Latter-day Saints understand that mortal life was purposefully designed to place us in circumstances where we can be individually tested and where, by the exercise of the agency God has given us, we can determine what our future possibilities will be. The ancient prophet Lehi understood this when he said to his son Jacob, “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediation of all men, or to choose captivity and death” (2 Ne. 2:27).
He further explained that men “have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law … according to the commandments which God hath given” (2 Ne. 2:26).
On one occasion the Lord explained that it was his desire that “every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency … given unto him, that every man may be accountable” (D&C 101:78).
When we understand what is right and what is wrong, we are in a position to exercise our freedom in making choices. In so doing, we must stand accountable for our decisions, and we cannot escape the inevitable consequences of these choices. Such freedom to exercise moral agency is essential in an environment where people have the highest prospects for progress and development.
By our very endowment as children of an Eternal Father, we have had implanted within our souls the urgency to be free. It is natural for us to want to be accountable for our own fates, because there is a whispering within us confirming that this accountability is absolutely essential to the attainment of our eternal destiny.
The existence of laws, regulations, and procedures has never been sufficient to compel men to obedience. Productive obedience comes through the exercise of free will. …
Programmed behavior cannot produce the level of spiritual development required to qualify one for eternal life. A necessary range of freedom and self-determination is essential to one’s spiritual development. With an understanding of correct principles and an intrinsic desire to apply them, one must be motivated within himself to do many good things of his own free will; for, as the revelation says, the power is in him wherein he is an agent unto himself (see D&C 58:27–28).