Your Least Favorite Question
What is faith?
This isn’t a fun question to hear in Sunday School, because the answer seems so straightforward and obvious. There are usually a few scriptures cited to define faith. Paul said in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Another is found in Alma 32:21, which says: “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.”
As it turns out, these scriptures describe properties of faith, but don’t necessarily give a definition. To make a comparison, Charity is described as being longsuffering, kind, not envious, not prideful, selfless, etc. These are properties of charity, though a truer definition might be “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). These properties can be used to see if you have faith, but don’t quite tell you how to get it in the first place.
So, what is faith? Here’s a definition straight out of the dictionary: “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” This happens to fit very well when we’re talking about faith in God. In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith describes faith as “the principle of action in all intelligent beings.” In a general sense, faith is what motivates you to act. You reap because you have faith you will sow. You take medicine because you have trust it will help you get better. You set an alarm clock because you trust that it will wake you up the next morning. Every action you take is motivated by faith–by trust or belief–even when it is so second nature that you don’t think twice about it.
What does it mean, then, to have faith in God? If faith leads us to action, what action does faith in God lead us to? According to our dictionary definition, it means to have complete trust or confidence in Him. How should/does this affect the way we live?
How do I actually “Follow Christ?”
God is the greatest good in the universe. He’s characterized by perfection. As mentioned previously, His goal is to provide all of us with the means and opportunity to become like Him. He told Moses: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Because this is His purpose–His work and His glory–He is constantly trying to reach us. He told Joseph Smith:
“This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
“And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
“Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—
“The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:7,11-13).
God’s light shines upon us at all times, similar to how the sun shines in the day time. It’s always being broadcasted. The prophet Mormon describes the Light, or “Spirit” of Christ, as being the agent whereby men may know good from evil. Outside of the gospel, this little agent is referred to as our “conscience.” This light is given to every person born into the world. Whenever we act on it, it grows brighter. Whenever we ignore it, or act contrary to it, it grows dimmer. Author John Pontius wrote:
“The light of Christ is many things. It is the power that keeps the sun burning, keeps the planets in their orbits, and gives life to all living creatures. It is the order of the universe, that which we call nature, and the power by which God governs (D&C 88:7-13). It is a free gift to His children. But most importantly for our purposes, it is the light of our understanding, and the source of our conscience.
“Every person born into this world receives a birthday gift from his or her loving Heavenly Father. Through the Atonement of Christ, Father gives each child a precious gift of Light. This light serves as a guide, a teacher, and a voice of truth. It is commonly called the conscience, and is felt by everyone. It is constant, unerring, and persistent. It can only be extinguished by repeated abuse, but it can be extinguished. Most important of all, it is revelation.
Christ Speaks to You
“The conscience of man constitutes our first and most important contact with the divine.
“The Holy Ghost is the means by which Jesus Christ communicates all truth to mankind. The light of Christ emanates from Christ and is disseminated to us through the Holy Ghost. This function of the third member of the Godhead is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit (as an example, see Mosiah 3:19). It is also appropriately called the light of truth, the voice of Christ, the voice of truth, the spirit of truth, the word(s) of Christ, His voice, my voice, the voice of the good shepherd, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, and the light of Christ.
“The Holy Spirit, which begins as our conscience, is a free gift to all mankind. It has power to warn, entice, enlighten, and urge to obedience. It will expand its mission to become a teacher of great eloquence as we give heed to its guiding voice. Prior to the ordinance of bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit is limited in its mission. It can only expand to a given level, and therefore, a person must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost in order to progress further …
“Even in its most powerful role, the Holy Spirit remains a still small voice. It rarely exceeds a quiet whisper, and even profound truths come silently and require faith to hear and obey. It requires much experience and righteous obedience to develop faith in the still small voice of the Spirit.
