FAITH: The First Principle

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Questions and Answers on the Foregoing Principles

In the fullest sense, the gospel encompasses all truths of every kind and every degree of importance. The first principles of the gospel which lead us unto eternal life are the simplest, and yet none are more glorious or important to us. The first principles and ordinances of the gospel center around the Atonement, and each pertains to the remission of sins. Without faith in Jesus Christ, remission of sins would not be possible, for it was through His suffering and infinite sacrifice that the price for our sins was paid. Baptism is a covenant specifically intended for the remission of sins.

The gift and power of the Holy Ghost serve to sanctify our souls from the impurities and effects of sin. The Holy Ghost is also a Guide and Comforter who will lead us along paths of righteousness home to our Eternal Father. The order in which the first principles and ordinances are given in the fourth article of faith and in other scriptural references is important. Each step follows from the one before it and is linked to the one after it. To better understand their meaning, it will be helpful to examine them individually, beginning with faith in Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is imperative to our salvation that we exercise faith in Him, for He is the Messiah, the Creator and Redeemer of the world, our Advocate and Mediator with the Father. He has paid the penalty for our sins and ransomed us from death and hell. To exercise faith in Christ means believing He is the Savior of the world, trusting in His word, seeking to do His will, and receiving comfort and strength from His hand.

The prophet Enos had a similar experience after praying all day and night for forgiveness of his sins. The Atonement of Jesus Christ, wrought by His infinite suffering in Gethsemane and on Calvary, makes possible forgiveness of sins and reconciliation between God and man.

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There is no doctrine more vital to our salvation than this. Faith in Christ makes forgiveness possible, provided it is coupled with repentance. Faith in Christ gives us both the desire to repent and the strength needed to repent. It is not sufficient to go through the familiar steps of repentance in a perfunctory or superficial manner. True repentance means a lasting change of heart. In the case of serious sins, it requires confession to a priesthood authority; in all cases it requires deep humility, earnest spiritual striving, and the forsaking of our sins.

By exercising faith in Christ, we gain strength not only to repent of past transgressions but to overcome present weaknesses as well. A common example of this is seen in the experience of many investigators of the Church who have a deep-rooted substance addiction.

Finding Faith in Christ (Opener)

They often find that it is virtually impossible to overcome this addiction by their own efforts alone. Only humble prayer and great faith in the Savior make repentance possible. All of us have weaknesses that cannot be overcome by our own strength alone; by exercising faith in Christ we receive strength beyond our own to overcome weaknesses and repent of sin.

This process may be long and difficult, but if we persist in faith we will eventually prevail. Genuine repentance entails forsaking that which is wrong. Here, too, as we exercise faith in Christ, He will strengthen us in moments of temptation.

See a Problem?

The First Principles Series is a set of 13, six-session Bible study guides for use by church leaders and mature Christians to establish believers and churches in the faith, sort of a 21st century catechism. Rather than a typical information-based, fill-in-the-blank approach, the series employs a highly effective learning process involving Bible passages and readings, community dialogue, personal reflection, and projects.

Teaching core principles of Christ and His Apostles, this series guides participants in becoming firmly established in their faith. Series I covers the process of establishing believers in their faith in the context of a local church—a household of God. A six-session guide designed to help leaders understand this new, dialogue-based approach and to develop the full skill set necessary to establish believers and churches in the faith.

First, one danger of any model is that it tends to oversimplify. This is of value in one way, because the simplification helps us to conceptualize or grasp the relationships of a complex subject. But when we begin to apply the model closely to reality, we find that it may not hold up in all cases. Exceptions will exist that do not truly fit the model. The paradigm of faith included in this chapter is only to help people conceptualize a grand and complex subject. Second, Elder Featherstone's comment that the study of faith can be pursued without ever reaching the end of understanding suggests that the model presented here should be refined or adapted as an individual pursues a deeper understanding of faith.

Third, the model is based heavily on three major sections in the Book of Mormon dealing with faith in Jesus Christ: Alma 32, Ether 12, and Moro. Thus, understanding the paradigm is based in part upon a thorough study of those chapters. One of the challenges in describing or discussing faith is the idea that faith is a process involving various stages of development. A prophet may use the word faith to speak of faith as a whole or to refer to any one of the different stages of the process. This presents a challenge in studying the scriptures, and sometimes even results in confusion.

Joseph Smith, for example, said that faith is power; Alma said that faith is hope. Both, however, can be easily understood if we use the process model of faith. The tendency for prophets to use one word--faith--to discuss different aspects of faith makes it difficult to delineate the different stages of the process. After some consideration, I decided that, rather than try to generate new terms--terms the prophets did not use--I would instead use the basic word with a number, thus describing the stages of the process as Faith 1, Faith 2, and so on.

In addition, it seems to me that each stage of faith always contains three basic components: hope, action, and confirmation.


