Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Truth About Faith

Ask any young person in the church to explain the principle of faith and odds are they will recite Alma 32:21 to you and leave it at that.

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

This is a wonderful scripture, and it is a good one to have memorized, but I feel that if you depend on this verse alone for your understanding of the principle of faith you will find that your ability to understand and apply it in your life will be somewhat lacking.

I find that the apostle Paul provides another description of faith which at first sounds similar to the one which Alma gave, but upon closer examination you will see that Paul is teaching us much more deeply about the nature and uses of faith.

Hebrews 11:1  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

When all you have is Alma’s definition of faith as rendered in Alma 32:21, you might think that faith is a rather passive principle in which one holds a vague hope in unseen forces which seem largely beyond your control.  Faith in this scenario seems to be an ill-defined hope, based on vague and even insubstantial evidence, in something that happens to be true.

If this is how you understand faith as a principle, it is no wonder that enemies of religion accuse Christians of blind faith, and enemies of the LDS church accuse its members of blindly following the prophet and their leaders.

Paul’s description of faith which he gave to the Hebrews shows us that faith does not need to be, nor should it be, blind or passive.  His teachings help us to understand that faith, rather than being a vague hope in an unseen truth, is in itself the concrete evidence and the substance upon which we can rely for the foundation of our belief in said truth.  With the assurance provided by such reliable evidence we can make decisions with confidence and take concrete action.

What is it that we are to believe and rely upon with such assurance?  What is it that makes faith powerful enough that we can rely upon it as evidence of things unseen, and the substance of things hoped for?

“True faith, faith unto salvation, is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in His doctrines and teachings, faith in the prophetic guidance of the Lord’s anointed, faith in the capacity to discover hidden characteristics and traits that can transform life. Truly, faith in the Savior is a principle of action and power” (Richard G. Scott, “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Ensign November 2010, 43).

Moroni 7:41  And what is it that ye shall hope for?  Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

What is it that gives faith its power?  On what basis can faith be considered sufficient to act as evidence of things unseen, and the substance of things hoped for?  What makes faith more than just a vague hope in unseen or mystical forces?  It is our reliance on the eventual fulfillment of God’s promises, all of which are or will be fulfilled in Christ.  It is our trust in God that He will keep his word and never break it.

“We can have faith in God because He is perfectly trustworthy. The scriptures teach us that “God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round” and that “God is no respecter of persons.” We rely on the divine quality of justice for faith, confidence, and hope.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Free Forever, to Act for Themselves,” Ensign, Nov. 2014, 17).

How do we go about obtaining God’s unbreakable promises?  God issues promises to his children (through his appointed prophets and apostles) and seals them by means of covenant arrangements.

“God has always required His children to make covenants. A covenant is a binding and solemn agreement between God and man. God promises to bless us, and we promise to obey Him. God sets the terms of gospel covenants, which we either accept or reject. Keeping covenants brings blessings in this life and exaltation in the life to come.”  (Preach My Gospel, 63)

One of the best examples of God binding himself by covenant to His children was when He made a covenant with the prophet Abraham.

Hebrews 6:13-19  For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,  Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.  And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.  For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.  Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

When God makes a promise He never goes back on His word, and it is when we gain an understanding of the immutability of God’s promises that faith becomes substantial and undeniable as evidence upon which we can base our lives and our hope for the future.  Faith then becomes like an anchor to our souls and a refuge and a consolation that is substantial enough that we can (at least figuratively) “lay hold” upon it.

Ether 12:4  Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

The Seed of Faith

Alma is correct in stating that faith is not to have a perfect knowledge, but one should consider that evidence in a criminal case similarly does not constitute perfect knowledge.  If it was, you could convict a criminal as soon as you found even a little bit of evidence.  Faith, like evidence, does not come all at once, nor does it come on its own, but rather it is discovered over the process of time after carefully and diligently searching for it and acting on what you learn.

