Updated: Feb 15, 2022
In our existence before birth, we lived as spirit children of Heavenly Parents. We learned from, worshiped, and loved our Heavenly Parents. We wanted to become like them. There was a council called and Heavenly Father presented his plan for our eternal happiness. We would be sent away, have a veil placed over our premortal life, and have to prove ourselves that we would “do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command” us. (Abraham 3:25.) Knowing that each of us would at some point choose poorly, the Omniscient’s plan required a savior to pay the price of sin. Both Jesus and Satan volunteered but Satan’s proposal came with two conditions: that we no longer have our agency and he receive all the glory. Jesus was chosen and performed the Atonement. Although Satan's plan was rejected and he was cast out, he has not accepted defeat and strives everyday to destroy our agency.
In his talk entitled “Moral Agency,” Elder D Todd Christofferson shared that there are three components for our agency: opposition, knowledge, and the ability to choose. As Lehi taught his sons, “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” (2 Nephi 2:11) For us to be able to choose, we have to have more than one option to choose from. For some choices these alternates simply provide variety and color to our world. Other choices have a right and a wrong. Lehi continues to explain that in order for there to be a right and a wrong there must be a law. And if there is no law, there is no sin, no righteousness, and no God. “And if there is no God, we are not.” (2 Nephi 2:13) If there was no opposition, we could not exist.
Without knowledge of what the alternates in our choices are and the impact they can have, we could not be responsible for our decisions. We learn line upon line and grow to understand more and more. As we gain knowledge, we come to know good from evil and “act for [ourselves] and not be acted upon.” (2 Nephi 2:26) The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us to gain greater light and see how our decisions can have greater consequences than just what we see in this life. The more knowledge we attain, the more we can be instruments in the Lord’s hand of helping Him attain his “work and glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
President David O McKay shared, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. … Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift. … Whether born in abject poverty or [with] inherited riches, everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency; man’s inherited and inalienable right.” Agency is essential for our path towards returning to and becoming like our Heavenly Parents. We had our agency before we came to earth as evidenced by our choosing to follow the plan of salvation. While on earth we learn and grow as we use our agency countless times each day. We use our agency for choices as insignificant as what socks to wear to larger life altering choices. Each of these choices give us experience, some good and others not so good. It can be frustrating when we feel we are using our agency correctly but not getting the results we feel we deserve. While in Liberty Jail, the prophet Joseph Smith was dismayed by how he and other faithful church leaders had ended up in prison and why the saints were facing so much adversity. He prayed “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place.” (D&C 121:1) But the Lord’s response showed that he was mindful of the prophet just as he is for each of us, saying “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7) Agency allows the blessings and trials we experience in this life to be for our good.
While we are free to choose our decisions, we are not free to choose the consequences. Heavenly Father is consistent in his promises. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. (D&C 82:10) The Lord is perfect in keeping his side of every covenant. As the sacrament prayer states, if we take upon us the Lord’s name, remember Him and strive to keep His commandments, He WILL send his Spirit to be with us. (D&C 20:75) If we don’t obey, we can be certain that we won’t see the blessings promised. This truth is easy to test. Find a commandment, follow it and see if Heavenly Father doesn’t bless you for choosing to follow Him. Agency allows us to secure the blessings Heavenly Father has abundantly in store for us.
Last year, I was going through our budget and entering our tithing into the church website. As I entered our fast offering, I felt a voice tell me very clearly that I could and should pay more. The promptings I receive from the Spirit never come that direct. I usually have a feeling of peace or joy. My wife and I decided to follow this direction and made a modest increase to our fast offering. I know that we have been blessed for this decision during the crazy times we are living in.
Many, if not all, of us have encountered people who have said that our church is too restricting. We are taught to abstain from alcohol, smoking, and other drugs. Our beliefs about the family and morality differ from the world’s. We pay tithes and fast offerings and strive to keep the Sabbath day holy. It is easy to see why those outside our faith could have such feelings. Sometimes it is hard to sacrifice our desires or ward off temptations in order to keep the commandments. However, obedience to the commandments helps to protect our agency. A proverb teaches us that “the commandment is a lamp, and the law is a light.” (Proverbs 6:23) Obedience enlightens the path towards returning to our heavenly home. Disobedience burdens us and pulls us away from the promptings of the Spirit.
While it can feel like we have a lot of commandments, there are many choices that are left for us to decide. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord warned, “it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant… men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:26) Yes, we are to pay a 10% tithing - but is that net income or gross? Keep the sabbath day holy means to attend our church meetings, but what about the other 22 hours on Sunday? These along with other questions we encounter in life (like who to marry, whether to accept a new job, and how to help a family member) don’t always have answers in the scriptures or the words of latter-day prophets. Often but not always, we can receive inspiration through study and prayer. But there are times where there is no answer and the Lord leaves it to us to decide what to do.
After college, my wife and I moved back to California and I started my first full-time job. Quickly, I learned that this job was both an entry-level and dead-end job. I knew this position wasn’t going to allow me to support my family and I started looking for a new job. I eventually received an offer to move to a completely different industry but would offer me better growth opportunities. I researched the position and talked to others in the industry. I was ready to accept the job but chose to pray about it first. I prayed three times asking if it was ok to take the offer but never felt like I received an answer. I decided to take the job. It bothered me for a while that I hadn’t received an answer when I prayed but I learned that Heavenly Father knew I had done my research and was allowing me to make my own choice. This decision allowed me to progress within the industry and now work at a job I really enjoy. I also the value of researching and studying before taking a question to the Lord.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus prayed “the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: … that they may be made perfect in one.” (John 17:22-23) Latter-Day revelation helps us to know that God the Father and Jesus are not one personage but two.They are one in purpose, will and glory. We become one with them when we humbly take the gift of agency we have been given and return it to align with our Father in Heaven’s will. When we are obedient to the Lord’s commandments, His grace, mercy, and truth allow us to grow closer to Them. Elder Chistofferson also taught, “Using our agency to choose God’s will, and not slackening even when the going gets hard, will not make us God’s puppet; it will make us like Him. God gave us agency, and Jesus showed us how to use it so that we could eventually learn what They know, do what They do, and become what They are.” Exaltation comes as we “put off the natural man” and obey when the Savior says, “come, follow me.”
In order for our agency to help us become what the Savior wants us to become, we need to obey with the proper attitude. Obedience alone is not enough. The Book of Mormon explains, if a man “offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.” Around the time we turned 8 years old, a friend of mine and I both started taking piano lessons. We started at the same time and took lessons from the same teacher. At first I was excited to learn, but quickly piano lessons and practicing started to feel like a chore. I can’t speak to the attitude my friend had about practicing, but I would find every excuse not to practice or would rush through the songs I was learning so I could do things I enjoyed more. Each year we would have a recital and year after year it became clear that my friend was progressing much quicker than I was. He was able to play recognizable songs while I was still working on the basics. I know and regret that my attitude towards piano stunted opportunities I could have had.
The Book of Mormon invites us to “consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold they are blessed in all things both temporal and spiritual.” (Mosiah 2:41) It never says that the faithful live a trial free life. The rain falls on the wicked and the righteous. Temptations will still happen. We will still make mistakes and Satan will try to make us miserable like himself. But those that use their agency for good are blessed both temporally and spiritually. They are able to fulfill their purpose and find joy, eternal joy.