AGENCY IS AN ETERNAL PRINCIPLE
This probably goes without saying, but…
Great insights and inspiration will come from reading all of the scriptures in the lesson before you start deciding how to teach it (or how to study it).
Two great resources on “Agency” for this lesson are Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (Chapter 20) and Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (Chapter 22).
From one of these, a terrific quote by President David O. McKay:
Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. … Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift. … Whether born in abject poverty or shackled at birth by inherited riches, everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency; man’s inherited and inalienable right.It may be helpful to reconcile two important ideas taught in this lesson. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 205)
FIRST - - Agency is an eternal principle (the section title).
President John Taylor said it this way:
As the gospel is a principle that emanates from God, like its author it is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,”—eternal and unchangeable. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 11)
So God didn’t “invent” principles. He first learned and lived them, just as He wants us to do. Then, as a God He “created” them. My favorite quote about the word “create” is from Joseph Smith:
“The word create came from the [Hebrew] word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. (Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 9)
The Sunday School manuals are excellent sources for teachers and students, NOT just during Sunday School. They are found online at “lds.org” then “Gospel Library” (then “Lessons”) then “Sunday School.”
SECOND - - God “organized” mortality to provide new opportunities for agency for us, \His spirit children. The first scripture listed under “Additional Scriptures” at the end of the lesson is Moses 7:32 which states:
Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
So the word “gave” herein is best understood that God “created” an opportunity for “man/woman” to have “agency.” This is important principle in Father’s plan. Discussion about this would be effective. A question such as “How many new “opportunities” did Father provide us, His children, on this earth that were not available in premortality?” for class members. Hopefully two of the most important elements of mortality, a body and a test, would be included in the answers.
The reference from this section of 2 Nephi 2:27 is s terrific one. It reads:
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 Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
An important principle herein is that with every choice we make about good and evil there are only two consequences: liberty” or “captivity.” A distinction should be made here about other choices made which are not about good and evil. Some of these include things like what color to paint the bathroom, which shoes to wear today, etc. To reinforce this idea, a quote from President Henry B. Eyring in a First Presidency Message might help:
When we reject the counsel that comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of His love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.
Another fallacy is to believe that the choice to accept or not accept the counsel of prophets is no more than deciding whether to accept good advice and gain its benefits or to stay where we are. But the choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. That ground becomes more dangerous. The failure to take prophetic counsel lessens our power to take inspired counsel in the future. The best time to have decided to help Noah build the ark was the first time he asked. Each time he asked after that, each failure to respond would have lessened sensitivity to the Spirit. And so each time his request would have seemed more foolish, until the rain came. And then it was too late. (Ensign, Jun 2008, 4)
Additional discussion about how every choice we make concerning good and evil draws us closer to God or Satan could be helpful.
AGENCY IS A NECESSARY PART OF THE PLAN OF SALVATION
In this section the principle is discussed that “…we are responsible for our actions… (p. 19). Following is a great quote on this idea from President David O. McKay:
Freedom of the will and the responsibility associated with it are fundamental aspects of Jesus' teachings. Throughout his ministry he emphasized the worth of the individual, and exemplified what is now expressed in modern revelation as the work and glory of God—"To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). Only through the divine gift of soul freedom is such progress possible.
Force, on the other hand, emanates from Lucifer himself. Even in man's preexistent state, Satan sought power to compel the human family to do his will by suggesting that the free agency of man be inoperative (Moses 4:1-4). If his plan had been accepted, human beings would have become mere puppets in the hands of a dictator, and the purpose of man s coming to earth would have been frustrated. Satan's proposed system of government, therefore, was rejected, and the principle of free agency establish in its place. (Conference Report, April 1950, pp. 31)
Note that in the first sentence, President McKay names two great principles of agency - - freedom to choose and responsibility for choice. Today in the world there are deafening cries for freedom to choose, but there is often deathly silence about the responsibility for choices made.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson also add the following wonderful insights:
In years past we generally used the term free agency. That is not incorrect. More recently we have taken note that free agency does not appear in the scriptures. They talk of our being “free to choose” and “free to act” for ourselves (2 Nephi 2:27); 10:23; see also Helaman 14:30) and of our obligation to do many things of our own “free will” (D&C 58:27). But the word agency appears either by itself or with the modifier moral: “That every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (D&C 101:78; emphasis added). When we use the term moral agency, we are appropriately emphasizing the accountability that is an essential part of the divine gift of agency. We are moral beings and agents unto ourselves, free to choose but also responsible for our choices. (Ensign, Jun 2009, 46–53)
This principle of personal responsibility for our choices is under attack today. It would be helpful to list on the board commonly heard phrases which run counter to this principle. Some examples of “verbal traps” we sometimes fall into may include:
“You make me so mad…”
“He/she made me do it…”
“You just have to…”
“I can’t help it if…”
“It wasn’t my fault…”
Also discussed in this section is the idea that “”Right choices increase our power to make more right choices.” This is a powerful concept perhaps lost in a world where the myth thrives that religion restricts us and stifles man’s true spirit. A discussion of the steps clearly outlined by the Savior in John 8:31-32 may be helpful here.
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.
Carefully numbering the five steps to “freedom” outlined by the Savior will correct the fallacy often used when the statement “The truth will make you free” is quoted without the preceding conditions. Freedom in this formula only comes with the four prerequisites of belief, continuance, discipleship and knowledge.
This concept can be reinforced by the counsel about “line upon line” which originated in Isaiah 28:10-13 and was clarified in 2 Nephi 28:30 as follows:
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Perhaps our understanding of the wonderful gift Our Heavenly Father wants to give us can be strengthened by understanding the principles taught in this wonderful message shared by Elder Boyd K. Packer:
Now, my young friends, I would like to make reference to another experience, one I think of often but one I seldom talk about. I shall not mention it in detail; I only want to refer to it. It happened many years ago when I was perhaps not quite as young as you are now, and it had to do with my decision to follow that guide.
I knew what agency was and knew how important it was to be individual and to be independent, to be free. I somehow knew there was one thing the Lord would never take from me, and that was my free agency. I would not surrender my agency to any being but to Him! I determined that I would give Him the one thing that He would never take—my agency. I decided, by myself, that from that time on I would do things His way.
That was a great trial for me, for I thought I was giving away the most precious thing I possessed. I was not wise enough in my youth to know that because I exercised my agency and decided myself, I was not losing it. It was strengthened!
I learned from that experience the meaning of the scripture: “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.” (John 8:31–32.)
I have not been quite as frightened of spiritual crocodiles since then, because I have been alerted on many occasions as to where they were lurking.
I have been nipped a time or two and on occasion have needed some spiritual first aid, but have been otherwise saved because I have been warned. (New Era, Jan 1981, 58)
This really ties in well with the last scripture listed in this section, D&C 93:28:
He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
AGENCY REQUIRES THAT THERE BE A CHOICE
This section picks up from the last section on the consequences of choice. From the quote of Moses 4:3-4 it is important to understand that “captivity” is a result of listening to Satan rather than God. In 2 Nephi 26:22 Nephi warns about this captivity:
yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.
While on our mission in North Carolina, we went to a museum in Boone, NC where a guide there taught us how fibers of flax were woven into linen in Daniel Boone’s time. Flax plants look a lot like wheat. After soaking the flax stems in water and pounding them, the fibers inside the stem were withdrawn. The guide told us that most people could extract three fibers, but with practice, four or five could be extracted from one stem. These threads would then be woven into linen cloth.
The guide then told us that even though a single fiber could be broken easily, when woven together with other fibers, the resulting threads had a tensile strength almost comparable to steel. This seems to be similar to how many addictions grow.
Other scriptures talk about Satan’s hold being “chains” rather than “strong cords.” Several really worth reviewing are 2 Nephi 28:22 and Alma 12:6, 11, 17. Here it may also be effective to discuss how Satan deceives us into believing “I can quit anytime I want to. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Addictions begin with our choice and end with us loosing our agency. According to God’s word, our will is replaced by “his [Satan’s] will” (Moses 4:4). In Conference in 1963 Elder Ezra Taft Benson said:
One of the greatest discourses that I have ever heard or read on how to avoid being deceived was given from this pulpit during the priesthood session of the October, 1960 semiannual conference by Elder Marion G. Romney…During the talk Elder Romney stated that there was no guarantee that the devil will not deceive a lot of men who hold the priesthood. Then, after referring to a talk on free agency by President McKay, Elder Romney states, ". . . Free agency is the principle against which Satan waged his war in heaven. It is still the front on which he makes his most furious, devious, and persistent attacks. That this would be the case was foreshadowed by the Lord."
