Teaching by Faith
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“Teaching by Faith,” Liahona, Sept. 2003, 10

Teaching by Faith

From an address to Church Educational System educators given in Bountiful, Utah, on 1 February 2002.

When we teach youth by the Spirit, hearts will be touched and lives will be affected.

Elder Robert D. Hales

The responsibilities of gospel teachers in the home and at church are many, and in order to meet these responsibilities, teachers must first strive for personal righteousness. As teachers and parents of youth, we must live the gospel in such a way that we will have the Spirit to ever be with us. If we live worthily, the Spirit will always be with us. We can then teach by the Spirit. When we teach by the Spirit, youth will be able to feel it and to receive the Spirit. Hearts will be touched, and lives will be affected.

You will recall the story related in the book of Mosiah about Abinadi standing bound before the wicked King Noah. Abinadi taught the gospel with the fire of the Spirit. He gave stern and specific warnings as he boldly taught the principle of repentance. Although Abinadi taught by the Spirit, King Noah was not touched. Alma, however, who was in the court and heard the testimony, was converted (see Mosiah 12:9–17:2). We do not always know whom we will reach, but I promise you that as you teach and testify by the Spirit, you will reach those who are ready to be taught.

We cannot forget the importance of faith. Teaching by the Spirit is really an exercise in faith. For every concept that we teach and everything of which we testify, we need to rely on the Holy Ghost, that we may touch the hearts of those for whom we have responsibility. We teach by faith; we teach by the Spirit; we boldly declare our testimony.

Apply Gospel Principles

My concern is that there is a difference between what our youth know about the gospel as opposed to what they do to apply gospel principles in their lives. This is where we as teachers are very important.

As teachers, we must require our young people to think. I will never forget the lessons I learned from a Sunday School teacher when I was about 10 years old. For Christmas we were given a large card that had small, individual booklets inside, each with a story from the Bible: David and Goliath, the Creation, Daniel and the lions’ den. There was a long series of wonderful Bible stories. We read each one at home and came to class prepared to discuss them. I can vividly remember those teaching moments to this day.

After discussing each story, we were asked questions such as “What does that mean to you?” “How does this scripture [or story or principle] relate to your life?” “How can you apply this teaching in your home?” “How do you feel about it?” I later found in my own home with my boys that once I asked these questions, they began to live and feel what they were being taught.

We were asked to think. We were not learning only the stories. We were discovering how we could apply them in our lives. My teacher was planting the seed of faith and helping it grow within each of us.

We teach the scriptures in story form, and we need to apply them in the lives of these young people where they can be more effective. Our youth have to be able to recall stories and the truths of the gospel principles in their lives when they need them the most.

John Greenleaf Whittier eloquently wrote, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, / The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”1 There is nothing more tragic than for a person to look back at what might have been. Nor do we want those we teach to go through life without knowing that they are children of God; without knowing the plan of salvation; and without knowing why they are on this earth, who they are, and how to conduct their lives. If they realize this great plan, they can endure all of the tests of life, deflect the fiery darts of the adversary, endure to the end, and gain the final rewards of the plan of happiness.

Teach the importance and power of pondering; provide time to ponder, to think, and to exchange ideas. Use practical application: “What does that mean to you?” Ponder and pray. Ask the youth to describe the thoughts and impressions given to them and what they are feeling. Faith-promoting incidents occur in teaching when students take a role in teaching and testifying to their peers. It is very important to have open discussion about the importance of prayer and scripture study so that the youth can help one another and be supportive.

It is a process. Allow them to emerge in the time they are with you. We need to give them the ability to learn from the mistakes of others, such as an older brother or sister or maybe a friend, and give them examples from the scriptures, so they don’t have to go through each mistake themselves. The scriptures tell all of the things that happen when we are not obedient. Our youth do not have to repeat the mistakes and endure the pain.

Get to Know Youth

Learning for some people comes with more difficulty than for others. This aspect of learning requires teachers who know their students and their learning ability. Great teachers not only know the subject they are teaching but, just as important, they understand the needs of their students. Great students learn from their teachers, are willing to take correction, and express gratitude for a teacher’s caring counsel. You, as great teachers, teach young people who they are and motivate them to fulfill their potential for eternal salvation.

Get to know what is happening in the lives of the youth. We have to know of their concerns and what they are facing—why they act the way they do and why they say the things they say.

