Lesson 2: Agency and Accountability

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, (2000), 11–17


The purpose of this lesson is to help us better understand the eternal significance of agency and the fact that we are accountable for the choices we make.

The Right to Choose Is an Eternal Principle

“It was a wintry Sunday morning in northern New York. The temperature was several degrees below freezing. The walks were icy; roads were blocked with heavy snowdrifts. No one came to church that morning except the minister and an 89-year-old woman, who had hobbled ten blocks from where she lived.

“Surprised at seeing her, the minister called her by name and asked: ‘How did you get here on such a stormy morning?’

“‘My heart gets here first,’ was the cheerful reply, ‘and then it’s easy for the rest of me’” (quoted by John H. Vandenberg, in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 40; or Ensign, July 1973, 32).

The woman in this story had a choice to make. She could stay at home in warmth and comfort or she could attempt the long walk to church on a miserable day. Despite bad weather and difficult conditions, she decided to go. Her decision was prompted by the feelings in her heart.

The right to choose is an eternal principle. Even before we came to earth, we were required to choose whether we would follow God’s plan and be free to act as we chose or to follow Satan and act under force (see Revelation 12:7–11). The Lord revealed to Moses the alternatives that were presented to all of Heavenly Father’s children in a great premortal council.

  • Read Moses 4:1–4. Why was the Savior’s offer acceptable? (It was unconditional and insured the principle of agency for all of Heavenly Father’s children. He did not want glory for Himself, only the privilege to serve.)

“Suppose we take a child and arrange to rear him as Satan suggested, so that he cannot make the smallest mistake. We tell him exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it; and then make sure he conforms to orders. We never let him make choices, never let him try different solutions to problems of everyday living. He must not be allowed to err. Year by year the child’s body will grow, but what of his mind? What of his spirit? Though he grow to be six feet tall, he will never become a mature adult. His mind and spirit will have been starved. They will have failed to grow for lack of nourishment. … Our Father in heaven knew … that man could never gain perfection … without the vital element of … agency” (Lester and Joan Essig, “Free Agency and Progress,” Instructor, Sept. 1964, 342).

At the council in heaven, we chose to follow Jesus Christ, and because we made the right choices in the premortal life, we were privileged to come to earth. Our choices in this life will continue to determine our course in the eternities.

Agency Requires That There Be Choices

In order to use our agency in this life we must have the opportunity to make choices.

Read the first four paragraphs of the section “Agency Requires That There Be a Choice” in Gospel Principles chapter 4.

The Lord knew we would be subject to both good and evil and would have to make choices. Thus, He asks us to live close to Him and keep His commandments so we can recognize and resist Satan’s influence.

“The Lord says, ‘Keep the Sabbath day holy.’ (See Exodus 20:8.)

“Satan would say, ‘Use the Sabbath day as a recreation day. …’

“The Lord says, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ (Exodus 20:12.)

“Satan craftily puts into our minds the idea of disobeying our parents; your life is your own to choose as you wish. …

“The Lord says, ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,’ (Genesis 3:19.) and he also said, ‘Cease to be idle.’ (D&C 88:124.)

“Satan might say, ‘Get as much as you can for nothing. …’ He would encourage indolence, laziness, and even the thought that the government owes you a living. …

“The Lord says, ‘Pay one tenth of your interest annually as tithing. For this, I shall give you a great reward.’ [See 3 Nephi 24:8–10; D&C 119:4.]

“Lucifer would say, ‘Why pay your tithing? You need the money more than the Church needs it. …’

“The Lord says, ‘Seek the genealogy of your ancestors and complete the temple work for them.’

“Satan would say, ‘Postpone doing this work or, better still, don’t do it at all’” (Carl W. Buehner, “Who’s on the Lord’s Side?” Improvement Era, June 1961, 402–3).

All Choices Have Consequences

It is important that we understand that even though we are free to choose our course of action, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. The consequences, whether good or bad, follow as a natural result of any choice we make.

The farmer knows that he will reap what he sows. The kind of fruit he chooses to plant will determine the kind of fruit he will get at the day of harvest. He cannot sow peas and expect to harvest peaches. Neither can he choose to neglect his crop and expect it to grow well.

When we make a choice, we must accept the consequences of that choice. We choose the outcome of an act when we decide to perform the act. We select a destination when we start on a particular path.

  • Display visual 2-a, “A young woman pondering decisions.” Why is it important that this young woman make proper choices concerning her education, personal life, and spiritual development?

    woman pondering(click to view larger)

    2-a, A young woman pondering decisions

We must choose the road we will travel.

