This month’s Gospel Doctrine Lesson asks: “How has the testimony of the Three Witnesses helped strengthen your testimony of the Book of Mormon?” Have you ever given consideration to the fact that all three “witnesses” actually left the LDS church? Do you believe that faith without works is dead? If you do, then shouldn’t their faithless lives actually weaken your testimony of the Book of Mormon?
According to the Book of Mormon, these men were prophesied to one day declare to the world the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. But these three men all left Mormonism. Their lack of action is evidence that their faith was dead, their testimony false.
I once had a testimony that the LDS Church was true. When I discovered that my testimony was false I went searching to find the true church. I spent nine years between Mormonism and Christianity and met people from all kinds of faiths. I discovered many people with a testimony in their church. I even met Atheists, Shamans and Agnostics with a strongly held “faith” that what they believed was true. What I quickly realized is that the sincerity of a person’s testimony doesn’t necessarily mean that what they believe in is true. It just means they have “faith” in something.
Through all my searching there was one thing I clearly believed: every person has to do some level of good works in order to live eternally with God. In the back of my head I always remembered what I had been taught as a Mormon—that “faith without works is dead”. What I didn’t know then is that the Biblical teaching “faith without works is dead” has nothing to do with where we spend eternity and why.
After the Holy Spirit brought me to faith in the true Christ, I enjoyed reading the book of James with new eyes. I discovered that James’ point isn’t “how” we are saved, but how to identify real faith when we see it. He claims that what uniquely identifies a “faith” in the one true God is that it is alive!
Faith is a gift from God placed in a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit. The very moment a person is brought to faith, that person crosses over from spiritual death to being spiritually alive—truly “born-again” (John 5:24). Just as a newborn baby can’t help but breathe in and out, and to cry for food; when someone is “born-again” with a new spiritual life, they will do good works—they can’t help it! James emphasizes this point by saying that faith without works is like a dead body without a spirit. Even if someone claims to have a testimony of faith, if works are absent, then that faith isn’t really a living faith, its dead.
Through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost James uses three witnesses to make his point—himself, Abraham and Rahab. He uses the actions of these three witnesses as proof that a living faith always produces works. His first witness is himself. He contrasts his own life of both faith and works with that of a man who claims to have faith, yet has no works. His outward visible actions prove his testimony of faith.
Through Abraham’s witness, James gives us the vital key that faith comes first, and then works automatically follow. Because faith is alive—like a living creature; it naturally produces the “fruit” of works. Similar to an apple tree bearing the fruit of an apple, a living faith will bear the fruit of good works, naturally and without being forced. Good works are merely proof that faith is present. Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac on the altar was one of many actions that evidenced his faith. His actions were the “fruit” of his faith and proved that his faith was true. Because his faith was alive, good works followed. It was not his works that made his faith alive.
We read that Abraham’s actions fulfilled a scripture from Genesis: “Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6). Here James clarifies a very important point—that a person’s faith gains him righteousness—not his works. Abraham had been declared righteous by God many years before he proved his faith by his works, even long before Isaac was born! Before Abraham was credited with righteousness; he had kept no law, performed no service or ordinance that had earned credit to his account before God. It was his belief in God alone that caused Heavenly Father to credit him with righteousness. James testifies that Abraham’s works were merely the evidence that he had already been made righteous by God.
The third witness is Rahab the harlot (who hid the spies at Jericho). Her strong faith and written testimony are found in Joshua: “for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath”. Her life is a vivid example of how a woman had faith and then acted on it. Not only did she risk her life by rescuing Joshua’s spies, she lived the remainder of her life in Israel. She got married and became the mother of Boaz, Jesse’s Grandfather; and King David’s Great Grandmother.
The faithful lives of these three witnesses proved that their faith was alive and true. They had been born-again, just as Jesus taught that we must be: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
What happens when we look at the lives of the men who were prophesied to be witnesses to the Book of Mormon?:
“Who were the three witnesses Moroni spoke of in Ether 5:3? (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris: “And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true.” (Ether 5:3) See The Testimony of Three Witnesses in the introductory material of the Book of Mormon.) (Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Lesson 45: Never Has Man Believed in Me As Thou Hast, p. 201)
These men had supposedly been shown the power of God. They claimed to have a strong testimony that the Book of Mormon was true. And yet when we look at their actions, their lack of works proving they were alive spiritually—we know their faith was dead. It’s when we read these three men’s testimony in the introduction to the Book of Mormon that we know why their faith was dead. They declared that one day they could be found spotless because of their own works. They testified:
“And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ.”
This testimony shows that they didn’t trust that God had already made them righteous because of their faith–as Abraham had done. They didn’t know what James knew and taught about Abraham: a person is found spotless in God’s sight through their faith—not their works!
The Apostle Paul taught the same thing as Moses and James. He revealed that God’s promise to Abraham was not written merely for Abraham’s sake, but also for yours:
“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 4:20-5:1)