Monday, October 15, 2012

Testimony and Conversion

In Matthew 16, Christ asks his disciples, 'Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?' The disciples relayed the speculation of the day that perhaps Christ was one of several possible Old Testament prophets returned to fulfill some prior prophecy. Christ then asked, 'But whom say ye that I am?' Peter responded, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Christ responded with a one sentence sermon on testimony:  'Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven' (v. 13-17).

To have a testimony of the gospel is to have a knowledge in our hearts and minds that it is true. The Holy Ghost can witness to our souls that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that the authority and doctrine of Christ's church was restored through Joseph Smith, and of all other things which are true.

The holy scriptures record the testimonies of dozens of prophets and disciples of Christ from the beginning of the world to modern times. Job testified almost four thousand years ago:  'For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God' (Job 19:25-26). Likewise, Alma testified to the people of the ancient Americas that 'the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me' (Alma 7:13).

In the dawn of the current gospel dispensation the prophet Joseph Smith declared:

And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father-- That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God (D&C 76:22-24).

The Holy Ghost has provided a divine witness of Christ to the thoughts and feelings of sincere inquirers in every era of time and upon every continent where people have asked God to know the truth. None of us can obtain a testimony entirely on our own; it is a gift that must be given to us. We gain our testimonies as the Holy Ghost shares his; similarly, sharing our testimonies with others invites the Holy Ghost to testify all who hear it, ourselves included.

Though testimonies are given as divine gifts, our hearts and minds are prepared to receive testimony as we desire to have it and show our desire through obedience to God's commandments. The same Alma mentioned above once compared testimony to a seed that must be planted and nourished in order to grow (Alma 32:28-42). As the laws of biology explain the growth of a seed, the laws of the gospel will teach us what we must to to receive the faith and testimony we desire.

The Lord taught Joseph Smith that the first step is to ask in prayer. 'If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peacable things-- that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal' (D&C 42:61).

It is up to each of us to nourish and grow the knowledge we desire to have with all the time and attention we might give a growing plant in our garden. The Lord promises that 'every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened' (Matthew 7:8).

As necessary as it is to receive a testimony of the gospel, testimony alone is insufficient to bring about salvation. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has explained: 'To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to become converted, which requires us to do and to become' ('The Challenge to Become, October 2000). Christ taught, 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven' (Matthew 7:21). In other words, 'Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18:3).

This is the same message King Benjamin delivered to his people about 124 years before the coming of Christ. He taught:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them (Mosiah 4:9-10).

As we allow our testimonies to direct our actions we will experience a change of heart. The people of King Benjamin had 'a mighty change... in [their] hearts, that [they had] no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually' as a result of their obedience to the words of their prophet-king. Almost 40 years later, King Benjamin's grandsons helped a rival kingdom to experience a similar conversion.

Faith in the words of scripture and the courage to repent and change transformed the once bloodthirsty, angry, warmongering rivals into a steadfast, faithful, and peaceful people. Allowing their testimonies to guide their actions, the people who called themselves Anti-Nephi-Lehis buried their weapons and knelt in prayer even as the disbelievers among them massacred thousands of their friends, family members and countrymen. In turn, the actions of this converted people eventually softened the hearts of the disbelievers and inspired tens of thousands to plant the seed of conversion in their hearts (Alma 24).

The people of King Benjamin and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis are examples of the dedication, commitment, miracles and strength that can and will occur in the converted heart.

Paul taught the Ephesians that all testimony has been given that we may all attain 'the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). In the most recent general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: 'Only when our testimony transcends what is in our mind and burrows deep into our heart will our motivation to love and to serve become like unto the Savior's. It is then, and only then, that we become deeply converted disciples of Christ empowered by the Spirit to reach the hearts of our fellowmen'.

Elder Oaks has taught that 'this process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.'

He continued, 'It is not enough for anyone to just go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become... Now is the time for each of us to work toward our personal conversion, toward becoming what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.'

We take the 'next logical step in our complete conversion to the gospel of Christ by assimilating its doctrines deep within our hearts and our souls so we will act and live consistently--and with integrity--what we profess to believe.  This integrity simplifies our lives and amplifies our sensitivities to the Spirit and to the needs of others. It brings joy into our lives and peace to our souls--the kind of joy and peace that comes to us as we repent of our sins and follow the Savior by keeping His commandments' (Ballard, 2012).

What things might you profess to believe without living that belief consistently? Is there a variance between how important you say your family is and how important you treat your family? Could someone quickly discern your faith in Christ by the language you use, the discipline you exercise in your life, or what you choose to do for entertainment and recreation?

In our attempt to take the next step toward the consistent, joyous life of a converted disciple, Elder Ballard reminded us to seek opportunities to serve those around us. He promised that 'if you do this--at home, at school, at work, and at church... you will be prompted by the Spirit and magnificently motivated to help pollinate the world with the pure love of Christ and His gospel'.

Elder Oaks also shared practical counsel for becoming converted. As we take the next step, he advised, 'we should remember that our family relationships--even more than our Church callings--are the setting in which the most important part of that development can occur. The conversion we must achieve requires us to be a good husband and father or a good wife and mother. Being a successful Church leader is not enough. Exaltation is an eternal family experience, and it is our mortal family experiences that are best suited to prepare us for it.'

He continued:

Our needed conversions are often achieved more readily by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquility... Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call 'the furnace of affliction'. Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become.

We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ.

Our path toward conversion begins as we plant the seed of testimony in our hearts. As we nurture it with regular scripture study and frequent, fervent prayer, our testimonies may grow in both breadth and depth. True conversion will come as we apply what we learn to our daily lives. Our righteous action will also allow the Holy Ghost to expand our testimonies and provide additional opportunities for a more complete conversion.

John taught, 'If any man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself' (John 7:17). What could you do this week to expand your testimony and conversion? Is there a gospel principle you would like to have confirmed to your soul by the Holy Ghost? Is there some needed repentance that could take place this week? In what ways can we make our lives more consistent with our testimonies? Have you completely washed away the desire to do evil like the people of King Benjamin did?

Though we'll all fall short at times--sometimes way short of where we'd like to be--we are not alone. The Holy Ghost can and will testify to our hearts and minds that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, as he testified to Joseph Smith, Alma and Job. Through the atonement of Christ we can be forgiven of our sins. We can be given the strength to make our actions consistent with our testimonies.We can become converted disciples of Christ and experience the joy and peace the Lord has promised.