I always thought I understood faith really well. I mean, it is the first principle of the Gospel, how hard can it be? But, then I read Lectures on Faith by Joseph Smith and realized that I understood very little what faith is really about. I have read those lectures over and over and I have come to love them.
Faith and Revelation
In Joseph Smith's Lectures on Faith, he quotes Paul's definition of faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Joseph Smith explained that substance is assurance. The substance and the evidence Paul is referring to is revelation.
Joseph Smith stated, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God; that testimony is always attended by the Spirit of prophecy and revelation.” (History of the Church, 3:379). Also, Romans 10:17 states, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The word of God (that is, revelation) is necessary for faith to exist. If there has been no revelation, it is not an assurance and there is no substance; it is just a belief or a hope we have.
A while back as I was reading the Book of Mormon, I was reading one of my favorite chapters, Moroni 7, and these few verses on faith stood out to me. Mormon discusses how to develop faith and how it enables you to access every blessing. Notice the role of revelation in developing faith.
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.Mormon states that God manifests things to us in a variety of ways. It is through this revelation that faith is built. It is important to examine ourselves and to assess whether we merely believe or if we have received revelation and now have faith. If we have not received revelation that something is true, it is time to seek that from the Lord.
22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.
25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.
26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.
Faith is in something true
Belief and faith are different. We can believe in anything, true or not, and with or without evidence. This is not faith. If you wanted, you could believe in the Easter Bunny or that God doesn't love you. Neither of these things are true and I'm sure you wouldn't have evidence for them either. So, although you can choose to believe in these things, you cannot have faith in these things. Alma states in his discourse on faith, that faith needs to be in something which is true (Alma 32:21) and we have to have an assurance (having received revelation) that it exists and is true. So you could choose to have faith that Jesus Christ lives again, that God loves you, that the scriptures are true, or that you are to live a particular way. These things are true. And, when you receive revelation that they are true, you can begin to exercise faith.
Begins with a Desire to Believe
Alma said: “But behold, if ye will awake and 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, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32:27) We begin with a desire to believe in something. This is not faith yet. Just a belief. But, this desire to believe enables us to open our hearts to “give place for a portion of [His] words” or revelation. This is how faith is developed. Alma continues his sermon on faith by saying you plant the word, or revelation, in your heart and let it grow and you will see that your understanding is enlightened. This is the beginning of faith.
When I returned home from my mission I really wanted to move here to the States, because I wanted to continue my association with my mission companions. I came over here and went to various university campuses and looked into making it possible. Then one night I knelt down to pray and ask God what he wanted me to do. I had a desire to do the Lord's will and my desire opened up my heart to receive revelation on the matter. After I prayed I heard the words “Trust in me!” I didn't yet have a complete understanding of what God wanted me to do at that time, but it was the beginning. This is how it starts. You desire to believe and open your heart and mind to hear the voice of God.
Increasing Faith Through Many Witnesses
Jacob taught in Jacob 4,
6 Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh 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.Jacob declares that after many revelations and witnesses our faith becomes unshaken. Over time we need to develop the kind of faith where the trees or the mountains or the waves of the sea obey us.
7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.
When my twins were just 10 months old I received the first impression that we were to have another baby then. This was insane to me because I was only just beginning to cope with not only being a mother for the first time, but a mother of twins. When I received that first impression I wasn't completely sure whether it was from the Lord or whether it was just me thinking crazy thoughts. But, every day for two weeks the Spirit said to me in my mind that we were to have another baby. (I even knew it would be a boy.) With the Spirit revealing that to me over and over again, my faith in what God had asked of me became unshaken. Then, while I was pregnant and experiencing the sickness and the pain that comes with that, I could continue in faith because I didn't just believe that I was doing God's will, but I knew I was because He had revealed it to me. This is what faith is: It is receiving God’s word and acting in full belief or knowledge that it is true and you are doing His will.
I have had so many experiences in my life where God has asked me to do hard things but I have been able to do them because I have known that I am doing His will. This is why revelation is so essential to faith. Without revelation, we do not know His will. There is no faith without revelation.