Sunday, February 3, 2013
This was the talk I gave in church a few weeks ago.
Many Christians use the word “convicted” to describe their faith. When someone is convicted of something that means that some outside source has judged or proven them to be guilty of something. In this case, to be a convicted Christian would mean that others are able to judge the person as Christian based on an outside perspective. Obviously a person’s faith should show in their actions, however it is important to separate conviction from conversion, because they are not the same. While conviction refers to what is apparent from the outside, conversion refers to what occurs on the inside, and is truly known only to oneself and to God.
The word conversion means change. In the spiritual sense, a conversion is a change in ones self, either in belief, or behavior, or both. Although we often focus on the externally visible conversion signs of accepting the gospel and being baptized, the bible dictionary makes sure to mention that “complete conversion comes after many trials and much testing.” Real conversion is an internal change and a lifelong process. It does not matter if a person was raised with the gospel, or encountered it a week before dying, we all must experience conversion at some point. Alma describes conversion as “a mighty change of heart” and spends an entire chapter talking about it. He makes it clear that he is speaking to church members as well as gentiles, and that conversion is intensely personal, and undeniably ongoing.
There are three questions I want to discuss today:
1 How do we become converted in the first place? What happens—or what can we do—to begin the process?
2 How do we know that we are converted, or at least that we have experienced the initial change of heart?
3 How can we remain in the converted or changed state? And avoid returning to the unconverted condition?
1 How do we become converted?
In Mosiah 18, Alma the elder had taught the gospel to a group of people, and was preparing them for baptism. As they gathered by the water, he spoke to them about the things they had learned, and about the covenants they would be taking in baptism.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death…that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
Alma makes it clear that conversion involves not just a willingness to keep the commandments and care for each other, but also a genuine desire to do so. Conversion is a change of heart.
Sometimes we may think that a conversion will happen through a single stunning event, with trumpets and angelic visions. As Elder Uchdorf said in the April 2011 conference,
There are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe… They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe.
There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting [around]. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples… They [hope] for the Christ to be given to them like a magnificent painting—to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.
The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.
Elder Uchdorf concludes that if we will be proactive in seeking testimony and conversion, then we can find it, but that we cannot just wait around for it to come to us. He goes on to suggest several things that we can do to actively seek this conversion, this change of heart.
The first is to “hearken and heed,” meaning to listen for promptings of the spirit. He says we should do what is necessary to “turn down the volume control of the worldly noise in our lives” so that we can hear the spirit, and then do what we feel prompted to do.
Secondly, Elder Uchdorf points out that “we sometimes do not recognize the voice of the Lord in our lives is because the revelations of the Spirit may not come directly to us as the answer to our prayers. Our Father in Heaven expects us to study it out first and then pray for guidance as we seek answers to questions and concerns in our personal lives. We have our Heavenly Father’s assurance that He will hear and answer our prayers. The answer may come through the voice and wisdom of trusted friends and family, the scriptures, and the words of prophets...
Often, the answer to our prayer does not come while we’re on our knees but while we’re on our feet serving the Lord and serving those around us. Selfless acts of service and consecration refine our spirits, remove the scales from our spiritual eyes, and open the windows of heaven. By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own.”
The third thing Elder Uchdorf recommends for becoming converted is to share what we know. We don’t have to know everything, we can share what we do know and grow through that.
There are times when the Lord reveals to us things that are intended only for us. Nevertheless, in many, many cases He entrusts a testimony of the truth to those who will share it with others…. The most effective way to preach the gospel is through example. If we live according to our beliefs, people will notice. If the countenance of Jesus Christ shines in our lives, if we are joyful and at peace with the world, people will want to know why. One of the greatest sermons ever pronounced on missionary work is this simple thought attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Opportunities to do so are all around us.
2 How do we know that we are converted, or at least that we have experienced the initial change of heart?
In Alma 5, Alma asks a series of questions which can help us to ascertain whether we have been converted.
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
He continues with more questions we can ask ourselves to see if we are exercising the faith of an ongoing conversion. He asks “if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, can ye feel so now?” He also asks if we are stripped of pride, and stripped of envy. He asks us to consider whether we mock or persecute those around us, or feel that we are superior to anyone else. He asks if we ever turn our backs upon the poor and needy, or withhold our substance from them.
Alma adds that we will have a “perfect remembrance” (verse 18) of all that we have done in our lives, and urges us to be totally honest with ourselves when we ask these questions.
19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
Married couples often tend to look like each other because of what is known as mirroring each other. Mirroring is when we imitate each other’s facial expressions and other body movements. Children learn emotional and other responses from their parents through this method, and any two people in a close relationship tend to mirror each other. A couple will often develop matching wrinkle lines because of it, because of mirroring each other so often. When you mirror someone regularly, you can in fact begin to look similar. How do we mirror God in order to look like him?
In Galations and Ephesians, Paul teaches us some of the divine wrinkle lines that we can look for in ourselves. He refers to them as fruits of the spirit, meaning things that are products of living a spiritual life. Here is the list: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, goodness, righteousness and truth. (Galations 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9)
Or, as Alma put it,
41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.
Finally, how can we remain in the converted or changed state? And avoid returning to the unconverted condition?
In the October 2011 general conference, Dale G Renlund of the quorum of 70 made the following analogy.
In December 1967 the first successful heart transplant was performed in Cape Town, South Africa. The dying man’s diseased heart was removed, and a healthy heart from a deceased donor was sewn in its place. Since then, over 75,000 heart transplants have been performed worldwide.
In each heart transplant recipient, the patient’s own body recognizes the new, lifesaving heart as “foreign” and begins to attack it. Left unchecked, the body’s natural response will reject the new heart, and the recipient will die. Medicines can suppress this natural response, but the medications must be taken daily and with exactness. Furthermore, the condition of the new heart must be monitored. Occasional heart biopsies are performed wherein small pieces of heart tissue are removed and then examined under a microscope. When signs of rejection are found, medications are adjusted. If the rejection process is detected early enough, death can be averted.
Surprisingly, some patients become casual with their transplanted hearts. They skip their medicines here and there and obtain the needed follow-up less frequently than they should. They think that because they feel good, all is well. Too often this shortsighted attitude puts the patients at risk and shortens their lives.
So what can we do to maintain our changed heart? How can we ensure that we do not reject this new heart? In Ephesians 5, Paul gives some suggestions for how to live continually as what he calls “children of light.”
1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…
3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
5 For this ye know, that no unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
9 ([Showing] the fruit of the Spirit in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
14 …Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
So it seems that all the things which help us achieve that initial change of heart are exactly the same things that will help us to maintain it. Seeking and listening, serving others and sharing the truths we learn, and above all mirroring Christ in our daily lives, so that in imitating Him, we will become like Him.