Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS / MP Lesson 18: “Faith in Jesus Christ”

Posted by Jim F. on September 7, 2010

The first suggestion in the manual is excellent: “Each heading is a question about faith. You could use these questions as a guide for your lesson.” Whatever methods you use to conduct class—discussion by the whole class, dividing into four groups, having people prepare ahead of class to present a scripture or idea, etc.—that is a particularly good way to organize things.

What is faith?

For me, this is the part of the lesson on which the others depend, so it is the part on which I would spend the greatest amount of time. It is also, I think, the question that more people misunderstand, another reason for spending more time on it.

Before talking about the scriptural definitions of faith, it may be important to remember the ordinary definition of the word:

To have faith in a person is to trust that person, to have confidence in someone.

To be faithful to someone is to show fidelity to that person, constancy; it is to be steadfast.

In our other discussions of faith it is important not to forget those basic, day-to-day meanings because they are fundamental to whatever else we also say about faith. They tell us that I have faith in Jesus Christ when I trust him. I show faith in Jesus Christ (I am faithful to him) when I remain faithful to what he has commanded, steadfast in my obedience and witness (as Sacrament prayers teach us).

Sometimes when we talk about faith we make it sound like a mysterious power, but faith in God is no more mysterious than faith in another person. The difference is not in what faith is, but in the person in whom we have faith. It is always at least theoretically possible that another human being can prove unworthy of my faith. I can be mistaken when I put my trust in a human person. But God has not, does not, will not prove unworthy of the faith I place in him.

Alma 32:21 and Hebrews 11:1 each give the same definition of faith, though in slightly different words:

Alma: 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.

Hebrews: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

If I have faith, I trust without requiring proof. An alternate translation of the Greek text of Hebrews may be helpful:

Faith is the guarantee of what we hope for, the proof of things not seen.

You may wish to discuss with the class what faith means in ordinary cases, such as faith in a spouse and faithfulness to a spouse:

How does faith guarantee what we hope for in our relations with a spouse? How does it prove what we cannot see, what cannot be proven? For example, I cannot prove without any doubt that my wife is faithful to me, but I have faith that she is. My faith guarantees and proves her faithfulness. Though I don’t have proof, I don’t require it. I never worry about her faithfulness.

Then use that discussion to talk about what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ and to be faithful to him.

Perhaps scripture uses the metaphor of marriage for our relation to the Lord because of this connection between the ordinary and the religious meanings of the word faith: trust.

Why should we have faith in Jesus Christ?

The manual suggests using Mosiah 3:12 as part of the discussion of the first question. I think it works better here: we should have faith in the Savior because “salvation cometh to none . . . except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” If we wish to be saved from the condition of sin in which we unavoidably find ourselves, then we must have faith on Christ. 2 Nephi 9:23 teaches the same thing.

As the other verses to which the lesson points remind us, not only can salvation come only to those who have faith in Christ, he is the only one who can save us: Acts 4:12 and Mosiah 3:17.

Having faith in the Lord can strengthen us against temptation. This is worth stopping to discuss: How does faith—trusting in the Lord—help me resist temptation? Keep the earlier discussion of faith as trust in the back of your mind and use it to direct the discussion.

How can we increase our faith in Jesus Christ?

Of course, we must have faith before we can increase it, but we needn’t have a great deal of faith (Matthew 17:20)—indeed, it is enough only to have a desire to believe (Alma 32: 27).

If a person has that minimal desire, then all that is required is that “ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). What words does Alma have in mind? How do we give place in our hearts for those words?

Romans 10:17 may be useful for starting a discussion here: how/why does hearing someone preach the word of God bring faith?

Alma 32:28 suggests that if we give place for Alma’s words, then a seed will be planted in our heart, presumably the mustard seed of which the Savior spoke (Matthew 17:20). (It may help to think of Alma’s discussion of faith in Alma 32:28-43 as his expansion of Christ’s simile in Matthew—even though we have no evidence that Alma knew about that simile.)

What does Alma tell us is required for the seed to grow? (See Alma 32:28, 37, 41.) Using the verses from Alma, ask class members to give specific examples of how a person can nourish his or her faith. Can I nourish the faith of another person and not just my own? Does Alma’s teaching help us understand how we might nourish the faith of children? What about adult children? spouses? friends?

In Alma 33, Alma gave a number of prescriptions for what it takes to nourish faith, and Amulek summarizes them well in Alma 34:17-29. Prayer is an obvious part of Amulek’s list. Why does he emphasize prayer so much? Why does faith—trust in God—bring us to pray for our welfare and the welfare of those around us? How are faith and such prayers connected? Does praying for those things increase our faith? Why or why not?

What is the connection between what Alma and Amulek teach about prayer and what James teaches about faith: “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17)?

Here’s another translation of that verse: “Even faith, if it doesn’t have deeds to support it and is on its own, is dead” (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 48: James, 85).

What does faith bring?

The scripture that the lesson manual recommends, Moroni 7:25-26, is good for starting a discussion of this question: What does it mean to say that “by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing”? Does verse 26 answer this question? What about times in our lives when we pray for desperately needed blessings but do not receive them? It cannot always be true that the things we prayed for in those circumstances were not good. It seems unlikely that all those who do not get the good things they need are unfaithful. So how do we explain what Mormon says?

2 Responses to “RS / MP Lesson 18: “Faith in Jesus Christ””

  1. After reviewing the various aspects of faith set forth in the lesson, a useful application for exercising “faith” in our daily lives can come through the connection between having faith and the Spirit, as found in the conference talk of Hartman Rector, Jr., quoted below:

    “…how to get the Spirit[?] The formula is apparently so simple:
    “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.)
    On the surface it appears that all that is necessary to receive the Spirit is to ask for it, but it is not quite so easy a question! What is the difference between just ordinary prayer and a “prayer of faith”?
    As we consider that question, the difference is immediately apparent. The difference is faith, and what is faith? Of course, there are many definitions of faith, but one definition is “a strong belief plus action.” It is not perfect knowledge (as Alma explains in Alma 32), but real faith lets a man act as if he knows it is true when he really doesn’t.
    Therefore, faith in a real sense is power-—power to act and perform without actual knowledge. The Lord’s formula for receiving the Spirit, then, is to get on our knees and communicate with him. Tell him what we are going to do—make commitments with him—outline our program—and then get up off our knees and go and do precisely what we have told him we would do. In the doing, the Spirit comes.”
    (Hartman Rector Jr., “You Shall Receive the Spirit,” Ensign, Jan 1974, 105)

  2. Keith said

    This is well past the time for this lesson, but a good question one can ask oneself about faith here is to ask what difference there might be between having faith in God (in general) and more specifically having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. While there will be similarities, I think there will be different aspects of the faith of Latter-day Saints brought out at that we might otherwise miss.

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