Moral Agency

I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences.

You can’t be right by doing wrong; you can’t be wrong by doing right.

We are moral beings and agents unto ourselves, free to choose but also responsible for our choices.

What, then, are the elements of moral agency? To me there are three.

First, there must be alternatives to choose among. Lehi described it as opposites, or “opposition.” He spoke of righteousness and its opposite, wickedness; holiness versus misery; good versus bad.

for these opposites or alternatives to exist, there must be law. Law provides us the options. It is by the operation of laws that things happen. By using or obeying a law, one can bring about a particular result—and by disobedience, the opposite result.

Second, for us to have agency, we must not only have alternatives but we must also know that they exist and what they are.

Third, after the existence of choices and a knowledge of choices, is the next element of agency: the freedom to make choices. This freedom to act for ourselves in choosing among the alternatives that the law establishes is often referred to in the scriptures as agency itself. For this freedom we are indebted to God. It is His gift to us.

Let us pause and note that freedom of choice is the freedom to obey or disobey existing laws—not the freedom to alter their consequences. Law, as mentioned earlier, exists as a foundational element of moral agency with fixed outcomes that do not vary according to our opinions or preferences.

We recognize the gift of agency as a central aspect of the plan of salvation proposed by the Father in the great premortal council, and that “there was war in heaven” to defend and preserve it.

It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.

We cannot look to the law to save us when we have broken the law. We need a Savior, a Mediator who can overcome the effects of our sins and errors so that they are not necessarily fatal. It is because of the Atonement of Christ that we can recover from bad choices and be justified under the law as if we had not sinned.

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

So, being Jesus’ obedient disciple—just as He is the Father’s obedient disciple—leads to truth and freedom. Then He added, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

To the secular world it seems a paradox that greater submission to God yields greater freedom. They look at things through Korihor’s lens, which is that obedience to God’s laws and ordinances is “bondage.” So how do obedience and truth make us free? You can easily think of some practical ways in which truth gives us the ability to do things we otherwise could not do or to avoid disasters we might otherwise suffer.

But the Lord’s statement that the truth will make us free has broader significance. “Truth,” He tells us, “is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” Possession of this knowledge of things past, present, and future is a critical element of God’s glory: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” Does anyone doubt that, as a consequence of possessing all light and truth, God possesses ultimate freedom to be and to do?

Likewise, as our understanding of gospel doctrine and principles grows, our agency expands. First, we have more choices and can achieve more and receive greater blessings because we have more laws that we can obey. Think of a ladder—each new law or commandment we learn is like one more step on the ladder that enables us to climb higher. Second, with added understanding we can make more intelligent choices because we see more clearly not only the alternatives but their potential outcomes. As Professor Daniel H. Ludlow once expressed it, the extent of our agency “is in direct proportion to the number and kind of laws we know and keep.”36

Some think that they should be spared from any adversity if they keep God’s commandments, but it is “in the furnace of affliction”45 that we are chosen.This is the battle we expected when we “shouted for joy”46 at the prospect of this time on earth. I believe the challenge of learning to make and hold onto correct choices in the face of opposition appealed to us when God presented His plan, and we should approach that challenge now without fear, knowing that we can do it and that He will sustain us. Certainly the alternative would not appeal to us.

Using your agency to choose His will, and not slackening even when the going gets hard, will not make you God’s puppet; it will make you like Him. God gave you agency and Jesus showed you how to use it so that eventually you could learn what They know, do what They do, and be what They are.

I thank God for the gift of moral agency. I thank Him for the gift of His Son, whose life and sacrifice animate that moral agency. I testify that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the Fall, that He lives, and that through Him we “are free to choose liberty and eternal life.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgvbRQHgpd8

Source talks: Decisions Determine Destiny by Thomas S. Monson and Moral Agency by D. Todd Christofferson.

Print this Article

By , On .

One Response to “Moral Agency”

  1. Barbara81 Says:

    Nations institutionalize their founding story as a renewable source of guidance and inspiration. ,

Leave a Comment