19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?
20 Now of this thing ye must judge. Behold, I say unto you, that it is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work.
In the middle of a sermon on faith, Alma asks a rhetorical question, then provides a partial answer.
The question: How much worse is it to sin when you know the will of God than when you only believe it? Alma has just taught the people that faith means believing without knowing for sure. To say that you will believe only after you have evidence is to fail to exercise faith. His question implies that God withholds knowledge to reduce our culpability when we sin: we would be worse off if we sinned after gaining knowledge than if we sinned after only believing. There are lots of scriptures which support this thesis. (See, for example, Helaman 7:24, Alma 45:12, and Mosiah 3:11-12.)
However, Alma qualifies his position a little: “Now of this thing ye must judge,” he says. It’s not a binary issue–knowing vs. believing. As the apostle Paul taught, we all “know in part.” The excuse that you “only believed” doesn’t seem like a very strong defense for a person who intentionally chose to sin.
Then he goes on: “It is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work.” In other words, whether you sin with a knowledge of the truth or only with a belief in the truth, it’s still a sin. The consequences of your sin will surely follow unless you repent and access the grace of God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The more you know before you choose to sin, the less likely you may be to humble yourself and repent, but in either case, you will only receive a remission of your sins when you acknowledge your sin and seek forgiveness.
Today, I will remember the importance of acting in harmony with what I know to be true, and also with what I believe to be true. I will remember that “it shall be unto [me] according to [my] work,” and I will strive to live as well as I can and to repent when I fall short.