“Belief and testimony and faith are not passive principles. They do not just happen to us. Belief is something we choose—we hope for it, we work for it, and we sacrifice for it. We will not accidentally come to believe in the Savior and His gospel any more than we will accidentally pray or pay tithing. We actively choose to believe, just like we choose to keep other commandments.”  (L. Whitney Clayton, "Choose to Believe," Ensign, May 2015, 38).

In a court case you have to spend much time slowly building your case, and assembling evidence, until you can convict the defendant “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”  That might be why we also often speak of faith in terms of our convictions.  To obtain such a conviction, one must nurture and tend one’s faith and enhance it through careful and diligent study and searching followed by definitive action based on the evidence provided by faith.  Only when one has spent a lifetime diligently building the case for faith, based on the evidence and substance of things not seen, can one say that they have faith “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Alma taught this same principle much more elegantly when he compared faith to nurturing the seed of the gospel in Alma 32:27-34

“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.  Now, we will compare the word unto a seed.  Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.  Now behold, would not this increase your faith?  I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.  But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow.  And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith?  Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.  And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed?  I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.  Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.  And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.  And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect?  Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.”

If it may take us a lifetime to build our faith until we know “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” what are we supposed to do until that point?  I think that most people of faith worry that they don’t have enough.  How do you know when you have enough faith?  How much faith do you need before you can be saved?

The problem with the principle and quality of faith is that it can be difficult to quantify.  It would be nice to have some tool by which one can measure faith in and of itself, but faith is too personal and intimate to be measured externally.  The problem here is that we fail to understand what faith really is and how we are supposed to use it.  We have all heard people refer to faith as if they were Peter Pan and Wendy, clapping their hands and exclaiming, “I do believe in fairies!  I do, I do!  I do believe in fairies!  I do, I do!” in a fervent effort to save Tinkerbell’s life.  We often tend to think that “if only I believed more strongly, God might grant my request” or “If I just believe hard enough, all my wishes will come true!”  Faith is not about the power of positive thinking so much as faith is a principle of trust and trustworthiness.

How do you know that you can trust someone?  When they demonstrate a pattern of consistently keeping their word, and of acting responsibly with the things with which you have already entrusted them; or in other words, when they have demonstrated a character of trustworthiness.  Similarly, we have faith in God because he has demonstrated a reliable pattern of doing what He says he’ll do, being where He says He’ll be, and being who He says He is.  He has shown to us the true nature and quality of His character.  The Scriptures are given to us partly as a witness that God keeps His word and rewards our trust in Him.

Correspondingly, we demonstrate our faith in God by keeping our covenants which we have made with Him and by acting conscientiously with the blessings and responsibilities which He has given to us.  The word that best applies to this understanding of faith is fidelity.  Fidelity means “faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.”  Related words are loyalty, allegiance, and obedience.  Understanding these words as they apply to our relationship with God is crucial to developing a correct understanding of the principle of faith.  How can a general trust a soldier who refuses to obey him?  He can’t; in fact, that kind of thing is generally met with harsh discipline in any military organization because an army can only function on the assurance that the soldiers will obey when a crucial (or even an unimportant) order comes through.  How can a master trust a servant who won’t serve him?  He can’t, and any servant who won’t serve isn’t a servant at all.  How can you claim to be loyal and faithful to God if you are not also willing to honor and obey Him and to obey Him honorably?

“Honor is the rich soil in which the seed of faith thrives” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Reflections on a Consecrated Life,” Ensign, November 2010, 19).

Faith and Character

It is through obedience and fidelity to God and his commandments that we can demonstrate (if to no one but ourselves and the Lord) and develop the extent and strength of our faith and character.

“Faith and character are intimately related. Faith in the power of obedience to the commandments of God will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is intended to be used. Your exercise of faith in true principles builds character; fortified character expands your capacity to exercise more faith. As a result, your capacity and confidence to conquer the trials of life is enhanced. The more your character is fortified, the more enabled you are to benefit from exercising the power of faith. You will discover how faith and character interact to strengthen one another. Character is woven patiently from threads of applied principle, doctrine, and obedience” (Richard G. Scott, “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Ensign November 2010, 43).

