At least once a year, a priesthood quorum has a lesson on faith, and one of the first things spoken by the instructor is this question: “What is faith?”
It can be a confusing question to answer because everyone has his own definition. Among active latter-day saints, you often need to clarify your meaning of this word. Look outside of Mormonism, and it becomes even more vital.
“I Have Faith in God”
For instance, many people associate the word ‘belief’ with faith; “I have faith in God” to some means that they believe He exists. To others it is an affirmation that God will provide for them. They might phrase it, “I trust God will help me.” A slightly different, more mature way to say it is, “I trust God’s wisdom.” And still another meaning might be better put, “I am faithful to (or loyal to) God,” emphasizing our role in our relationship with Him. As you mature in the gospel, your understanding of faith expands to incorporate all of these elements (and possibly more), but it can be a hard topic to discuss if you’re on one level, and your friend is on another.
For this reason, it may shock some evangelicals (as well as some Mormons) that we actually do believe Paul when he said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” Ephesians 2:8 We have to really ask ourselves what Paul’s definition of faith included. It might be more clearly rendered, “For by grace are ye saved through faithfulness…”
Joseph Smith taught two kinds of faith: 1) Faith as a principle of action, and 2) Faith as a principle of power. Not just any faith has power to save you. You might have faith in toothpaste (believing it will clean your teeth), or you could have faith in the Red Sox (believing they can win the world series). These kinds of faith lead you to action (you’ll brush regularly, or you’ll buy a ticket to Fenway Park), but neither of these is associated with any kind of heavenly power.
Faith as a principle of power
The first principle of the gospel is not just faith, it is ‘faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (see Articles of Faith 4). He alone holds the keys to your salvation. Remember, though, that salvation is not a place or an event. It is a state of being. The plan of the gospel is developmental, and we are the ones who are supposed to develop.
Because He is gracious, Jesus will accept any sinners who turn to Him, but he doesn’t intend for them to remain sinners. He will send guidance through the Holy Ghost as well as messengers on the earth. The sinners will begin to feel the desire to become better. They will repent and promise the Lord (by covenant of baptism) to remain faithful to the end. Jesus will notice this leap of faith. He will send miracles (see Moroni 7:35-37). In this way, faith becomes a principle of power. As we continue to grow in faith, the Lord gladly and graciously opens the windows of heaven to pour out more and more blessings (see Malachi 3:10).