lord, exercising faith that He will help us overcome those shortcomings. It is when we refuse to seek help in humility for our weaknesses that Satan can have greater reign to use them against us. We put our moral agency at risk when we put our personal pride ahead of our need for humility.

Using our weaknesses against us is what I would classify as the low hanging fruit. This is the easy stuff for Satan. Just offer a drink to an alcoholic or a hit of something tempting to a drug addict. These are the easy scores for Satan and his minions. Once addicted, we become easy prey. What we tend to forget is that most sin leads to addiction of one sort or another. Once you start lying you have to cover that lie with other lies then you have to remember who you told which lie to, and before long you are trapped in your own webs of deceit. Don’t go to church one Sunday for whatever reason, and it become more difficult to go the next week. Stay home for several weeks, and before long you realize you have been in years.

The key to protecting ourselves from these easy pickings for Satan and his gang is to be aware of what our weaknesses are. That means we have to be honest with ourselves and willing to confess a weakness once it has been identified. The next step is equally as important; we need to take that weakness to the Lord and ask for help to get rid of it.

The danger of allowing our weaknesses to go unaddressed is that this ability to corrupt us with our weaknesses is how evil people gain control over others. They exploit their weaknesses, their ability to be bought at a price or blackmailed to avoid shame, etc. We leave ourselves at risk if we pretend that it is okay to ignore our weaknesses. In actuality it is like knowing the front gate to the city has the gate half falling off the hinges and convincing yourself that you haven’t been attacked in a couple of weeks, so it must be safe now. You are only fooling yourself, and put at risk all those whose lives depend on you.

Satan uses our Strengths

The Lord keeps all things in balance. Satan, on the other hand, seeks imbalance, for it is in the overbalancing of a person’s character that he can find ways to exploit even our strengths to cause our downfall. Dallin H. Oaks gave a devotional talk at BYU-Provo in 1992 entitled, Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall. He lists about 20 different strengths which, if misused, can lead to our destruction. To give you an idea what he was referring to I will mention five examples.

1. The misapplication of spiritual gifts. He spoke of someone who had the spiritual gift of healing who became so caught up in his gift that he became a “professional” healer. Eventually his obsession with his gift led him right out of the church.

2. The doctrinal hobbyist. Some people latch onto one doctrine and become obsessed with it, to the exclusion of all the other doctrines that surround it. They harp on this one doctrine until it destroys them spiritually.

3. Being learned is good, but there are those who neglect family and Church in their pursuit of learning, which dulls the Spirit and eventually leads them out of the Church.

4. Charismatic teachers who begin to like the following they get and begin to pursue the praise of men instead of the glory of God. These people he accuses of being guilty of priestcraft.

5. Some have great love and tolerance, but ignoring the truths given to us by the prophets embrace social causes to the exclusion of the counsel of the oracles of God.

The point is that none of these gifts are bad. They are, in fact, very good to have. It is only when we allow them to become imbalanced in our life that Satan can tip us in the wrong direction and we don’t usually even see it coming. He uses flattery to tell us that we are doing the right thing and that we are furthering the work, etc.

The long and the short of it is this, that we are in danger with our weaknesses and we are in danger with our strengths. So what does that leave us? That leaves us with humility. Elder Oaks said in his devotion talk that “humility is the antidote to pride.” The Lord has told us in Doctrine and Covenants 112:10,

10 Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.

Humility is the answer to using our moral agency wisely. Humility causes us to acknowledge to ourselves that we cannot do this without the Lord’s help. He knows the way home. We do not. If we humble ourselves and choose to seek His help and guidance His Spirit will teach us all things we should do to return home. The Lord is not short on available help for us. But He must wait for us to choose to seek that help. Satan is hoping we get so caught up in life that we either forget to ask or we discount the need to depend on the Lord for guidance. That puts Satan squarely in the driver’s seat.

How Satan uses our agency against us
Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall by Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Agency as the Foundation of Honesty and Integrity


Honesty is a principle. When we depend on the efforts of others instead of on our own efforts, we violate this principle. This is what cheating is all about. Cheating requires that we not produce or perform on our own merits. Instead we either steal knowledge or work that belongs to someone else and claim it as our own. To be honest is to bring ourselves into harmony with the commandments of God, which means we become justified before the law. Someone who is honest in all things cannot be corrupted by evil and designing persons. A truly honest person is a real threat to Satan and his followers. It is much more difficult to lead an honest person astray.