“It would be easy to get confused if we assume all ‘promptings’ have language, words, or audible voices. Promptings generally lack an actual voice, and most often do not employ language. The phrase ‘still, small voice’ labels it as inaudible. ‘Still’ means without sound, subdued, hushed. ‘Small’ describes something tiny, in no great amount, of minor weight or consequence, easy to overlook. …
“Consider the impact of this truth. Your conscience is revelation to you as surely as if the Lord sent an angel to your bedroom with a flaming sword.
“The truths communicated to you by your conscience come from Jesus Christ, are administered by the Holy Ghost, and are revelation.
“No longer may we brush aside the still small voice and go our own way without knowing we are disobeying revelation from Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ called you on the phone and asked you to go help your spouse with the dishes, wouldn’t you immediately go from the phone to the sink? Or would you return to your TV show and shrug it off with little or no thought? If a telephone call from Jesus Christ would impress you, then why not His voice in your spiritual ear, whispers from the eternal realms? Are we more impressed with electronics than we are with revelation?
The Voice Gets Louder
“Consider again the words just quoted above:
‘And everyone that hearkeneth to voice of the Spirit [which begins as the conscience], cometh unto God, even the Father. (D&C 84:47.)
“The Spirit of the Lord is talking to us constantly, and we have only to lift our heads from the confusion of the world to hear him and be inspired and led. This promise is profound. If we learn to hearken to His voice, we will be guided back into the presence of God.
Bruce R. McConkie records:
“The conscience has three primary tasks: first, to give every person the knowledge that God exists; second, to instill the concept of right and wrong in the soul; and, third, and perhaps most important, to guide each person the to gospel of Jesus Christ, where he or she can receive the Holy Ghost and thus continue his or her journey home.
It makes no difference where we start in life; if we’ll learn to be obedient to this voice, it will get louder. Eventually, it will lead us to more truth, which will bring us closer to God. It may eventually lead you to the restoration, being baptized, and qualifying to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, where God will pour out His Spirit to you in a way previously unknown. He will endow you with the necessary knowledge to finish your journey home.
One way to conceptualize this is to imagine you’re downtown, and you start to smell a distant, but powerful aroma. As you do your best to find out where it’s coming from, it gets stronger. After persistent pursuit, the source of the wonderful aroma is visible. If you’re determined to partake, you might cross the street and go inside. Inside, you’ll be greeted by those who can provide you with the food you’ve been in search of, and among others who are currently eating. After following the correct procedure, paying its price, and waiting, you’ll be presented with the food you’ve been in search of. You’ll see, taste, and experience it firsthand. It will become more powerful every step of the way, and unequivocally real once you partake for yourself.
John Pontius continues:
“Each prompting becomes an eternal stepping stone; each revealed direction constitutes a celestial boost heavenward; each truth building on the last, lifting with loving care. Each prompting obeyed qualifies the obedient for more and greater revelations. Each prompting disobeyed causes the disobedient to plateau and then sink.
“The only thing that can stop a person endowed with continuous revelation is an unwillingness to obey. A person stalled on a spiritual platea must analyze his life and consider what it is he is unwilling to do. It will usually be amazingly small, yet soul stretching. It may be an unwillingness to tell your wife that you are sorry… Perhaps it is your tendency to stretch truth or push the wrong buttons on the cash register. Perhaps it is never-acted-upon feelings of lust or mismanagement of your body. It may be as simple as an unwillingness to turn off the TV, as urgent as going on a mission, or as dangerous as adultery.
“Satan often attempts to use logic to negate the promptings of the Spirit and consequently cheat us out of blessings. If we obey Satan’s promptings, we counsel the Lord out of a tremendous opportunity, and our disobedience shuts the heavens for a time.”
This, of course, isn’t to imply that logic is on the side of the adversary, as every prompting has a greater “why.” However, immediately following many promptings, Satan will begin to sow seeds of doubt or disbelief in our minds. This is one hallmark of true revelation. We may have thoughts like “I shouldn’t say that, it will just make this person upset,” or, “I don’t need to do anything differently, that’s never happened before” or, “I’m a competent human being, I’m not going to let that happen.” It’s important to recognize that these are all attempts from the adversary to prevent us from obeying Christ.
