Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ
By Elder D. Todd Christofferson
This Christmas season, we are often inspired to consider Jesus Christ with more intensity than we might at other times of the year. While I don’t want to put any dampers on this magical and spiritual time, we might take the opportunity to ask ourselves the question of how we might view and consider Christ at other times of the year. That I personally love those periods of renewed strength and devotion that holidays bring, what kind of devotion do we bring the rest of the year?
As a class, I would like to read a story of Elijah that accompanies this talk in 1 Kings 21: 18-39.
To summarize, during the reign of King Ahab, the people were rather wishy washy between who they would serve, Baal or the Lord. Elijah counseled an ox to be prepared for sacrifice and that Baal and the Lord be asked to light the fire for the burnt offering.
Elder Christofferson muses that in today’s world Elijah might have said thoughts such as
Either God, our Heavenly Father, exists, or He does not, but if He exists, worship Him.
Either Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the resurrected Redeemer of mankind, or He is not, but if He is, follow Him.
Either the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or it is not, but if it is, then “get nearer to God by [studying and] abiding by its precepts.”7
Either Joseph Smith saw and conversed with the Father and the Son that spring day of 1820, or he did not, but if he did, then follow the prophetic mantle, including the keys of sealing that I, Elijah, bestowed upon him.
I have heard said, and even have said so myself, the claim that as long as we are loving and try our best, the afterlife shouldn’t be too harsh on us no matter what gospel truth turns out to be. I think those of us who say this mean very well, but it has made me consider the question “Wait! While hopefully trying my best and trusting I’m right about my beliefs shouldn’t leave me too much in trouble, what does this say about my own personal faith? Do I really truly believe what I believe or am I just hoping for the best?”
Elder Christofferson speaks of a continuum which we can draw here. The continuum goes between Social Motivation and Christlike Commitment. Now, I suppose there’s nothing horrible about doing good for socially motivated reasons—after all, the work and the good gets done and we can even chalk it up to that light of Christ we believe is in all people. But I think of that line from Gordon B. Hinkley of Good, Better, Best. Social motivation to do what’s right may have good results, but does not a stronger commitment to Christ encompass that and a whole lot more?
The people under King Ahab had a tendency to waver. Many claimed a decent belief in the God of Israel, but also clearly had few qualms about dallying in the worship of Baal. Whatever and whoever was handy at the time.
But when push came to shove, or rather when it came time to call upon someone to light the fires for sacrifice, was that polite social adherence to Baal enough?
I imagine that from day to day, year to year, we all find ourselves on different places along that spectrum, sometimes leaning more toward Social Motivation than working on our testimonies of the gospel of Christ. And while we can claim that this and that good came out of social motivation, which side of this continuum will certainly do more for us and for our world? Which will, so to speak, light the fire?
In the story of Elijah and the sacrifice, what led the people to finally and truly recognize the Lord and His Power? It was that dramatic action of the fire being lit and consuming everything. We often speak of faith and we realize how important it is to recognize the miracles of faith will not happen necessarily on our timelines. But sometimes some of us take it to mean faith is faith and that nothing will ever come of it because faith is the hope of things not seen.
So I ask for your consideration, how many of you have seen miracles great or small from your faith and testimony? Have you found your faith and testimony growing when you work on them? Can you deny small things that others have experienced? Can we really say a devotion of Christ is really for naught?
The people of Israel were not told to eschew Baal and have faith in the Lord for no reason. They were given quite the testimony-building experience. Maybe we won’t have anything so dramatic, but I hope and pray that when we truly turn toward our Heavenly Father and our Savior we will find our own hearts changing.
Elder Christofferson says To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate one’s heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of many influences in a person’s life but the defining focus of his or her life and character.
I think about this quote and look at this continuum. Is our devotion just one of many of our lovable personality traits or is an overlying definition that inspires all that we do?
