Great faith in Jesus Christ led to abundant blessings for those who associated with the Savior during His mortal ministry. For example, a centurion begged Jesus to heal his servant who was sick. The Savior observed, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel,” and the servant “was healed in the selfsame hour” because of the centurion’s faith.1
When the resurrected Lord appeared on the American continent, He told the assembled multitude, “So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.”2 As a consequence of the multitude’s great faith, their little children experienced the ministering of angels, healing, and other marvelous blessings.
The Savior was disappointed when His disciples and others demonstrated little or no faith in Him. On one occasion, Jesus boarded a small ship to cross the Sea of Galilee. There arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship. The Savior slept, oblivious to the danger and weary from the day’s labors. The Apostles, fearing that the ship would sink, awoke Him, crying,
“Master, carest thou not that we perish?
“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
Jesus then asked, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?”3
Matthew wrote that Jesus did not do many mighty works in Nazareth, his home village, “because of their unbelief.”4 How often do we go without intended blessings because of our little faith?5 No wonder the early Apostles pleaded to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”6
Increased faith is as vital and necessary today as it was when Jesus walked the earth. Our modern world struggles with insufficient faith. President Gordon B. Hinckley said in a conference talk: “This is my prayer for all of us. … Increase our faith to bridge the chasms of uncertainty and doubt. … Grant us faith to look beyond the problems of the moment to the miracles of the future. … Give us faith to do what is right and let the consequences follow.”7
In fact, the Restoration of the gospel occurred as the result of great faith on the part of the Prophet Joseph Smith while he was yet a boy in his early teens. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was an act of faith in Jesus Christ on the part of ancient American prophets who wrote their revelations and spiritual experiences upon metal plates. They had faith that their record would be a significant part of a glorious restoration of the gospel in latter days. The angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith on a September night in 1823 when he approached the Lord in faith. He later wrote, “For I had full confidence [faith] in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.”8
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is “the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness.”9 The Apostle Paul defined faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”10 The Prophet Joseph Smith further revealed through his inspired revision of the Bible (the JST) that faith was the “assurance of things hoped for” (substituting assurance for substance). He explained that faith “is the assurance we have of the existence of unseen things. And being the assurance, … [faith] must be the principle of action in all intelligent beings.”11
A song that Primary children sing teaches the nature of faith:
Faith is knowing the sun will rise, lighting each new day.
Faith is knowing the Lord will hear my prayers each time I pray.
Faith is like a little seed:
If planted it will grow.
Faith is a swelling within my heart.
When I do right, I know.12
President Hinckley observed, “When I discuss faith, I do not mean it in an abstract sense. I mean it as a living, vital force with recognition of God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our Savior. When we accept this basic premise, there will come an acceptance of their teachings and an obedience which will bring peace and joy in this life and exaltation in the life to come.”13
Faith, belief, and hope are often used interchangeably, and it may be difficult to distinguish between these words. There is a difference, however. Although we cannot have faith without belief and hope, we can believe without having faith. Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained, “Belief, in one of its accepted senses, may consist in a merely intellectual assent, while faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action.”14 The Savior taught, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”15 The Apostle James said it another way: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”16 So-called faith without works is not faith at all!
Faith is interwoven with other gospel attributes, especially hope and charity.17 All three help bring us to Christ. Feelings of doubt, fear, despair, or discouragement are the opposite of faith, hope, and charity. Faith requires action, and action is inhibited by fear and doubt. Doubt and fear diminish as one’s faith increases. In the parable of the talents, the slothful servant’s underlying problem was lack of faith. On the day of reckoning, he rationalized, “And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth.”18 The two servants who were given five and two talents, respectively, multiplied them through faith and personal effort. They were rewarded, while the faithless, fearing servant lost what he had received. Shakespeare described the negative effects of little faith, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”19
Our faith is in our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Although we talk of having faith in people, in principles, or in things, real faith focuses on eternal life through knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent.”20 Faith takes us beyond mere acceptance of the Savior’s identity and existence. It includes having complete confidence in His infinite and eternal redemptive power to save us from sin and death. Faith permits us to acknowledge Christ’s divine attributes, including infinite love for both the innocent and the sinner. It acknowledges the Lord’s limitless capacity to forgive and heal when we cast our burdens upon Him. Faith also includes certitude that His promises in the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets will be kept. Thus, integrity and obedience to the law of tithing, Word of Wisdom, and law of chastity are matters of faith. Those who pay tithing are able to enthusiastically testify that the Lord does “open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”21
Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, wrote that his faith and his people’s faith became “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.”22 Our goal today should be the same, to have unshakable faith.
Some seem to acquire strong faith almost naturally as they grow up. For me, gaining strong faith was somewhat of a struggle. I was born of goodly parents and raised in a home where I grew up under the influence of the gospel. However, when I reached missionary age, my faith was not strong enough to enable me to feel comfortable teaching and testifying to others not of our faith. This unbelief led me to turn down my bishop’s urging that I serve a mission.
After one of our interviews, the bishop pointedly asked if I was going to live my entire life without knowing whether the gospel was true. He made it quite clear that it was up to me to do something about my lack of faith and encouraged me to make this a matter of urgent study and prayer.
Unfortunately, my desire was weak and I was unwilling to give the needed time and effort. As a university student, however, I found myself increasingly confronted with choices relating to gospel standards. This helped me understand that I did need to know if the Church was true and, if it was, the necessity of leading a life consistent with its teachings. Therefore, I did not register for the next quarter’s university classes. I devoted several months to a careful reading of the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, and many chapters of the Old Testament. I knelt down frequently to ask God to help me understand the things I was reading and to give me a testimony of the Book of Mormon.
The fulfillment of the promise in the Book of Mormon that the Lord would “manifest the truth of it … by the power of the Holy Ghost”23 did not happen immediately. One Sunday, not long after I finished reading the Book of Mormon, I attended fast and testimony meeting in my ward. A sister gave a beautiful testimony of the Savior and the gospel. I remember wishing I had such a testimony. As she sat down, I found myself getting to my feet. At that moment I experienced something indescribable in my heart and mind. The impressions were so powerful I felt like my hair was standing on end. I testified with certitude that the Book of Mormon was true and that Jesus, the living Christ, was my Redeemer. I gladly received a call to serve a mission soon after that marvelous experience. My mission turned out to be one of the most important and fulfilling experiences of my life. My faith, to this day, continues to increase.
Those seeking faith in Jesus Christ, which motivates us to action, may not realize there is a price to pay. Many, like leprous Naaman,24 expect some great thing without obedience and hard work.
Desire is the foundation of faith. Alma taught the Zoramites how to begin the process of gaining faith. He encouraged, “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.”25 Desire may be either augmented or quenched by circumstances. For example, the riches of the world, the honors of men, popularity, peer pressure, or keeping up with the Joneses may diminish our desire for faith, whereas pain, suffering, loneliness, or loss of loved ones often create deep emotions and a yearning for hope and faith.
Four steps, when coupled with desire, help us gain faith in Jesus Christ. They are study, prayer, service and sacrifice, and personal righteousness.
Study. We gain faith like any other attribute. The Prophet Joseph Smith instructed, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God.”26 Thus, we see the importance of attending Church, studying the scriptures, viewing or listening to general conference where possible, and reading the reports of general conference.
Prayer. The Apostle Paul counseled that through our prayers we “might perfect that which is lacking in [our] faith.”27
Service and sacrifice. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.”28 We must be willing to pass the same tests of faith and devotion as did Abraham.29
Personal righteousness. The Savior taught, “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”30 Sin is the greatest of all faith destroyers. Pride, anger, selfishness, greed, or any other form of disobedience diminishes faith, while righteousness leads to greater faith.
What if we apply the four steps and the reward of faith is not forthcoming? We may need to evaluate our efforts. Moroni, for example, stipulated that in a quest for a testimony of the Book of Mormon, one shall ask with a sincere heart and with real intent.31 He taught us, “Wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”32 Ultimately, unshakable faith in Jesus Christ is a gift of the Holy Ghost.33
Faith, if lost, is difficult to regain. Acquiring faith is not a one-time thing. It, like much else in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is acquired “line upon line, precept upon precept.”34 Faith must be continually nourished by repentance, partaking of the sacrament, and keeping sacred temple covenants and marriage vows. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed:
“If we cease nurturing our faith in any of these four specific ways [serving, studying, praying, and worshiping], we are vulnerable.
“Failure to study, for instance, is to be intellectually and spiritually malnourished. …
“A lack of deep personal prayer and deep genuine worship also erodes our faith.”35
We nourish faith by recounting examples of faith. That is why histories and journals are important. We all have had experiences that promote and build faith. They should be remembered and passed down to future generations.
The home is the best place to plant and nourish the seeds of faith. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle (1919–86) of the Seventy testified:
“I am a product of a household of faith. I learned faith in my home. I was taught it. It was drilled into me. …
“We’re not going to survive in this world, temporally or spiritually, without increased faith in the Lord—and I don’t mean positive mental attitude—I mean downright solid faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”36
Parents are held accountable by the Lord to teach their children “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, when eight years old.” When parents neglect this commandment, the Lord states, “the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”37 Family home evening, family scripture study, and family prayer provide settings where parents can carry out this God-given responsibility to teach their children.
Unfortunately, some of us grow to adulthood without the wonderful opportunity to develop faith as a child. Lack of opportunity in the home, however, does not excuse anyone from gaining faith or being faithful. It is never too late; we are never too old to begin the steps leading to faith in Jesus Christ, which leads to action.
Many go without the matchless blessings that flow from God when we have abiding faith in Him and His Only Begotten Son. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed: “As an abstract principle faith is nothing; it is of no more worth than an abstract principle of mathematics. But faith in the heart of a man—a living, vibrant faith—can raise the dead, create worlds, and save souls.”38 Faith is the motivating power for the 11 million members of the Church living in more than 160 countries. It is the force behind the 60,000 full-time missionaries who leave home and loved ones to build up the kingdom by preaching the gospel and magnifying special assignments. It is faith that leads, in our days, to the building of an unprecedented number of temples. Faith motivates members to become and remain worthy to enter these temples and to perform ordinances in behalf of themselves and their kindred dead. Faith compels members of the restored Church to labor with might and strength to move the latter-day work forward to prepare for the return of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Thomas exclaimed, after he felt the wounds in the hands, feet, and side of the resurrected Lord, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus gently rebuked His doubting disciple and, in so doing, left us a marvelous promise: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”39
May we be eager to merit the priceless gift of faith. May we have faith like Nephi of old, who was unequivocally able to say, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.”40 I bear my personal witness that whoever desires and is willing to take the necessary steps will receive the joy and promised blessings of saving faith, which is faith in Jesus Christ.