  • What are some of the choices that will put you on the road to eternal life?

We all face situations and experiences every day that require us to make choices.

  • What are some daily choices that confront you? What are some consequences of these choices?

“A number of years ago, a young Latter-day Saint college girl and her Latter-day Saint boyfriend planned to go to a public dance hall of questionable reputation.

“Coming home early in the afternoon the girl gleefully announced the couple’s plan, saying, ‘We think it will be a fun experience.’ Properly, the mother questioned the girl as to the advisability of going and cautioned her, but the girl was unconvinced.

“‘We won’t do anything wrong,’ she declared. ‘What harm is there in just going in to see what goes on?’

“The mother made no further protest. That evening as the girl prepared to dress for the dance, the mother suggested she wear her loveliest white party dress. The girl was delighted. She thought her mother had relented.

“Moments later, when she appeared looking radiantly beautiful, she called gleefully to her father and mother, ‘Well, how do I look?’

“‘Oh, you look nice,’ replied her mother. ‘That’s your prettiest dress.’

“‘Would you do me one favor though, before you go, honey?’ asked her father. ‘Would you go out to the smoke house [a small building where meat is cured or smoked] and bring in a side of bacon?’

“‘The smoke house!’ she cried in astonishment. ‘Dad, you’re kidding.’

“‘No, I’m not,’ persisted her father.

“‘In my best dress? But I’d never get rid of that awful smell.’

“‘That’s right,’ replied her mother. ‘You can’t go into the smoke house without absorbing some of the influence there. And we think you’re smart enough not to go into a place where you’d come out any less beautiful and clean than when you went in.’

“After a thoughtful moment’s pause the girl said, ‘I think we should not go’” (1974–75 Relief Society Courses of Study, 4–5).

  • Why is it important that you consider the consequences of a particular decision before you make it?

  • How can you determine what the consequences of a decision might be?

You Are Accountable for the Choices You Make

The day will come when we will have the opportunity to stand before God to be judged in terms of the decisions we make and the deeds we perform in this life.

“‘It is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works,’ Alma [of the Book of Mormon] says, ‘and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil.’ (Alma 41:3–4.) The kind of body gained in this life and restored to a person in the resurrection determines the degree of glory inherited in eternity. Thus men are ‘their own judges,’ Alma concludes, for by their daily acts they judge or choose ‘whether to do good or do evil.’ (Alma 41:7.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 403–4).

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12).

Our works are the result of our choices. The way to make good choices is to obey the commandments of God. By following the teachings of the prophets, who guide and strengthen us in keeping the commandments, we can make choices that will prepare us to receive the gift of eternal life.

Conclusion

Our Savior has shown us the way to use our agency to gain eternal life. He has given laws and commandments to help us find happiness and success.

“Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct our lives is God’s greatest gift to man. Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. … It is the purpose of the Lord that man become like him. In order for man to achieve this, it was necessary for the Creator first to make him free. To man is given a special endowment, not bestowed upon any other living thing. God gave to him the power of choice. Only to the human being did the Creator say: ‘… thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; …’ (Moses 3:17.) Without this divine power to choose, humanity cannot progress” (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 8; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1965, 1073).

Because God holds us responsible for our choices, it is important that we seek His help. We should talk with Him in daily prayer about the choices we must make, remembering that we can receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost in making difficult choices. Sometimes we must also fast to receive the help we need. It is good to remember that true freedom comes from using our agency to choose obedience, and loss of freedom comes from using our agency to choose disobedience.

  • Sing “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free” (Hymns, no. 240), or read the words, found below.

    1. Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
    To choose his life and what he’ll be;
    For this eternal truth is giv’n:
    That God will force no man to heav’n.
    2. He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
    And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
    In nameless ways be good and kind,
    But never force the human mind.
    3. Freedom and reason make us men;
    Take these away, what are we then?
    Mere animals, and just as well
    The beasts may think of heav’n or hell.
    4. May we no more our pow’rs abuse,
    But ways of truth and goodness choose;
    Our God is pleased when we improve
    His grace and seek his perfect love.

Challenge

Think about and evaluate how you use your agency during the week. Are the choices you are making drawing you away from God or closer to Him?

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Study Gospel Principles chapter 46, “The Last Judgment.”

  2. 2.

    Plan to close the class with the hymn “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free” (Hymns, no. 240).

  3. 3.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.