Faith has historically been a difficult principle to describe with any clarity. Sure, we all have the stock definitions of faith, but for many those stock definitions haven’t made faith any easier to understand. After reading the New Testament Come, Follow Me lesson on Hebrews 11 I realized I can now describe faith by using the term “sight.” This is something I will have to build up to with some examples.
Here is a quote from the Come, Follow Me lesson on Hebrews 11.
Sister Anne C. Pingree, former member of the Relief Society General Presidency, drew on language from Hebrews 11 to give this definition: “Faith, the spiritual ability to be persuaded of promises that are seen ‘afar off’ but that may not be attained in this life, is a sure measure of those who truly believe” (“Seeing the Promises Afar Off,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 14).
I made her definition big and red so you can’t miss it. I will address faith based on her definition.
Faith for beginners
When we are first introduced to the concept of faith we are told that if we receive a promise from God and believe Him that He will always fulfill His promises to us. The classic example of a beginning experiment on faith is to find out if the Book of Mormon is really a book of scripture from God.
Many who come to learn of the Book of Mormon promise that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truthfulness of the book to them are intrigued. Rarely today does anyone in the world teach that God actually wants to talk to man and reveal His will to them. After all, revelation is supposed to be a thing of the past, right? The promise that the Spirit will tell them the book is true comes with conditions. The conditions for receiving the revelation from the Spirit are found in Moroni 10:3–4.
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and the Lord hath been it in your .
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would , the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not God ; and if ye shall ask with a , he will , with , having in Christ the of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. [emphasis added]
What does it mean to have faith in Christ? I believe it means I must believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and that Jesus loves me the way he claims to love me. This means that God will want me to know if this book I have just read is really from him. If I am willing to believe that then the promise is that the Holy Ghost will manifest, show, or reveal to me in some way the truth of what I have read.
Faith consists of at least three parts.
- A promise or a desire on our part
- Conditions requiring action on our part
- The reward or fulfillment of the promise
In this example I was given a book with a promise.
First, I need to want to know if what I have read or what I am about to read is truly from God.
Second, I need to read it, ponder or think about what it said then remember how merciful and kind God has always been to mankind. I then need to ask with real honesty (sincerity) if what I have read is true. If I have read with the assumption that it is false then I can’t expect to get an answer to the contrary. I must be open to whatever the Lord wants to tell me.
Third, I must choose to believe that God not only can, but that He will use the Holy Ghost to reveal that truth to me in some way. I don’t know how it will happen, I just believe that it can. This is the reward, the fulfillment of the promise.
Where was the faith? We all know the process, but where in there did faith get used? Faith happened when I chose to believe the promise that when I was finished reading the book and asked, according to the conditions of the promise, that God would answer me. Note that I did not know it would happen. I believed that it could happen, and was willing to obey the conditions of the promise to see if it would happen for me. That is how early faith manifests itself. It is a belief in a possibility with a desire to know. All God requires at this stage is a willing desire. Desire alone isn’t enough. We have to be willing to fulfill the conditions of the promise as well. The conditions were that I read the book, ponder it, remember God’s mercy, and choose to believe He would also answer me if I ask.
The beginnings of faith are short term. I only had to believe long enough to read the book and pray about it. For most people this isn’t that difficult. When we choose to believe we see in our mind a desirable outcome. It is that picture of a good result that we keep in front of us while we act on the promise. This is what sustains us until we receive our promised blessing.
Faith for Intermediate Users
As my practice with faith continues, the length of time between my petition and my answer usually increases. An example is gaining a testimony of the law of Tithing. In order for me to gain a testimony of this law the Lord requires I first live it. It is rare that God gives a testimony of something before a law has been lived. It may happen, but it is rare. Most of us have to live a law for a while before the Lord will give us the witness we seek of its divinity or truthfulness.
