I want to start with a scripture in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.”
About a year ago, I was feeling really discouraged and disheartened and kind of just weary. I asked my dad to give me a priesthood blessing, and as part of that experience I was essentially blessed to be filled with more love and more light in my life. I mention this because I see that blessing as a pivotal experience that marked a beautiful transformation that took place within me – I felt in a very real sense that I became a new creature, and through that process I developed a much deeper understanding of Christ's grace. I grew in confidence, and that gave me the courage to decide to go on a mission. So, I want to talk today about transformation. I've felt and experienced the grace of Christ in my life, enabling me change and grow and progress. I wholeheartedly believe that His love is the most important and powerful thing in the universe – not only is it powerful enough to change my world; it is powerful enough to change the world, and that is why I'm going on a mission.
In Elder Osguthorpe's talk from October General Conference, he said that “conversion is the goal of all gospel learning and teaching. Conversion is not a onetime event. It is a lifelong quest to become more like the Savior.” I'd like to focus my remarks on this quest of conversion and transformation. As we travel our mortal journey, Christ gives us His grace and we give him our loyalty, and that relationship – the love that grows between us and Christ – is the essence of conversion.
So, what does it take to become converted? How exactly do we experience this transformation, which Alma calls a “mighty change of heart”? I've come up with three things that I've noticed help me in my quest to become converted to and more like the Savior:
First, action. My bishop in my singles ward uses a phrase that I really love. He often tells us to “drink deeply” of living water. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Nephi 9:50, which beckons, “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We have so many resources available to us; so many wells of living water. I feel a sense of spiritual admonishment that going to the temple, studying the scriptures, and having the opportunity to pray are things to be cherished. Obeying the commandments and honoring our covenants are likewise beautiful resources and opportunities given to us by our God. He promises us, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” (D&C 88:63) We need that closeness to God in our lives, and He gives us sources of living water all around us.
Last December when my family did a 5-day hiking trek across the Andes mountains, we stopped on the 3rd day at some natural hot springs. They had excavated the springs into pools, but my favorite part was at the bottom, where they had these hot-springs “showers”, which were engineered so that you could go down these stairs and there was an outcropping where the water just poured over, so you could stand under this gushing torrent of clean, warm water from the mountain. After 3 days of hiking and no showers, being drenched in that rushing water felt sooo good. It gave us the renewal we needed to finish our trek.
We need renewal in all aspects of our lives. I challenge each of us to find out what renews us, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and to do those things. The beautiful thing is that this will look slightly different for each of us. But one of the most wonderful blessings of being a member of this church is that we all have the opportunity to make, and to renew, covenants with God. I have heard from a dear cousin and a dear friend, both on missions, that they love teaching people about covenants and watching covenants transform people. I'm excited to be a part of that, too.
Another thing that I've noticed helps me in my quest to be converted is humility. Elder Bednar said in his last general conference talk that conversion takes “patience and persistence”. We are mortal. We are going to make mistakes. And learning how to deal with that is a huge part of our growth. The challenge is to be humble and soft-hearted enough to learn from those mistakes and trust in Christ's grace as we continue moving forward. In my experience, being humble can be uncomfortable at first – my prideful side can't stand admitting that I'm not always right – but I've felt firsthand how good it feels to recognize that often I am wrong. I need help and direction from sources outside myself. Humility feels like a scrub-brush on my heart, scrubbing away some of the prideful rust that has cankered itself onto my heart. When I am willing to let go of that rust, I am always struck with how much freer and better I feel.
This is illustrated by Ephesians chapter 5 verse 8, in which Paul tells us, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light.” Every time we exert enough humility to give Christ some of our darkness, we become beings of more light. And that “light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24)
My third point is that it's important to remember that conversion is a life-long process. I like to think of our progress not as a straight line, but as a series of peaks and valleys, which bring us closer and closer to our goal of becoming more like Christ, or becoming “new creatures” in Christ. We don't always recognize our own progress, but some of the best advice I've ever been given is to remember that our Eternal Father, the being who created us and loves us infinitely, is an unendingly compassionate and patient being, who can clearly see the end from the beginning, and whose scripture tells us that if we love him, “all things shall work together for our good.” (Romans 8:28). Don't be discouraged if you don't feel like you are always making great leaps forward. That probably just means you are normal. Keep pressing onward! Another of my favorite verses is 1 Nephi 17:13, which says, “inasmuch as ye keep my commandments ye shall be led toward the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.” Sometimes it is only when we look back on a valley from one of those peaks that we are able to see clearly that God has been guiding and directing us. As I'm sure you do, I often end up looking back on those difficult experiences with gratitude, realizing that I was taught an important lesson or that my heart grew.
The transformation that takes place within us as we become converted is both remarkable and beautiful. Elder Oaks said, “We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved … by doing it for the right reason – for the pure love of Christ.... The reason charity never fails … is that charity, the pure love of Christ, is not an act but a condition or state of being.... Charity is something one becomes.”
I love the hope in Moroni 7:48: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”
I love this idea of becoming. Becoming converted to the Lord, allowing his love to fill us and transform us and become us. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul uses the image of a mirror: “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I love this imagery – that we start out our mortal journey looking at a dirty, clouded reflection of ourselves in a mirror, and as we grow and progress and learn and become converted, the darkness falls away and instead of a poor reflection of our mortally-limited selves, we begin to see this bright, shining reflection of Christ -- not only because we are becoming more like Him, but because as this transformation happens within us, we are less and less focused on finding ourselves in that mirror, and more and more focused on seeing Him there.
I bear testimony that Christ can transform us. I've seen it happen to others and I've tasted it in my own life. I know that this transforming power is what God's children need. I'm excited to teach people about this as a missionary. It is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to "leave my nets" like the apostles and dedicate my life, in a more tangible way than ever before, to following Christ. I love this gospel. I'm excited to immerse myself in it more and to share it. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.