This is the opening passage in the Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: New Testament 2019 manual: “The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. For this reason, when we study the gospel, we’re not just looking for new information; we want to become a “new creature” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).” If I want to become more converted to the gospel of Christ, how do I do it?
Testimony versus conversion
Testimony and conversion often happen at the same time, but are two different things. Testimony is all about what you know. For example, I have prayed to know the Book of Mormon is true, and I have received a witness of its truthfulness. That witness is my testimony. It is what I know to be true.
Conversion is how deeply or completely devoted I am to the gospel of Christ. It is all about how complete the change is in my heart from being carnal and worldly to hating the very thought of sin. Conversion is all about becoming something I currently am not. Many of us truly have no desire to study the scriptures or have family home evening. We may not care if we don’t pay a full tithe or pay any fast offering at all. For some of us if we go to sacrament meeting we feel that fulfills our obligation, so we have no qualms about skipping out on the other meetings each Sunday. We may even see nothing wrong with going out to eat or shop or to an event on Sunday. It is a day of rest, right?
While having a testimony of key doctrinal points and acquiring a testimony of certain laws, doctrines, and historical happenings (like the visit of the Father and Son to Joseph Smith) is a good and a necessary thing, we won’t get exalted with only a testimony. It falls under the “faith without works is dead” category. To be exalted, and in the more immediate future, to survive what is coming, we need to become more converted to living Christ’s gospel. Conversion describes who we are and how we live our lives. It is all about doing and being.
In the April 2018 General Conference President Russell M. Nelson told us clearly that the purpose of revelation is to be able to learn wisdom, to learn how to sift through all the voices and opinions that surround us and know what the right course of action needs to be.
Once we have received knowledge in the form of a testimony, that knowledge will fade if not reinforced by righteous action, and the revelation that guides that righteous behavior.
I am optimistic about the future. It will be filled with opportunities for each of us to progress, contribute, and take the gospel to every corner of the earth. But I am also not naive about the days ahead. We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious. The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle bombard us with relentless messages. If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.
Our Savior and redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.
My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation.
Every time I read or listen to that passage, the one comment that jumps out at me is “in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” This means that many of us need to change. The prophet has told us what the future is bringing to our very doorsteps. If we have not made the changes necessary to have “constant influence of the Holy Ghost” we will not survive spiritually. That seems like a pretty simple and straight forward declaration to me.
Think of his declaration in this way – we are being told that if we don’t become more converted to the gospel of Christ, and more comfortable receiving regular revelation from the Spirit, we may as well consider ourselves to be one of the five foolish virgins whose lamps didn’t have enough oil when the Bride Groom came. They got locked out of the bridal feast.
So what does it mean to survive spiritually? In my mind that tells me that those who can survive will be able to discern right from wrong. But even more importantly, when called upon to do spiritually difficult things, they will have the strength to do it. Why? Because they have been practicing following the Spirit all along. They have been guided, directed, comforted, and constantly influenced by the Spirit. They have become different people.
I say they have become different, because I think to myself, am I being constantly guided, directed, comforted, and constantly influenced by the Spirit? Unless I can site evidence that this is the case then I need to change so I can be.
I would like to share a story my mother recently shared with me. When she was in her mid thirties she decided to make some changes in her life. She was studying the scriptures each day and doing everything (she thought) she was supposed to be doing to have the Spirit to be with her. She had the calling of being a seminary teacher. She loved her students and studied for hours every day so she would be prepared for class. Even with four children to care for, she still managed to put in her study time for her class.
Well, the semester started and she found that despite all her preparations she didn’t have the Spirit. Why? She reviewed everything she could think of in her life, but everything seemed to be in order. She was doing everything she knew to do. So she decided to make it a matter of prayer. She decided that she needed to find out from God why she couldn’t get the Spirit in her teaching. She knelt down and prayed fervently. When she got up she sat and thought about what she had said, and listened for an answer.
The thought came into her mind to turn to the scriptures, specifically, section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants. She scoffed at this thought, though she knew she often found answers in the scriptures. She knew what that section was all about, and none of it had anything to do with her seminary class. So she prayed again. Again she received the impression to turn to the Doctrine and Covenants.
When she got to Doctrine and Covenants 93:42 she stopped. It was as though the Lord was speaking directly to her.
42 You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction.
She immediately knew what she had done wrong. For whatever reason, they hadn’t been holding family home evening at all. She repented, and began holding family home evening again, and the Spirit returned to help her teach her seminary class.
The revelation she received required action on her part, change on her part. But that change she made because of her prayers strengthened her character and enabled her to do harder things in the future. Because she made the needed changes in her life (note that the change was a deliberate choice on her part) her testimony was also increased. She now had one more instance where she knew God would speak to her and answer her prayers. She now knew more surely than ever that answers can be found in studying the scriptures, even when you think you already know them.
