Brothers and sisters, the summer of 2000 at Ricks College has been both historic and hectic. May I suggest that the announcement made by President Hinckley on June 21 concerning the future of Ricks College was not really about two-year nor four-year status, was not really about academic rank nor athletics, and was not really about a name change. The primary issue in President Hinckley's announcement was faith.http://www2.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2000_08_29_Bednar.htm
The topic of my message this afternoon is the first principle of the restored gospel, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me begin by emphasizing that the first principle of the gospel is not simply faith; rather, the first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Saving faith centers in the Savior and through Him in the Father (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 164). The faith about which I speak today is focused upon and rooted in the Savior and Redeemer, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
Out of reverence and respect for the name of the Savior and to avoid the too frequent repetition of His name, please keep in mind that as I now use the word "faith" I am referring to the more accurate and complete phrase of "faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
What is faith?
Let us begin by first asking the question, what is faith? The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is " . . . the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness . . ." (Lecture 1, p. 31, The Lectures On Faith In Historical Perspective, Brigham Young University: Religious Studies Center, 1990).
One of the clearest and most concise definitions of the principle of faith is provided in the New Testament by Paul in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, verse one: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." We should note here that the Prophet Joseph in his translation of the New Testament changed the word "substance" in this verse to "assurance." Thus, faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. The Prophet Joseph further commented on this definition of faith in Hebrews:
"From this we learn that faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and that it is also the principle of action in all intelligent beings" (Lecture 1, p. 31).
Three key elements of faith, then, are highlighted in this verse from Hebrews and in the teachings of the Prophet Joseph: (1) faith is the assurance of things hoped for, (2) faith is the evidence of things not seen, and (3) faith is the principle of action in all intelligent beings.
Let me describe these three elements of faith in another way. Faith in the Savior simultaneously faces the future, looks to the past, and initiates action.
Faith as the substance or assurance of things hoped for faces the future. Please turn with me to Ether 3:9-11. In these verses the Lord is talking with the brother of Jared.
And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak? (emphasis added)
Please notice how the use of the word "shall" in verse eleven relates to the future. The Lord's question was not, "Believest thou the words which I have spoken?" Rather, the brother of Jared was asked to confirm his confidence in that which the Lord would speak before it was spoken. Thus, this future-facing element of faith fosters hope for things not yet obtained and grants assurance that they ultimately will be. Faith is inextricably tied to and results in hope. Thus, faith in Christ always leads to hope in Christ. This hope is much more than worldly wishing; it is expectation, it is anticipation, and it is assurance. The future-facing aspect of faith is reflected in our personal lives by the fact that each of us here today hopes that through the atonement of Christ and the power of His resurrection we can be raised unto eternal life (Moroni 7:41). We also have faith and hope that each of us can be a member of a forever family.
Faith as the evidence of things not seen typically looks to the past. Truly, our confidence and trust in God are strengthened by examples and evidence of His influence in the past. This element of faith provides proof and confirmation that things unseen indeed are real. For example, many of our pioneer forefathers were protected, preserved, and strengthened in the most difficult and demanding of circumstances. The legacy of faith and testimony they left for us provides powerful evidence of things not seen. Similarly, a young missionary called to serve in a remote part of the world, and who may be understandably anxious about his or her service, is fortified by the faith-promoting experiences of family and friends who already have served as full-time missionaries in various parts of the world.
The combination of (1) future-facing hope and (2) evidence acquired through experience (3) produces action. Faith always is the beginning or origin of action. True faith always is manifest in faithfulness; this is why good works always flow from faith. As we read in James, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:20).
Frequently, the words "faith" and "belief" are used interchangeably in our everyday conversations. However, the teachings of the Prophet Joseph highlight an essential distinction between these two concepts. Remember, he emphasized that ". . . faith is . . . the principle of action in all intelligent beings" (Lecture 1, p. 31). Belief, on the other hand, is defined in our modern dictionary as the "mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something" (The American Heritage College Dictionary, p. 125, emphasis added). A belief is simply anything we mentally or intellectually accept as true. For example, we believe and accept as true the nature of the Godhead as taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. We believe and accept as true the restoration of the gospel in its fullness in these latter days. And, most importantly, we believe and accept as true the reality of the atoning sacrifice of the Redeemer. In summary then, belief is the mental and intellectual acknowledgment, acceptance, and assent that something is true. Belief requires only the mind.
