Sunday, November 14, 2010

Five Steps to True Conversion

To be fully and truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ is to change.  People fear and try to avoid change, typically, because it represents having to move beyond something feeling quite comfortable into something new and strange sometimes.  We are constantly rubbing shoulders with people in the world and within the Church who are converted and those who are not.  You can attempt to tell them apart if you will, but it's hard to tell the difference from the outside.  Some contend Mormons are not well versed in this doctrine of being born again, but The Book of Mormon is full of it.  True conversion depends upon it.  We must change from our carnal and fallen condition into a sanctified son or daughter of God to be truly converted.  Since it is Sunday, as part of your scriptural study today, consider reading all the scriptural passages you can find about the necessity of being born again.

Step One:  All Mankind Must be Born Again

I'll give you a headstart on your reading assignment.  Nicodemus came seeking Jesus at night to clarify this teaching he had heard.  (See John 3:1-21).  But begin your reading in Mosiah 27.  There you will find the account of Alma the younger.  He was visited by an angel in answer to his father's prayer for his welfare and he was smitten and went into a trance.  He was in that condition a couple of days while his father, Alma the high priest, and the members of the Church fasted and prayed for his recovery.  Alma the younger, who had obviously been baptized in his youth, came out of the trance and said, "I have been born again."  This is significant because it appears he did nothing to merit such an outcome.  He explains to everyone that the Lord says that all mankind — men, women, children — have to be born again or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.  He's very specific about what is involved here.  He says men must be changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being born again, becoming the Lord's sons and his daughters.  This is a perfect description of what it means to be truly converted.

Every single person who has ever been born into this world, who arrives at the years of accountability without being baptized, dies spiritually.  Universally, since the Fall of Adam, according to our revelations, all accountable men, women and children have become carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature.  It is in our fallen nature, imprinted in our very DNA, we inherit the tendency to commit sin.  King Benjamin referred to this condition in Mosiah 3:19 as "the natural man."  To be truly converted is to put off the natural man and to become a Saint by the power of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  That's an axiom we should hear coming out of the mouths of every Primary child -- "I can become a Saint by the power of the atonement."  It is the definition of being "born again."  We are changed from a carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness.  I love how the Apostle Paul describes it.  We crucify the old man (Romans 6:6).  We die as to the things of the world and we become alive as to the things of righteousness.  It cannot happen unless and until we receive the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost.

Step Two:  Receive the Holy Ghost

Only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can one receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  It is a supernal gift from Heavenly Father.  He does two things in our lives:  He is a witness to truth and he bears the testimony of the truth.  That is how we get a testimony.  We receive revelation from the Holy Ghost.  Secondly, the Holy Ghost is the sanctifier.  He has power to cleanse and perfect the human soul, to wash evil and iniquity out, and to replace it with righteousness.  As we are sanctified by degrees week by week as we partake of the emblems of the sacrament, we are truly converted.  When we receive the Holy Ghost, we get a testimony.  That member of the Godhead tells us the work of salvation and exaltation is true.  He testifies of the truth to our souls and we grow in light and truth thereafter.

When we receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, we are cleansed from sin and are born again and become converted to the truth.  It's rather a glib statement to assert we always have the constant and unerring companionship of the Holy Ghost, since no one is perfect in this life, but we do the best we can and we have from time to time the unmistakable assurance our walk in life is approved despite our imperfections.  That is what the Comforter is all about.  Though we remain imperfect, we are in that strait and narrow path doing all we can to stay on it.  Our sins are gradually burned out of us, as though by fire.  We often hear the expression "the baptism of fire," meaning the baptism of the Holy Ghost.  That is rich symbolism meaning dross and evil are burned out of human souls as if by fire.  The consequence of this process is the individual becomes a new creature of the Holy Ghost, as Alma explained. So you become a new creature.  There has been a change.  There has been a conversion.  In the past you walked after the manner of the world, but now you walk as becometh a saint of God.

We bear our testimonies to one another routinely in the Church.  We don't do it often enough, however.  We hear people saying all the time, "I know the gospel is true, etc."  In every ward it should be this way.  We strengthen one another when we bear testimony of what we know to be true.  When we have the Spirit of the Holy Ghost burning in our heart and soul like a fire and we bear testimony the work is true, then everybody who hears us who is in tune with the same Spirit also knows and can bear witness of the same things we know.  The speaker and the hearer are edified and strengthened alike.

