Topic Study: Agency


December 2002 TG Entry: Agency  (A portion of this is from a 2 Nephi seminary lesson October 12, 1994.  The charts are from March 2004 Priest’s Quorum lesson)

I             Prerequisites for Agency

There are four things necessary for agency.  They are

  1. Opposition in all things
  2. Knowledge of good and evil
  3. Laws
  4. The power to choose

I.A            Opposition In All Things

If we don’t have opposites to choose from, or we don’t know what the different alternatives really entail, we can’t really make a choice.  For example, if I put out the apple, and said, “You are starving, and I will give a choice as to what to eat.  Here is an apple.”  Do you really have a choice?  You might say you could either eat it or not, but that is only a choice when you are not very hungry.  In fact there is no real choice.  If there are no alternatives, there are no real choices.

I.B            Knowledge

What if I give you the option of having a lemon or an apple?  You would probably choose the apple.  How would you know to choose the apple?  It might be because you have had had an apple before.  But that would not be complete.  You must also have had lemons, or you would not know that it was sour and the apple was sweet.  If you had had neither, you would be like Adam and Eve, not knowing good or evil, and therefore not able to make a quality choice.  When we know good and evil, we are responsible for the choices we make (provided the other criteria are met).

I.C            Laws

Laws designate consequences.  They neither restrict nor make free.  They predict results.  What if a lemon sometimes tasted like an apple, or visa versa?  How would you ever make a choice?  Laws tell us that a lemon is sour, and an apple is sweet (although there are surprises, predicted by other laws, such as how ripe the fruit is).  The objective of this life is to not break laws.  If we learn them, we can use their consequences for our benefit, rather than suffer the consequences through disobedience.

I.D            Power to Choose

If I had power over you, and said you were going to have a lemon rather than the apple, you wouldn’t be able to make a choice.  We must have the power given to us to make the choice.


What happens when one of these is missing?  For example, little children do not have the knowledge.  They therefore are covered by the atonement.  If any of these items are missing, the atonement takes affect.  However, we are fully responsible if we know right from wrong, have the power to choose, there is a law, and alternatives exist.

II            Agency Framework

The following diagrams help describe what agency is.  Nowhere in the scriptures is the term “Free Agency” used.  Choosing good leads to Freedom or Liberty, and choosing evil leads to Captivity and Bondage.

Agency Framework

II.A           More Detailed View of Diagram

Agency is the ability to choose or decide. Laws designate consequences of decisions. Good choice or following the law leads to liberty and ultimate eternal life.  Deciding to not follow the law leads to captivity and death.

Detailed Agency Framework

There are many motivations for actions ranging from willfully rebelling to having Charity for others.  Each motivation leads to greater or lesser consequences for our decisions.

II.B           Choices verses Decisions

Some decisions are neither good nor evil. I have decided for this discussion to call these choices.  So decision can be right or wrong.  But choices are not right or wrong.

Choices verses Decisions

Good decisions—which are designated by laws—lead to more Choices—which are designated by talents, preferences and gifts.  Someone can have a favorite color, such as red, which is neither right nor wrong.  Red is not any better or worse than blue.

II.C          Time

Over time, a decision leads to and impacts future decisions.  Good decisions lead to more choices.  Poor decisions lead to fewer choices.  For example, suppose a mother gives her 3-year-old a choice of what to where in the morning.  Lets look at how making bad decisions leads to fewer choices the next time, and how making good decisions leads to greater choices.

Choices of a Three Year Old

II.D          Impact of Time

The size and shape of the consequence of our decisions change over time.  Some good decisions seem to restrict our choices for a time, but later they expand.  Some decisions give lots of freedom, for a short period of time.

For example almost daily youth have a choice whether they will study or not.  The Law is that education increases opportunities.  Making the decision to study will open more choices.  For example, you might be able to choose where to go to school.  Choosing between two different schools, one specializing in engineering and another specializing in medicine is simply a choice.  But if you make the decision not to study, you may have to choose between repeating Language Arts or Remedial Math to graduate.

But the person that studies “gets” to go to school.  And what does that person “get” to do in school?  They “get” to study more.  They “get” to go to classes, to do homework, and to take finals.  Now that sounds fun.  Whereas the person that doesn’t study may get to choose, after finishing up as a cook at a fast food restaurant for the day, to watch TV or to sleep.  Wow, what a wonderful set of choices!

Impact of Time

But the range of choices will change over time.  Although the person that enters college will certainly have less freedom in the short-term, in the long-term the range of choices will grow substantially.  If they continued on to medical school, they may be able to choose where they want to live, what hours they want to be in the office, and many other choices.  The person that does not study may never get any other choices than deciding whether to watch TV or to sleep.

III           Satan’s Tactics

Satan understands this framework very well, even if you don’t.  He uses his understanding to convince you that there are subtle, but important differences between what is true and what he proposes.

III.A         No Decisions

Satan tries to convince us that because there are no laws, there are no decisions, only choices.  He tries to tell you that everything is just a matter of personal preference.

Do not believe this lie.  There are laws.  There are many laws you have never heard of.  The best way to learn these laws, the laws that they will not teach you in school, is to be in seminary, to be in Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, Priesthood or Young Women’s meetings, or family home evening.  By knowing that laws exist, and recognizing when you are making a decision and not a choice, you are at least prepared to live with the consequences of the laws.

III.B         No Consequences

Satan tries to convince us that there are no consequences to our decisions or that the time of the consequence is so far away it doesn’t matter.

Do not believe this lie.  Every decision, even every choice, has a consequence.  There may be a long, long delay between the action and the consequence, but every action has a consequence, with all consequences being applied on judgment day.

IV          Gospel Teachings

In addition to countering Satan’s lies, it provides the following teachings.

IV.A         Guidance

The Holy Ghost can be a great help to us in detecting when laws are involved, and what is the right course to pursue.

IV.B         Gift and Talents

In addition to understanding laws and making few bad decisions, the Gospel can help us recognize our gifts, talents, and abilities more fully.  Thus even our choices, those things that do not involve laws, can be better.

Updated Thought

April 2017: In studying Article of Faith 2, I noted the following:  “By creating perfectly opposing laws, God “gave… man his agency” (Moses 7:32, 3:17; 6:56)  Agency isn’t just to (1) have a choice to make, (2) know good and evil (6:56) and (3) ability to choose for ourselves (3:17), it includes actually (4) receiving the consequences of our choices (ref?) and (5) a space between choice and consequence. Immediate or no real consequence provides no real choice. (ref?)”

This statement is not consistent with the set of statements at the top of this entry, and it would be good to reconcile them, adding to this statement the need for laws, but to the above the need for consequences and for space.

Continue At

Consequences of Sin

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