“God uses your faith to mold your character.  Character is the manifestation of what you are becoming.  Strong character results from consistent correct choices.  The bedrock of character is integrity.  The more your character is fortified, the more enabled you are to benefit from exercising the power of faith” (Richard G. Scott, “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Ensign November 2010, 46).

Faith is about developing and demonstrating a character consistent with the principles of integrity and fidelity.  This means that we will have to decide now to rely on the promises of the Lord, and to act in fidelity to the promises which we have made to Him.  This will require countless correct decisions on our part, most of which will seem small at the time.  If we have a character born of faith and fired by a commitment to a life of honor and integrity we will learn that God’s promises and assurances are often only confirmed when we choose to act upon His commands and counsel in faith and obedience.  It therefore makes no sense to wait to obey God until after we have received what we consider to be a sufficient witness of the truth and validity of his laws, principles, and doctrine.

Faith Comes First

“The Savior taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Sometimes we try to do it backward. For example, we may take this approach: I will be happy to live the law of tithing, but first I need to know that it’s true. Maybe we even pray to gain a testimony of the law of tithing and hope the Lord will bless us with that testimony before we have ever filled out a tithing slip. It just doesn’t work that way. The Lord expects us to exercise faith. We have to consistently pay a full and honest tithe in order to gain a testimony of tithing. This same pattern applies to all the principles of the gospel, whether it is the law of chastity, the principle of modesty, the Word of Wisdom, or the law of the fast.”  (Bonnie L. Oscarson, “Be Ye Converted,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, 77).

Faith comes first.  We can’t afford to wait until we have a perfect knowledge before we are willing to take a chance on obeying some difficult principle.  You cannot to gain a testimony of any principle which you are not first willing to obey, and you cannot develop faith when you are consciously defying God’s commandments.  You will find faith to be very difficult until you understand this principle.

“No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandment of Jesus.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 66-67)

If you wish to obtain the blessings and the assurance from God that tell you that a certain commandment is true, and good, and worth following, you will have to exercise enough faith to follow it first.  You can’t gain  a blessing attached to a commandment that you are unwilling to live, or at least attempt to live. 

D&C 130:20-21  There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

D&C 132:5  For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

"When you are trying to verify the truth of gospel principles, you must first live them. Put gospel doctrine and Church teachings to the test in your own life. Do it with real intent and enduring faith in God.

If you will do these things, you have a promise from God—who is bound by His word—that He will manifest the truth to you by the power of the Holy Ghost. He will grant you greater light that will allow you to look through the darkness and witness unimaginably glorious vistas incomprehensible to mortal sight.”  (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth,” Ensign, November 2014, 21).

One of the reasons why this is a difficult principle is that such obedience will, more often than not, require us to overcome some trial of our faith which may very well seem to us to be insurmountable.  However, this is exactly the type of situation in which you most need to have and use your faith.  It is only after we exercise the faith required to overcome that trial that we can obtain the witness and testimony of the truth and importance of, as well as the blessings that are attached to, that particular principle or commandment.

Ether 12:6  And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

1 Peter 1:7  That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:  Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:  Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

"A testimony grows from understanding truth distilled from prayer and the pondering of scriptural doctrine. It is nurtured by living those truths with faith anchored in the secure confidence that the promised results will be obtained."  (Richard G. Scott, "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character," Ensign, Nov. 2010)

One can only gain a testimony of the truth and value of a gospel principle through the process of living and experiencing that principle.  Very often the keeping of the commandment IS the blessing, and we can only begin to grasp that once we choose to take a chance on obedience, even when it may seem easier or more fun to do things our way instead of the Lord’s way.  This will require us to exercise enough faith to choose to follow the Lord, even when we cannot see the end from the beginning.

“Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.

