Summary: Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” From this and other similar scriptures it is logical to conclude that the very act of having faith is what gives us the power to do mighty things. However, if we apply this concept to all of the examples found in the scriptures about faith we find that this understanding doesn’t apply in every case. This article takes a deeper look at what faith is, how it works, and its relationship to Christ.
In the 12th Chapter of Ether we read “For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world…. Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled. For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith. Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth. Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites. Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after” (verses 7,11-16).
Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:23-24). At another time he taught, “That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith” (Mark 11:23). And, in fact, in this same chapter of Ether Moroni tells us “For the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith it would not have moved; wherefore thou workest after men have faith” (verse 30).
From these and other statements on faith, it is easy to get the impression that the very act of having faith alone is what gives us the power to do mighty things. For example, if our faith is strong enough, we could literally move mountains simply by exercising the power within us through the power of faith. In the same way it is said that this was the power that Alma and Amulek used to cause the prison walls “to tumble to the earth,” and it was this same power of faith that Ammon exercised in converting thousands of Lamanites.
When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he said, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:28- 31).
From this it is logical to conclude that it was the power of his faith that Peter used to walk on water and it was only when his faith began to waver or diminish that he lost that ability.
It is said that it is through the faith of a priesthood holder or the faith of the individual that gives a priesthood blessing the power to heal someone. We see an example of this in the gospel of Matthew where we read of an incident when “a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind [Jesus] and touched the hem of his garment… and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matthew 9: 20,22). In this case, Jesus didn’t use his priesthood to heal the woman. Instead, it was the power of this woman’s faith that made her whole.
When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he showed himself to “the more righteous part of the people,” who were the only ones “who were spared” from all the destruction” (3 Nephi 10:12), and it was “they [who] were also conversing about this Jesus Christ” (3 Nephi 11:2) just before he appeared to them. Clearly they already had a strong faith in Jesus Christ and in the prophecy that he would appear unto them.
Does that mean it was their faith that caused Christ to visit the Nephites? Or did he show himself to these particular Nephites because of, or as a confirmation of, or as a vindication of their faith in him? To answer that question, we can look at a similar example that happened to the disciples of Christ who lived in Jerusalem.
During the three years that Jesus spent with his apostles, teaching them and showing them by infallible proofs that he was truly the Son of God, they had come to have great faith in him as the promised Messiah. But then they watched in horror as he died on the cross and his body was put in a tomb, and the tomb was sealed shut. This brought into question everything they had come to believe about the man Jesus.
The day following his death was the Sabbath and because they were forbidden to travel according to the law of Moses as taught by the Pharisees, they remained huddled in a locked room, scared of what was going to happen to them now that their leader was gone, and questioning their belief in him as the Messiah.
Even when they visited the empty tomb on Sunday morning, they still didn’t understand what had happened, and their faith in Jesus was still very much shaken. It wasn’t until Jesus suddenly appeared to them in that locked room and taught them about the resurrection that their faith was revived. Jesus didn’t come to them because their faith was so strong that they caused him to appear to them, but rather he appeared to them to strengthen, confirm, and validate that their belief or faith in him was justified.
The faith that Moroni speaks about is not in ourselves or in our own abilities but in Christ. Furthermore, it is not merely our faith in Christ that gives us the power to do all things, but it is our faith in Christ that allows him to do mighty things for us.
The reason why Jesus didn’t show himself after his resurrection to the scribes and Pharisees who plotted to kill him was because they didn’t believe who he was. If he had appeared to them after he rose from the tomb they would have initially been shocked to see him alive but within a short time they would have found excuses to justify their unbelief in him. They would have reasoned that perhaps Jesus hadn’t really died and that his disciples had merely nursed him back to life, or perhaps this wasn’t really the man Jesus but someone who looked very much like him.
Moroni wrote that “by faith was the law of Moses given.” It wasn’t the faith of Moses that God couldn’t withhold giving the law to him but rather it was his great faith in God that God decided to give the law to him, knowing that he would be faithful in teaching it to his people.
God didn’t give the law to Aaron precisely because his faith was weak and he was prone to worshipping idols, despite all the miracles he had witnessed. And God didn’t give his law to Pharaoh for him to give to the Israelites because he had no faith in the God of the Israelites.
Moses performed astonishing miracles that no one could match but even so, the Pharaoh’s astrologers and soothsayers convinced him that these were merely magician’s tricks. It was the last miracle that finally convinced the Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go, but that wasn’t because of his belief in their God but because of his grief in losing his eldest son. And even then, it was only a short time later that he regretted his decision and sent his army to destroy the Israelites.
