Chapter 11: The Agency of Man

“Chapter 11: The Agency of Man,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000), 30–31

“11: Agency,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 30–31

Chapter 11

The Agency of Man


No principle in time or eternity is so cherished as the right of agency, the right to consider alternatives and make choices without compulsion. A war was waged in heaven over our agency—a war that was transferred to earth. Satan is determined to blind, bind, and lead captive through ignorance and sin everyone he can. Understanding our agency is imperative for our spiritual survival and fulfillment in Christ.

Doctrinal Outline

  1. Agency is the eternal right of independent choice.

    1. Agency is a gift from God (see Moses 7:32; D&C 98:8; 2 Nephi 2:16; Helaman 14:30).

    2. As premortal spirits we enjoyed the gift of agency (see Alma 13:3; D&C 29:36).

    3. Agency allows us to choose our own course in life (see Joshua 24:15; 2 Nephi 2:26–27; 10:23; D&C 58:27–29; Alma 12:31; Helaman 14:30–31).

  2. Satan seeks to destroy our agency.

    1. The devil is the enemy of God and the enemy of all righteousness (see Mosiah 4:14; Moses 4:4).

    2. In the premortal world, the devil sought to destroy the agency that God had given to His children (see Moses 4:1–3).

    3. The devil and his angels continue to tempt us to use our agency for evil purposes (see 2 Nephi 2:17–18; D&C 29:39; 3 Nephi 2:3; 6:15–16).

    4. The power to overcome Satan and his evil influence comes from God (see 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9; 3 Nephi 18:18–19; D&C 62:1; Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17).

  3. We are accountable to God for the use of our agency.

    1. Every individual must make an accounting of his thoughts, his words, and his actions (see Ezekiel 18:30; Matthew 12:36; Romans 2:5–8; 14:12; Revelation 20:12; Mosiah 4:30; Alma 11:43–44; 12:14–15).

    2. Those who have no law are not accountable to the law (see 2 Nephi 9:25–26; Moroni 8:22).

    3. Sinners bear their own iniquities and not those of another (see Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Articles of Faith 1:2; Galatians 6:5).

  4. Our eternal destiny is determined by the use or misuse of our agency.

    1. Every individual is free to choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and spiritual death (see 2 Nephi 2:27; Helaman 14:30).

    2. Our final state is determined by our own choices (see Galatians 6:7–9; D&C 58:26–29; Alma 41:3–8; 42:27–28).

    3. We receive our reward from him whom we choose to obey (see Alma 3:27; 5:41–42; Mosiah 2:32–33).

    4. Those who choose good will gain a great reward (see Proverbs 11:18; Mark 10:28–30; D&C 6:33; 58:28).

    5. Those who choose evil do not receive God’s gifts (see D&C 88:32–35).

Supporting Statements

  1. Agency is the eternal right of independent choice.

    • “With regard to the rights of the human family, I wish to say that God has given unto all of his children of this dispensation, as he gave unto all of his children of previous dispensations, individual agency. This agency has always been the heritage of man under the rule and government of God. He possessed it in the heaven of heavens before the world was, and the Lord maintained and defended it there against the aggression of Lucifer and those that took sides with him, to the overthrow of Lucifer and one-third part of the heavenly hosts. By virtue of this agency you and I and all mankind are made responsible beings, responsible for the course we pursue, the lives we live, the deeds we do in the body” (Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 8–9).

    • “Free agency is the impelling source of the soul’s progress. It is the purpose of the Lord that man become like him. In order for man to achieve this it was necessary for the Creator first to make him free” (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 32).

    • “Man’s greatest endowment in mortal life is the power of choice—the divine gift of free agency. No true character was ever developed without a sense of soul freedom” (David O. McKay, Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, 80).

    • “The Church teaches as a strictly scriptural doctrine, that man has inherited among the inalienable rights conferred upon him by his divine Father, freedom to choose the good or the evil in life, to obey or disobey the Lord’s commands, as he may elect. This right cannot be guarded with more jealous care than is bestowed upon it by God Himself; for in all His dealings with man He has left the mortal creature free to choose and to act” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 52).