Elder James E. Faust in an October, 1996 Priesthood Session said,

Any moral dishonesty is inconsistent with exercising the priesthood of God. In fact, the priesthood can only be exercised on the principle of righteousness. When exercised “in any degree of unrighteousness,” it is withdrawn. You just can’t have it both ways. By being dishonest, people only cheat themselves.

There are different shades of truth telling. When we tell little white lies, we become progressively color-blind. It is better to remain silent than to mislead. The degree to which each of us tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth depends on our conscience.

He went on to tell several stories, one of which ended with this statement. “All of us can climb high when we honor every form of truth.” That is what honesty is, in a nutshell. To be honest is to honor truth above all else. To express this honor requires careful monitoring of our agency. At no time can we afford to let someone think something that is not true. This is part of the Godly use of agency that we don’t usually discuss. Can you even imagine God telling us something misleading in any way? Such a deception would disqualify Him for the station He holds in the universe. How can we say we want to be like Him and let people continue to think anything we know is not true?

For example, there are two levels of honesty. There is the honesty we display when driving down the road with the police riding beside us in the other lane. We are careful to go the speed limit. Then there is the kind of honesty that keeps us at the speed limit when we are on a road with no one else around for miles and miles. It is that love of truth and righteousness that prevents us from giving in to the temptation to do something that would embarrass us if our mother was present.

This is a level of agency in action that begins to separate the mediocre person from the truly remarkable person. Learning to be honest creates within us a level of self control that becomes godly in nature. Have you ever noticed that a dishonest person requires someone else, an external force to keep them “honest?” It is that love of truth and all things having to do with keeping ourselves clean and pure that makes the difference.

If you want to see how well someone has mastered the use of their agency, look at how honest they are. Honesty requires not just doing what is right, but choosing to do what is right at any personal cost. There are times that personal honesty can be very detrimental to advancement in society or in a job or interview or with social perception. To maintain that kind of honesty the focus has to have transferred from what others think to what you or God thinks about what you have done. When society’s opinion no longer matters to you then the ability to make right choices and remain honest at all times becomes much easier. Even under the best of circumstances there are times when being honest is difficult.

James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Honesty–a Moral Compass


According to the dictionary, integrity is pretty much the same meaning as honesty. It is “the state of being whole, entire, undiminished.” The Greek definition of being perfect is also to be whole or complete. Integrity is characterized by living by moral or ethical principles – to be honest. Now that we have the mumbo jumbo out of the way, what does having integrity really mean?

A person who has integrity is someone who is trustworthy, true to their word, capable of performing whatever they say they will perform. They can be counted upon to fulfill their words and commitments. These are all aspects of honesty that are possessed by our Father in Heaven. To be this way requires good use of our agency. Someone without good use of moral agency has given in to temptations and is enslaved by one or more vices, and is untrustworthy. You cannot count on them to keep their word or perform what they say they will perform because they are not in control of themselves.

When we use our agency to obey God’s commandments we empower ourselves to be able to gain self mastery, a godly virtue. Those who succumb to temptation lose this ability because they have forfeited the control of their agency to Satan. He calls the shots. Only repentance can grant the power to regain one’s agency and rise to the level where they are again in control of their own destiny because they are keeping the commandments and are in harmony with all of God’s laws. They are justified.

One of God’s most noticeable character traits is his impeccable integrity/honesty. He never lies. What he says He will do, He does. Once a covenant is made He never breaks it. We might, but him? Never! The prophet and apostles are this way. They are men of integrity. If they give you their word on something you can be confident that their word is as good as a contract. Honest and integrity is a choice we make to honor all that we say we will do. It becomes a sacred part of our lives that we never break a promise or let someone down because they trusted us. Honesty truly is one of God’s greatest attributes, and one we can all learn by using our agency to make sure we always stay honest in all our dealings with others, even if it serves to be a disadvantage to us.

God’s use of Agency in Judgment

Agency is what makes a judgment possible. Without agency there would be nothing to judge, as we would not be able to make choices. This is the very reason why Satan’s plan would have exalted him to the exclusion of all of us. He would get all the credit, all the glory, but by not allowing us to grow through our own choices. We would still be quite innocent, and would not need to be judged of anything.