Step Three:  Testimony

Often times when I was teaching years ago I was more anxious to get the information out than to bear my testimony.  In more recent years things have changed.  I have come to the conclusion there may be only one person in my class or audience who is seeking an answer to a perplexing or difficult problem.  I am trying to so live that I can be the conduit to that answer for perhaps only that one person.  While the doctrine is important to dispense, and all we do in teaching must be founded in true doctrine, the application to our individual lives through the bearing of our testimony is often more critical.  Sharing testimony will help lift up the sagging hands and arms and take the weight off the drooping shoulders.  This is especially true when it comes after a true doctrine has been taught.  The connection between doctrine and testimony is a close one, and the Spirit will bear witness that what has been taught is not only true, but true in that moment of searching and hoping for a much-needed answer.

Step Four:  Conversion is a Process

We often hear about miraculous conversions -- Alma and Paul are examples -- but for most true conversion is a lifetime process.  President Kimball reminded us that oil in our lamps cannot be gathered at the last minute at midnight.  (See Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 255–56).
Rather, we must be adding oil to our lamps daily to have sufficient light when darkness engulfs us.
With most people, true conversion is a process.  We go step by step along the strait and narrow path.  We learn a little here, a little there, we move degree by degree, grace to grace, receiving grace for grace.  And one day, a great distance from where we began, the day finally comes when we can discern in ourselves that the disposition to do evil has for the most part been extinguished within us.  We overcome one sin today and another sin tomorrow.  We gradually perfect our lives a little bit here, then a little bit there.  We patiently await the harvest of good things to come, rather than being self-indulgent in our fallen state.  We overcome in the undertaking.  One day we become, literally, as King Benjamin instructs, saints of God instead of natural men (Mosiah 3:19).

We need to remember and to be patient.  It is not enough to say we have a testimony.  Prisons are full of people who have a testimony, who believe in Jesus as their Savior.  Being truly converted, however, requires an added measure of faithfulness.  We read in the vision of the degrees of glory (D&C 76:71-80) about those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom.  These have a testimony.  But we learn they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus, obtain not the crown in the kingdom of our God.  That could mean even some members of the Church who are lukewarm.  Enduring in righteousness in valiant testimony to the end of our mortal probation is required to be truly converted.

There are many in the Church today who know this work is true, but they don't do much about it.  If you railed against the Church in their presence, they would stand up in righteous indignation and defend the kingdom, but they would still have a lot to say about this or that Apostle who ought to keep his mouth shut on this or that topic.  If effect, they put out the "gone fishing" sign on their testimonies and they are persuaded more by the things people say in their pursuit of the things of this world instead of putting first in their lives the things of God's kingdom, the things of righteousness.  They are good people, but not valiant.

The way to be in the celestial kingdom is to be valiant in testimony.  We must work at it.  It must be more than a Sunday exercise.  The whole purpose of the gospel is that it is to become our lives in every particular.  It isn't an important part of our life, it is life.  We are to become involved based upon the guidance we receive from the scriptures.  (See John 15:7-14; D&C 76:5-6).

Step Five:  Self-Examination

Here's a test.  Alma delivered a "test" to his people -- it consists of forty-two questions in the fifth chapter of Alma.  It was designed by Alma to help you know if you have been born again and if you are truly converted.  If you answer those forty-two questions honestly, you will know if you have been truly converted.  You will know if the things of the spirit are as rich and as valuable to you in your life as they were to Alma in his.  Count all the question marks -- there should be forty-two.  Ask yourself the questions.  Take the test.  I've issued this challenge before.

Religion is not just theological or philosophical gas.  It is not just a matter of analyzing and debating a few passages of scripture in high priests group every Sunday.  True religion is a matter of doing something and becoming something.  We often say the things we can see and discern with our five senses are the things in the "real world."  However, the things that are real are out of sight and are only known and understood by applying the gifts of the Spirit to discern them.

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).  That's two things:  It is to be doing something by involving ourselves in the lives of others for their betterment and blessing, and it is becoming something -- pure and holy in the doing -- "without spot."

We can thank James for these expressions that we show our faith by our works (James 2:18), and that we are not hearers only, but doers (James 1:22), or should be.  If all that is involved in religion is this matter of theology, of studying and analyzing passages of scripture, then you can be content to be a hearer and a believer.  But if you are a doer, you are up and doing something every day to bless the lives of those around you.  You are a hearer, if all you have is testimony.  Doers, however, add to their testimony a true conversion that includes doing something about what you profess with your lips. 

The Holy Ghost has been given in full abundance in our day.  We have the companionship of that member of the Godhead available to us in all places and in all things to the degree we seek it.

True conversion, then, is being involved in the things of the Spirit.  We participate; we serve; we bless; we feel the promptings of the Spirit; we work miracles; we heal our sick; we receive the gifts and fruits God showers upon His children who seek them.

And thus, we are truly converted.

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