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We each come to a testimony our own way. For some of us there’s a pinpoint moment when we felt an undeniable impression from the Holy Ghost. For others, it’s a gentle distilling of the Spirit upon us over a length of time. Some of us simply don’t recall ever not knowing the truthfulness of the Gospel.
But having a testimony is not the same thing as conversion. As Elder Bednar has said, “Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion.” After all, even Satan knows the gospel is true. You have to have a lot more than just knowledge, to be truly converted. Russell T. Osguthorpe said, “Conversion is not a one time event. It is a lifelong quest to become more like the Savior.” And that’s where we go from simple knowledge to action. That’s where conversion goes beyond intellectual belief, and becomes outward behavior.
For too many, once we get a testimony there’s a temptation to think we’re done. We’ve accepted the truthfulness of the gospel, we believe in God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. We know Joseph Smith was telling the truth, we know the Book of Mormon is genuine, and we believe we have living prophets today. Some of us put our feet up, so to speak.
And this is where we get lulled into complacency, tricked into a vulnerable spot where Satan can better attack us. After all, it’s easy to check off boxes and visualize our “straight A” answers. The true test of conversion comes after we’ve checked those boxes. After we get baptized. After we learn this church is the real deal. The true test is how we live for the rest of our life.
Every one of us knows people who are currently choosing inactivity in this church, yet who know in their hearts that it’s true. Wards are filled with members who, for whatever reason, have a testimony but are not changing themselves to more closely follow Christ. And it’s that ongoing change that depicts real conversion. Are we honestly changing? Because change is what conversion means.
Just as the people in Mosiah 5:2 described “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” we must recognize this same transformation in ourselves. It isn’t instant—we don’t suddenly become perfected beings by any means. But the process is evident, if only to us. We see ourselves changing on the deepest level, in our hearts.
This change doesn’t merely mean that someone is now convinced they should come to church. Conversion is not to a building, or even to the classes and programs inside it. Conversion means we want to repent, whatever that may take. We want to come to church to renew our baptismal covenants by taking the Sacrament. We want to serve. We want to forgive. We want to make it to the temple. We want to be sealed to our families. It’s about developing a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father, our Savior, and the Holy Ghost.
In 2002, Elder Richard G. Scott described conversion as “A faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct. In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.”
Right now, we have three outstanding reminders of what conversion should be in our lives. And they’re all temples. The Provo City Center Temple has been described by many as “a Phoenix, rising from the ashes.” And truly, a more fitting metaphor cannot be found for the absolute transformation from burned rubble to a House of God, than this exquisite temple. Just as we can feel scorched and destroyed by sin, filthy as soot, and completely lying in ruins, so can we hope for the exact same level of beauty and holiness, with God’s redeeming help. He can take any one of us from the depths of despair into the morning of joy and redemption. We can become so changed that the “new us” isn’t even recognizable as the same person we were before. For the cynics who claim “people don’t really change,” just take a look at true converts whose lives are polar opposites of how they used to be. And, if indeed people cannot change, then what was the entire point of Christ’s excruciating atonement?
What of members who feel they were converted long ago, and they’re “done”? Once again, two temples stand as beautiful lessons for us. Right now the Washington D. C. and the Oakland Temples are both being renovated. Lovely as they are, even temples need constant maintenance, and sometimes a major overhaul of repair and refurbishment. Just as we bring our temples up to standards befitting Houses of the Lord, so should we examine our own commitments, our own levels of conversion, and take steps to bring us into the light again. It’s easy to slide. Sometimes we slack off in our diligence to keep certain commandments. Perhaps we’ve missed opportunities to share the gospel, or allowed our enthusiastic relatives to take over the Family History work we should be doing. It’s possible our Sabbath Day observance needs revisiting. Could we elevate our media and entertainment choices? We all know where we have work to do.
Occasionally what we need is a huge change—maybe pass on that tempting high-paying job. Move to a better place to raise children. Stop postponing marriage. It’s entirely possible that, even though we “have a testimony,” we need to take drastic steps to live a life of ongoing conversion. Could it be that our personal temple needs a severe overhaul? And, if it does, imagine the glistening edifice that will stand in its place once you’ve made those changes.
Once you’re “all in,” and you’ve recommitted to doing your best every day, imagine the inner peace you will know. You will sense God’s approval when you pray, even though all of us fall far short of the perfection we seek. He will help us with every baby step, every righteous desire. In fact, He will be thrilled to bless us beyond our expectations, just for really, really trying. Conversion is never finished; it’s the ongoing progress we embark upon after we gain a testimony. And as we change to be more like our Savior, we change the relationship we have with him. That’s why we can never check off that box and say we’re “done.”