Friday, September 18, 2015

Step 1: Faith in God and Jesus Christ

A few days ago, I read a few verses from Ether 12 to my children (6 and 4 yrs old). I asked them what faith was. “It is to have faith.” Correct, I responded, and then went on to tell them about the time they jumped from a ledge into my arms. I explained that at first, they hesitated because they only believed that I would catch them (and I fervently tried to convince them that I would) and that that belief grew stronger by every jump they made into my open arms. By the end, they knew that I would catch them and the doubts they did have in the beginning had subsided. And that is faith, I concluded, and that’s how faith turns into knowledge–by the exercise of it. The initial belief is riddled with doubt, but doubt soon gives way to faith. Enough jumps in faith is the basis for a deep sense of trust and security.

As I’ve searched the scriptures, I’ve come to understand that faith is a principle with more power than we might give it credit for. Still, I’m not sure how the faith I described to my childen will become such that you can command the trees, the mountains and the sea. I do believe it’s about a qualitative difference instead of a difference in kind.

How do I grow (or have the Lord to grow) my faith into a principle of power?

In Hebrews 11, Paul (or whoever wrote the letter) mentions faith as a power in the lives of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the harlot Rahab. He then continues with these words:

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
A similar list is of miracles following faith is compiled by Moroni. In Ether 12, he states the following.
7 For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.
8 But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.
9 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.
10 Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.
11 Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.
12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.
13 Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth.
14 Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
15 Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites.
16 Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after.
17 And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their faith.
18 And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.
19 And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.
20 And behold, we have seen in this record that one of these was the brother of Jared; for so great was his faith in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith.
21 And after the brother of Jared had beheld the finger of the Lord, because of the promise which the brother of Jared had obtained by faith, the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil.
22 And it is by faith that my fathers have obtained the promise that these things should come unto their brethren through the Gentiles; therefore the Lord hath commanded me, yea, even Jesus Christ.
How was all this possible? How could Abinadi stand bravely before a king and priests with murderous intentions? How could king Benjamin address his people while his whole frame was trembling exceedingly? How did the Samuel the lamanite find courage to return to the Nephites, who had already cast him out, with the only instruction that he was to speak what the Lord would put into his heart? How was Nephi able to defy the risk of being killed by Laban and his fifty men when going after the plates? How can we stand up in the face of opposition, both from without and within, as we press forward in the journey of faith?

I believe that the key to all of this is taught in the Lectures on Faith. In Lecture Third, § 2-5, we read:

2 Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
3 First, The idea that he actually exists.
4 Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. (Emphasis in the original).
5 Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.—For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
An example of how this teaching could be applied to each one of us is found in 1 Nephi. One of the most well known scriptures in all of the Book of Mormon is 1 Ne. 3:7. In it, Nephi says unto his father:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
We usually tend to isolate this statement from what gave Nephi the faith he expressed. As we strive to emulate Nephi’s example, we often find that we can’t muster the same kind of faith he had and we get discouraged. Whenever we try to follow someone’s example, we need to look at where they started, for chances are that we will have to begin our journey from the same place. For Nephi, it all started with the teachings of his father Lehi. Nephi didn’t rebel against his father like his older brothers did. Instead, he held his questions and concerns for himself before taking them to the Lord. We read:
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.
18 But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.
19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.
23 For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also.
24 And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance. (1 Ne. 2:16-24)
First, Nephi’s heart is softened enough to plant a seed of belief. He then tells his younger brother (who believes) and his older brothers (who wouldn’t hearken to his words). Nephi then shows what’s in his heart, when he cries to the Lord for his brothers. Nephi truly was a man after the Lord’s own heart (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14). That’s why the Lord subsequently pronounced Nephi “blessed.” With this affirmation of his standing before the Lord, Nephi had so much confidence in the Lord that he was able to take on big challenges, and see them through to completion. Nephi had received faith which could be followed by miracles.

Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, had some interesting things to say about the development of this kind of faith.

”Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6)
I often pray that I will be able to believe and repent enough so that I can have “[an] actual knowledge that the course of life which [I am] pursuing, is according to [God’s] will.” One day, I will have that assurance. This hope pushes me forward.

This praying of mine needs to continue, deepen and become more filled with the humblest yearnings of my soul. As Nephi and Lehi (the brothers in Helaman) was incarcerated, a dark cloud overshadowed their fellow inmates. One of them was a dissented Nephite. He, Aminadab, shared a profound insight when he said, “you must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.” (Hel. 5:41)

The cloud of darkness was removed, but the Lord had still greater things in store for these men.

42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
46 And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
47 Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.
48 And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.
49 And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.
50 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received. (Hel. 5:42-50)
These Lamanites went from having hearts filled with murderous intentions (Hel. 5:22-23) to experiencing pillars of fire, the Holy Spirit of God entering their hearts, being filled with fire, speaking marvelous words, hearing the voice of the Father testifying of the Son and being ministered unto by angels. What caused the change? Their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. They hadn’t had time to do anything else than letting God change their hearts and their nature forever. This has to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its truest form.