“I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.’ Then he quoted these 18 words from the Book of Mormon:

“‘Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith’” (Ether 12:6) (President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Edge of the Light,” BYU Magazine, Mar. 1991,

“There are times when we have to step into the darkness in faith, confident that God will place solid ground beneath our feet once we do.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Why of Priesthood Service,” Ensign, May 2012, 59).

Faith Vs. Blind Obedience

How is it that taking those few steps into the darkness does not constitute blind obedience?  Are those who profess faith in God, His promises, and the words of His prophets, nothing more than unthinking puppets who do what they are told without asking questions?

"Members who have a testimony and who act upon it under the direction of their Church leaders are sometimes accused of blind obedience.

Of course, we have leaders, and of course, we are subject to their decisions and directions in the operation of the Church and in the performance of needed priesthood ordinances. But when it comes to learning and knowing the truth of the gospel—our personal testimonies—we each have a direct relationship with God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the powerful witness of the Holy Ghost. This is what our critics fail to understand. It puzzles them that we can be united in following our leaders and yet independent in knowing for ourselves.

Perhaps the puzzle some feel can be explained by the reality that each of us has two different channels to God. We have a channel of governance through our prophet and other leaders. This channel, which has to do with doctrine, ordinances, and commandments, results in obedience. We also have a channel of personal testimony, which is direct to God. This has to do with His existence, our relationship to Him, and the truth of His restored gospel. This channel results in knowledge. These two channels are mutually reinforcing: knowledge encourages obedience, and obedience enhances knowledge."  (Dallin H. Oaks, "Testimony," Ensign, May 2008)

"Thus, every time you try your faith—that is, act in worthiness on an impression—you will receive the confirming evidence of the Spirit. As you walk to the boundary of your understanding into the twilight of uncertainty, exercising faith, you will be led to find solutions you would not obtain otherwise."  (Richard G. Scott, "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character," Ensign, Nov. 2010)

The gospel can seem somewhat counter-intuitive at times.  The more one obeys, the more one comes to know and understand, and the more one knows and understands the more he or she seeks willingly to obey the Lord.  "In April President Thomas S. Monson taught us, “A knowledge of truth and the answers to our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God.” How reassuring it is to know that through our obedience we gain knowledge" (Randy D. Funk, “Called of Him to Declare His Word,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, 53).  Or as Christ reminded us in John 7:17 “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

"God does not want us to follow His divine guidance blindly or out of fear of punishment. He wants us to exercise intelligent obedience of our own free will. We need to gain our own witness, or belief, that the commandments really come from Him and help us live happier lives. To obtain this witness, we have to use faith. We have to have a real desire, and we have to be willing to do the work necessary to know these things."  (

When we actively seek to build and use our faith in God through a genuine desire to serve and obey Him, we can gain the knowledge and assurance of faith that tells us that while we may not be able to see the end from the beginning, eventually we will be rewarded for our faithful obedience with an understanding of even the very mysteries of God’s kingdom.

D&C 63:23  But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.

Alma 26:22  Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.

"The genius of the gospel plan is that by doing those things the Lord counsels us to do, we are given every understanding and every capacity necessary to provide peace and rich fulfillment in this life. Likewise, we gain the preparation necessary for eternal happiness in the presence of the Lord."  (Richard G. Scott, "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character," Ensign, Nov. 2010)

When we exercise the faith to act on spiritual impressions, the words from the scriptures, and the teachings of the living prophets the Lord will bless us with the witness of the Spirit which will provide the light and knowledge we need to know that what we are doing is right.  In the light of a spiritual witness obtained through faithful obedience we are far from blind, and we are certainly not mindless or ignorant.  We are actually making the most informed decision we can based on the knowledge we have at hand.

