Faith is a Principle of Action
Today I am going to speak about Faith as a principle of action. I will tell a number of stories; stories from the scriptures, stories from current General Authorities and even a personal story. I hope to make several points in this talk. 1. Faith gives us reason to expect to achieve exaltation through the grace of Christ and the atonement if we do all that we can. 2. Faith is demonstrated and nourished through good works. 3. We need to take action based on our faith. 4. We may not be able to see the end from the beginning; we may even need to exercise our faith to take a few steps into the darkness. 5. One of the effects of faith is to receive guidance with decisions. 6. We will always need faith, even when we are exalted. When I give a talk, I like to find a definition before I start. The reason I like to do it before I start comes from an experience I had when I was asked to teach a Priesthood lesson on hope. I read the lesson, I read all the scripture references and I didn’t understand the material. Finally, in desperation, I looked up the definition in the dictionary. I had thought that hope was just a strong wish, a strong desire to obtain something. When I read the definition – “a strong desire with expectation of fulfillment” it suddenly made sense. I had been missing the fact that hope included expectation of fulfillment. This is relevant to my topic today as you will see from the definition of faith that is given in the Bible dictionary: Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true…
We see the word hope in the definition of faith. When the scriptures talk about having a hope in Christ it means that if we live in accordance with the commandments of Christ to the best of our ability, we can have confidence that Christ will keep His end of the covenant, that His grace will be extended to us, that the atonement will be effective, that our sins will be forgiven, and we can expect to receive exaltation.
The Bible Dictionary also tells us that faith is a principle of action. In the book of James in the New Testament, we read (James 2:15): What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brither or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. This raises an interesting question, can good works qualify us for exaltation? No. We find in 2 Nephi 25:23 … we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. Abinadi taught (Mosiah 13:28) … moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish
Let me tell two stories that show how faith is a principle of action.
When the brother of Jared was building the barges to carry his people to the promised land he asked the Lord two questions: 1. How will we breath in the sealed barges, and 2. Will we have to cross the seas in darkness?
The Lord answered the first question by telling the brother of Jared to cut an opening in the top and in the bottom of each barge. When they needed air they could open the hatch and get fresh air. However the Lord asked the brother of Jared to figure out what he wanted the Lord to do in order for there to be light in the barges. Did the brother of Jared just sit on his hands and say the he had faith that the Lord would provide a way for them to have light? No, he went into the mountain and made 16 glass balls and took these to the Lord and said, (Ether 3:4)
I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
What would have happened if the brother of Jared had not taken any action? The people would have spent 344 days crossing the ocean in darkness.
Another scripture story also points out the need for action in addition to our faith. Nephi’s response to his father when asked to return to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban is often cited as an example of faith. Recall that he said to his father (1 Nephi 3:7), I awill go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no bcommandments unto the children of men, save he shall cprepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
Certainly this is an example of faith, but where are the works that show Nephi’s faith? After two failures to obtain the plates, after being beaten up by two of his bothers and rescued by an angel, Nephi went back into the city (1 Nephi 4:) “…not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”
As Nephi entered the city, he saw a drunken man lying on the street. Upon closer inspection, Nephi found that man was Laban. Nephi dressed in Laban’s clothes, went to Laban’s house and by impersonating Laban was able to get the brass plates as he had been commanded by the Lord through his father.
