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.
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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