Rules for the Judgment

We are God’s children, and as such, have been created and placed in the enviable position of being able to act, rather than be acted upon. In fact, we have been given the ultimate ability to act for ourselves, which is what happened when we came to mortality. For the first time in our existence we have the ability to choose between the full range of good and the full range of evil. I find it interesting that the Lord counts as a blessing to us that we are able to choose “liberty and eternal life” or “captivity and death.” Oh goody.

Lehi gave his sons a sermon about choices just before his death, In that sermon he says this (2 Nephi 2:26 – 29 (I’ll make comments between the verses.))

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

We did not have full use of our moral agency until we became mortal and were placed in a position to choose between the extremes of both good and evil. Now, the only thing that can act upon us is the punishments of God for the laws we break. This is a plus for those who take advantage of the atonement of Christ. It is the downside to everything for those who choose to reject that atonement. It is the atonement that reconciles us with the laws of God, allowing us to be justified, or in other words, to live in harmony with those laws so they have no claim against us. This gives us the ultimate freedom to act as we wish, because we have no restrictions on our happiness. We did not have this freedom until we became mortal.

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.

President Thomas S. Monson said this,

“I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences.”
“Decisions Determine Destiny” (Church Educational System fireside for young adults, Nov. 6, 2005),

We may not like the fact that it is possible for us to choose captivity and death that will last forever, but if we accept the ability to choose liberty and eternal life, then we have to take them both as viable options. Remember, we can’t have the one without the other as a possibility. It is only because we have both available that makes the choice of one or the other possible. It is all part of the law of opposition in all things. For one to be possible, so must the other be possible. There is no life without death, no joy without sorrow, no health without sickness, etc. All things of virtue exist in opposition to something else.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

I find verse 29 to be troubling. The “will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” is what we all currently have to contend with. To ignore this is to do so at our own peril. This is Satan’s playground. He knows that our bodies come with desires of their own, and those desires lead us to him. This “giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell.” This is what we are striving in mortality to overcome. The Lord gives us His Spirit to help us find the strength to overcome the natural man, the desires of the flesh that can prevent us from returning to Him.

The only way to tame the desires of the natural man is to submit our wills to Christ’s commandments and to follow him in all things. This is why we have the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is where we come to make our covenants with God, to practice living the life that only Christ, through the Holy Ghost can teach us to live. We fulfill our callings, study our scriptures, pray, fast, sacrifice, and serve. These are the things that will help us become new creatures in Christ.

The new creature we need to become is one who has a body that is no longer lead by the natural desires of the body. The new creature in Christ is lead by the Holy Spirit to do and think holy things, even while living in the body. This is what it means to overcome the world. The world, meaning all things contrary to the will and desires of God. This is what we spend our lives doing, one day at a time. We learn a little here, and a little there, change a habit here, and change a habit there, until we free ourselves from the bondage of sin and are free in Christ.

When it comes to our judgment, we will be held up to the standards we were given in mortality. Those of us in the Church have the highest standards available, and the Lord will want to know what we did with our time and opportunities. Did we spend it playing, and satisfying the desires of the body, or did we bend our wills to Christ and spend our days in the service of our fellow men seeking for their salvation as intently as we were seeking for our own? This is how we will be judged.

Can We be Saved in Ignorance?

The short answer is no, we cannot be saved in ignorance of the law. If we never knew a law then at some point that law will be given to us. We will have to choose to accept it and live by it or receive the reward of those who rejected God’s laws. If we have the law and choose to stay ignorant of any more of God’s truths, then is not that the same thing as those who reject the laws outright? The punishment is the same.

We are under injunction from the Lord to seek out further light and truth, to enquire and learn of Him, and of His ways. We are told to do all in our power to become like Him. If we want to share in all the joys of Godhood then we are going to have to do the same work as those who will qualify for that kind of reward. The Lord rewards the laborer, and despises the shirker.

But the judgment will be merciful and full of love. To whatever degree I have worked to achieve a life like my Savior’s life, I will be rewarded. That means that the rewards will range from those who totally reject the Lord and fight against him in mortality, to those who are completely faithful and do all in their power to be obedient. There are multiple kingdoms already created to house each and everyone of us, all based on the degree of our desire for good.

