Today I want to share what I believe are key doctrines essential to our salvation and exaltation. I would like to begin with a quote from a special witness of Jesus Christ.
“The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through the Savior’s Atonement. True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God and includes a conscious commitment to become a disciple of Christ.”
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve shared these words during a recent session of general conference. In this short phrase he captures the purpose of our existence and the hope within each of us that true change is possible.
Elder Bednar’s October 2012 conference talk fits into a larger theme that he has been teaching since he was sustained as an Apostle. He has focused much of his ministry on teaching us this following truth: “Our individual responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become what the Master would have us become.”
There are three steps he makes clear: Learn, Do, and Become. We have an individual duty to make sure that we comply with this framework. I would like to review today how we can learn, do and become, with most of my talk focusing on the last two steps. I take most of my material from Elder Bednar’s most recent conference talk and his two recent books Increase in Learning, and Act in Doctrine.
Elder Bednar teaches us that “the ultimate responsibility for developing spiritual strength and stamina rests upon each and every member of the church.” We are to continually learn the gospel by study and by faith. We cannot walk on borrowed light for long.
There is a hierarchy among things that we learn. This hierarchy is composed of knowledge, understanding and intelligence. Knowledge refers to facts information and abilities obtained through experience or education. The next step is understanding. It is the keystone that is erected upon the cornerstone of knowledge and precedes intelligence. When the Holy Ghost confirms truth to us, understanding occurs in our minds and in our hearts. Intelligence involves more than just knowing. Intelligence is living in such a way that the doctrines of the gospel are an active and integral part of who we are, and what we are, and what we do and what we think. Through doctrines, principles and applications of truth we can find answers to any question we may have and we can receive tailored and individualized revelation to aid us in our quest for eternal life. With Elder Bednar, I echo the truth that: the answers to our questions are ALWAYS in the doctrines and principles of the gospel.
As we seek to learn the gospel, and as we allow the Lord to touch our hearts, we develop a testimony. Yet as Elder Bednar wisely points out: Testimony is the BEGINNING of and a PREREQUISITE to continuing conversion. Testimony is a point of departure; it is not an ultimate destination. Strong testimony is the foundation upon which conversion is established.
Elder Bednar makes it clear that it is not enough to know. We must also do. We must be true to the truth that we know. To ultimately BECOME like our Heavenly Father, we must become converted. We must do the will of the Lord. “Conversion requires all of our heart, all of our might, and all of our mind and strength. “For many of us, conversion is an ongoing process and not a onetime event that results from a powerful or dramatic experience. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. Conversion unto the Lord requires both persistence and patience.”
As we seek to do the will of God, I (speaking for myself) believe that we need to be careful. If we are keeping the commandments for the sake of keeping the commandments, I submit that we are misguided and that we are missing the mark. It is not enough to do, so that we may do.
Rather, if we are keeping the commandments to become converted unto the Lord, if we are keeping the commandments in order to become holy and to become one with Christ and one with God, then we are properly aligned with what The Lord desires for us. The scriptures make it very clear that we are not saved by our actions. We are not saved by the law. Salvation was not found in the law of Moses and with all of its acts, rites and regulations. Salvation is and always has been centered in Jesus Christ. Jacob makes this clear in chapter 4 of his book in the Book of Mormon: “And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him.” Like the Law of Moses did for those early saints in ancient America, so must our actions do the same. Our actions must point our souls to Christ.
It is his grace that saves us, and it is his grace that guides us each step of the way as we repent of our sins and come unto Him.
Sometimes, however, it is too easy to focus on doing instead of becoming. This is shown in one of my favorite stories, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. We see some very important contrasts between Inspector Javert, and Jean Valjean.
Inspector Javert believes wholeheartedly in the righteousness of action and in justice. He correctly identifies the importance of mankind doing what is right and what is in accordance with the law. Yet he fails to see that our actions need to lead us somewhere. For years he hunts down Jean Valjean, an ex-convict. He becomes obsessed with administering justice and with catching Jean Valjean. For Inspector Javert, the only thing that mattered is what one did, including himself. He failed to see that doing is a key step to becoming.
Jean Valjean, on the other hand, is charged by a local church leader to become an honest man. The once-robber seeks throughout his life to BECOME what the good bishop intended him to become. He gives money to the poor, becomes an honest politician (which of course are never easy to find), he saves a woman from a cruel death, and raises that woman’s child as if it were his own. He saves a young man from certain death at the barricades, and when given the chance to get even, he spares the life of his mortal enemy. It would be easy for Jean Valjean to believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It would be easy for Jean Valjean to stop at the level of Javert and purely believe in justice and revenge. But instead, Jean looks beyond doing to what he must become. Jean Valjean can represent each of us as we seek to let our actions help us become an honest man or woman, and to become like Christ.
As Les Miserables illustrates, doing is a key part of becoming. Our actions will ultimately define who we will become. President Monson puts it well when he teaches that our “decisions determine our destiny.” What then, should we become? Our goal should be to become converted unto the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elder Bednar identifies five elements of becoming converted to the Lord in Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching in Helaman 15. As we examine this framework for conversion, we can see very clearly the pattern of Learning, Doing and Becoming.
We must believe in the teachings and prophecies of the holy prophets as they are recorded in the scriptures. This is what we must learn and seek to understand. Next Samuel lays out some actions we must take.
We must exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,
We must repent. As we exercise faith and repent, then through the Lord’s help we can become who the Lord would have us become.
We can experience a mighty change of heart and
Become firm and steadfast in the faith.
To close, I want to strongly echo what Elder Bednar teaches about the importance of conversion. “Testimony alone is not and will not be enough to protect us in the latter-day storm of darkness and evil in which we are living. Testimony is important and necessary but not sufficient to provide the spiritual strength and protection we need.”
Brothers and Sisters, I pray that each of us may look deep into our hearts and ask ourselves: Why do I do what I do? Am I living in accordance with what I know? Do my actions reflect who I want to become? Who am I becoming? I need to ask myself these questions continually so that I may be sure that I am becoming who I want to be.
I testify that true conversion and true change of nature comes only through the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe me, I have tried other ways. And they do not work. Any success that I have had in changing who I am is through Christ. Self help books offer temporary solutions, the adversary offers us false and cheap shortcuts. Only Christ offers us the lasting change that we desire and that we need.
I hope and pray that all of us may follow the counsel of Elder Bednar and not only learn and do, but ultimately BECOME CONVERTED to the Lord. Become one with God and Christ. Become a committed latter-day saint. Become a disciple of the Savior. That we may ultimately become the kings and queens, the priests and priestesses we are meant to become. I know that this is what The Lord intends for each of us, and it is only through His atonement that it is even possible. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.