The scriptures teach that we have moral agency or the freedom to choose for ourselves. Moses 3:17 is one such scripture: “Thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.”
We had moral agency in our premortal life. One of the reasons why God created this earth and sent us here was so we could be tested, tried, and prove to Him what choices we will make (see 2 Nephi 2:15-16). We must have the opportunity to choose in order for it to be a fair test. If we were forced to choose the right, we would not be able to show what we would really choose. One result of being able to make our own choice is more happiness.
Agency was a major issue in the premortal Council in Heaven and one of the main causes of the war between the followers of Christ and the followers of Lucifer or Satan. In the Council in Heaven, both Jesus Christ and Lucifer volunteered to be our Savior. Christ indicated that He would follow Father’s plan, but Satan wanted to change the plan. He said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). In putting forth his own plan, he “rebelled against [God] and sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). Heavenly Father rejected the offer of Lucifer and then cast him out of heaven along with all his followers (see Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-37).
Through His prophets, God has told us that we are free to choose between good and evil. We can choose liberty and eternal life by following Jesus Christ or we can choose captivity and death by following Satan. (See 2 Nephi 2:27.) This right to choose between good and evil and to act for ourselves is called agency.
Agency is what makes our life on earth a period of testing. When preparing His plan for the salvation of his children, God said, “We will prove [test] them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25). If we did not have the gift of agency, we could not show Heavenly Father whether we would obey all His commandments. We are responsible for our actions because we have the freedom to choose what we will do (see Helaman 14:30-31).
We strengthen our agency when we choose to follow God’s plan for us. When we make right choices, we increase our power to make good decisions. As we are obedient to God’s commandments, we grow in wisdom and strength of character. Obedience helps our faith in God to increase and makes it easier for us to make right choices.
We started to make choices while we lived with our Father in Heaven. Because we made good choices there, we were worthy to come to earth and to receive mortal bodies. God wants us to grow in faith, power, knowledge, wisdom, and every good thing. As we keep His commandments, choose wisely, and gain understand, we will become like our Father. (See Doctrine and Covenants 93:28.)
There must be opposition for us to have freedom of choice. We could never learn to choose righteousness if the choice between good and evil was never placed before us. A great Book of Mormon prophet named Lehi explained to his son Jacob that in order to bring about the eternal purposes of God, there must be “an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).
In order that we might have choices, God allows Satan to oppose the good: “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” (Moses 4:3-4).
Satan is very busy in trying to destroy God’s work. He seeks “the misery of all mankind. … He seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:18, 27). Satan does not love us, and he does not want us to be happy. In fact, he wants us to become his slaves and uses many disguises to fool us.
We limit our choices whenever we choose to follow the temptations of Satan. Consider of the following example that I heard. Imagine that you are walking along the seashore and see a sign that reads: “Danger – whirlpool. No swimming allowed here.” Some people might consider this to be a restriction, but it is not. We still have many possible choices. We can choose to swim somewhere else. We can choose to continue our walk along the seashore. We could find a comfortable place to sit and watch the water. We could choose to simply go home. We are also free to ignore the sign and swim in the dangerous place. There are many choices that we could make before entering the water, but once we are in a whirlpool and being pulled under, we have few choices left. We simply might drown by disobeying the warning unless we can somehow escape the whirlpool or obtain help from someone else.
The sad fact remains that we are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions. Consequences are a natural result of any choice we make, whether the result is good or bad (see Galatians 6:7; Revelation 22:12).
We can escape the captivity of Satan if we will listen to the counsel of our loving Heavenly Father. If we will watch and pray always and ask God to help us withstand Satan’s temptations, we will receive help from heaven to escape from Satan (see 3 Nephi 18:15). Our Heavenly Father has promised us that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our power to resist (see
1 Corinthians 10:13; Alma 13:28).
By following God’s commandments, we will be directed away from danger and toward eternal life. If we will choose wisely, we will gain exaltation, progress eternally, and enjoy perfect happiness (see 2 Nephi 2:27-28).