Faith grows out of and builds upon belief and produces action. Faith is not merely a positive mental attitude, or a strong will, or a Pollyanna-like approach to significant personal and public problems. A big "happy face" on our bathroom mirror is not an indictor of great faith. Please consider again the explanation by the Prophet Joseph Smith: ". . . faith is . . . the principle of action in all intelligent beings" (Lecture 1, p. 31).
Faith is evidenced in deeds. And as faith is the principle of action, so the opposite of faith, which we typically refer to as doubt, is the principle of inaction. Thus, if you and I have faith in Christ, we accept and live His teachings and we accept and obey His commandments. If you and I have faith in Christ, we strive to live worthily and seek for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we repent of our sins, we minister to the poor and needy, we carefully listen to and apply the teachings of the living prophets, and we do the works of righteousness. Faith in prayer is evidenced in part when we kneel down. More importantly, however, faith is reflected when we get up and work diligently to accomplish that for which we have prayed. The true exercise of faith in prayer begins when we say, "amen." Whereas belief requires only the mind, faith ultimately requires all of our mind and all of our heart and all of our might and all of our strength.
Consider the children of Israel as they were transporting the ark of the covenant under the leadership of Joshua. This story of faith is found in the third chapter of the book of Joshua. The Israelites came to the River Jordan and were promised that the waters would part, or "stand upon an heap" as described in verse 13, and that they would be able to cross over on dry ground. Interestingly, the waters did not part as the children of Israel stood on the banks of the river and waited for something to happen; rather, the soles of their feet were wet before the water was parted. The faith of the Israelites was manifested in the fact that they walked into the water before it parted. They walked into the River Jordan with a future-facing assurance of things hoped for. As the Israelites moved forward, the water parted; and as they crossed over on dry land, they also were able to look back and behold the evidence of things not seen.
We all need to remember that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. As President Boyd K. Packer has taught:
Faith, to be faith, must center around something that is not known. Faith, to be faith, must go beyond that for which there is confirming evidence. Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown. Faith, to be faith, must walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness. If everything has to be known, if everything has to be explained, if everything has to be certified, then there is no need for faith. Indeed, there is no room for it. (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "What is Faith," Faith, Deseret Book Company, 1983, p. 42)
I now want to briefly emphasize four fundamental truths about faith
No. 1 -- We receive no witness or evidence until after the trial of our faith.
The tendency of the natural man or woman in each of us is to expect first the evidence of faith before we receive and act upon the assurance. This false pattern is summarized in the statements of individuals who say: "Show me a sign, and I will believe" or "Explain the reasons, and then I will follow." The Lord's pattern, however, is quite different. Seeing is not believing; rather, believing is seeing. Now, this afternoon we have already reviewed several examples of the Lord's pattern of belief and faith that leads to seeing and acting, i.e., the brother of Jared and the Israelites at the River Jordan. But I imagine many of you may be like me; I would rather have the evidence before I act. President Packer's description of walking to the edge of the light and then a few steps into the darkness is most vivid. Imagine a beam of light that surrounds us. God instructs, "Take a step into the darkness," and we respond, "First, move the light and then I will take the step." God instructs again, "You take the step and then the light will move." Faith is the assurance that precedes the act which ultimately yields the evidence.
As we walk to the edge of the light, I testify and promise that the light will move. When I was your age and wondering some of the exact same things that you are now wondering, I never would have imagined that someday Sister Bednar and I would be at Ricks College serving as we are now serving. I know the light moves as we walk in faith to the edge of the light.
No. 2 -- Faith is a gift from God.
Faith is not a trait to be developed nor a reward to be earned. Rather, it is a gift we receive from God. Scriptural synonyms for faith include trust, confidence, and reliance. Thus, the spiritual gift of faith enables us to trust in Christ and to have confidence in His power to cleanse, renew, and redeem us. Faith means we are beginning to rely upon His merits, mercy, and grace (2 Nephi 2:8; 31:19; Moroni 6:4). Indeed you and I have a responsibility to appropriately seek after this gift, and we must do all that we can do to qualify for the gift of faith. Ultimately, however, the gift is bestowed upon us by a loving and caring God. Elder James E. Talmage indicated in his classic book, The Articles of Faith, that faith is a gift from God:
Though within the reach of all who diligently strive to gain it, faith is nevertheless a divine gift, and can be obtained only from God (Matthew 16:17; John 6:44, 65; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 12:3; Moroni 10:11). As is fitting for so priceless a pearl, it is given to those only who show by their sincerity that they are worthy of it, and who give promise of abiding by its dictates. Although faith is called the first principle of the Gospel of Christ, though it be in fact the foundation of all religion, yet even faith is preceded by sincerity of disposition and humility of soul, whereby the word of God may make an impression upon the heart (Romans 10:17). No compulsion is used in bringing men to a knowledge of God; yet, as fast as we open our hearts to the influences of righteousness, the faith that leads to life eternal will be given us of our Father. (p. 107)
President Joseph F. Smith also has taught:
Faith is always a gift from God to man, which is obtained by obedience as all other blessings are . . . . faith does not come without works; faith does not come without obedience to the commandments of God. (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 212-213)
May I simply suggest that young people of your age can and will and do receive this supernal gift. You need not be called to a visible or responsible position in the Church and you do not have to be "old" to qualify for this gift. An 18-year-old student at Ricks College can and should be blessed with great faith.
