“The future of your faith is not by chance, but by choice.” 1 With that as his principle theme, Elder Neil L. Andersen gave an inspiring sermon at the October 2015 General Conference on the importance of choosing faith.
He explained that “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. Faith does not fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright.... Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from heaven that comes as we choose to believe.” 2
What does choosing faith mean? It means choosing to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, obeying His commandments and trusting in the power of His Atonement to save us. It also means choosing repentance over pride and stubbornness.
In choosing faith, it is important that we have a correct understanding of this first principle of the gospel. We are grateful to the Prophet Joseph Smith for his inspired and comprehensive Lectures on Faith. In this discourse, given to the early Church leaders who attended the “School of the Prophets”, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that three fundamentals were necessary in order for any rational and intelligent being to exercise faith in the Father and the Son unto life and salvation:
1. The idea that God does actually exist,
2. Correct ideas of the character, perfections, and attributes of God, and
3. An actual knowledge that the course of life which one pursues is according to
God’s will. 3
The idea that God does actually exist
This is the most basic and perhaps the easiest of all three requirements. All Christians believe in the existence of the Father and the Son Jesus Christ. Members of almost all other major religions also believe in the existence of a God or a Supreme Being.
Correct ideas of the character, perfections, and attributes of God
This second requirement differentiates the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from all other churches and religions of the world. Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the First Vision.4 He had several more visits from the Saviour, Old Testament prophets and other heavenly beings who tutored him on the nature and attributes of the Godhead.5 Because of these modern day revelations, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the most correct and complete understanding of the “character, perfections and attributes” of God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ.
Not having the correct understanding of the attributes of God can hinder a person from believing in God and cultivating strong faith in Him. Some people do not believe in the Bible and therefore, do not believe in Christianity because they think Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, is a heartless God who commanded that whole nations, including women and children be killed.6 This is untrue as Jehovah of the Old Testament is the same God as Jesus Christ of the New Testament. While we have to wait for a future date to completely understand some of God’s directives, we do know that Jesus is a longsuffering, patient and loving God. 7
When I am faced with difficult personal trials and challenges, it is the testimony that I have of God’s nature - that He knows all things and that His love for me is infinite - that sustains me during my periods of darkness and self-doubt.
An actual knowledge that the course of life which one pursues is according to God’s will
I am impressed with how the application of the three fundamentals or requirements that Joseph Smith listed moves from universal to a group and finally, the individual. The first requirement to believe in the existence of a God has almost universal acceptance among religious people. The second requirement is only fully available and accepted by one group of people i.e. members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the third requirement, Joseph clearly taught the need for effort from each individual.8 This requirement specifically refers to each member’s personal effort to bring his life in harmony with God’s will. To be in harmony with God’s will is to be where God wants us to be (for example, by serving a full time mission), doing the things God would have us do (for example, by accepting callings from our bishops), and saying the things God would have us say (for example, by opening our mouths to share the gospel).
A person who wilfully sins, or makes no effort to repent of his sins, cannot cultivate the kind of faith necessary to overcome the challenges inherent in mortality.
To choose faith requires continual determination and strength. Satan knows the power and effect of increased faith upon God’s covenant people and he will do everything he can to obstruct us when we choose faith. To have the strength to choose faith, we must diligently do at least these three things:
1. Diligently attend to our daily personal prayers and scripture study.
2. Faithfully observe and keep the Sabbath day holy in our homes and at church. Particular emphasis must be given on the partaking of the Lord’s sacrament each Sunday so as to remember Him.
3. Ensure that the focus of our discipleship is on “Jesus Christ”. Elder Boyd K. Packer shared the parable of the “Pearl and the Box”9 on several occasions to warn that Church members can sometimes be so engrossed with the many programs and activities in the Church that we lose focus that the “author and finisher of our faith”10 is our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
During the recent April 2016 Sunday Session of the General Conference, President Monson gave only one brief message. In it he admonished that “we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defence against the designs of the adversary—a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right. … As we contemplate the decisions we make in our lives each day—whether to make this choice or that choice—if we choose Christ, we will have made the correct choice.”11
I know that choosing faith in Jesus Christ will always be right. Our faith will grow each time we choose faith. It will give us strength to face all our trials and challenges in life. In choosing faith we will also find peace and happiness.
If we continually choose faith, we will at the end of our mortal journey, be able to say as Paul said: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day.”12 ■
Caption: Elder Leonard Woo
1 Neil L. Andersen, “Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Liahona or Ensign, November 2015, 65.
3 See Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith (1985), 38.
4 See Joseph Smith History 1:16-17.
5 See, for example, Joseph Smith History 1:17-20; 1:68-74; Doctrine & Covenants 110.
6 See 1 Samuel 15:3.
7 See 2 Peter 3:9.
8 See Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith (1985), 38-48.
9 See Boyd K. Packer, “The Cloven Tongues of Fire,” Liahona or Ensign, May 2000, 7; https://www.lds.org/ensign/2000/05/the-cloven-tongues-of-fire.
10 See Hebrew 12:2
11 See Thomas S. Monson, “Choices,” Liahona or Ensign, May 2016, 86; emphasis added.
12 See 2 Timothy 4:7-8.