The Come, Follow Me lesson for the week of November 11-17 suggests: “Consider developing your own definition of faith as you ponder the ideas in Hebrews 11.” In preparing to formulate and express our own personal definition, we decided to review three great explanations of faith in the scriptures and two personal definitions of faith by Church leaders.
Paul’s definition: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Joseph Smith Translation changes “substance” to “assurance” (Joseph Smith Translation, Hebrews 1:1 [in Hebrews 11.1, footnote b]). The word assurance emphasizes that faith is an inner conviction or witness that comes from the Holy Ghost. Even though what is hoped for is not tangibly present or seen, there is spiritual “evidence” that substantiates or assures faithful hope. To validate such hope, Paul refers to 20 biblical individuals of faith, and he concludes by referring to nearly 50 instances of how faith has been demonstrated throughout past dispensations. Paul believes that God is “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Righteous faith is not a blind hope in idols or hypothetical ideas but a divine force and power that gives strength to create, subdue, heal, or endure.
Sister Anne C. Pingree’s Definition
Sister Anne C. Pingree, a former member of the Relief Society General Presidency, drew on language from Hebrews 11 to develop her definition: “Faith, the spiritual ability to be persuaded of promises that are seen ‘afar off’ but that may not be attained in this life, is a sure measure of those who truly believe” (“Seeing the Promises Afar Off,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 14).
Alma explains: “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). As in Hebrews 11, faith is “not seen,” but it is based on true doctrines and principles. Alma goes on to explain that God imparts “his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned” (Alma 32:23). All human beings, regardless of gender or age, can access the blessings and powers of faith.
To begin to develop faith, Alma encourages us: “if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, …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” (Alma 32:27). We are encouraged to “experiment” and test the veracity of divine faith.
Alma next likens the developing of faith to the planting and nurturing of a fruit-bearing seed. If we do not “resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say …It must needs be that this is a good seed …for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). The proof is felt in the depths of the heart, the growth of rational and spiritual understanding, the illumination of mental perceptions, and the enjoyment and appreciation of living a righteous life.
Such growth “will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:30). This growth will lead you to know a divine truth: “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know” (Alma 32:34). This knowledge is not perfect in all things; instead, we must continue to nurture our growing plant of faith. Alma explains if we “nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life” (Alma 32:41). As Alma promised near the beginning of his explanation of faith: “He that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed” (Alma 32:15). Key components for developing this true and productive faith are: hope, desire, humility, repentance, diligence, patience, long-suffering, and endurance.
Elder Juan Pablo Villar’s Definition
Elder Juan Pablo Villar, of the Seventy, explains how his brother helped teach him the meaning of faith: “The spiritual gift of faith, for example, is not just a feeling or a mood; it is a principle of action that frequently appears in the scriptures linked to the verb ‘exercise’ (see Alma 5:15; Alma 32:27). Just as reading and learning about muscles is not enough to build muscle, reading and learning about faith without adding action is insufficient to build faith” (“Exercising Our Spiritual Muscles,” Ensign, May 2019, 52).
The Prophet Mormon taught the people of his times that “faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart, and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity … Wherefore, cleave unto charity which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:44,46-47). The third key component of faith and hope is to learn how to love God and our neighbours (both living and dead) with divine charity—“the pure love of Christ.”
Our Attempt to Define Faith
Faith is the hope to learn by the power of the Holy Ghost to repent and to be humble doers of God’s will by diligently, patiently, and enduringly desiring, asking, and nurturing the emulation of true charity—“the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47).
Now Write Your Definition
As you consider writing your own definition, you may want to review other helpful scriptures about Faith in the Topical Guide. You may want to keep notes about what you learn as you review these scriptures. Be sure, though, to take the time and effort to put down in words your personal definition of faith. You may be surprised not only by what you learn about faith from reading scriptures but also by what you learn about yourself in composing your individual or family definition.