What is the difference between Agency, Freedom and Liberty?

Let us first consider the scriptures which use these three terms implying separate meanings:

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 (2 Nephi 2:27)

We are told that we are free to choose liberty or captivity. The choice implies that we have agency, or the ability to choose between Liberty or Bondage. We are free, which means we have the capability to do the action that will decide the outcome.

Agency is the ability to choose an action, whereas Freedom is the capability to DO an action. What’s the difference? Here’s an example. You have the agency or ability to make the choice to go to New York, and can make that choice even if you don’t have a car or other form of transportation. You have made the choice, despite the absence of the ability to act on that choice. It is the access to transportation that will provide you with the Freedom, or capability, to actually go to New York.

Liberty is opposite of Captivity. Liberty is often confused as having the same meaning as Freedom, yet there is a difference. Liberty comes from choosing and doing the right actions, those which are just before God. It’s really impossible to separate Liberty from Obedience to the Laws of God.

Real Liberty only comes from obeying a commandment or law to reach the destination you want. Bondage, or Captivity, is choosing a path and being bound to the outcome, whereas Liberty is choosing your destination or outcome and being bound to the path required to achieve such an outcome.

The Key to understanding and experiencing Liberty lies in choosing the outcome we want versus receiving the outcome our path dictates.

If you want the Liberty that comes from being healthy and having the ability to run an not be weary, walk and not faint (D&C 89) you must choose that outcome of healthiness and have your path dictated accordingly. If you are committed to that outcome you are not going to consume donuts and soda pop all day – that choice would bind you to the outcome inherent in unhealthy living, and you would be in bondage.

In 2nd Nephi Chapter 2, verse 25 we read that “men are that they might have joy”. It is in choosing Liberty that we will experience that joy, or happiness.

To choose Liberty is to choose to stand up for Truth and Righteousness, to be found on the Lord’s side. Choosing Liberty results in experiencing the ultimate level of Freedom.

This gives a new meaning to the words “Life, Liberty and Happiness“. This Life is a time for us to be “tried, to be tested, and to choose. Our decisions determine our destiny… Those who choose the Lord’s way” (choose Liberty) and “who prove faithful shall inherit the kingdom of God, … and their joy (Happiness) shall be full forever.” (Russell M. Nelson, Now Is the Time to Prepare, Ensign, May 2005, 16).

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

(NOTE: This is an excerpt of what I have discussed here: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

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3 Responses to “What is the difference between Agency, Freedom and Liberty?”

  • Avatar for Blog Marvin Hall Says:

    It is true that many words have several meanings. Liberty may be defined as: The absence of restraint or coercion. It is one of the five elements of freedom – life, liberty, property, knowledge and work. Agency may be defined as: The power and opportunity to choose good or evil. Freedom may be defined as: The power and opportunity to accomplish ones goals. It is essentially the same as agency.
    Freedom is the standard by which God judges all action. Good: Is that which increases, protects and enhances freedom without destroying or injuring someone else’s freedom. Evil: Is the injuring or destruction of any or all of the five elements of freedom. It is that which decreases, damages or destroys freedom. It is the motivating force which causes people to harm or destroy freedom. Intelligence: Is light and truth. It is the ability to receive, understand and efficiently utilize truth to achieve a desired and just goal. Intelligent Conduct: Is the compliances with divine law to obtain a desired righteous or just goal. Joy: Is the ultimate purpose of life or existence and may be measured in the amount of freedom one has. Joy is perfect freedom achieved by obedience to divine law. Justice: Is the allotting to each man the exact amount of freedom he deserves.
    It seems to me that liberty in the first scripture quoted means freedom, at least according to the definition that I use for freedom and liberty. One may choose liberty, but still not have liberty because he is restrain, imprisoned or coerced against his will by some tyrant. It seems to me that the scriptures quite often use liberty and freedom synonymously. The American people certainly do.
    You may have notice that I have thrown in an extra element of freedom (work) from what Elder Anderson states . Without work freedom is impossible, just as it is impossible without the other four elements of freedom. I have heard and read several statements by apostles of the Lord stating that work is the underlying principle of the gospel. Sorry, at present I don’t have the exact quotes. We know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the perfect law of freedom. We also know that freedom is the cornerstone of Christ’s gospel. As President Benson has stated, “The cause of freedom is the most basic part of our religion”. If work is the underlying principles of the gospel then it has to be one of the elements of freedom. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. Work is an all important element of faith. Faith without works is dead.
    We may have the other four elements of freedom, but if we do nothing we can not have freedom because some tyrant will take away our liberty, property etc. Without work we cannot maintain life, protect liberty, obtain and utilize property or acquire knowledge. In fact without work we cannot protect any of the five elements of freedom including work.
    I realize that our perception of agency, freedom and liberty depends on the definitions we use. Without agency or freedom including all of the five elements of freedom the whole purpose of life is “thwarted”. At any rate, Brian, you see things very clearly and provoke us to think and act and for that I am grateful.

  • Avatar for Blog Gabriel Smith Says:

    Now, Mormons, here this now, that Joseph Smith’s story about the First Vision includes a statement far more important for actual active members of the church than to converts. The Lord said, “You must join none of them, for they are an abomination in My site; they draw near me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” If we are to proclaim that the church is true, we must not be prideful about it. If we are to proclaim that we are patriotic citizens of the United States, we must understand that true obedience is nothing more than hearing God’s word, and that true agency is about self judgement. We cannot be patriotic if we believe in following direct orders all the time.

  • Avatar for Blog Stuart Says:

    Liberty comes from the Latin word libertas, which means “unbounded, unrestricted or released from constraint.” Libertas even contains the idea of being separate and independent.

    The English word Freedom can trace its roots to the Germanic or Norse word Frei, describing someone who belongs to a tribe and has the rights and protections that go with belonging. Besides freedom the root frei becomes the English word friend.

    To have liberty is to be unencumbered.

    To have freedom is to have the aggregate benefits and protections provided by society.

    As citizens we give up some of our liberty in exchange for freedom. This is the social contract. It allows us to enjoy our liberty far more than we otherwise could. (Being unencumbered isn’t much fun in a lawless place like Sudan)

    Freedom is given by society to its constituents. For example, our society provides medicine, education and rule of law (among many other things). Any one of these would be far less valuable without any other. Therefore the aggregate is more than the sum of its part, so the word “freedom” has its own unique meaning.

    There is no other word for this concept, and by forgetting the meaning of “freedom” we have lost some of our appreciation that which unites us.

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