It was said by the writer of Hebrews (which, if I understand correctly, may or may not have been Paul), that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I’ve been hearing that phrase for decades and wondering what, exactly, it means. With the help of this Thursday’s YSA seminar, I think I’m getting closer.
Our LDS Bible Dictionary (which I am guilty of underutilizing) associates at least five things with faith:
- hope (of things unseen)
- confidence (or “assurance of the fulfillment of the things hoped for”)
- action (“true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action”—the “and” in that sentence is noteworthy)
- power (“when occasion warrants”), and
- belief (probably the most obvious—but not the only!—element of faith)
Further, the Bible Dictionary clarifies that “true faith must be based upon correct knowledge” and that if it is to “produce salvation,” faith “must be centered in Jesus Christ.”
So if I fail to hope and believe with confidence or if I fail to act on what I believe, my faith is (partially or entirely) absent or it is a type of false faith. Further, if my faith is based on something that isn’t true, it may still be faith, but it is not true faith—and if it is not centered on Christ, it will neither bring about a remission of my sins nor my salvation.
It is interesting to distinguish between “correct knowledge” and “perfect knowledge.” Alma taught that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” (Alma 32:21) The thing I believe in and act upon must be correct—and I must have a reason to believe it is correct, otherwise it could not be considered knowledge. (And heaven knows we do not believe in blind faith.) Yet my knowledge must be in some way imperfect, lest it be “perfect knowledge” and faith no longer present.
This confirms the idea that faith and agency are—as are testimony and agency—connected. Neither faith nor testimony involves perfect faith, so there is a strong element of choice involved with both. In fact, we come to earth to use our agency to choose faith—faith in redemption and even exaltation through Jesus Christ. In short, we must have reasons for what we believe and exercise faith in, yet those reasons will not be perfected to the point (in this life, at least) at which they squeeze out uncertainty and, hence, choice.
What is a bit baffling to me is why Evangelical Christians are so good at declaring their salvation with firm (to say the least) confidence whereas if you ask a Mormon “Have you been saved?” the answer is often a look of shock, confusion, uneasiness, or embarrassment. Why do we lack the willingness to answer that question positively? Is our faith in Christ partially or entirely absent?
Well, an easy answer is because none of us—Evangelical, LDS, or otherwise—is yet literally and permanently standing in God’s presence, so we cannot factually say that it has happened already. But Mormons struggle with that question even if it is placed in a future context: “How confident do you feel that, if your life ended today, you would end up exalted in the Celestial Kingdom after the Judgment?” Would it be inappropriate for me to look you in the eye in response to that question and answer firmly, “Completely confident”? I don’t think so. In fact, I think we usually ought to and that true faith even demands it (provided I’m not in violation of my covenants—which does not mean that I’m perfect).
So where does confident, assured faith come from? Well, the Bible Dictionary says it comes from learning (“hearing the testimony of those who have faith”) and doing (“obedience to the gospel”). It stands to reason that we must learn about something before we can believe in it and that the more we learn about it and understand it, the greater our reasons may become for believing in it. But learning must also be accompanied by action. Faith is not faith without action; faith without works is very much dead; and without action our learning becomes seriously obstructed.
So as my friend Newell recently taught me, it is a cycle: if I am willing to experiment and exercise faith in something I’ve learned by acting on it, through that action I will learn more, which learning will prompt me to act more, which will in turn teach me more, and so on and so on and so on. There is a “virtuous cycle” of learning and acting and being obedient to what we learn. But when I cease either learning or acting correctly on that learning, I cease spiraling upward and commence sliding backward into a spiral descent.
Jesus taught clearly and succinctly the relationship between faith and action and learning and doing: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine….”
Learn. Do. Exercise agency through hope and belief. Exercise confidence and a sense of assurance in that hope and belief. And power will follow—if, when, and as needed by our Father in Heaven—but in any event to the producing of our salvation if our faith is centered on Christ.
Such faith is liberating. The alternative of “faith in nothing” leads to hopelessness. And the alternative of “faith in myself” leads to high stress, a lack of assurance, and ultimately failure. Faith in Christ, however, including acting on it as best we can, results in confident assurance.
So with respect for my Evangelical friends who don’t believe me and for my Mormon friends who think such statements are inappropriate… I, for one, am not yet saved. But I’m going to be. And you can bank on it.
The attributes of Christ. Admirable? Motivating? Depressing? Some years ago, I was a bit startled to learn that women sit in church meetings on Mother’s Day Sundays hearing about how wonderful people’s mothers are or were and about the magnificence of mothers in general and it makes them… depressed? Apparently so—at least some of them. (Men, I now think, react similarly to hearing about great fathers, but not to the same degree.)
Might we react similarly when people talk about the attributes and character traits of the Savior? I hope not. It is true that he has commanded us to be “perfect.” And it is true that we are not. I suppose we could get depressed about our shortcomings (though that wouldn’t be very productive). As I understand it, though, “perfect,” in the sense he used it, means “complete” or “finished.” And, as I understand it, after much striving to become like Him—striving which will be good for me but ultimately insufficient—He will be the one to actually make me complete and finished and… Tough to bring myself to add, here, “perfect,” but it seems that we should. There is no good reason to beat myself up over my inadequacies vis-à-vis the Savior—or any person for that matter.
Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” It is interesting to equate (or at least associate strongly) eternal life with knowing God. It is even more interesting when considering Joseph Smith’s teaching that, in order to exercise faith, which is clearly essential, we must have “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections, and attributes.” I cannot actually exercise faith in the Savior or in my Father in Heaven if I do not have a reasonably accurate understanding of their attributes.
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” Jesus taught. So becoming familiar with the Son makes us familiar with the Father—one of the great blessings for us of his condescension.
The Savior also said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” Of course, salvation is from Christ, himself, not from the Jews, so the meaning of “of the Jews” needs to be considered. But today, Mormons could say a similar thing to many: “You don’t know God to the extent that we do. We know what we worship and we can help you know, too, and find Him. For salvation is from Christ and in His Church you will find legitimate authority through which you can bind yourself to Him in covenants He recognizes.”
Of course, we don’t know everything there is to know about God by a long shot. Much remains to be revealed. As a Church and as individuals, we learn about Him incrementally. The Old Testament taught us much. The New Testament much more. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants… more yet.
I was interested to read from Robert L. Millet that Joseph Smith’s own understanding of God the Father having a body of flesh and bones took time to develop and was not had at the conclusion of the First Vision as I had believed (and been taught)—or at least that’s what the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests. (To find that reference, click here and search the text for the word “corporeal.”) So we, too, come to know of His nature and “character, perfections, and attributes” “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”
But there is much that we do know, including that God is a perfect man with a physical body, that God the Father is a separate person from God the Son, that we are literally His children (we have a Mother also), and that He not only wants us to be like Him, He facilitates exactly that for those who will receive His offerings.
God the Father possesses every good attribute in its perfection. So does the Savior. If we come to know the Son, we will come to know the Father and we will understand better what we should become, ourselves. The Son showed us that he is kind, merciful, compassionate, loving, and sensitive. He is also humble, obedient, and submissive. And He is strong, resilient, courageous, and steadfast. And He is all other good things. (One blogger has posted a list of 60 character traits of Christ, complete with biblical scripture references. It’s a neat list.)
In next Thursday’s class, we will talk more about “the character of Christ.” In the meantime, let us strive to acquire the attributes He has acquired. And let us be filled with gratitude, reverence, joy, and confidence knowing that He, in all His perfection, will yet be both our judge and our advocate—and will make us complete if we let Him.