The goal of this lesson is “to help class members understand and seek the blessings that come from the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and confirmation.” The focus of this article is specifically on the first principle of the gospel, faith in Christ.
Sorting it out
Our relationship with “God” sometimes seems like such a simple and straightforward thing. Other times it can seem very confusing, especially when there are actually three deities involved in the word God. I would like to take a moment and look at our relationship with our Father, versus our relationship with Christ. When we refer to God it is sometimes unclear whether we are referring to the Father, the Son, or either of them, since sometimes it doesn’t matter which one.
Our Father in Heaven is the object of all our worship. We do not worship Jesus the Christ. We have been commanded to worship only the Father. He is our great spiritual head, and it was He who gave us the plan of salvation we use to map our way home. He was the one who ordained Jesus to be the Christ, our Savior. The Father is the one to whom Jesus looks for directions, and to whom he gives all glory.
Our prayers are addressed to our Father in Heaven. It is He who answers those prayers. It was the Father who designated who would serve as His prophets, when and where we would all come to earth, and who set the bounds of our habitation. It was our Father who gave us the one who would redeem our souls once we became lost through sin.
Jesus is the one our Father in Heaven chose to be our Savior. As our Savior he paid the eternal price required to redeem the whole family of God, our Father. As our Redeemer Jesus the Christ became our intermediary with the Father. Sin has cut us off from God, our Father. We gain access once again to Him through the efforts of the Savior on our behalf. So while we worship our Father in Heaven and pray to Him, and Him only, we do it in the name of the only one of God’s children who is worthy to approach Him directly, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The role of Redeemer
Before the world existed, Jesus was sent to create it for us to live out our mortal lives. So he is the God, the creator of all things. It was all done under the direction of our Father in Heaven, but Jesus did the actual creating (organizing) of everything we see in the universe. In this sense he is the the father, the organizer (think creator) of all things. He is also the Son of God in that he does the will of the Father of us all. This is why we call him both the Father and the Son. In this sense he fills both roles.
As our intercessor, when we pray to God, our Heavenly Father, Jesus pleads on our behalf for the Father to answer our prayers. Our personal unworthiness brought about through our breaking God’s laws makes us unworthy of asking for favors from our Father. But Jesus can approach him and plead on our behalf since He has never broken any of God’s laws, and has personally paid the price to redeem us from our fallen state before God, subject to our repentance and obedience to the laws Jesus has given us through the scriptures and the living prophets.
It is Jesus who calls the prophets who were foreordained to that calling in the premortal world. He directs the affairs of His Church. He sends us the Holy Ghost to teach us and guide us on behalf of our Father in Heaven. It is the Holy Ghost who witnesses to us of the divinity of the Father and the Son. He teaches us how to understand the words of Christ given to us in the scriptures and through the words of the prophets.
Why doesn’t the Father do all this?
When our Father in Heaven made Jesus the Christ our Redeemer, he turned over to Jesus the responsibility of his entire posterity. It became the responsibility of the Christ to do all things needed to bring as many of us back into our Father’s presence as possible. This is why, when the Father speaks directly to someone in mortality, it is only to introduce or witness of His Son. All of our dealings with our Father in Heaven go through Jesus Christ, he who ransomed us from the Fall.
This is why our faith must be in Jesus. No one else has the power to save our souls from eternal damnation, the result of our sins. No one else has the power to bring us home again to live with our Father in Heaven. We have a focal point, a single beam of light in the darkness, if you will, and that is Christ. He is our guiding light. Without him we are surely lost forever to our Father in Heaven. If we put our trust anywhere other than on Christ and what he teaches us, we will miss the mark and be disappointed in the end.
The members of the Godhead are indeed united in a common purpose, and that is to bring us all home once again. To this end it doesn’t really matter which member of the Godhead speaks to us or does a particular act, because they would all do anything needed to help us return home. In this sense there is no difference if the Father speaks, or if Christ speaks, of if the words are coming from the Holy Ghost, or even the prophet. They are the same words either way. This is why it is usually appropriate when we just refer to “God” in a generic way. We don’t always know or need to know which member of the Godhead said something or did something, since they are united in their efforts to guide us home.
Exercising faith in Christ
Exercising faith means to put into practice our declared belief in Christ. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but the principle is an easy one. When I choose to believe that Jesus is my Redeemer and that his sacrifice on my behalf makes it possible for me to change for the better and become holy like he is, I have to follow that belief with an action.
My action may be choosing to read the scriptures and praying for understanding. It may come in the form of service to others. I may choose to fast and pray for spiritual confirmation about a principle of the gospel. I could do many things to exercise or use my faith in Christ. But do something I must. I cannot declare my belief and then do nothing.
What follows the actions that demonstrate our intentions because of what we have chosen to believe are confirmations. Christ rewards our positive actions (the exercise of our faith) with spiritual understanding, with personal revelation, with inner peace, with spiritual and physical witnesses that what we believed in and acted upon was good and correct. This is how we can come to know that putting our faith in Christ has real consequences that are profitable for our soul.
Alma refers to our witness as a swelling motion in our heart. The point is that our witness is discernable. Faith is never blind. It is always accompanied with hope, and followed with various types of rewards. But true faith is always rewarded so as to strengthen our conviction and our trust in Christ.
When someone first discovers the gospel message and exercises their faith in Christ by reading the Book of Mormon, coming to church, praying, and paying their tithing, they are rewarded with a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel message they decided to test. Exercising or practicing faith in Christ is logical, predictable, and is always rewarded by the Holy Spirit. God has promised us that He will always hear and answer our prayers offered with faith.
Faith makes a difference
What can we accomplish with faith? How will exercising our belief in Christ’s atoning sacrifice change how we treat each other? How will our faith that Jesus leads the Church today change how faithfully we follow the counsel of the Brethren, even when their counsel goes against the popular social norms of the day?
When we choose to exercise faith in Christ’s redemption for the dead, what does that mean for our consistency in temple attendance or in the number of hours each week we might spend doing indexing or working on family history research? When we pray to our Father in Heaven how can our faith in Christ’s role as our intercessor affect our belief that our Father in Heaven will answer our prayer?
In short, is there any part of the gospel plan that isn’t intimately affected by our faith in Christ and his mission? Is there anything about how we work with the Spirit or what we expect from the heavens that isn’t completely dependant on Christ and his efforts in our behalf?
This is why faith in Christ is the first principle of the gospel. Everything else we do or profess hinges on whether Christ is who we say he is and did what we say he did. All the principles and ordinances of the gospel that come after this first one are based on our belief that Jesus really is the Son of God, and that he died to pay for our sins, and that he rose again so we could have eternal life.