And then after quoting the scripture from the Pearl of Great Price regarding the war in heaven over free agency (Moses 4:1-4) Elder Romney continues:
"You see, at the time he was cast out of heaven, his objective was (and still is) `to deceive and to blind men and to lead them captive at his will.' This he effectively does to as many as will not hearken unto the voice of God. His main attack is still on free agency. When he can get men to yield their agency, he has them well on the way to captivity. (Conference Report, October 1963, 15)
The previous discussion would lay a great foundation for the wonderful illustration of the whirlpool (p. 20). It would seem helpful to ask, “What are whirlpools of sin that you have seen in today’s society?”
Earlier was a quote from Elder Boyd K. Packer. This came from a terrific talk entitled, “Spiritual Crocodiles” and can be found in New Era, Jan 1981, 58. This talk reinforces and adds great illustrations for the ideas discussed here.
This might be a good time to discuss John 8:34 from “Additional Scriptures” at the end of the lesson:
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
Moroni 7:17, the scripture listed on p. 20, is wonderful:
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
It might be helpful to have the class discuss who “those who subject themselves unto him” are and how they try to influence us to fall into captivity. We need to avoid employing “whirlpool guides” (guides into, that is, not away from). The following might be good to share from For the Strength of Youth pamphlet:
Choose your friends carefully. They will greatly influence how you think and act, and even help determine the person you will become. Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards. A true friend will encourage you to be your best self (p. 12).
Then compare this with the following from the same pamphlet:
Have the courage to walk out of a movie or video party, turn off a computer or television, change a radio station, or put down a magazine if what is being presented does not meet Heavenly Father’s standards. Do these things even if others do not (p. 17).
To build on the idea in the previous section that Satan slows our progress (captivity does that) and God helps eternal progression, the following from Moroni 7:12 may help:
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
A neat illustration of what happens here is to put the following diagram on the board:
God → good
Devil → evil
Ask “What do you notice about the letters of these words? A simple lesson comes from “God adds” and Satan takes away.” A discussion here of what Satan attempts to “take away” from our heritage as sons and daughters of God may be effective.
One of the suggested scriptures listed on p. 20 is 1 Corinthians 10:13:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Have the class discuss “What is “a way to escape” mentioned here?” Then discuss the following scripture from John 14:5-6:
Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
What might it mean, then in 1 Corinthians 10:13 as to “the way”?
Now 3 Nephi 18:15 (listed on p. 20) ties in beautifully:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.
Alma 13:28 (listed on p. 20) introduces another important principle tying back to 1 Corinthians 10:13:
But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit,
Something that may be helpful in this lesson would be to discuss help God has given us in using our agency to make choices. Important help is explained in Moroni 7:15:
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
In addition to the ideas already discussed in this lesson of what God “adds” to our lives, Our Father has provided us three “lights” in mortality.
FIRST - - the light of Christ. Following the verse we just discussed, Moroni 7:16 states:
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
In D&C 93:2 the Savior proclaims:
“…I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;”
SECOND: The Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith explained:
Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. (Doctrines of the Gospel, Institute Student Manual, 44)
THIRD: The Gift of Holy Ghost. In John 14:26 we learn:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
But if we hearken to Satan rather than God (Moses 4:4) we will lose this gift. From a little-known treasure, Gospel Fundamentals comes the following:
If we do not obey the Holy Ghost and if we begin to do wrong things, the Holy Ghost leaves us (p. 77).
This gem Gospel Fundamentals can be found at “lds.org” then “Gospel Library” then “Support Materials” then “Family” then “Gospel Fundamentals” (at the bottom). It can also be ordered from Distribution Center online.