Now, the hard truth for many of us is that we have experienced times when we are farther, much father from the Christlike Devotion side of things than we may like, or maybe we are at points where we don’t even care. Trials of faith are real. The realities and injustice of our fallen mortal world harm us and those we love. At those times we wonder why it is so easy for someone to speak of how wonderful faith and testimony are.
I have a few questions for you to either answer or even just consider privately.
What do you do when you or someone you love is struggling with a testimony?
How might you respond if a prayer goes unanswered or not answer the way you hoped?
How might your strengthen yourself and others?
How do you know when you have approached Christlike Commitment?
What do our lives look and feel like when we are working on our Christlike Commitment?
How can we react and strengthen ourselves and others when trials happen?
What supports are out there for us to use?
Elder Christofferson speaks of three personal examples he was privy to:
Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed, Christlike commitment to the will of God on the other. Somewhere along that continuum, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our heart and takes possession of our soul. It may not happen in an instant, but we should all be moving toward that blessed state.
It is challenging but vital to remain firm and steadfast when we find ourselves being refined “in the furnace of affliction,” something that comes soon or late to all of us in mortality. Without God, these dark experiences tend to despondency, despair, and even bitterness. With God, comfort replaces pain, peace replaces turmoil, and hope replaces sorrow. Remaining firm in the faith of Christ will bring His sustaining grace and support. He will convert trial into blessing and, in Isaiah’s words, “give … beauty for ashes.”
May I mention three examples of which I have personal knowledge:
There is a woman who suffers with a debilitating, chronic illness that persists despite medical attention, priesthood blessings, and fasting and prayers. Nevertheless, her faith in the power of prayer and the reality of God’s love for her is undiminished. She presses ahead day by day (and sometimes hour by hour) serving as called in the Church and, together with her husband, looking after her young family, smiling as much as she can. Her compassion for others runs deep, refined by her own suffering, and she often loses herself in ministering to others. She continues steadfast, and people feel happy being around her.
A man who grew up in the Church, served as a full-time missionary, and married a lovely woman was surprised when some of his siblings began speaking critically of the Church and the Prophet Joseph Smith. After a time they left the Church and tried to persuade him to follow. As often happens in such cases, they bombarded him with essays, podcasts, and videos produced by critics, most of whom were themselves disaffected former members of the Church. His siblings mocked his faith, telling him he was gullible and misled. He didn’t have answers for all their assertions, and his faith began to waver under the relentless opposition. He wondered if he should stop attending church. He talked with his wife. He talked with people he trusted. He prayed. As he meditated in this troubled state of mind, he recalled occasions when he had felt the Holy Spirit and had received a witness of truth by the Spirit. He concluded, “If I am honest with myself, I must admit that the Spirit has touched me more than once and the testimony of the Spirit is real.” He has a renewed sense of happiness and peace that is shared by his wife and children.
A husband and wife who have consistently and happily followed the counsel of the Brethren in their lives were grieved by the difficulty they experienced in having children. They expended substantial funds working with competent medical professionals, and, after a time, they were blessed with a son. Tragically, however, after only about a year, the baby was the victim of an accident that was no one’s fault but that left him semicomatose, with significant brain damage. He has received the best of care, but doctors cannot predict how things will unfold going forward. The child this couple worked and prayed so hard to bring into the world has in a sense been taken away, and they don’t know if he will be returned to them. They struggle now to care for their baby’s critical needs while meeting their other responsibilities. In this supremely difficult moment, they have turned to the Lord. They rely on the “daily bread” they receive from Him. They are aided by compassionate friends and family and strengthened by priesthood blessings. They have drawn closer to one another, their union perhaps now deeper and more complete than might otherwise have been possible.
We don’t know how our lives will go, or the lives of others. We have likely very little knowledge of each other’s experiences and faith and doubts. What we do have is the opportunity and support to make the time to consider where we are in growing in our devotion to Christ, working as best we can to be firm and steadfast in our faith.