This is a beautiful, beautiful text. I feel in my heart that it is true. As I write this, I feel that my heart is full and that God wanted these verses to come to your attention at this time. There’s something in this example that God wants you to learn and believe in.

As we’ve come this far, we have to ask ourselves the question of why miracles follow faith?

First and foremost, miracles are the creation of God. He performs the miracle, “and the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.” (Mormon 9:20) This verse mirrors the before mentioned prerequisites for faith unto life and salvation.

Faith, based on a belief that God exists, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes and an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will, is exercised by the inspiration from on high and it taps into the power of heaven. God acknowledges this and displays his power for the blessing and salvation of mankind.

We oftentimes think that priesthood is the force by which something is done. I believe this is an incorrect definition. The priesthood isn’t the force. The priesthood is a relationship between man and heaven, just like a brotherhood denotes a relationship between men. The active force is faith. In JST Genesis 14 we read the following.

30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. (Emphasis added.)
As I’ve contemplated this topic, it’s been impressed on my mind that having this kind of faith is a forerunner to receiving actual power in the priesthood. Joseph explained “that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” Priesthood is a relationship, and having faith unto the performing of miracles is required for this to develop.

The priesthood seems to be the ability and opportunity of man to be charged with the responsibility to act strictly by the will of the Son of God by the power of faith.

Nephi (the third in the Book of Mormon) experiences this. In Helaman 10 we read:

[That as Nephi] was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:
4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, [again, the Lord pronounces someone blessed] for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
8 And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.
9 And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.
10 And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass.
11 And now behold, I command you, that ye shall go and declare unto this people, that thus saith the Lord God, who is the Almighty: Except ye repent ye shall be smitten, even unto destruction. (Emphasis added.)
Although all these words are powerful, I chose to underline a few of them. Nephi was pronounced blessed by the Lord for having declared the word of the Lord, sought the Lord’s will above all else and kept his commandments, without becoming weary. Through his faithfulness, Nephi had built a relationship of trust with the Lord and shown himself worthy to be entrusted with the Lord’s power to seal. The fact that Nephi doesn’t use this power further attests to him being worthy of it.

From the film Gladiator we got this thought provoking dialogue.

Marcus Aurelius: Won't you accept this great honor that I have offered you?
Maximus: With all my heart, no.
Marcus Aurelius: Maximus, that is why it must be you.
The only one that can be entrusted with this kind of power is the one who’s the most aware of his inability. Quite a paradox.

This is something that Jacob, Nephi’s (the first) younger brother, also understood. He explained that “our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” (Jacob 4:6-7; emphasis added)

I’m nowhere close to having this kind of faith. I’ve only come to realize that I’ve mistaken belief for faith. It’s clear that when we draw closer to the Lord, He will show us what we lack (Eth. 12:27). When that happens, one of the first things that need to be taken care of is our faith, or our lack of it, for without us having faith, there’s not much Jesus can do (Eth. 12:9, 12).

What’s the result of true faith, doubting nothing?

”And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.” (Mormon 9:25)
” And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.” (Eth. 4:7)
I find this extraordinay. Jesus will confirm all his words. Wow. We will be shown everything. WOW! I believe that this is true. I testify that it is.

As I’ve pondered how the role of faith plays out in our lives, the concept of a spiral of faith came to me. It goes something like this.

- When someone hears about Jesus Christ and Him crucified and believes, they want to follow Him and His teachings.
- The new believer soon realizes that he can’t be perfect as Jesus commanded him. In faith, he admits his fallenness.
- We act out of faith and turn to Christ and admit that he has conquered justice through his perfect and exact obedience.
- We humble ourselves, our hearts breaks some more and our spiritual contrition deepens, and we are offered the chance to follow the Son empowered through his grace.
- Vi try to obey, but are reminded that we won’t be able to do it the way we know we have to, and we get a renewed chance to respond to our fallenness with faith.
- Jesus will receive us and let us grow in humility. Our ability to obey will grow because our weakness will turn into a strength.
- We obey, not by fighting against the tide, but through the power, love and grace of Jesus.
The alternative to this spiral of faith is the circle of no faith.
- We try to obey and fail, but this failure makes us turn against the commandments and their author. We feel defeated and that we won’t be able to win the game. We pull out, ‘knowing’ that the gospel doesn’t work.
The mistake in all of this is that the person lacking faith didn’t realize that the game wasn’t his to play (Jesus having already won it) and that that, the victory of Jesus, is the gospel.

What does faith in Jesus Christ mean? Nephi explains it well.

”My heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” (2 Ne. 4:17-29)

Trust is at the heart of faith. This trust is the substance of godliness, since faith is the driving force in God. Without this faith we have a form of godliness but lack the power thereof.

There will be a part 2 to this post. I felt that I needed to post it right away. So I did.

1 comment:

  1. That was beautifully written and one of the best of your writings thus far. I felt the spirit bear witness of the truths and conclusions you have drawn. I felt edified by the spirit. Thanks for sharing this very personal revelation. I have been having some of the same thoughts and come to some of the same conclusions. Hearts are softened as we sincerely desire to seek and know His truths.