Free Agency

According to Mormon belief, since before the earth was formed, free agency has been a part of the Plan of Salvation in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom. The gift of free agency was given to each human being in the pre-existence and it is the right for each to choose and to act for oneself.

Mormons believe
that, in the Council of Heaven, Heavenly Father presented a plan, which included the principle of agency. In Moses 4:3 it states: “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; 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.”1

The result was that Satan and those that followed him were denied the privilege of receiving a mortal body. Those that followed the Savior’s plan, which included the right to choose, were given the privilege of receiving a mortal body and coming to earth.

President Wilford Woodruff, modern day prophet, said it this way: “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…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, and [the] deeds we do.”2

In order to exercise free agency, there are three things that must take place: there must be a knowledge of good and evil, there must be the freedom to make choices, and third, after agency has been exercised, there must be consequences that follow the choices that are made.

In order to be judged fairly, there must be the ability to think and reason. An understanding of the action, an ability to recognize the difference between good and evil, and the consequences of the action must be present.

According to Mormon belief, Heavenly Father does not hold anyone accountable for their choices until they are eight years old, which is the age of accountability. The counsel given by the prophet Mormon explains it this way: “Little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin…Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.”3 He also goes on to explain that people who “are without the law” are “alive in Christ”. In other words, those who have not been taught the gospel or who are incapable of understanding it, such as those with definite developmental disabilities, are not expected to live by it. They will not be held accountable until the gospel is taught to them or until they can understand it.

The principle of agency is choosing between good and evil. We can be influenced by both good and evil in making choices. Without the choice of the two, there would be no choice to make. The Mormon Church teaches that we are each given principles, laws, and commandments in which to follow, and in which help us to make correct choices. But Satan is there as well to tempt us and persuade us to disobey the commandments our Heavenly Father has given.

The result of using our agency is the consequences of our choices; good choices produce good consequences, bad consequences produce wrong choices. It is a natural result. Book of Mormon prophet Samuel declared: [God] hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.”4

The Mormon Church teaches that there must be agency in order to progress in this mortal life, and that Heavenly Father will hold each responsible for the choices that are made.

For more information about the Mormon Church, please see the following websites:

Mormon Church

1 “The Pearl of Great Price”; Moses 4:3

2 “Discourse of Wilford Woodruff”; Durham; 1946; p.8-9

3 “Book of Mormon”; Moroni 8:8, 8:19

4 “Book of Mormon”; Helaman 14:31

  1. Larry Schneider

    There must needs be a fourth thing: the enticing entities, both for good and evil. It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men or else they could not be agents unto themselves. A good question arises however and that is if wickedness must come to pass, and it is made manifest by deeds, then who will be chosen to play the bad guy? What does “must needs” mean?

  2. “In order to exercise free agency, there are three things that must take place: there must be a knowledge of good and evil, there must be the freedom to make choices, and third, after agency has been exercised, there must be consequences that follow the choices that are made.”

    Certainly if that is true then Adam and Eve lacked agency before they partook of the fruit giving them a knowledge of good and evil.

  3. Larry Schneider

    That is a very good insight. Adam and Eve ,who did not “know” good from evil, had two things of opposition placed before them,the one being sweet and the other bitter. They were told they could eat from all but the one forbidden. Nothing is made mention of as to whether or not Adam and or Eve were “enticed” to eat of the tree of life, but were “enticed” to eat of the forbidden one. Yet they had no knowledge of good and evil. Must one have a knowledge of good and evil before he or she can truly be tested or does free agency exist or rather can be exercised without the knowledge? Adam and Eve were not complete invalids as to being able to communicate, so they had to posses some amount of intellegence. And according to the scriptures, any amount of intellegence can legally or justly have an applied amount of “enticement” in proportion to the amount of intellegence. Hence, small amount of intellegence, small amount of “enticement” comprehended, small amount of judgement applied.

  4. Well that’s certainly presumptive. The quote I referred to gave three requirements all of which are necessary for the exercise of free agency. Clearly they lacked knowledge of good and evil (one of the pre-requisites) and therefore lacked the ability to exercise free agency. It is without doubt that they were presented a choice and could make a choice given various inputs however, there is no evidence that they possessed free agency in the decisionmaking process which is perfectly fine since it was their act that brought agency into the world for themselves and everyone else.

  5. Larry Schneider

    Little children cannot fully appreciate consequence like the mature, however little children can nevertheless recieve instruction to do this or not to do that. When I was five years of age, my three and a half year old brother hit me repeatedly over the head with his Tonka Jeep until my head was bleeding all over the place. I was sorrowful afterwards and so was he. This was due to something from the inside of our souls that caused regret afterwards. Something that we both knew instinctively was wrong to do. Lehi says that Adam and Eve had free agency. They were told to not eat of a certain tree. Lehi goes on to say that they could not be agents unto themselves except that they should be enticed to do the one or another. Then mentions how Satan enticed them, this being before the fall. Again there is no mention as to whether or not they were enticed to eat of the tree of life and by who, but apparently enticing entities were needed. Obviously, neither Adam nor Eve “sinned” when they partook of the fruit, since only those who know to do good and then don’t do it are guilty of sin. But were at best guilty of tresspassing; going into a forbidden area of the garden they did not fully comprehend. The freedom to make choice, I wonder what that might exactly mean. The freedom to make choice is free agency. Eve chose to disregard the commandment not to eat. Adam chose to later eat the fruit so that he could be with Eve. They may not have fully comprehended what they were getting themselves into afterwards but they did make the choice. The thing that came upon them afterwards and the rest of the human population is the light of Christ or in otherwards a concience.