The process of conversion
Here is a short list of things I thought of that can help you become more converted. This list is not all-inclusive, but does have some of the basics that will help in the process.
Gain a desire If we have no desire to change then you can bet we won’t. But we may have to start with an intellectual desire before an emotional desire kicks into gear. In Alma 32:13-16 we are told that even if we are compelled to be humble (for example) we are blessed. But we are more blessed if we choose to humble ourselves before the Lord and keep his commandments without “stubbornness of heart.”
13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
15 Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.
16 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
Change habits Since becoming converted means to change ourselves then habits have to be broken and/or adopted. Habits can be as difficult to break as they are to establish. But if we are determined then it can be done. Anyone who has tried to start a new habit, without first having a heartfelt yearning for the change to be made, knows that it may be easy for the first few days or weeks, but as soon as old habits and social demands rear their ugly heads, the new behavior can go right out the window.
Here are some habits that will help in our conversion from where we are to something closer to where we want to be:
Temple attendance How much are you willing to sacrifice to get to the temple more often? Really? If you live many hours away from a temple this sacrifice may mean some substantial changes to your lifestyle in order to save the money to get there more often. You may even have to give up personal use of your paid leave at work to dedicate those days to a trip to the nearest temple.
If you live near a temple, figure out what excuses have been keeping you at home or doing other things. Temple attendance is vital to our responsibilities as Latter-day Saints. No other people in the history of the world has been given the same responsibility to serve those who have passed through the veil as the latter-day saints. We will be judged on how we treat this privilege and responsibility in mortality.
Scripture study Are you reading the scriptures and putting them down but can’t for the life of you tell anyone an hour later what you read? If so, you are reading them, but definitely not studying them. When we study the scriptures we need to be looking for something. Anything. You pick. I once read through the entire Book of Mormon just so I could highlight down the side of every verse and every page who was speaking. If it was Mormon/Moroni it was in one color, but if it was anyone else being quoted, it was in another color. That simple exercise, though boring as all get out, changed my whole perspective on how the book was written. I no longer had to ask the question, “Who’s speaking here?” I now could look at the color down the side of the verse and I knew it was either the compilers of the book or the people in the book speaking.
Personal prayers Do you currently have a testimony that God will answer your prayers? Sometimes we have gone so long without a spiritual experience that we begin to doubt that he will ever speak to us again. We see that he speaks to others, but it has been so long since we had a bona fide spiritual experience that we aren’t sure we can receive answers like in the past.
We need to recognize that personal revelation is what we call answers to prayers. Any communication from the Holy Ghost is knowledge being given to you from God. That is what personal revelation is. If you are prompted by a feeling, a situation, a thought, or an urge to do something good, something that will bless someone’s life, even if it is your life then that is from the Holy Ghost. The Lord takes credit for all good, so it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, if it is good in its nature then it is from God, because God said so.
General habits What else in our life needs to change? Do I need to stop watching certain movies I would be ashamed to take the Savior to see? For that matter, should I watch anything I would be ashamed if my mother was with me at that moment? This could mean movies, public events – any place or time that the Spirit would refuse to attend with you.
When we think about how we treat our family members, are our hearts full of love and calm because our relationships are holy, or do we need to patch up relationships, as difficult as that may sound?
And what about how we spend our leisure time? Are we doing things online that we wouldn’t dream of doing in public for all to see? Are we committing mass slaughter and murder online for pleasure? I adopted a rule for my personal game playing that I wouldn’t play any game online that I wouldn’t be willing to perform that same action in real life in front of my mother or my Church leader. That drastically changed my game playing. And I still struggle with it, even though I made the change more than five years ago.
What we are converted to is what we worship. It is where we put our love, our allegiance, our loyalty, and our time. The more converted to the gospel of Christ, the more consistent we will become in how we live our lives according to the gospel standards of behavior. If we seek a genuine spiritual experience, that experience will give us the hope, the strength, and the renewed vigor we need to continue on in our efforts to change ourselves through the conversion process.
Conversion is all about change. Until we are willing to change, we are increasingly in a more precarious situation spiritually. We can be forced to be humble and repent because of hard circumstances in our lives, or we can choose to not have “stubbornness of heart” and seek the conversion process on our own. The Lord will bless us in our every effort to do this on our own, for that allows him the greatest ability to bless us.
Ministering is charity in action. Since conversion requires action on our part, deciding to get out and serve others should be top of the list of ways to become converted. Book learning is all fine, except that intellectual knowledge won’t save us. Conversion is the process of becoming Christlike. To do that we need to behave like Christ. Will we make mistake in our service to others? Of course. Will we even hurt someone? Quite possibly. How many time in your life have you seen someone with all the good intentions in the world make a total mess of something? Should that prevent us from serving? Certainly not. Anything we do that is new will have its challenges. We just have to decide early on that we will learn from our mistakes and try to listen to the Spirit better next time. But we must continue to try. True love won’t permit just gazing from the sidelines of life.