Finality of the Judgment

An important principle that many fail to acknowledge or believe is the finality of the “final judgment.” There is a reason it is called the final judgment. Once we have concluded mortality, spent time in the spirit world – which is an extension of our time in mortality, and are resurrected, we are in the condition we will remain in for eternity. When we are resurrected it will be with the body we have earned by our obedience and the use of our moral agency while in mortality. It will also be affected by our mortal circumstances. For example, those who were killed as little children or who live in mortality without the ability to comprehend right and wrong, are saved through the merits of Christ’s atonement. Unfortunately, for those of you who are reading this, that doesn’t include you. We will be judged based on our willingness to use our agency to choose good over evil.

The Lord finds no pleasure in assigning any of us to a kingdom lower than His own. But God loves His children and wants us to be happy. That is why, in His mercy, He has created lesser kingdoms where we will be as happy as we can be, based on our choices in mortality. As far as we know, we will never leave the kingdom to which we aspired during mortality. If all we earned was a telestial kingdom, then that is where we shall be forever and ever. If we earn a celestial reward through obedience and faith in Christ, then that is where we shall be forever and ever. I repeat President Monson’s quote given previously.

“I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences.”

We are playing for keeps, as the saying goes. We will receive no second chances after the resurrection that can erase the bad choices we make here in our first chance. Mortality is designed, by its very nature, to measure the desires of our hearts. It is by this desire that the Lord will judge us. If we want to change the desire of our hearts we can, but that is a gift from God and comes only through the atonement of Christ. We are not stuck with our current desires. We can change them, but only if we take them to Christ and submit to his will so he can change our hearts to have better desires.

For some, judgment will be a frightening experience, until they see how much mercy is being applied to them. For others, who have learned of God’s mercy while in mortality, the judgment will the vindication of all they worked for in this life. It will be a victory celebration where the Lord welcomes them home as good and faithful servants. It is then they will be crowned with eternal glory and everlasting increase.

Respecting Others’ agency

At the outset let me refer you to an article I wrote called Agency Misunderstood. Reading this article will help you understand more about how agency works when it comes to dealing with other people’s use of their moral agency.

One of the most difficult parts of dealing with agency is when it involves other people. Our tendency is to want to make our own choice, but when someone else makes a choice that affects us in a negative way, suddenly we want to put a bridle on their agency. Here is a series of examples.

Bonnie had a daughter who was bright and intelligent, lively and sociable. When Bonnie married a man with several children who were older than her daughter, the new family was faced with all the trouble that comes from trying to blend two close-knit groups into a new close-knit group. It was rough going. For years there was open warfare between the children of the newlyweds. Finally, it was found out that one of the children of the husband’s first marriage was misusing his new “sister” in very inappropriate ways, and had been for several years.

The pain of such a discovery is incalculable. How does one quantify the betrayal of trust between siblings, between those you have loved since birth and those you have fallen in love with? How do you bridle your personal anger at the violation of one of your children? How do you react when the violation was at the hands of one of your own children? This family had some serious decisions to make, walls that had been broken that needed repairing, and boundaries that had been terribly violated that needed to be reset and monitored.

John had a son who was basically good, but had a lot of growing up to do. The son would invite people over to help him with his work around the house. When everyone got into the flow of the work, he would slip off upstairs and take a nap, leaving his friends doing his work for him. How could John help his son see what kind of damage this did to his relationship with his friends? How could his parents teach him better work habits?

Fred was the backbone of his department at work. He was the only one who truly knew what was going on and what needed to be done by everyone in the department. He had been happy in his work, had built a good reputation for the department in the company, and had been one of the department’s most staunch defenders and supporters for years. Fred got a new boss, and several months later was called into the boss’s office and was told that his work was unacceptable, and his services were no longer desired. He was fired. No warning, no communication, just a dismissal.

Fred was faced with public humiliation. The reason publicly stated for his termination was neither true, nor supportable, but was what was being told to those he respected. His reputation was at risk, and he now had no recourse. His company had blacklisted him, and he would not be able to be hired by other departments because of what his new boss had done. How does Fred handle the betrayal, the shame, the humiliation, the loss of employment, and the lack of support by the company he had defended and championed all those years?

How many have had a spouse betray them? How many of us have been guilty of financial irresponsibility that has hurt our family’s ability to survive because we have a gambling problem or don’t know how to curb our spending? How many of us have a drinking problem that shames the family or opens the door for abuse? How many of us are insensitive to the needs of others and are so focused on what we want or feel we need that the rest of the family goes begging physically, socially, emotionally, or spiritually? How many of us have a spouse with a pornography addiction or some other addiction that causes secrecy and breaks down communication in the relationship?

