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"Developing Faith in Christ"
by Elder Merrill J. Bateman
A presentation given by assignment to the Quorum of the Twelve, which met with such approval that Elder Bateman was directed to put it in writing and it was distributed to all Stake Presidents in the Utah North Area.
The Faith Process:
The development of faith in Christ is a process whereby a person builds a relationship of trust in and loyalty to the Savior. In order for faith to develop, the individual is required to act on certain principles and the Savior, in turn, rewards the obedient with a spiritual confirmation of his or her actions. In the New Testament, the word "faith" is translated from a Greek word (pistis) which is defined as "a mutual trust and loyalty between two parties based on a covenant or contract backed up by collateral." The Father is willing to enter into a gospel covenant with His children and reward them with immortality and eternal life if they abide the covenant. Those who are obedient to the covenant through their acts of faith are rewarded on occasion by witnesses of the Spirit. The works of faith by an individual represent his collateral to the Lord. The Father's earnest money is the spiritual witness He provides which is also guaranteed or sealed by the sacrifice of His only begotten Son (Ephesians 1:13-14, Enos 1:5-8, 1 Peter 1:3-5). The witness of the Holy Ghost comes as an acceptance of the person's works of faith--after the trial of one's faith (Ether 12:5). This reciprocal process of exchanging collateral (works of faith for a witness of the Spirit) takes place at various stages of growth and is the process by which one's faith and confidence increase until he or she arrives at a perfect knowledge (James 2:22, Ephesians 3:14-19).
Many Levels of Faith:
Although there are probably as many levels of faith in the development process as there are individuals, it is possible from the scriptures to define at least four stages of faith in Christ and the gospel plan. The first stage is that of the investigator. The second occurs when one has a testimony but is still in the early stages of growth. A third stage may be described by "full conversion and exceeding faith in Christ's sanctifying power": and the fourth stage occurs when one's calling and election is made sure.
Steps in the Development Process:
There are three key steps within each level of faith. Each stage begins with a hope or belief that something is true. The second step is action by the individual reflecting a willingness to believe and live the truth--(obedience to new principles or higher levels of obedience to principles previously known); and the third is a "confirmation" or witness of the Spirit, i.e. a person partaking of one or more fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23). Spiritual confirmations must then lead to further faithful acts or the individual will lose what he or she has received (2 Nephi 28:29-30, 3 Nephi 26:9). An illustration of the process is described below.
The First Stage--Faith as Hope:
Faith begins with hope and matures through righteousness. Alma 32:26-30 describes the process that an investigator of the gospel goes through in finding sacred truths. It begins with a "desire to believe." The second step is a willingness to "experiment upon my words." The experiment is to read the Book of Mormon; to fast and pray about the truthfulness of the restoration; to attend church; to "exercise a particle of faith"; to "give place for a portion of my words." If the investigator pursues this course with an honest heart, he or she begins to feel a swelling in the bosom, their understanding begins to be enlightened. The investigator must then act on the witness by participating in the ordinances and covenants of baptism and confirmation.
The Second Stage--Faith as a Combination of Belief and Knowledge:
The second stage is reached when one receives a testimony of the gospel and conversion has taken place. The witness of the Spirit in the first stage provides knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel. When acted upon, this knowledge becomes mixed with belief in additional truths. The first experiment enlarges the soul, produces a more sure hope, and causes the individual to desire more truth. The spiritual witness is an anchor for the soul and leads the person to "abound in good works" (Ether 12:4). The works of faith are then followed by spiritual confirmations. The seed swelleth and sprouteth and beginneth to grow as the person's awareness and possession of truth increase through diligence and obedience (D&C 130:20-21). Additional commitments are made through priesthood and temple ordinances.
The Third Stage--Exceeding Faith in Christ's Redeeming Power:
As the person abounds in good works, his knowledge and assurance of things not seen bring him to a "perfect brightness of hope" in Christ's atonement for his soul (2 Nephi 31:20, Ether 12: 32, Mosiah 4:1-4). With a broken heart and a contrite spirit, he pleads for mercy and the application of Christ's atoning blood. Through the Spirit of the Lord, he is filled with joy, as he receives a remission of sins. He has peace of conscience because of his exceeding faith in Christ and because his life conforms to gospel principles. He or she is willing to do whatever God asks, to sacrifice all things (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 6:7). The trust between the Lord and the person reaches a level where "miracles are wrought by faith" and "angels appear" (Ether 12:16, Moroni 7:37). He is filled with charity towards all men, his thoughts become unceasingly virtuous, and his confidence waxes strong in the presence of the Lord (D&C 121:45). Nephi, the son of Helaman, was so unwearying in his faithfulness that the Lord could say, "...I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will" (Helaman 10:4-5; see also Moroni 7:26). One's life exemplifies the higher covenants of the temple.
The Fourth Stage--Fullness of All Things:
Finally, there comes a time when the person's confidence and faith are so strong that he cannot be kept from within the veil, but sees the things which he had beheld earlier with an eye of faith (Ether 12:19). In the words of Peter, the person becomes a partaker of the divine nature through faith, diligence, patience, virtue, knowledge, temperance, godliness and by entering into covenants and ordinances. The person receives great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:3-10). As Joseph Smith said, "When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure. Then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter." (Joseph Smith, Teachings, p. 150). With Nephi he can say, "I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell" (2 Nephi 33:6).
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