When we were first given our topic to speak in Sacrament Meeting my first thought was that faith and testimony were opposites and didn’t really have anything to do with each other. It took me a while to remember their connection and how they work together.
In the Book of Abraham, we read about Abraham’s revelation of the premortal world. The Lord tells Abraham what the Father’s intent was in sending us to this earth. In Abraham 3:25-26 Abraham learned that our purpose in coming here is to be tried or proven to see if we will be obedient to the Lord in all things. The reward for our obedience is exaltation, to have glory added upon our heads for ever and ever.
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
It is one thing to be tested or tried when we have studied and prepared and are ready for our test. It is quite another thing when it is not our intellect that is being tested, but our heart, and the desires thereof. Mortality is a test of the desires of our heart. The Lord is prepared to reward us for the rest of eternity based on our true desires. He will give us what we want.
It is important to remember that our Father in Heaven will never interfere with our agency. Just as He will never force us to choose Him over Satan, He will also never give us knowledge that we don’t want. If our Father in Heaven gives us knowledge of something then we are held accountable for that knowledge. That new knowledge becomes part of our judgment at the day of reckoning. Even if the knowledge can save us or exalt us, if we don’t want that knowledge the Lord will let us stay in the dark so as to not have further reason to condemn us for not obeying that of which we had knowledge.
Knowledge is the currency of heaven. If we want to remain ignorant of spiritual things the Lord will let us remain in the dark, but we need to remember that we cannot be saved in ignorance. We need knowledge of spiritual things, of the things of God, if we want to be exalted. But even if we say we want to know these things, the Lord still knows our natures better than we do. He has set up safeguards to protect us so that we can only learn of spiritual things as we are prepared to receive them and live them.
Being prepared to receive spiritual truth means that we are not only ready to understand them, but that we are also capable of living the demands that new knowledge places on us. This is why there is a process in place for obtaining spiritual understanding. For His judgments to be just, we need to be prepared for the demands of the lifestyle that is required by the knowledge of a celestial nature. He will not reveal His true nature to us if we are not really sincere about wanting to know it. Once we know it we will be forever held accountable with what we do with that knowledge. Spiritual knowledge comes with demands and consequences.
Spiritual knowledge has a price, and that price is paid through the exercise of faith. Faith is the acting on what we choose to believe. Belief is a choice. Because it is a choice the only requirement for the choice to believe something is a desire that it be true. The Lord couldn’t have made it any easier for us to develop faith in Him. In Alma 32 we learn that faith can be exercised even by something as small as only a desire to believe. Here is Alma 32:27.
27 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.
If we are willing to give place or accept as true even a portion of God’s word then He can prove himself to us. That is what faith is all about, giving the Lord an opportunity to prove himself to us. He makes us a promise. If we are willing to let him prove himself by doing what he says we will need to do in order to receive that proof then he will give us the knowledge he has promised us.
Faith requires us to be willing to undergo the experiment on God’s word. We put His promises to the test, and if we follow through and do what is required of us then the Lord rewards us with the promised knowledge. This is simple faith. This is how it all begins. If we are not even sure if there is a God, being willing to pray to Him and have a hope that he will answer our prayer is enough to receive an assurance that He is there.
When missionaries teach someone who is investigating the Church, they are taught that in order to receive a testimony of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the truthfulness of the Church, they need to read the Book of Mormon, come to Church weekly, be praying daily, and paying their tithing. If they do not receive the desired testimony they seek, you can rest assured they are not doing one or more of the required things in order to receive that testimony. I have never met anyone who was willing to do all those things who failed to receive the promised blessing. It works every time.
More difficult faith
Initially, faith is very simple. If you do this, you will receive that. But as the bank of spiritual assurances grows, more is demanded from the Lord for further knowledge. While it may be true that in each instance where we exercise faith we are proving the Lord, it is also true that in all circumstances He is proving or testing us as well. When Alma and his new converts fled into the wilderness from the armies of King Noah they exercised faith in Alma as the Lord’s chosen servant. They continued to follow him and exercise their faith in their belief that he would protect them and teach them what was right when they set up a city and began to live life as believers.
The real test of their faith came when the Lamanites made them prisoners in their own city and treated them cruelly, even forbidding them to pray on penalty of death. When they turned to Alma for deliverance from their oppressors, Alma in turn, went to the Lord for direction. In Mosiah 24:13-16 the Lord acknowledged that He was aware of the covenants they had made to follow Him. He, in turn, covenanted with them to deliver them, but first he required that they learn a lesson. He wanted them to learn for themselves that He visits his people in their afflictions. He wanted them to learn of his godly attribute of mercy. But to learn of his mercy they must experience something unpleasant so he could demonstrate his mercy to them.