"We all act upon or give obedience to knowledge. Whether in science or religion, our obedience is not blind when we act upon knowledge suited to the subject of our action. A scientist receives and acts upon a trusted certification of the content or conditions of a particular experiment. In matters of religion, a believer’s source of knowledge is spiritual, but the principle is the same. In the case of Latter-day Saints, when the Holy Ghost gives our souls a witness of the truth of the restored gospel and the calling of a modern prophet, our choice to follow those teachings is not blind obedience."  (Dallin H. Oaks, "Testimony," Ensign, May 2008)

Those who choose to develop faith in God and live their lives in the assurance that God keeps his promises will have access to a greater level of knowledge to which those who reject faith and the reality of spiritual things can never attain.

1 Corinthians 2:9-14  But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Alma 26:21-22  And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.  Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.

Faith isn’t just a good feeling or a vague warm and fuzzy assurance that all will be well.  Rather faith is a requirement for those who wish to qualify for salvation and it is the principle of character upon which that salvation is obtained.

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Galatians 2:16  Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Faith and Works

Obedience, if done without faith, is empty and meaningless, and no amount of outward performance can make up for an inward lack of sincere faith.

Ephesians 2:8-10  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

2 Nephi 2:25  For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

If we depend entirely on Christ and His grace for our salvation, how is it that faith is not a passive principle in which one waits and hopes that Christ will save them based solely on the strength of their convictions?  Faith only works when it is accompanied by obedience.  While obedience will not save us, it is a crucial component of building, maintaining, and expressing the reality and character of one’s faith.

"Obedience does not produce or maintain salvation, but it is the inevitable characteristic of those who are saved."  (John F. MacArthur, Jr., Faith Works, 121).

Obedience, as an essential and inseparable characteristic of those who will be saved, is a crucial component of true faith.  One might even say that without obedience to God’s precepts, faith is dead and therefore good for nothing.

James 2:14, 17-18  What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

Faith must therefore be demonstrated by our works, even though those works cannot save us.  Learning to have enough faith to actively obey God’s commands, even without salvation as a direct incentive for that obedience is an important part of the process required to produce the change in character which God seeks to bring about in us.  Once we begin to experience this transformation, obedience will no longer seem like such a burden or trial, and we will begin to experience the power that can come from living a life filled with faith.

“True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to righteous action. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “faith [is] the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness” and that it is also “the principle of action in all intelligent beings” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 1). Action alone is not faith in the Savior, but acting in accordance with correct principles is a central component of faith. Thus, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The Prophet Joseph further explained that “faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth” (Lectures on Faith, 3). Thus, faith in Christ leads to righteous action, which increases our spiritual capacity and power. Understanding that faith is a principle of action and of power inspires us to exercise our moral agency in compliance with gospel truth, invites the redeeming and strengthening powers of the Savior’s Atonement into our lives, and enlarges the power within us whereby we are agents unto ourselves (see D&C 58:28).”  (David A. Bednar, “Ask in Faith,” Ensign, April 2008).

Faith helps us to more powerfully exercise our free will, but it also enables us to become more powerful agents for God, to bring about much good and exercise His will on behalf of His children.  It is in this sense that faith becomes the principle upon which the power of God operates in the lives of His children.

Moroni 7:33  And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.

Moroni 7:37  Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

How then does one know if they have enough faith to be saved, especially since we are ultimately saved by grace, and not by any action, or combination of actions, on our part?

“‘Just how much faith do I need for the atonement of Christ to work for me?’ In other words, how much faith do I need to receive salvation? In the book of Alma … we find the answer. The prophet Amulek taught this simple but grand principle: ‘The Son of God, … bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance’ (Alma 34:14–15; emphasis added).