This list of examples could be longer than there are people on the planet. We have all faced wrongs at the hands of other people, mistakes by other people that directly affected us or our loved ones, and even outright evil done by others meant to steal from us or harm us. Many people blame God for these things. How often have we heard people claim that no loving God would allow such things as this or that to take place. They cannot believe in a being who would permit such suffering and evil to exist. These people do not understand agency or how it works.

Refer back to the original list of the five laws of agency:

1. Our right to choose is inviolate. God will not take it away from us, nor will He allow anyone else to take it away from us. As long as God loves us and desires that we become like Him, agency is ours to do with as we please.

2. Only we can give away our agency. It cannot be taken by any force in the universe. There is only one limitation placed on our right to choose.

3. Our right to choose is only limited by the application of the punishments that come because of the laws we break in the use of our agency.

4. Our ability to be saved from the full punishments of the laws we break in the use of our agency come from Christ’s atonement. It is He who makes it possible for us to continue to use the agency God gave us. It is part of His atoning sacrifice (Mosiah 5:8, Galatians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 7:22). All three of these verses tell us that freedom of choice is available only through the atonement.

5. No force is allowed in the execution of one’s agency. We are completely free to make whatever choice we wish, and at any time we wish. It makes no difference if we choose to harm ourselves/others or to help ourselves/others, the law of agency forbids interference with our choices. The prohibition on interference includes God, Himself. People exclaim all the time, “How could a loving God allow such and such to happen?” Well, now you know. He has given us our agency, and He will allow no one, not even Himself, to interfere with our choices. By not interfering with our choices His judgments become truly just.

The real tricky one is coming to understand why number five is so important. If God is going to hold us accountable for what we choose to do then He cannot interfere with our choices. If anyone interferes with our choices then we cannot be judged based on our choices, because they will have been tampered with. Fortunately, there is nothing that can be done to us here in mortality that will cause permanent damage in the eternities. Earth life has been set up so that anything that happens here can be repaired or made up for in the next life. No matter how badly someone behaves, no matter how much they hurt themselves or another person, the Savior’s atonement will fix it all. Earth life may seem like a free-for-all at times, but the Lord, who knows the end from the beginning, has calculated the costs and has paid for all that damage in His sacrifice in Gethsemane and on the cross. The only people who will have to pay for their own behavior are those who refuse to accept Christ’s payment on their behalf.

Remember too that mortality finally gives us the opportunity to choose ultimate good or ultimate evil, and anything in between. If we are not allowed to make those choices then how will we demonstrate to the Lord the true desires of our heart? We must be free to play out our desires, and change those desires if we choose to do so. While in mortality we can choose a life of degradation and debauchery, but then have a change of heart and repent through Christ’s atonement and live a life of virtue and service. This is what earth life is all about, learning how to make our choices. The hard part is learning to live with other people’s choices.

Fair is Fair

While I will staunchly defend my right to make whatever choice in this life I want to make, why am I not so willing to allow my neighbor the same privilege? For some, this is a difficult concept to grasp. We are generally more blind to the public consequences of our own behavior than we are to the public consequences of someone else’s behavior.

I have a saying that I learned from raising five children. At some point every parent needs to learn how to divorce their child. What I mean by this is that every child will make their own life choices, just like we did when we came of age and even before then. But the choices I made were not my parent’s fault, nor were they responsible for my choice. It was, after all, my choice. By the same token, the choices my child makes are not my fault, nor are they my responsibility. I have taught my kids right from wrong. I have taught them the gospel. I have taught them the importance of gaining a testimony and of following the Spirit. If they make a choice that falls outside those parameters, that is on their heads, not mine.

We often have a hard time with the choices our loved ones make because we are not thinking about them, but about ourselves. How will this make me look to the neighbors? What will people think? They will assume I have been a bad parent. Heaven forbid that someone should think we have a dysfunctional family! We get so caught up in how we will look that we forget that our focus should be on the welfare of the child or other loved one.

Does that mean that when my loved one makes a poor decision that I shouldn’t feel bad? Of course not. I feel terrible that they would make such a choice. Do we think for one second that our Father in Heaven doesn’t feel sorrow for the stupid choices we make? Of course He feels bad. He loves us. He, of all people knows how much we are hurting ourselves, but there is that constraint on tampering with our agency. In order for Him to give us a just reward at the end of mortality, there can be no interference with our ability to choose. Only we can restrict our ability to choose, and that is done by making bad choices that ensnare us and addict us in some way, limiting our ability to make better choices.

