God’s plan of salvation includes agency – the freedom to choose. That cannot be taken away, but our freedom, or ability to act on our choices, can.
This speech was given October 11, 1987.
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“I appreciate this opportunity to participate in BYU’s annual symposium on the Book of Mormon. This year you are focusing on the second book of Nephi. That book provides some of our most important doctrinal insights on the significance of free agency in the gospel plan. I have therefore chosen to speak about free agency and freedom.
The scriptural terms are agency and free. When we refer to agency, we usually combine the two words and say free agency. But we sometimes use this term to refer to freedom as well as agency. And the scriptural term free sometimes means free agency and sometimes means freedom.
In view of this confusion, I need to define the terms I will use. When I say free agency I refer to what scripture calls agency, which means an exercise of the will, the power to choose. (In view of the current prominence of this term on the sports pages, I must add that this “free agency” does not refer to the contract status of professional athletes.) When I say freedom, I mean the power and privilege to carry out our choices. This includes everything from thoughts, such as hate, to actions, such as running.
In the first part of my talk I will speak of the doctrine of the Church. In the second part I will describe some applications of that doctrine.
Sister Oaks is my best critic. She tells me that when I speak about doctrine my talks are pretty dry, probably more understandable to read than to hear. Perhaps it would help listeners to this first part if I began with an outline of the nine points I will make from the scriptures.
1. Before the world was created, we existed in the presence of God.
2. Free agency is a gift of God.
3. We had free agency in the premortal existence.
4. There Satan presented a plan that would have taken away our free agency.
5. When God rejected Satan’s plan, Satan and those who followed him rebelled and were cast out of heaven.
6. Pursuant to God’s plan, Adam and Eve made the choice that caused the Fall, making mankind subject to mortality and sin in the world.
7. We are here to be tested, and this cannot occur without opposition in all things.
8. To provide that opposition, Satan is permitted to try to persuade us to use our free agency to choose evil.
9. If we choose evil and do not repent, we can ultimately become captives of Satan.
To appreciate the significance of the added gospel knowledge restored in this dispensation, notice how many of these essential gospel truths are revealed or clarified in the Book of Mormon, especially in 2 Nephi, and in the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.
1. Before the world was created, we existed in the presence of God (see D&C 93:29). Abraham saw that God stood in the midst of these spirits and chose some of them to make his rulers (see Abraham 3:23). We do not know much about the premortal existence. The scriptures sometimes refer to preexistent “intelligences” and sometimes to preexistent “spirits” (see Moses 6:36; Abraham 3:18–23, 5:7; D&C 93:29–33.) For present purposes it is unnecessary to distinguish between the two. The important thing is that in the premortal existence we had individual identities and we dwelt in the presence of God.
2. Free agency, the power to choose, is a gift of God. As we read in 2 Nephi: “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself” (2 Nephi 2:16). Further:
Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. [2 Nephi 10:23]
And in modern revelation the Lord said, “Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself” (D&C 29:35).
The Prophet Joseph Smith described agency as “that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts” (Teachings, p. 49).”