“Please note those three words: faith unto repentance. That is the clue. Four times in three verses he uses that expression [see Alma 34:15–17]. …

“So the combination of faith in Christ plus faith unto repentance is vitally important. That concept is one of the greatest insights we have into the importance of simple, clear faith—faith sufficient to repent. Apparently faith great enough to move mountains is not required; faith enough to speak in tongues or to heal the sick is not needed; all that we need is just enough faith to recognize that we have sinned and to repent of our sins, to feel remorse for them, and to desire to sin no more but to please Christ the Lord. Then the greatest miracle of all, the Atonement, whereby Christ rescues us from our deserved punishment, is in effect in our behalf” (Robert E. Wells, “The Liahona Triad,” in Bruce A. Van Orden and Brent L. Top, eds., Doctrines of the Book of Mormon: The 1991 Sperry Symposium [1992], 6–7) in Book of Mormon Student Manual, 229).

Faith to Move Mountains

It was with this understanding that Christ told His disciples that “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

The scriptures record that there have indeed been righteous followers of God (such as Enoch (see Moses 7:13) whose faith did in fact enable them to move literal mountains with only a word.  When one reads about such obvious and dramatic demonstrations of the power of faith, one might well be led to wonder, “Why can’t I move mountains?  What’s wrong with me?”  I think it is a mistake to compare our faith to the faith of others.  We are not in a contest to see who has the most faith.  Besides, there are many kinds of mountains that we may face in life and not all of them are literal mountains that we can see and touch. Even though they may not be visible to others, mountains of hardship, temptation, and doubt threaten to overwhelm even the greatest of us.  If we hope to move the mountains in our lives we will need the power of faith in Jesus Christ to help us overcome them so we can move forward.

“I have never witnessed the removal of an actual mountain. But because of faith, I have seen a mountain of doubt and despair removed and replaced with hope and optimism. Because of faith, I have personally witnessed a mountain of sin replaced with repentance and forgiveness. And because of faith, I have personally witnessed a mountain of pain replaced with peace, hope, and gratitude” (Richard C. Edgley, “Faith—the Choice Is Yours,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 33).

Furthermore, if you apply the principles of the gospel and do your best to live them with all of your heart, you might as well say, “I can’t move mountains YET, but just give me time!”  Becoming discouraged after comparing your own small faith to the people in the scriptures, many of whom possessed or demonstrated unusual faith, is like a young boy deciding to give up basketball or baseball after comparing himself to a giant of the sport, such as Michael Jordan or Joe DiMaggio.  It takes time, dedication, perseverance, and patience to become a superstar in anything, and this is especially true when it comes to something as rich and complex and nuanced as faith.

If we don’t yet have enough faith to move mountains, how can faith be a principle of power in our lives?  Faith becomes a principle of power when (and whenever) we use it to take control of our lives and our choices so that we can act for ourselves, with faith in the promises of God, instead of allowing ourselves to be acted upon and tossed to and fro on every wind of doctrine and whim of men.  Faith is a principle of power because it helps us to develop a life of honor, loyalty, and integrity which will help to anchor us against the storms of sin and despair that swirl around us in this world.

Faith is a principle of action, discipline, and power, which enables us to expand our spiritual capacity until one day we can move mountains and work miracles.  It is so much more than the power of positive thinking, or a vague, abstract hope that there is a God and that He actually cares about our well-being.  Faith is even about more than just the ability to perform grand and dramatic miracles.

Faith is so powerful because it enables us (through the atoning grace of Jesus Christ) to act for ourselves instead of being acted upon by helping us to look forward with an eternal perspective, to look beyond the temporary world which we see before us now to the unseen and eternal world which is much more permanent and important.  No matter what life throws at us, no matter what trial or depredation we will be called upon to suffer, faith helps us to realize that this life is but a fleeting moment, and we are but pilgrims and strangers on this Earth.  Such knowledge completely changes the way we make and order our priorities because it gives us the power to look beyond temporary setbacks and trials to view those things that actually matter in the eternities.  A Christian who has a hope and assurance, born of faith, in the reality of a better world and a heavenly country can overcome anything, and so this eternal perspective can make us unspeakably powerful.  What can man do against such a person?  What hold can Satan have over someone who looks forward with an eye of faith to the fulfillment of the promises and the glory of God?

2 Corinthians 4:6, 8-9, 13, 16-18  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

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