"I testify that Jesus Christ lives—He is the living Son of the living God. As others have said, “He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, <i>The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles</i> (Jan. 1, 2000). "
First, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
I was born in Santa Ana, California, but many of my growing up years were spent about 12 miles outside Midland, Texas where my parents and five brothers and I lived in a trailer home, parked on an acre of land along a dirt road. It was a hot, windy, dusty, and a wonderful place. My brothers and I found childhood adventures in the mesquite-covered wilderness over the barbed wire fence to the west and played on a makeshift baseball diamond in a field of prairie grass nearby. I’ve seen my share of rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and horned frogs in the wild, and I know what prickly pear cactus tastes like. My family did not have much in the ways of the world, but we did have many blessings because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of these blessings for me has been a deep, abiding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I feel I have known for a very long time that He lives, that He knows and loves us, that His atoning sacrifice provides a way for us to be cleansed from sin and overcome the disappointment, grief, and pain that come with mortal life.
It is about this faith in Jesus Christ I would like to talk today, and I would like to share some simple personal experiences about how faith in Jesus Christ has sustained me when life has not gone exactly as planned.
The Fourth Article of Faith begins, “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…”
Recently, I have pondered what it means for faith in Jesus Christ to be first. As a gospel principle, faith in Jesus Christ comes before repentance, before baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is foundational to understanding our relationship with God and to righteous living. Faith in Jesus Christ helps us comprehend God’s plan of salvation and our purposes in mortality. We know that the plan is for us to return to God and to become more like our heavenly parents, and Jesus Christ provides the atoning sacrifice that makes those aims possible. Indeed, faith in Jesus Christ is essential to receiving our eternal salvation and dwell with our families after this life.
Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen... without faith it is impossible to please him: for [they] that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1, 6)
Our faith in Jesus Christ will empower us to trust in God, hope for a bright future, and rely on the grace and power of his atonement as we move through both the blessings and challenges of life.
Indeed, as I’ve pondered faith in Jesus Christ as the first principle of the gospel, I’ve also considered practical applications. It’s not just that faith has logical or conceptual primacy and eternal significance, but we can turn to this elementary principle in our day-to-day lives when we feel doubts or burdens. Let me suggest that if we are struggling in some way that we spend some time first nurturing our faith in Jesus Christ.
In one of my church callings a few years ago, I would often have the chance to talk with members of my home ward, one-on-one, in close, personal conversations about their faith. Some expressed their struggle to live the commandments. They wanted to be pure and obedient. They wanted to serve others with love, gratitude, and joy. They wanted to have a better relationship with God, but they also felt burdened, even debilitated, by transgressions or doubts. I would encourage them in their activity, but effectively, I could hear some of them say, “first, I need to stop using pornography,” or “first, I need to start attending church again” or “first, I need to get a testimony of a particular church policy or gospel doctrine.” I say, “yes, those things will need to happen, but first work on your faith in Christ. He can help you with those other things.”
I remember not long ago a general church leader visited our stake in Provo, Utah. He referred to the “Rs” of repentance, which I heard about years ago as a way to remember how to repent. The list often includes recognition, remorse, restitution, and reformation. In some ways, it was a handy list, but the leader pointed out that it normally left out the most important “Rs”: The Redeemer and our need to rely on Him. We know that repentance is not really a checklist of things we do so much as it is a change of heart, a change in direction, a change of behavior based on our faith in Jesus Christ and the power of His Atonement to help us overcome and move forward. See Russell M. Nelson, We Can Do Better and Be Better, General Conference (Apr. 2019).
Before moving on, I should say, of course, that faith being “first” does not mean that we have to have a full and perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ before we engage with any other gospel principle. Remember, “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things,” and our faith in Jesus Christ is an ongoing gift that we should nurture and nourish. (Alma 32:21, 28-34) My point today, or one of them, is that if we are struggling with some aspect of the gospel or with life, and even if we are not, that we first look to ensure the foundational gospel principle of faith in Jesus Christ is in place.
Also, I’m not suggesting faith is sufficient alone to overcome life’s challenges. Life is complicated, and individual situations are full of nuance. Moreover, people with great faith in Jesus Christ still have challenges. They still experience loss, and heartache, and grief. But, working on our faith in Jesus Christ is a wonderful foundation to addressing concerns in life. And so, I repeat, “first, faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
With that, I’d like to share a few personal experiences that have underscored for me the significance of having faith in Jesus Christ, especially when life does not go as expected or planned. These experiences are my own, and they are not grand or dramatic, but they are meaningful to me. I hope you don’t mind me sharing them with you.
When I was a small boy, probably about the age of five, I was in the living room of our home. My aunt was visiting and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had thought about this question already. Confidently, I told her I would be a doctor. Then she asked me, “what kind?” Well, it had never occurred to me that there were different kinds of doctors, so I asked her, “what kinds are there?” She responded, “well, you could be a neurosurgeon.” “What’s that,” I asked, and she explained it was a doctor that worked on brains. “I want to do that!” I declared. And the die was cast, at least for the next seventeen years. I was going to be a neurosurgeon.
Although only five years old, I took that decision seriously. Over time, I studied the subject on my own. In elementary school and high school, I did projects on medicine and the human brain and nervous system. I gravitated toward related classes. In high school, I read a biography about a neurosurgeon that absolutely fascinated me. As I grew up, I told everyone that’s what I wanted to do.
And then, I came to my first semester of college, which for me was in January 1997 when I was 22 years old. I attended a 7 a.m. class that was designed for students considering medical school. The first few sessions were very interesting, but I had this growing feeling it wasn’t for me, and this realization was mildly despairing. For years, I had been planning for this. I had given myself to it and told others what I would do. And here it seemed I was on the wrong path.
I dropped that 7 a.m. class, and for most of that semester, at least with respect to my future vocation, I wandered in a metaphorical wilderness, unsure of what to do as I gradually abandoned my childhood aspirations.
In the meantime, I did immerse myself in my general studies, embracing the joy of learning for its own sake. I loved my basic writing course, my American civics class, and even college algebra. I didn’t know what my educational and professional path should be, but I knew I wanted to live the gospel and serve others.
And that was likely the key. It didn’t matter as much what professional path I chose. What mattered more were my covenants and commitment to follow the Lord. My faith in Jesus Christ came first; He would help me take care of the rest.
The book of Proverbs gives this counsel: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Similarly, the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught, “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” (Jacob 4:10)
As I prayed, pondered, and studied for months, my answer eventually came. And it was definitely a feeling more than a thought, though much thought had gone into it. The best way for me to continue to serve God and others in a vocation was to become a lawyer. So, I identified the shortest major to get me to law school and set to work.
On a lighter note, I’m sure it would have never worked out for me to be a neurosurgeon. As fascinated as I was academically with human anatomy and physiology, I realized later—around the birth of my first son—that I’m prone to get lightheaded and pass out around needles and scalpels and operating rooms—not good for the surgeon!
Now let me relate another experience. This one may seem more relevant to other gospel principles besides faith, and it is probably not all that unique to me. But, it is part of my striving to first have faith in Jesus Christ and live the gospel, and, in any event, I have felt impressed to share it.
Once as a very new lawyer, I was staffed on a large case relating to an industrial facility located in the middle of the jungle in Mexico, about an hour away from La Ciudad del Carmen in the state of Campeche. This is not the beautiful resort town, Playa del Carmen you may have heard of, near Cancún’s crystal blue waters on Mexico’s eastern coast. This is a city at the Laguna de Términos on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico where the city and beaches are fine, but the seawater tends to be more brown and turbid.
Because of the legal case, I had to travel a few times to Mexico to visit the facility. Once, while in La Ciudad del Carmen, a group of lawyers, and engineers, and executives from our client organized a dinner at a nice restaurant. Though I was a very young associate attorney on the matter, I was invited. The meal was excellent, the conversation lively, and, like many dinners in this part of the world, stretched late into the evening. Then, as the evening seemed to be drawing to a close, and almost without warning, our head waiter walked in with a tray of small glasses. Each was filled with a liquid, which, while I remember being colorless, I knew was not water! It seems our esteemed host had arranged an expensive alcoholic drink for a toast with his guests.
As the waiter brought around the glasses, I found myself in a real-life Sunday School lesson! I had heard the stories just like this one—we all have! The important professional event, the church member surrounded by more experienced colleagues and being offered an alcoholic beverage that is clearly an expected part of the social occasion. And, for me, I was far, far from home, on the edge of the ocean and the jungle—the only people who would ever know were right there in the room. I suppose I could have quietly taken the glass.
But, instead, I did what the actors in those Sunday School stories did. As the waiter arrived at my seat, I politely held up my hand and said “no, gracias.” Almost to my horror, from the front of the table, came the voice of our esteemed client, calling me out, “Chris, why will you not take the drink?” All eyes were on me, or they seemed to be. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but I think I stammered something like, “in my religion, we don’t drink alcohol.” My words seemed to hang in the air, and I imagine everyone wondering what the host would do next or feeling irritated that this novice was spoiling the fun. In reality, there was probably no pause, but to my great relief and surprise, the host said, “Chris, I want you to teach me about your religion.”
That host and I became good friends, and we had many excellent conversations, going running together in Carmen and back in the U.S. and enjoying meals without alcohol, as well as our work together on the case.
I know this story is not especially unique. Members of our faith often face social drinking situations in their work, and most people respect our desire to live a religious law of health. Still, in that moment, my Sunday School learning moved from the theoretical to the practical almost before I could blink, and I’m grateful for the foundation I had of gospel living when I was asked why I would not partake.
There’s an oft-quoted line of scripture in the New Testament in which Peter counsels, “be ready always to give an answer to every[one] who asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you . . .” (1 Peter 3:15) Less quoted is the phrase immediately before this line in the same verse: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every[one] who asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you …” (1 Peter 3:15)
Sanctifying, or reverencing, the Lord in our hearts could be part of nurturing our faith in Him and puts us in a better position to respond well to the situations we face—both those that are expected and those that are not. We prepare ourselves daily by developing faith in Jesus Christ and strengthening our relationship with him.
Finally, let me tell you about one other time in my life when my faith in Jesus Christ became critical to enduring.
In December 1989, when I was 15 years old, I received some very bad news. Given our socioeconomic circumstances, it was not common for members of my family to go to a doctor when sick. So, one evening, when my Dad told us he was taking our mom to the hospital, we knew it must be serious. At the hospital, Mom went through a battery of tests and even a surgery. Several days later, Dad gathered us in the living room of our home while Mom was still at the hospital, and he told us something I never expected to hear in a million years. Mom had colon cancer.
I was stunned, of course. Cancer was something I had heard about happening to other people, but here it was happening to my Mom, the heart of our home.
My reaction was to go immediately to my room. I had a little closet in the corner of the room with a door. There was enough space for me to step inside and close the door behind me, which I did. I knelt down and for the first time in my life, I really prayed to my Heavenly Father. I had said many, many prayers before then, but this was the first time I really prayed. I asked God to save my Mom, to heal her. I think I said “please” with more feeling, more intent, more hope and faith than I ever had before.
And then I stopped, and I listened, and I had an experience. I did not see a vision or hear a voice. I did not feel impressed that my mother would be saved. But another feeling and awareness overcame me. I knew that God was real. He was near me and heard my prayer. He knew me, and He loved me, and that would be true no matter what happened with Mom.
Well, my family moved forward with hope, seeking a miracle. We prayed. We fasted. Our whole ward family did, unitedly exercising our collective faith that God could and would heal my Mom. She received chemotherapy treatments that made her unbelievably sick, and her friends from the ward came in to help her care for her young children and her home. We received an outpouring of love and support, meals, help with household chores and rides, more prayers, more faith and hope. Mom received priesthood blessings from my Dad and even one from an apostle who came to visit our stake.
But then, after many months, and in spite of all the faith and efforts made by so many who genuinely cared, loved, and believed, the cancer claimed her life. I was sixteen years old.
I sometimes reflect upon this difficult time for my family. In the years since losing my mom, I still miss her deeply, of course, and the experiences I might have had with her and my children. But, my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has been a constant anchor. (See Ether 12:4) I know He lives and loves us regardless of the challenges we’re called upon to endure.
I’ve found this quote from President Dallin H. Oaks instructive and helpful: “… faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a conviction and trust that God knows us and loves us and will hear our prayers and answer them with what is best for us. In fact, God will do more than what is best for us. He will do what is best for us and for all of our Heavenly Father’s children. The conviction that the Lord knows more than we do and that he will answer our prayers in the way that is best for us and for all of his other children is a vital ingredient of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dallin H. Oaks, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, General Conference (April 1994).
Like Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, “I do not know the meaning of all things,” but I do know that God loves us. 1 Nephi 11:17. I do not know why my mom had to suffer and then leave us, but I do know that I would not be who I am today without that experience, and I would not know the Lord as I do. To me, first having faith in Jesus Christ means we’ll have faith in Him even when things don’t go as hoped for and planned—especially when things don’t go as hoped for and planned.
I testify that Jesus Christ lives—He is the living Son of the living God. As others have said, “He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles (Jan. 1, 2000). There is no pain so profound, no despair so dark, that He will not help us, if we let him. Indeed, if we will have faith in Him, we will “have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in Him. (Moroni 7:33) Of these things I testify, in His name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.