No. 3 -- Obedience strengthens faith; sin and wickedness diminish faith.
The Holy Ghost delivers the spiritual gift of faith. Obedience and righteousness invite the companionship of the third member of the Godhead. Sin and wickedness repulse the Holy Ghost and make it impossible for him to deliver spiritual gifts. Can you begin to see why our covenant to obey the commandments and our commitment to live in accordance with the honor and dress codes are so important? The standards at Ricks College are really not about hemlines and hairstyles; rather, they are about honor and integrity and inviting the companionship of the Holy Ghost to bestow upon us the gift of faith.
No. 4 -- Faith typically is evident over time in many small events and things rather than in a few big events and things.
We frequently think of faith in connection with mighty and miraculous events such as moving mountains and parting seas and raising the dead. It is important to remember, though, that faith typically is evident in many small events and things rather than in a few big events and things. It is also true that faith usually is bestowed upon us a little bit at a time rather than all at once--line upon line and precept upon precept.
Have you and I ever been frustrated in our efforts to exercise faith in prayer because we expect a "big" answer, and we expect it "now"? We may mistakenly conclude that because no answer came in the first few moments after saying "amen" that our prayer was not heard or that no answer was given. An answer to a prayer frequently is made up of many small answers given over a period of time--line upon line and precept upon precept. And I have also learned that those small answers almost always come as I am working to accomplish the things for which I have prayed. I may first receive a small prompting of assurance to proceed in a particular direction, then a small nudge to adjust my course, and finally a growing confidence and confirmation that the pathway I am pursuing is in accordance with the will of the Lord. Answers often come gradually and are more like dew distilling from heaven than a sudden flash flood.
My faith in the Savior and His atonement has come from countless small and seemingly insignificant conversations with members of the Church who have felt of His redeeming love. I, too, have felt that love. But I personally have not had a singular and defining experience that is the foundation of my faith. Rather, my faith is strengthened by a diligent home teacher who shared with me the experience of being prompted to say just the right thing at just the right time to assist a family in need, by a Sunday School teacher who excitedly described and testified about the experience of teaching by the Spirit a group of young men and young women, and by the missionary who acted upon a simple feeling that resulted in finding and teaching a golden investigator. Brothers and sisters, can you tell that in these simple experiences I am talking about you? I want you to leave this devotional assembly today with the assurance that you have faith and have experienced the blessings of faith. Remember, faith is evident over time in many small events and things rather than in a few big events and things.
I conclude with an experience Sister Bednar and I had with President and Sister Hinckley. We were eating dinner together at a banquet in Salt Lake City shortly after President Hinckley had returned from a demanding international trip. During the course of our conversation I asked President Hinckley this question, "President, given your travel schedule and the demands of your office, how do you keep up?" He smiled warmly and responded, "David, I do not keep up. I travel through so many time zones that when I am supposed to be wide awake, I am sleepy. When I am supposed to be sleepy, I am wide awake. The paperwork and other demands in the office are never ending." He then smiled and said something I will never forget: "But, David, I just keep going." Can you and I hear and recognize and feel the faith in that answer by the President of the Church. When he is tired, he just keeps going. When circumstances look difficult and even discouraging, he just keeps going. Regardless of the challenge, he just keeps going. In light of this episode with President Hinckley, please consider again the statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith: ". . . faith is . . . the principle of action in all intelligent beings" (Lecture 1, p. 31).
I know and testify that God the Eternal Father and His Beloved Son live. I know that faith in the Savior is a gift from God and a principle of action. I also know we can be blessed with this gift as we make and keep sacred covenants and are obedient. That we may diligently and properly seek for this sacred gift is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.