Recognize when a young person is ready to use his or her agency and has the strength to make decisions. Part of the teaching process is to give our students a foreshadowing to help them prepare for the challenges they are going to have to meet in the future.

Wouldn’t we all sometimes like to avoid the tests and trials of this mortal probation?

Achilles, one of the great heroes of Greek mythology, was the hero of Homer’s Iliad. In addition to Homer’s account of Achilles, there are other fables or folklore about Achilles and his mother, Thetis.

According to some accounts, Thetis endeavored to make Achilles immortal by dipping him in the River Styx. She succeeded in making Achilles invulnerable, with the exception of his heel by which she held him. Achilles grew up to be invincible, a warrior of great strength, leading the Greek army against Troy in full armor.

The death of Achilles is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. In other stories he is said to have been killed by an arrow of Paris directed by Apollo to his only vulnerability—his heel.

Wouldn’t every parent or every gospel teacher like to find the secret of protecting youth, making them invulnerable to the fiery darts of the adversary? Unfortunately, we cannot protect our children from the slings and arrows of mortality. Our challenges, learning experiences, and opposition are meant to strengthen us, not defeat us or destroy us.

Develop Faith to Prepare for Life’s Storms

How important it is during troubled times, when we are tested, that we do not do anything to lose the Holy Ghost’s gentle persuasions, comfort, peace, and direction. These impressions will help us make the correct choices in life in order to weather the storms and bring us closer to God’s ways.

It is our job to help our youth prepare to make the weighty decisions so that when challenges come, they will choose wisely. Because we know that they have their agency and that there is “opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11), our objective is to help them take upon themselves “the whole armour of God” (Eph. 6:11, 13; see also D&C 27:15) so that they will be able to withstand “the fiery darts of the adversary” (1 Ne. 15:24; D&C 3:8; see also Eph. 6:16) with “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17; see also D&C 27:18) and “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16; D&C 27:17) and to endure to the end and be worthy to stand and live in the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, for all the eternities.

There are many examples in the scriptures of those who learned these lessons well and listened to the still, small voice of warning. Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. Joseph was told to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. Lehi and his family were also told to flee. The youth must learn that they cannot stay around in an evil situation. Too often I have met young people who think they can stand with one foot in Babylon, or wicked and worldly circumstances.

As gospel teachers, we want nothing more for our youth than for them to succeed. Sometimes we want it so badly we try to will it to happen. But we cannot will faith in our children. Faith comes from the inside, based upon our desire to receive it and to exercise it in our lives, that through the Spirit we will have abiding faith and show it in our actions.

So often we try to bring someone into the gospel by only our desire. That may be very important in the initial phases. But a true teacher, once he or she has taught the facts and the students gain the knowledge, takes them a step farther to gain the spiritual witness and the understanding in their hearts that bring about the action and the doing.

This is what we have to do in measuring another’s understanding with our questions and discussions. We must be doing our best to measure where each young person is on the road to faith. In many cases young people will not know where they are on that journey until they have opposition. That is when they will be tested. That is why we were given this marvelous scripture: “And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6).

The reason we pray, study the scriptures, have good friends, and live the gospel through obedience to the commandments is so that when—not if, but when—the trials come, we are ready.

A rancher interviewed a number of men in the process of trying to find a new ranch foreman. All one man said when asked if he could do the job was, “I can sleep through the storm.” Soon after he was hired, a torrential storm came with gale-force winds and pelting rain. The rancher went to the bunkhouse and banged on the door. He couldn’t believe that the new foreman was in there sleeping. He was angry with the foreman and let words fly. The foreman responded, “I told you when you hired me that I could sleep through a storm.”

Upon inspection of the ranch, the rancher found that the animals were all taken care of, tarps covered the equipment and the haystacks, buildings were secure, everything was tied down—everything was taken care of. After riding through the night inspecting the ranch, the ranch owner understood what it meant to be able to say, “I can sleep through the storm.”

As we help our youth develop faith, we are preparing them for the storm—the storms of life that will come. We are preparing them to make the right choices, but we are also preparing them to endure to the end.

An insightful poem has been written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox entitled “The Winds of Fate”:

One ship drives east and another drives west

With the selfsame winds that blow.