To achieve my testimony of tithing I go to the book of Malachi in the Old Testament and read what Malachi taught the people about having robbed the Lord by withholding their tithes and offerings. He also makes promises to the people in the name of the Lord if they will live the law of tithing. If I want to receive my own witness of this law I must live it, just like the people in Malachi’s days had to live it so the Lord could demonstrate His power to them by giving them the promised blessings from having lived that law.
Where is the sight? When God makes me a promise part of my act of believing is that I see myself receiving the promised blessing. At first I just had to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it to receive my witness. But I got on my knees seeing in my mind’s eye the action of the Holy Ghost somehow telling me whether or not the book was true. I had to first see my answer as a possibility.
When I first lived the law of tithing I was able to live it because I was comfortable enough with the process of prayer and answers to prayers that I was able to believe that if I lived the law long enough the Lord would give me the answer I sought. I was able to see the future fulfillment of my petition to the Lord. It was the hope I had gained from having gotten answers from the Lord in the past that enabled me to go for months patiently waiting for an answer about tithing as a law. By now I knew it was possible. I just had to persevere and keep fulfilling the requirements of the law. The expectation of an answer is part of our spiritual sight. We “see” and believe the Lord will answer our prayers. This is what generates the hope that sustains us as we wait patiently on the Lord’s timetable. I suggest you also look at the article What Difference Does it Make to Have an Eternal Perspective?
Faith for experts
As I progress in my membership in the Lord’s kingdom, I have practiced the principle of faith in many small ways. Each time I have gained a little more experience with the Lord that assures me He keeps His promises. I grow to trust in His love for me, His mercy towards me, and His desire that I find happiness in living His ways. I come to trust that the commandments are not punishments, but keys to accessing joy. Keeping commandments opens doors to a happier life, a life of joy.
When I decide it is time to prepare to go to the temple, I exercise the faith I have acquired from having lived all the other commandments for the last year or so since my baptism. I do all that is required of me so I can get my recommend and enter God’s house. What happens to me when I have come home from the temple having been sealed to my spouse? How do I exercise the faith required to make that eternal union be valid in the next life? That is a long time from now.
I believe that what enables us to live our lives in such a way that we become worthy of that eternal union, is that we have learned to see ‘afar off’ to the time when we will be told that we have been faithful and worthy. The Spirit will seal our union so that it lasts forever. It is the sight, the vision of future blessings that enables us to live our lives according to the commandments. I keep the commandments because I still want to live with my mate forever. I strive to be more obedient all the time because I want to be worthy of my spouse’s respect and admiration. I have come to believe that God will honor me with that eternal union because of my efforts to remain faithful and true to His commandments.
In the course of living by faith for many years we learn to develop patience as we wait for our future blessings. We go through our trials in life and suffer just like everyone else, but we have a hope for a brighter day. Why? Because we have learned through experience (exercising faith) that God is always faithful to us, true to His promises. It is through exercising our faith in God that we learn to live our lives looking forward to future blessings. We no longer just see life as the today of mortality. We are able to grasp that God can still, and will fulfill His promises in the tomorrow that is eternity.
The future nature of the gospel
The question is asked in the Come, Follow Me manual in Hebrews 12:2 what enabled Jesus to suffer as he did and still go through with his sacrifice on our behalf. This is the verse.
2 Looking unto Jesus the and our faith; who for the joy that was set before him the cross, despising the , and is set down at the right hand of the of God.
God showed Jesus the “joy” that would be his upon the successful completion of his mortal work. Jesus exercised faith in God’s character that His promises would be fulfilled, just like we exercise faith in God’s character that He will always fulfill His promises to us. Jesus kept his focus on his future blessings. By doing this he was able to endure the cross, despise the shame of it, and is now at the right hand of God.
Jesus saw his own future as outlined by God, and believed Him. Isn’t that what God does for us? He promises us blessings unmeasured if we will but trust that by doing His will we will receive the promised blessings. Do we see the joy that is set before us? If we can but learn to see it, we will have the hope and strength to be obedient and to achieve all that God wants us to accomplish in this life, landing us back home in His kingdom forever and ever. We will have learned to see and trust in our promised blessings, even when they are still ‘afar off.’