Understanding Another’s Right to Choose

The main hurdles we have in understanding someone else’s right to make their choices is first of all coming to understand why the Lord, himself, cannot interfere with our choices. If I can understand why God will not interfere with my right to choose (so my judgment will be just and I will get exactly what I deserve based on those choices) then I need to extend that same condition to my loved ones. And if the Lord cannot interfere with their ability to choose for themselves, then I cannot interfere either. This is where it becomes hard.

This is also why we have been commanded by Christ that we are to forgive all men their trespasses against us. Here are a couple of scriptural references to consider (Mormon 8:19 – 20; D&C 64:8 – 11).

19 For behold, the same that judgeth rashly shall be judged rashly again; for according to his works shall his wages be; therefore, he that smiteth shall be smitten again, of the Lord.

20 Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay.


8 My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.

9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

11 And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

In the Moroni verses notice a couple of things. First we are told that when we are quick to judge another person, and especially if we execute judgment on them, the Lord will be just as hasty to judge us. Unless we are an ordained judge in Israel and have been given that responsibility by the Lord, we are to be careful about how quickly and how sure we are in judging another person. The second thing he points out is that He has no intention that our sins go unpunished, just that He is the only one who has the right to do the punishing. Both punishment and vengeance belong to the Lord.

In the Doctrine and Covenants scriptures we are told to forgive everyone. The Lord can pick and choose whom He will forgive, but we must forgive everyone. Why? Well for one thing, when I break a commandment and inflict someone else because of my behavior, I have not broken their law, I have broken God’s law. Therefore He is the only one who is free to punish me.

When my neighbor sins I must forgive my neighbor because I am hoping to receive the same forgiveness for my sins my neighbor is hoping to receive. Therefore I am under greater condemnation than my neighbor if I refuse to allow the same courtesy offered to me by God to be offered to my neighbor. We are all beggars before the Lord. We are hoping for leniency and clemency for our sins. If we turn on a fellow beggar and claim they have injured us, and demand payment for that crime, we are in the same position as the man in the New Testament story of the ungrateful servant (Matthew 18:23 – 35).

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:

33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Most people would never see 100 talents in their lifetime. This man owed his master 10,000 talents. This was an unbelievable sum of money. Yet, because he plead with his master he was forgiven the entire sum. The master did not even ask for a payment plan. He forgave him outright. But then the man had another servant who owed him the equivalent of a dollar, ruthlessly thrown into prison until his debt was paid. And this man offered to set up a payment plan to pay off the whole dollar. Note that this is how the Lord, himself is couching the terms. He is deliberately exaggerating the terms and the behavior to make the point.

When we, who have the largest debt imaginable are faced with those who have, in comparison, only inconvenienced us, and we who are forgiven by God freely refuse to forgive those who have wronged us (in comparison with so little), the Lord calls us ungrateful, and condemns us as having the greater sin. In this one thing we are given only one choice, either forgive everyone else their wrongdoings or stand condemned before the Lord for our own wrongdoings. The Lord has claimed all rights to judgment. We have no rights given to us by our creator to judge our fellow men for their behavior. We are commanded only to forgive and leave the rest to Him who governs the universe.

How we learn to forgive someone else for the things they do to us is material for another article. Suffice it to say here that we are required to forgive what others do, no matter how badly we believe they need to be punished. Punishment is up to the Lord, not to us. We are commanded, for our own sakes to continue to love that person and to forgive them for what they have done. That is the only way to keep ourselves clean from adding yet another stain of sin on our own garments.

Agency is a two-edged sword. As we hope it will swing to protect us, we must also allow it to swing to punish us for its misuse. Our friends, enemies, and loved ones are no different than us. If we want tolerance from others we must be willing to give tolerance in return. If we want forgiveness from others we must offer forgiveness in return. Agency is the stuff gods are made from. Agency is not easy to use wisely, and we need all the help from the Spirit we can get to use it to our advantage.

Agency as a principle of power

When we define sin we generally find ourselves spelling out things that corrupt, things that cause addiction, things that demean us or others, things that damage the soul. Sin is the breaking of the laws of God, i.e. doing something we know we ought not to do, or not doing something we know we should do. Sin in any category causes us to become ensnared in at least one of the following ways: physically, spiritually, mentally, or emotionally.

