Agency is a key tenet of Mormon belief. We teach that even in the premortal existence we were free to choose the plan advanced by the Savior or the one from Lucifer. The former allowed us to come to this earth, make mistakes, enjoy the blessings of an atoning sacrifice, and potentially return to our Father in Heaven. The latter plan would have forced all to obey (not specified how) and demanded the glory for everyone’s return to our Father be given to the author of the plan, Lucifer.
In that struggle of ideas came the war in heaven described in scripture and in remarkable poetry (See Milton’s Paradise Lost). As actors in that war, we choose sides, and, according to prophetic teachings, are here because we sided with the Lord in that struggle. Those who sided with Lucifer were denied bodies and therefore future progression in the Plan of Salvation.
Now that we are here, we are to learn faith and obedience; we are to submit to our Father in Heaven’s will for us. To some that decision seems a paradox, as we are apparently asked to give up that agency in favor of submitting to God’s authority.
The key is that in so surrendering our will to God’s we act of our own volition. The Book of Mormon teaches we are free to choose (2 Nephi 2:27), but also that the natural man (acting only in our own best interest) is an enemy to God and that overcoming the natural man requires us to yield (my emphasis) to God’s way in order to find true and lasting happiness (Mosiah 3:19).
Some find following the commandments to be restrictive suggesting that freedom should allow us to do whatever we want. Mature thinkers will see spiritual adolescence in this way of thinking. Young drivers may also not see the need to follow speed limits until they’ve paid a fine or two, or, worse yet, have injured themselves or others. Mature spiritual thought suggests the trade off between a life run riot and the blessings of obedience is significant, and that the blessed life is the better choice.
Others wrongly suppose that “I am what I am” (what I call the Popeye defense) and I cannot change. If that’s so, then the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was for nothing. But the atoning sacrifice of the Savior WAS for something, and that something is the gift that we may change, that we may overcome our natural man, that we may be more driven by instinct, that we may learn a better way, His way, that we may prepare to return home to our loving Father.
My experience is that God’s way works. It brings me more joy, more peace, and ultimately, more of what matters the most. And that is in this life, excluding whatever benefit there may be in the life hereafter.