  2. Satan seeks to destroy our agency.

    • “We learn from the revealed word that Satan was once an angel of light, then known as Lucifer, a Son of the Morning; but his selfish ambition led him to aspire to the glory and power of the Father, to secure which he made the pernicious proposition to redeem the human family by compulsion; and, failing in this purpose, he headed an open rebellion against the Father and the Son, drawing a third of the hosts of heaven into his impious league. These rebellious spirits were expelled from heaven, and have since followed the impulses of their wicked natures by seeking to lead human souls into their own condition of darkness. They are the devil and his angels. The right of free agency, maintained and vindicated by the war in heaven, prevents the possibility of compulsion being employed in this fiendish work of degradation; but the powers of these malignant spirits to tempt and persuade are used to the utmost. …

      “Satan exerts a mastery over the spirits that have been corrupted by his practises; he is the foremost of the angels who were thrust down, and the instigator of the ruin of those who fall in this life; he seeks to molest and hinder mankind in good efforts. … Yet in all these malignant doings, he can go no farther than the transgressions of the victim may enable him, or the wisdom of God may permit; and at any time he may be checked by the superior power” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, 62–63).

    • “[Joseph Smith] then observed that Satan was generally blamed for the evils which we did, but if he was the cause of all our wickedness, men could not be condemned. The devil could not compel mankind to do evil; all was voluntary. Those who resisted the Spirit of God, would be liable to be led into temptation, and then the association of heaven would be withdrawn from those who refused to be made partakers of such great glory. God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not; and such ideas as were entertained [on these subjects] by many were absurd” (in Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 187).

    • “Everything that God gives us is lawful and right; and it is proper that we should enjoy His gifts and blessings whenever and wherever He is disposed to bestow; but if we should seize upon those same blessings and enjoyments without law, without revelation, without commandment, those blessings and enjoyments would prove cursings and vexations in the end, and we should have to lie down in sorrow and wailings of everlasting regret. But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed” (Smith, Teachings, 256).

  3. We are accountable to God for the use of our agency.

    • “Every one of us will have to give an account for the deeds we do in the flesh, and that every man will be rewarded according to his works, whether they be good or evil. Thank God for that principle; for it is a just principle; it is Godlike. For such a principle to be omitted from the work of the Lord would be an omission too serious to contemplate. … You and I and every one of us will have to answer for the deeds we do, and will be rewarded according to our works, whether they be good or evil” (Joseph F. Smith, “Principles of Government in the Church,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1917, 10–11).

    • “Men not unfrequently forget that they are dependent upon heaven for every blessing which they are permitted to enjoy, and that for every opportunity granted them they are to give an account. … Our Master is absent only for a little season, and at the end of it He will call each to render an account; and where the five talents were bestowed, ten will be required; and he that has made no improvement will be cast out as an unprofitable servant, while the faithful will enjoy everlasting honors” (Smith, Teachings, 68).

  4. Our eternal destiny is determined by the use or misuse of our agency.

    • “Are we not the framers of our own destiny? Are we not the arbitrators of our fate? This is another part of my text, and I argue from it that it is our privilege to determine our own exaltation or degradation. It is our privilege to determine our own happiness or misery in the world to come. What is it that brings happiness now—that makes us so joyous in our assembling together? It is not wealth; for you may pour wealth, honor, influence, and all the luxuries of this world into the lap of man; and, destitute of the Spirit of God, he will not be happy, for that is the only source from which true happiness and comfort can come” (John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, 341).

    • “The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God. He has placed life and death before his children, and it is for them to choose. If they choose life, they receive the blessing of life; if they choose death, they must abide the penalty. This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice, and God brings forth the results of the acts of his creatures to promote his Kingdom and subserve his purposes in the salvation and exaltation of his children” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 62).