’Tis the set of the sails

And not the gales

Which tells us the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,

As we voyage along through life:

’Tis the set of a soul

That decides its goal,

And not the calm or the strife.2

The turbulent storms will come in the lives of our young people, just as they have and will continue in ours. Teaching our youth to weather the storm comes back to the basics: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, prayer, study, pondering, changing our hearts, and repentance.

When the storm comes because of the problems youth put upon themselves because of disobedience, we can teach them and help them to understand that they can be forgiven. As the Lord said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).

A Testimony Is Not Genetic

When we teach our children that they must walk the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life, we must understand that a testimony is not genetic. That is, we are not born with a testimony. Likewise, a testimony does not pass automatically from generation to generation without the examples of good teachers instilling a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of gospel truths. The Spirit will bear that testimony deep within the heart, so there is an understanding of the heart.

What does pass through generations is the believing blood of Israel, which affords one the opportunity to be taught and to believe and eventually to know with a surety of gospel truths.

President Heber J. Grant (1856–1945), when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught:

“I have heard people say that their children were born heirs to all the promises of the new and everlasting covenant, and that they would grow up in spite of themselves, with a knowledge of the Gospel. I want to say to you that this is not a true doctrine, and it is in direct opposition to the commandment of our Heavenly Father. We find that it is laid down to the Latter-day Saints, not as an entreaty, but as a law, that they should teach their children:

“‘And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her Stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands when eight years old; the sin be upon the heads of the parents;

“‘For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her Stakes which are organized;

“‘And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands,

“‘And they shall also teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord’ [see D&C 68:25–28].”3

Teachers assist parents in this responsibility. Many young people don’t have parents who can teach them the gospel, so many of them rely on their teachers. In those cases the teacher’s role becomes critical, as teachers may be their main source of example and gospel knowledge.

Youth and young adults need guidance as they study the gospel, live it, and gain a testimony for themselves.

Turn Youth to the Lord

Each teacher has the desire of the heart to be as an angel. This is good, but it is a great temptation to play the part of the Pied Piper and to figure that you are going to gather the youth around you and love them into a testimony, or to feel that if you can become very popular, you can lead and be the role model and make a difference in the lives of your youth.

While this may be true to a degree, there is nothing more dangerous than when students turn their love and attention to the teacher—the same way a convert sometimes does to a missionary—rather than to the Lord. And then if the teacher or missionary leaves or conducts his or her life contrary to the teachings of the gospel, the students are devastated. Their testimonies falter. Their faith is destroyed. The really great teacher is careful to have the students turn themselves to the Lord.

Once we have touched the lives of the youth, we have to turn them to God the Father and His Son, our Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ, through prayer, study, and the application in their lives of gospel principles.

Gospel knowledge is for the benefit of others as well as ourselves. We need to teach our youth that with all they are learning about the gospel, they are being placed on higher ground to lift others through their faith and testimony. Having an understanding of the heart is more than just saving themselves. Through knowledge, faithfulness, spirituality, and strength, they become greater servants.

We don’t receive the reward of exaltation alone. We help bring along our eternal companions, our families, our extended families, and our friends.

We live in the last dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of times. The priesthood will never be taken from the earth again as we prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. No one knows when He will come. We are told in the scriptures that Satan will tempt us in the last days before the Savior comes again. For this reason, our children need to know that God and Jesus Christ will always love them and answer their prayers. This knowledge will bring them abiding strength.

In Romans chapter 8 we read:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38–39).

Faith is a gift of God. As we seek for faith, it will be granted unto us. Then we can teach others how to gain faith and have that faith with us always. Faith comes through our obedience to living laws and ordinances. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).

May the Lord’s choicest blessings be with you as you teach and testify of this great work and influence the next generation of Saints and parents. May you have the Spirit attend you to discern the spiritual needs of the youth as they prepare themselves to live in this world and not be of the world. May you listen to their pleas for guidance and be positive role models in their lives.

In your teaching labors, impress upon the youth that they are indeed children of God. May blessings attend you as you love, care, and lead them in righteousness. As you live the gospel in your lives and homes, so will you teach by the Spirit of God.


  1. “Maud Muller,” The Complete Poetical Works of Whittier (1894), 48.

  2. James Dalton Morrison, ed., Masterpieces of Religious Verse (1948), 314.

  3. “Duty of Parents to Children,” Deseret Weekly, 2 June 1894, 733.

Detail from Abinadi Appearing before King Noah, by Arnold Friberg

Illustrations by Michael T. Malm