In the same way it is because of our faith in Christ that allows him to do mighty miracles in our life and the greater our faith in him the more miracles he is willing to do for us. At the same time, when our faith in him is lacking, the less inclined he is to show us miracles because, even if he should, instead of them increasing our faith in him we would find reasons to discount them.
This is why Moroni wrote, “For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them.” Some might interpret this to mean that God has no power to do miracles unless we first believe in him, but God doesn’t need our approval to do anything, therefore a clearer translation of this verse might be, “For if there be no faith among the children of men God will refuse to do any miracles among them.”
When Alma and Amulek were thrown into prison by the corrupt judges and lawyers of Annoniah, it wasn’t their faith that allowed them to bring down the walls of their prison. Instead, “Alma cried [unto God], saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them. And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.” (Alma 14:26,27, italics added).
Notice, as Alma cried out to the Lord he talks about “our faith which is in Christ.” Also, the reason why the “the walls of the prison were rent in twain” was not because Alma and Amulek commanded this to happen but, instead, “the earth shook mightily.” Today we would describe this as an earthquake, but it wasn’t through the power of Alma’s faith in Christ that he was able to cause the earth to shake so violently. It was Christ who caused the earthquake and he did it in response to Alma’s fervent plea for help.
When Alma cried out saying, “O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance” the Lord had mercy on them and infused them with such physical strength that “they broke the cords with which they were bound.” But that strength didn’t come because of their own power of faith in themselves but rather it came from Christ in answer to their prayer.
The people of Ammoniah believed in God but not in Christ and even though they had witnessed a mighty miracle, it didn’t do anything to change their attitude. In that case, there was no reason why God should answer their prayers the same way he had answered Alma’s. What we see then is that the Lord answered Alma’s prayers because of his faith in Christ, thus it is our faith in Christ that allows God to perform miracles in our behalf.
To better understand where Alma’s power came from we need to go back a little further in this chapter. Alma and Amulek had preached to the people of Ammoniah and although most of them firmly rejected his words, there were some who did believe. However, the people of Ammoniah were so angry at Alma that they gathered all those who did believe in his words and made Alma and Amulek watch as they put these believers to death by fire.
“And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames. But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing,” (Alma 14:10,11).
Amulek called on Alma to “stretch forth our hands and exercise the power of God which is in us and save them from the flames.” Watching this horrific scene of death must have been excruciatingly difficult for them but Alma replied that “the Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth my hand.” Whatever power Alma’s faith gave him came from the Lord and when the Lord commanded him not to use that power, it would have been contrary to Alma’s faith in Christ to disobey what the Spirit said. Hence, the power of Alma’s faith came from his obedience to God and not from the faith he had in himself to do whatever he wanted. Had he stretched forth his hand to save those whom he had just converted, it is very likely that nothing would have come of it.
If this is true then when “the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed,” he must not have removed the mountain according to the power of his own faith. It would be more consistent with the scriptures to assume that he did this under the command of God. For example, imagine God telling you to move a mountain. I think our first reaction would be that we couldn’t do it, but the brother of Jared’s faith was such that if God told him to move the mountain Zerim then he had full faith in Christ that he could do it.
Nephi had the same kind of faith. The Lord told him to go get the plates of brass from Laban and no matter what happened, Nephi never doubted that he could do it. So great was his faith that he said, “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7, italics added).
When God told Nephi to build a ship, and his brothers laughed and mocked him, he never doubted for a second that he could do it because of his faith in God. If God told him to build a ship then Nephi firmly believed that he could do it with the Lord’s help. And it was this same kind of faith in Christ that Ammon and his brethren had that allowed them to “wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites” in converting thousands of them to a belief in Christ.
Faith is indeed a great power and with it people have been able to accomplish many amazing things. It took great faith to build a rocket that could send people to the moon. It takes great faith to build a world-wide business. It takes faith to be a good father and husband, or mother and wife. The principle of faith is so powerful that even God uses it to create worlds and is able to control the universe.
But the greatest power of faith comes when we believe in Jesus Christ because it taps into his power. It’s like the key to an automobile that allows the holder the ability to turn on the power of the car’s engine. When that happens and we put the car in drive it will takes us to wherever we want to go without hardly any effort on our part.
Faith in Jesus Christ is the power needed for us to achieve eternal life and that faith isn’t about what we can do with it but what Christ can do with it for us. Faith in Christ doesn’t give us the power to do whatever we want but it does increases our power to be more diligent in doing what God asks of us. Therefore, our greatest goal in life should be to learn how to have more faith in Christ.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth