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This week’s reading contains some of the most important examples and teachings about the principle of faith in all the standard works. In the Greek language, the word for faith is pistis, meaning an assurance or reliance on Christ for salvation. Faith necessarily involves three elements: a mutual loyalty or trust between two parties, based on a covenant (or mutual promise), which is backed by collateral.
When we exercise faith in God, we covenant to be loyal to him. In return, we receive the promise of eventual eternal life, backed by assurances from the Holy Ghost that this covenant is in force. In other words, our faith in God is backed up by our obedience, by our willingness to do his will, and his covenant with us is backed up by the Spirit. The daily experiences we have with the Spirit in our lives, even in small ways, are evidences (or assurances) that the covenant is in force. These spiritual experiences are like a down payment (or a small foretaste) of the greater rewards that will one day be ours. Paul called this the “earnest of our inheritance” or the earnest agreement (the down payment) on our eventual reward (eternal life) (see Ephesians 1:12-14).
Faith is Power
Faith in the Lord is power. It is absolute confidence and trust in the Savior that leads us to obey him. In order to lay hold on exaltation, our faith must be centered in Jesus Christ, because he is both the author and the finisher of our faith. Latter-day Saints also have faith in God the Eternal Father, in the Holy Ghost, in priesthood power, and in the truths of the Restored Gospel.
Personal righteousness is the fastest way to increase faith. When faith-filled people approach the Lord in humility, he divinely responds. For example, in Ether 7-11 there are several examples of people who were grossly wicked, but who repented and exercised faith in God. In each case, the Lord responded and “did have mercy on them,” and spared them from destruction (see Ether 7:26; 9:34-35; 11:1, 7-8).
Most people assume that God is immutable – that once he has decreed a people will be destroyed their destruction is assured. But the Book of Mormon (as well as many Bible passages) demonstrate that although God’s character is immutable (his character traits will always remain perfected), and although his power is immutable (he will forever remain God), he still responds to people according to their faith in him. (For example, consider the story of Jonah and the decreed destruction of Ninevah, which never occurred because of their response to Jonah’s preaching). All through the Book of Ether one can find examples of the Lord responding according to the faith people exercised in him. The same is true of our time as well.
The Power to Change Hearts
Faith in Jesus Christ brings with it the power to change hearts. The Apostle Paul taught that “faith comes by hearing the word” (Romans 10:17). Joseph Smith taught that “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.” (Teachings, 148.) Once faith enters a heart, it always leads to repentance. In the Book of Ether, King Shule executed a law throughout all the land “which gave power unto the prophets that they should go whithersoever they would; and by this cause the people were brought unto repentance.” (Ether 7:24-25.)
Turning to Secret Combinations
The Book of Ether graphically illustrates how those without faith turned to secret combinations and trusted only in their own strength for power (Ether 8). Without faith in God, we create our own God (D&C 1:16). In the beginning God created man, but today man has created God in his own image. This always leads to spiritual decline. Moroni, after describing the secret combinations among the Jaredites resulting from their hunger for power, then warned that these secret combinations caused the destruction of the Jaredites, of the Nephites, and would destroy any nation that upholds them (Ether 8:21-22). He pled with us to not allow “these murderous combinations [to] get above you” and that when “ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation” (Ether 8:23-24).
This is no casual message. Moroni testified that he was “commanded to write these things”so that evil would be done away, that Satan would have no more power over the hearts of people, but that all people “may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved” (Ether 8:26). Only faith in God can bring about such righteousness and societal change. Imagine what the world could be like if everyone exercised some degree of faith in God rather than trust so much in the arm of flesh.
The socio-political changes that could be brought about by exercising more faith in God and trusting in his ways would be astounding. On one occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote an editorial about how greater faith in God has “always tended to promote peace, unity, harmony,strength, and happiness” in society (Teachings, 248). When we have faith to do things God’s way, “judgment will be administered in righteousness; anarchy and confusion will be destroyed, and ‘nations will learn war no more'” (Teachings, 251).
But in some respects it is easier to govern a large group of people than one’s own self. King Morianton, “did do justice among the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Ether 10:11). Faith in Christ is a highly personal matter that will win us the support of the only Vote that really matters.
Ether taught that faith not only anchors us in this life, but also anchors us to the promises of eternal life: “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4). The word “hope” could be replaced with the word “expect.” Those with faith expect and count on the Lord keeping his promises. And he does (see D&C 3:1-3).
Faith Will Be Tested
Those who have faith in God understand that their faith will be tested (Ether 12:6). But they also know that confirming evidences always follow such tests. People with faith know that they are not always permitted to see everything from beginning to end, but they also know that by walking to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, that the light will always appear and move ahead of them (see Elder Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, p. 184).
Those who exercise faith in God have spiritual experiences and even miracles occur in their lives(Ether 8:8-12). Faith can only be experienced by those who are living the gospel. The book of Ether gives many examples (Ether 8:13-18) as does the Apostle Paul (Hebrews 11:17-31). Our faith in Christ will do the same for us. “And now, I would commend you,” Moroni wrote, “to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.” (Ether 12:41).
Immediately following these explanations of faith is the promise that a New Jerusalem will one day be built upon the earth in America by the seed of Joseph (Ether 13:1-6). Only faith in the Savior will enable a people to become worthy enough to ever accomplish such a noble feat.
Finally, the Book of Ether abruptly ends with an account of the destruction of the Jaredites (Ether 13-15). Without faith in Christ, the hearts of the people began to be filled with another spirit. Where doubt exists, faith has no power: “Behold, the Spirit of the Lord ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people; for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed…” (Ether 15:19). Their destruction could have been avoided had they exercised greater faith in God.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has called on our generation to not become like the faithless Jaredites. He has said:
“Be not faithless, but believing. In what shall we believe? In the first place, we shall believe in God our Eternal Father. He is the Father of each of us. He is the ruler and the governor of the entire universe and yet, somehow, He can hear each of us when we pray. What a marvelous thing that is, and that the God of Heaven will hear your prayers and my prayers. We are His children.
“Be not faithless, but believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the great Creator, who condescended to come to earth and walked among men and [was] abused and persecuted and crucified unto death. But, He arose the third day and stands at the side of His Father, the Living Son of the Living God, to pour out His blessing upon each of us.
“Be not faithless, but believing in the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who had the greatest vision that has occurred in all this modern world, when God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son appeared to him and parted the curtains to usher in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.
“Be not faithless, but believing in this sacred book which we call the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It was said of old, it was said by the Savior, that in the mouths of two or more witnesses shall all things be established. Here is the Bible, one witness. Here is the Book of Mormon, the other witness. They go hand-in-hand testifying of these things which we have spoken.
“Believe in the truth and divinity and be not faithless concerning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord declared it to be the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth with which He was pleased. That is not my statement. That is the statement of the Lord Himself.
“Believe in yourself, my brothers and sisters. You are a child of God. You do have something of divinity within you. Believe in your capacity to do great and good things. We have these missionaries here tonight. I supposed when they were called to the Merida mission, they had no dea where it was. They had to go to the library and get an atlas and look it up. Now they think this is the greatest place on the face of the earth, and the greatest people.” (From Cancun, Mexico member meeting, Nov. 13, 1997; printed in the Church News, Saturday, March 7, 1998.)
Faith is the first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the foundational, fundamental principle of power in all we do and in all we expect to accomplish. The Prophet Joseph Smith observed, “We receive by faith all temporal blessings that we do receive, [and] we in like manner receive by faith all spiritual blessings that we do receive” (Lectures on Faith, 3). The Book of Ether, and the Book of Mormon in general, helps us understand the blessings we can receive because of faith in Jesus Christ.