Faith is the first principle of the Gospel. Not just because it’s the beginning of one’s journey into a knowledge of God and eternal things – the truths of the Gospel – and the Church, but also because it’s the foundation of everything we do to gain eternal life.
Alma, in his famous sermon about the faith experiment upon the word of God (the Gospel), says that, “if you have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (32:21).
Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, writes that:
“Faith is the assurance (basis/foundation) of things hoped for, the evidence (proof) of things not seen” (11:1).
Why do they both speak of faith being in things that ‘are not seen’? Is it because they’re never seen, and therefore our faith must always be in something we can never see? Elsewhere, Paul explains what things are ‘seen’ and ‘not seen’:
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.2 Cor. 4:18
What Paul and Alma mean by faith being in things we can’t see is not that they are inherently invisible, but that they’re invisible to our mortal eyes. The invisible things, says Paul, are those which are eternal – and they’re only ‘invisible’ to us, here, in this world. Yet they’re more true – lasting – than the temporal things we can see, touch, etc.
These are the things we develop faith in; the real things of eternity – “things as they really are, and really will be”.
Things as they really are
We can see already that faith isn’t wishful thinking, or things we faintly hope might be true, and want to be true. They’re things which really are true; and part of the journey of mortality and of faith is learning how to ‘see’ these true things.
The more we learn about what really is, the more we understand about reality, the more wisdom we gain, and the more power we have to act well. The only way to gain this wisdom is through having faith in the Godhead, who are the repositories of all truth, and who exemplify it. We cannot have faith in ourselves, or other people, or anything mortal – not the kind of faith which leads to salvation. Only God has the power and perfection for us to completely trust in Him. Consider how we perceive our lives and problems: we look at them linearly, one thing leading to another, from here to there.
God, meanwhile, might see it something like this:
This is why He and the prophets keep saying this in the scriptures – that our eyes can’t see, or our hearts imagine, what He has in store for us; what is possible – what really is. Only the Holy Spirit can communicate it to us.
Thus saith your God, even Jesus Christ, the great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made;
The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.Doctrine & Covenants, 38:1-2
Our minds/thoughts are not God’s, because we’re mortal and incomplete.
What faith makes possible in this life
After giving a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, Paul lists what it has made possible, including:
- The creation of worlds by God
- Abel’s righteous sacrifice and its acceptance by God
- Enoch’s translation, and bringing his people to that state of righteousness
- Noah saving his family and becoming the new ancestor of mankind
- Abraham achieving all that he did
- Sarah’s miracle of motherhood
By showing that faith made all these things possible, Paul teaches that faith isn’t just the proof or the hope of Gospel facts being true, but is the evidence of all things as they really are, and the power by which every good thing that can happen is made possible. Faith is the hope and evidence of things which might be in our lives, and in the world.
Eternal life: the ultimate reward of our faith
It also goes further than the things we can receive in this life. In verse 13 and 14, Paul says that, despite the amazing things which these people wrought by faith, they didn’t receive the final blessing they truly sought: the blessing promised in the ‘Abrahamic Covenant’. This promise was that Israel would receive an eternal inheritance of land – seeing as they were really nomads without a permanent home. The lands they lived in around Palestine were given to them by God, but belonged to others, and were shared with them. (They still are, when considering Israel in a national, temporal sense). These faithful saints sought what we do – an earthly and heavenly Zion, or, the Celestial Kingdom.
This is the final, and ultimate, gift of faith, and the thing to which it seeks. The other results are steps towards it. Paul continues his list of people and miracles, who also didn’t receive ‘all the good things’ in this life. But their faith gave them power to “lay hold on eternal life” (Lectures on Faith).
And these all, having obtained a witness through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect.Hebrews 11:39+40
(I definitely recommend reading this chapter again, if you haven’t in a while).
Power to become
So, how does faith do such things? How does it become this power?
And now, … I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.Alma 33:23
Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus, the one who perfects our faith….Hebrews 12:1-2
In Hebrews 12, Paul describes how faith in Jesus Christ – in His power and will to save us – purifies us and brings us into the presence of God. It ties us firmer and firmer to things as they really are, makes us into the people we want to become, and finally brings us to the Celestial Kingdom.
The Lectures on Faith teach that faith is the power to change, to become sanctified – to develop into the eternal beings of power and beauty that we’re made to be. This power comes through our Saviour, Jesus Christ. As we develop greater faith in Him (i.e. in His perfection, goodness, and power to save us), we allow His sanctifying power to work in us. It also makes us act in ways which lead towards greater knowledge, and increased righteousness. With more knowledge (of things as they really are – eternal truths), we increase our power to act well, and we understand better the meaning of our experiences. We want to keep aligning ourselves with things as they really are, and are able to continually overcome faulty perceptions brought on by our mortal senses.
To do this, we must understand who the Godhead are, and how They work. As we learn this, and do the above, we learn from Them what is real. And as we learn this, through experience – not facts (only), we become more ‘real’, too; more our true selves – the selves that They see for us. The germ, or seed, which is in us grows as we align ourselves more and more with these true things. We gain the power, little by little, to become whole, through the grace of Jesus Christ. Our faith in Him gives us the power to hope and to change through His help.
Isn’t it amazing, and exciting, what faith can do? I love that it’s another situation where something that appears to be weak or inconsequential, turns out to actually be the most powerful; the key which everyone has been seeking, but many miss because they’re looking for the obvious thing. Meanwhile, those who notice its true strength or form are those who can humble themselves enough to see what is only visible to those ‘with eyes to see’, and gain the real prize – the changing of their souls.