“Perhaps the hardest things to learn about personal revelation is that it begins as the voice of the conscience. Every person knows what it is like to be prompted by their conscience to not do something. Fewer ever recognize the promptings to do something. It is the positive promptings that the beginnings, the seeds of revelation. Just like the conscience, they come without fanfare or heralding trumpets. No angel’s songs, no glorious lights from heaven, no burning in the bosom, or visions of eternity occur; just a still small voice. The only way you know it is actually revelation is that it prompts you to do something good, such as to say your prayers, to do some kindness, to share, to give, to expand and grow.
“Hearing and obeying the voice of the conscience/Holy Spirit is the most important and powerful step you can take toward beginning your spiritual journey in earnest.
“Little progress can be made without it. These promptings are not limited to church subjects. They prompt us to do correctly in all aspects of our lives which bear upon our growth. Anything that will move you closer to God, that will bless you and those around you, that will build faith in the Lord’s voice may be the subject of these revelations. You may be prompted to pack up your tents and depart into the wilderness or to pick up your socks. You may be prompted to help you wife with the dishes or to stop at the scene of an accident and give a priesthood blessing.
“Why would the Lord send you a revelation to pick up your socks? It is because even in something this small there is a right decision and a wrong outcome. If our spiritual hearing is so dim that we cannot be directed in very small things, how will He ever direct us to pick up our tents and save our families, as he did Lehi? We must first be obedient in small things–greater things come later. He will not elevate us to the profound until we advance beyond elementary obedience.
Joseph Smith taught:
“We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, til he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped up in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him.”
This seems to echo a sentiment revealed by the Lord:
“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
Measuring Your Faith
Every prompting is an opportunity. Each has a purpose and a promise, and it requires faith to obey. Obedience to God’s daily and personal commandments is what faith in God leads us to do. Therefore, our faith can be measured by how obedient we are. Whenever we choose to disobey a prompting, we show God where we don’t trust Him. We demonstrate that we trust our own judgment more than His; that whatever we have in mind will be of more benefit to us than what He does.
Do we trust God? In this new context, it’s an interesting question to consider. The degree to which we keep His commandments and act on spiritual promptings reveals how much we do. Keeping the commandments and doing what He asks is a matter of faith/trust, not willpower. Our only job is to learn to recognize His voice, and trust it enough to act on it. The scriptures say we’re saved by faith, and that is true enough. But merely proclaiming a belief in Christ does not constitute the amount of faith necessary to live eternal life. 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…” (Lectures on Faith 6:7).
Sacrifice produces faith. Specifically, sacrificing our will for God’s will, because as Neal A. Maxwell said,
“…the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give,’ brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”
And again, how do we learn His will, so that we know what and when to sacrifice? Paul taught that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We obtain the word of God in a few different places. The most obvious form is His written word, as contained in the scriptures. Peter taught that men wrote as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). Another place we can obtain His word is through living servants who speak according to the Holy Ghost (D&C 1:38, D&C 68:4). The common denominator in both of these, however, is the original source from which they flow: the Holy Ghost!
God will speak to you as readily as He’ll speak to anyone who will listen. The most important way to obtain Christ’s word will be through direct revelation, because your life and your circumstances will require a specific set of instructions that only God can give. As Nephi taught,
“… feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do…I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:3).
One of Christ’s many titles is the “Word.” This is true because in one sense, He embodies the word and will of God. God says it, He does it. He’s characterized by His strict obedience. In another sense, any communication that comes from God comes from Him. The message is delivered by the Holy Ghost, but they are His words. As we strive to hear the Spirit and be guided by its influence in our lives, we’re striving to hear His voice and follow Him.