It is important to note here that the Lord always blesses his children for their efforts to demonstrate patience in his trials as he seeks to teach them of the celestial character. The purpose of faith is to teach us how to become like God, not just to learn of God. Exercising faith teaches both lessons. It is only as we learn how to live a celestial principle that we can come to understand its importance. The more godly we become through the exercise of our faith the more we can comprehend the true nature and character of God. We understand it only because we are becoming more like Him. This is why we are here in mortality. This is why we need to be tried and proven in all things. Our Father in Heaven is teaching us how to develop the same traits that makes Him what He is.
13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
Faith requires that we be willing to not only place our trust and belief in God, but also that we are willing to wait patiently on God’s timing to answer our prayers, knowing from experience that they are always answered, even if it is not when we would like them to be.
The end of faith
Faith, by definition is acting on belief, trusting that the Lord will make good on His promises. But what happens when we have received the promised blessing, the assurance that what we placed our trust in was true? What then? Faith no longer applies once knowledge has taken the place of faith. This is what testimony is. Testimony is the knowledge that faith has brought us.
When Alma was teaching about faith he used the comparison of faith to being like a seed. When we plant the seed and take care of it the seed does what all good seeds do, it sprouts and grows. We exercise faith and the Lord makes changes in our hearts and lives that are discernible. Because we can see these changes we know that something has happened because of the experiment we have made on His word.
33 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.
34 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.
Each time we exercise faith, it is a temporary phase. The goal of exercising faith is to take us from that place of uncertainty to a place of knowledge, of understanding. Faith is only operable in our life as long as we are in that transition phase between ignorance and understanding. Once we have received an understanding of a principle we have knowledge, and faith in that thing becomes dormant.
It appears that faith is always leading to knowledge and understanding, and that is true. But knowledge is also needed to support faith. Once we start learning more complicated lessons through faith, there are many times when our patience and belief can be sorely tried. Sometimes we need to wait years before the answer or understanding we seek is granted. Some lessons require us to change in substantial ways before we are ready for the answer. It is during these times that what we already know can support us and help us to continue to have the faith we need, the patience required to make the changes the Lord requires in order for us to receive our answer.
Testimony doesn’t usually come as a one-time glorious experience. Most of the time we receive witnesses of eternal principles in many ways over many occasions. All of these experiences help us to accept a higher principle when we are finally able to understand and live it. We need to watch for these witnesses, for they come more often than we might think, and they are usually comfortable and quiet.
They happen in Sunday School class, Quorum or Relief Society, during Primary, or during a youth lesson. They show up in our personal and family prayers, during acts of service, or while looking at a sunset or vista. They are a sense of appreciation for the blessings of God, assurances that he is here and with us, that he is aware of us and that he knows our thoughts and cares about our needs.
Such revelations not only strengthen the testimonies we already have, but they help to give us the patience and hope we need for the longer and more difficult lessons in becoming the celestial people we are striving to become. So when the Lord is testing our resolve, yet again, and we wonder if we have been derailed or have gotten off track somewhere because the answers just don’t seem to be anywhere in sight, we need to turn to all these little bits of knowledge and understanding the Lord has been giving us and recognize that He is still aware of our petitions, but that it is not yet time for us to receive our answers. When He feels the time is right and that we will be able to not only appreciate what He has to teach us, but that we will be willing to live what he will teach us, then the answer will come.
Faith and testimony are two sides to the same coin. It is a coin we are always turning over and over again in our hand. We cannot have testimony without first having faith. And faith always leads to knowledge and understanding or confirmation of spiritual truths. But the purpose of both is the same. The purpose of faith and testimony is to help lead us to become like our Father in Heaven. We follow the example of our Savior and seek to do what he did during his time in mortality.
Mortality is all about learning how to become like our heavenly parents. This is not an intellectual test, it is a test of the desires of our hearts. How much do we want to be like our Savior and our Father in Heaven? What are we willing to undergo to learn the lessons that will turn us into celestial people? What are we willing to give up in mortality to have it all in eternity? Faith and testimony is the blessing our Father in Heaven has given us to successfully navigate the process of proving and trials that will refine our souls. All we need to do is to be willing to submit to those trials and to seek out knowledge of spiritual things.
The Lord will only be able to help us if we want what He has to offer. Without our cooperation he will have to leave us in the darkness of our own choosing. May we choose the light and the truth that will lead us back home.
Note: This was a talk given in Sacrament Meeting on March 19, 2017 in Rexburg, Idaho, USA.