Recently I received a letter from a friend of over 50 years who is not a member of our church. I had sent him some gospel-related reading, to which he responded: “Initially it was hard for me to follow the meaning of typical Mormon jargon, such as agency. Possibly a short vocabulary page would be helpful.”
I was surprised he did not understand what we mean by the word agency. I went to an online dictionary. Of the 10 definitions and usages of the word agency, none expressed the idea of making choices to act. We teach that agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and “to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon.” 1 Agency is to act with accountability and responsibility for our actions. Our agency is essential to the plan of salvation. With it we are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.” 2
The words of a familiar hymn teach us this principle very clearly:
To answer my friend’s question and the questions of good men and women everywhere, let me share with you more of what we know about this meaning of agency.
Before we came to this earth, Heavenly Father presented His plan of salvation—a plan to come to earth and receive a body, choose to act between good and evil, and progress to become like Him and live with Him forever.
Our agency—our ability to choose and act for ourselves—was an essential element of this plan. Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress. Yet with agency we could make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again. For this reason a Savior would be provided to suffer for our sins and redeem us if we would repent. By His infinite Atonement, He brought about “the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice.” 4
After Heavenly Father presented His plan, Lucifer stepped forward, saying, “Send me, … and I will redeem all mankind, that [not even] one soul shall … be lost … ; wherefore give me thine honor.” 5 This plan was rejected by our Father, for it would have denied us our agency. Indeed, it was a plan of rebellion.
Then Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father’s “Beloved and Chosen [Son] from the beginning,” exercised His agency to say, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” 6 He would be our Savior—the Savior of the world.
Because of Lucifer’s rebellion, a great spiritual conflict ensued. Each of Heavenly Father’s children had the opportunity to exercise the agency Heavenly Father had given him or her. We chose to have faith in the Savior Jesus Christ—to come unto Him, follow Him, and accept the plan Heavenly Father presented for our sakes. But a third of Heavenly Father’s children did not have faith to follow the Savior and chose to follow Lucifer, or Satan, instead. 7
And God said, “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, … I caused that he should be cast down.” 8 Those who followed Satan lost the opportunity to receive a mortal body, live on earth, and progress. Because of the way they used their agency, they lost their agency.
Today the only power Satan and his followers have is the power to tempt and try us. Their only joy is to make us “miserable like unto [themselves].” 9 Their only happiness comes when we are disobedient to the Lord’s commandments.
Excerpt from Robert D. Hales’ October 2011 General Conference Address, Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life. Robert D. Hales is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. View Robert D. Hales full address here.