When we first tell a lie we set up a trap for ourselves. Now we have created a responsibility from which we cannot escape, unless we want to confess and accept the consequences for the lie. We have to remember who we lied to and the details of the lie, and when we told that lie. If we lose track of any of that information we could be sunk. Any sin creates such burdens for our souls.

If you are married and have a secret addiction to pornography, you spend your days preoccupied with how you are going to be able to get your next fix, without getting caught. You fear that someone will catch you or figure out what you are doing. Paranoia is common.

My point is this. Sin of any kind enslaves the soul, diminishes our abilities and creates addiction of one sort or another. So in the law of opposition in all things, what is the opposite of sin? If sin is the use of agency to violate the laws of God, then what would happen to us if we used our agency to work within the laws of God? Ever think about that? If using agency to violate the commandments pulls us down and diminishes us in some way, and allows Satan to eventually enslave us, then what happens to us when we use our agency to honor the commandments of God?

The Principle of Power

Agency used for good, in conjunction with obedience to God’s laws actually reverses everything that sin creates. We are told that all blessings are predicated or based upon specific laws or sets of laws, and that any blessing we receive is a result of having obeyed that law or set of laws (D&C 130:20-21). Remember that the commandments are the laws of happiness God lives by. They are the blueprint to his personal happiness. We are not being asked to live by any law that he is not already living. If we want to experience the godly joys of the celestial kingdom then we must be willing to use our agency to live the laws of that kingdom.

To state it plainly, if violating a law enslaves me with addictive habits then using my agency to honor a commandment keeps me free to experience all the joy and blessings associated with that commandment. My mind is kept clear, the Spirit is able to work with me and reveal new truths to me, to witness the truth of what I have been exercising faith in so that knowledge now replaces faith, and I have peace because there is no guilt. I can look anyone in the eye and not have to worry about what they may find out or what they may think about me, because I know I am justified by the law. The law has no hold against me because I have honored it and lived within its guidelines.

This makes exercising our agency in a good way, a principle of power. When I am trapped by sin I take my problem to the Lord. I promise to use my agency to live within His law so he will forgive me of my violation of that law. After a time of trial, and exercising my faith in the redemptive power of Christ’s atonement, my sin is forgiven, and I can have peace again, because the guilt is swept away by Christ’s forgiveness. Even though I know I used to be trapped by a certain sin, I realize that I am trapped no longer. I am free to move about and hold my head up without shame. The Spirit is able to reveal things to me that were forbidden to me before, and I have more of the Spirit’s companionship than I had before. I am happier.

Take this and progress one step at a time. Each problem in my life I overcome through repentance and the forsaking of sins opens new doors into the spiritual realm. My peace increases, my spiritual intelligence increases, my love of God and man increases, my freedom to make other choices that were blocked off by sin before are now coming open to me. The world is a much different place for the repentant sinner than it is for the unrepentant sinner. The only thing that is different is the use of our agency. What one person uses to enslave themselves, can also be used to free oneself.

Let me clarify something here. It is not my will that frees me, it is Christ’s forgiveness that frees me. I can use shear will to stop doing something that I know is bad for me, but I don’t have the power within me to change the disposition and desires of my heart. Only Christ can do that. Stopping an action that violates a commandment is not repenting. Stopping the action is only the beginning of the repentance process. I still have to humble myself, acknowledge my wrongdoing, plead for forgiveness, and make restitution wherever restitution is due. Then, and only then can the Savior forgive me. These are His rules, not mine.

On to Glory

Can you begin to see how the application of our agency is what is necessary for us to be raised to a celestial state of worthiness? We must learn how to use our agency to voluntarily live within the laws of God so that we actually enjoy being obedient. We know that obedience is what brings us happiness and joy. It is obedience that opens the windows of heaven for all the blessings God pours out on our heads. It is the wise use of our agency that opens the door to revelation, to inspiration, to love for our fellowmen.

Agency is the vehicle used to enslave mankind by Satan, and the vehicle used by God to exalt mankind. But it is mankind who has to decide which vehicle to ride in. Agency is the weapon of evil and the tool of the righteous. It has the capacity to damn or exalt us. The secret is in how we wield it in our lives. But first we need to realize that it is our agency, that ability that even God, Himself will not violate, that is our most precious possession. Take away our agency and we are nothing more than drones. Agency is the power by which we can be exalted.

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The 5 Laws of Agency