  6. Larry Schneider

    I think it would be fair to say that Eve was not forced by someone to eat the fruit. I don’t think Adam said,”Now looky here girl, you gonna eat dat stuff so’s I can see what it gonna be with you afterwards”. We know the Devil didn’t physically force her to eat of it. So what then caused her to want to eat of it? How about plain ol’ curiosity? Out of a continuing building up of curiosty within her soul she finally one day said,”I gotta try this stuff just once!” And so she chose to eat of it and did. And how could she make the choice to eat of it unless she was left to make the choice unforced?

  7. They made an uninformed choice as it related to knowledge of right and wrong good and evil. Therefore they lacked free agency. They didn’t lack agency since they could choose, they just were incapable of evaluating things it terms of right and wrong until after they ate the fruit.

  8. Larry Schneider

    Yep, that makes sense to me. None the less, they had to do the choosing. God , of course cannot judge them beyond their measure of comprhension, but they chose , they ate and here we are. Anyone up for free agency vs. predetermination?

  9. Larry Schneider

    How ever, is there “agency” that differs from free agency?

  10. Maybe this is the difference between an “original sin” and a “transgression.” It seems possible to me to transgress a law without committing a sin where one lacks knowledge of the law or in the case of Adam and Eve, knowledge of good and evil.

  11. Yes there is a difference between agency and free agency.

  12. Larry Schneider

    Sin, to commit sin one must have a knowledge of good and evil. The original sin? Perhaps we are talking murder? As in Cain and Abel? The original sin is the first sin commited by one who knew right from wrong. Transgression of those who knew not good from evil hardly compares to the first sin commited by one who was aware of good and evil. You have to factor in “concience” vs. a lack of concience. I know that I have a concience. But even then my concience is only as valid as I am taught by great big adults as when I was a child. Of what I was taught, was for some time truth to me, only to become hypocrisy today, or rather falsehood. I have though over the years, realized that my concience has matured as I have gotten older. Which means that my free agency, concience began as immature, untried, etc.

  13. One has “free agency” -a religious term of art- once one has acquired all the conditions precedent. One has agency when one is free to make choices regardless of what informs the choice; that’s the distinguishing difference between the two.

  14. Larry Schneider

    Choice making requires desire. Who can make a choice except he or she wrestle with desire to make the overall wisest choice. You need will power. Without will power, it becomes more dificult in choosing the right. Why do people “choose” to kill at such young ages? Why did they not have the will power to resist? Where did they gain the desire to push them over the edge? Who can explain that?

  15. This is how I understand it….. Adam and Eve were given TWO commandments. One was not not eat of the fruit. Two was to multiply and replenish the Earth. Now they could could not do the latter without first having eaten of the fruit. The way I understand it is that Eve had to choose which commandment she was to follow. With Adam being perfectly content in his present state of bliss Eve had to take action and bring mortality into the world by bringing about the Fall. I was under the impression that Eve knew more than people give her credit for. She may not have understood right from wrong but she knew what was more important. Satan I think just aided her desicion to eat the fruit.

    My 2 cents

  16. The fact that she didn’t understand right from wrong means she didn’t have free agency even if she was free to act.

  17. Larry Schneider

    Very intersting! Jamie, who told you that Adam and Eve were given what you would suggest as just two commandments? And also, who told you that Adam was content? I would truly and sincerely like to know where you got that one from? I know that I’m not the only one to receive inspiration. I truly rejoice in the inspiration of others! Did Eve know more than Adam or was she just simply inspired to be more curious? Women seem to naturally desire children more than men. Remember that the both of them had no grasp on the difference between the awareness of good and evil. You cannot be free to act and at the same time not have free agency. It’s a contradiction in terms alone. Satan did not force Eve to eat of the fruit any more than he could force the Savior to act against His own free will to choose this or that. Satan, according to Lehi, was used as an enticer. Because they could not act for themselves unless they were enticed to do the one or the other.

  18. Larry Schneider

    How do I come to the earth, across the veil and have some measure of desire to choose good over evil? I’m rather troubled by that. Why is it that some people easily choose good over evil and others don’t? Is it because they attended certain meetings or did certain exercises, or practiced certain things that others were more slothful at? Is it conceivable that even then, in the pre-existance, we were free to prepare rigorously or not before we came to earth?, and as we prepared, so we are today on earth? It makes all the reason to me. I suspect that I was more rigorous in some areas than others, and now I see my mistakes from before. What I failed to do there, I must learn, perhaps with more difficulty, now in order to qualify.

  19. In my view they had two instructions which could be termed commands. However, lacking the ability to discern right from wrong and hence the conscience that might attend any decisionmaking, they lacked free agency and clearly could not sin even if they could contravene the commands.

  20. Larry Schneider

    The last comment is very interesting, ” They lacked free agency and clearly could not SIN even if they could contravene the commandments”. Well they did not sin, when they ate of the the fruit. However it is quite plain to our understanding of the following consequences. No one can deny that. So then, there must be an explanation.

  21. Larry Schneider

    The Lord said unto Eve, ” What is this that THOU HAST DONE?” Then goes on to explain to Eve the consequences of her choosing to eat the fruit. That is the all focusing point, she must have chosen to eat out of curiosity, having the free will to do so more than “I need to eat this fruit so that I can then bring forth children.”

  22. Larry Schneider

    I have recently reviewed my comments as well as the others and I was told by an elder of the church that the Lord did in fact explain somewhat to them that this was the deal: eat and die or don’t eat and you live forever. He made it more clear than what we would tend to believe. But that’s just me.

  23. I like many Mormons, but I don’t understand the contradiction between the agency claim, and Mormon opposition to choice in abortion. opposition to choice with abortion. I am an independent voter, but your “patriot” label and the Fox News links reveal you to be a follower of hate speech like that of Sean Hannity and Glen Beck. This seems very un-Christian. I don’t understand this paradox with Mormons.

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