Again, because these may differ somewhat in their nature, depending on which level of the process of faith a person is at, I have chosen to designate these with subscripts too: Hope 1, Hope 2; Action 1, Action 2; Confirmation 1, Confirmation 2; and so on. To begin, let us examine Alma I have concluded after studying the chapter that it describes the initial process of the development of faith in Jesus Christ, or, in terms of our nomenclature, the development of Faith 1. Remember that Alma was speaking to the Zoramites, or, more precisely, a group of Zoramites who had been expelled from the congregations of the Zoramite churches because of their poor, lower-class status.

The Zoramites had apostatized from the Nephites-they worshiped idols and had developed a proud and perverted way of worshiping see Alma , In other words, Alma was not speaking to members of Christ's church in the sermon recorded in Alma Rather, he was speaking to a group who had just begun the process of developing faith. This situation has some important implications for Alma's discussion of faith. When Alma spoke to these Zoramite poor, he seemed to have used the terms faith and perfect knowledge in a peculiar sense; that is, in a sense different from the normal usage of the terms.

He equated faith with a hope or desire to believe what is not known to be true. Notice what he said in verse twenty-one of Alma "Now as I said concerning faith-faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. He also limited his definition of faith to hoping for things that are actually true. That suggests that hoping for things that are untrue will not bring the results he described in the rest of the sermon.

Alma's use of the term perfect knowledge is revealed in verses eighteen to thirty-four. In verse eighteen he said, "If a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. In other words, they didn't have to hope or desire to believe that it is good; they would know that it was good. Therefore he said in verse thirty-four, "Your knowledge is perfect in that thing. Notice also in Alma 32 that Alma gave two prerequisites for the development of faith the very first level of faith.

Faith, the First Principle of the Gospel

These prerequisites are, first, humility see v. If we are not willing to humble ourselves and make the experiment, we can never develop faith. Even more fundamental, if we do not have the word of the Lord on which to experiment, if we do not have knowledge or information on which to begin to believe, we cannot have faith. For additional references, see also Moro. At each stage of faith, we must move through three components to reach the next level.

Note the diagram [below] of the first level of faith, or Faith 1. The three components are shown in their proper relationship to one another. Hope 1, or the initial level of hope, would be the beginning step for the whole process. This level of hope is really nothing more than the desire or wish that something be true. It is as though we are motivated to say, "I want to know if this is true. If we have Hope 1, then we will be motivated to Action 1, which is the second step of the process, the second component of faith. At the first level of faith, this action may be no more than a willingness to try to ascertain whether the word we have heard is true.

Articles of Faith (Latter Day Saints)

Moroni taught a valuable concept about this level of faith when he wrote, "I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen" Ether This is essentially what Paul told us in Heb. In this case, faith, or the ability to trust in something not seen, is quite clear. We cannot "see" that the word we have heard is true; that is, we do not have empirical proof proof based upon observation or experience of the truthfulness of the word. Therefore, we must act on faith: we must trust or hope for something to be, although it is not yet based on seen evidence.

Moroni continued the verse by writing, "Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. That is, we are tested to see whether we will act on the basis of the hope that is in us. We have to show that we are motivated to behave according to the truths the Lord has given us, before we have actual evidence that these things are true. Notice again what Alma told the Zoramite poor in Alma "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.

If ye do not cast it [the word] out by your unbelief,. We must act on our desire which desire I call Hope 1 to know if the word of the Lord is true. This initial level of action Action 1 is basically one of will, one of deciding to try to find out if the word is true. When we act by experimenting, awaking, exercising, and so on, we are led to the third component of faith, which is a confirmation of our hope. This initial level of the faith process would be called confirmation.

Alma described this kind of evidence through feelings. Though this evidence is available only to the feelings, it is still empirical, or real, evidence.

It may be difficult to put into words, but that doesn't lessen its reality. Notice how Alma described this evidence through one's feelings, "It will begin to swell within your breasts;. Based on this real, though difficult to express evidence, we can say, as Alma did in verse thirty-three, "Ye must needs know that the seed is good" emphasis added. In other words, we now have knowledge based on empirical evidence. Alma called this "perfect knowledge. Since we have come to know that the word is good, we no longer need to hope that it is good.

Perfect knowledge takes away, or swallows up, faith, as Alma used the term. When we move through the trial of faith hope that moves us to act, which leads to a confirmation of that hope , we can say that we have achieved the first stage of faith. These preliminary steps are at an investigator level: we are investigating whether something is true. Alma's description and discussion fit the Zoramite needs perfectly. Typically, we would hypothesize that when a person begins the process of developing and entering into Faith 1, described so perfectly by Alma, he will likely get confirmation quite rapidly.

This is an experience missionaries see countless times. When people truly humble themselves upon hearing the word of God and experiment upon that word for instance, seeking to know through prayer whether something is true , very often the confirmation, the swelling, the feeling of truthfulness, the almost indescribable sensation that this is good come quickly, and they know that the word of the Lord is a good seed. When we have achieved Faith 1, have we achieved all that there is to have? Obviously not. Alma himself encouraged the people to continue on once they had received this "perfect knowledge.

In other words, once we have Faith 1, we can move on to the next level of the process in developing faith. The second stage of faith Faith 2 , diagrammed [below], is a level of faith entailing belief and knowledge. Once again there are the three components: Hope 2, Action 2, and Confirmation 2.

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