This incident shows another aspect or faith that was taught by Elder Boyd K. Packer in his talk in the April 2005 General Conference. We once had a major decision to make. When our prayers left us uncertain, I went to see Elder Harold B. Lee. He counseled us to proceed. Sensing that I was still very unsettled, he said, “The problem with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.” Then he quoted this verse from the Book of Mormon, “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). He added, “You must learn to walk a few steps ahead into the darkness, and then the light will turn on and go before you.” That was a life-changing experience from one verse in the Book of Mormon. Another powerful illustration of this principle was given by Elder Russell M. Nelson in his April 2003 General Conference talk. He was visited in his office more than 40 years ago, in the early days of heart surgery, by a stake patriarch from southern Utah. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart. Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment. Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: “Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.” 21 His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, 22 my assistant asked, “What are you going to do for that?” I said, “I do not know.” We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, 23 we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.” But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.” I responded, “It’s an answer to prayer.” The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory. What would have happened if Elder Nelson had not been willing to take action, even walking a few steps into the darkness? I am amazed at the faith of Elder Nelson to open up a man’s heart not knowing what he was going to do. The bible dictionary tells us that one of the effects of faith is guidance. I’d like to tell a personal story about how I received guidance in making a very important decision. The first Sunday after I arrived at Basic Pilot Training at Reese AFB, just outside Lubbock, TX, I went to my church meetings. One of the first things I saw was a really cute young woman leading the music with her left hand. I don’t think I’d ever seen this before, even though my sister was left handed. We got acquainted and dated. When I was about to graduate, I mentioned to Margaret that I though that she was the person I wanted to marry, but that I wasn’t ready to get married at that point. She said she wanted to finish college before she got married, so there was no problem. I felt that marriage was such an important decision that I needed to know for sure that I was marrying the right person. My cousin and his wife were traveling though the area where I was stationed and we got together one evening. They were so obviously in love and I asked them how they knew that it was right for them to have married. They just looked at each other, smiled, and told me that I would know. This was not a very satisfying answer. Margaret and I kept in touch and were planning to get together for the Christmas holidays a few years later. In October as I was thinking about getting together with Margaret for the Christmas holidays, I got a burning in my bosom that let me know that it was right for me to ask Margaret to marry me. I planned to ask her face to face when we got together for the holidays. I called her on Thanksgiving Day intending only to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving, but ended up asking her to marry me. That afternoon I was eating Thanksgiving dinner with friends. They asked if anything was wrong because I seemed somewhat subdues. I told them that I though I was engaged. I had to call Margaret up the next day to confirm that she had agreed to marry me. We had planned to marry in June when she graduated, but the Air Force had other ideas. I was sent to Viet Nam for a temporary tour of duty. We married in the Logan Temple when I got back in August. Next month we will observe our 48th wedding anniversary. In his discourse on faith, recorded in the 32nd chapter of Alma, he proposes an experiment and suggests planting a seed of faith and watching it grow. After the seed sprouts, Alma tells his audience that it is necessary to nourish the seed. This brings to mind the question: how do we nourish our faith? Pres. Hinckley has told us that tithing is not a matter of money; it is a matter of faith. Thus, paying our tithing is one way to nourish our faith. James tells us (James 2:22) that “… by works is faith made perfect.” Alma tells us (Alma 34:17) that we can exercise our faith by repenting. Mormon tells us (3 Nephi 26:9) that when we receive a principle it is to try our faith. If we follow that principle our faith is increased and greater things will be manifest to us. Further in Alma’s discourse on the experiment with faith, he says that our knowledge of that thing is perfect and our faith is dormant. When I read that I wondered if we would ever got to a point where faith was no longer necessary. God know everything. Does God need faith? The answer is a resounding Yes! In the Lectures on Faith, given at the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, we learn that it was by faith that the worlds were framed. Had it not been for the principle of faith the worlds never would have been framed. “It was by faith that the worlds were framed--God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order, by reason of the faith there was in HIM.” I have attempted to make the following points: 1. Faith gives us reason to expect to achieve exaltation through the grace of Christ and the atonement if we do all that we can. 2. Faith is demonstrated and nourished through good works. 3. We need to take action based on our faith. 4. We may not be able to see the end from the beginning; we may even need to exercise our faith to take a few steps into the darkness. 5. One of the effects of faith is to receive guidance with decisions. 6. We will always need faith, even when we are exalted. Faith is the first principle of the Gospel. The other principles and ordinances of the Gospel are repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. I pray that we will exercise and nourish our faith so that we can endure to the end, allow the atonement to be effective in our lives, and have a hope of exaltation, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.