Having a testimony doesn’t guarantee a conversion. I have known people who prayed to know if the church was true, received an affirmative answer, and then walked away from it out of fear or unwillingness to change or commit. In my own conversion process, I was initially afraid to make a final choice about which church to join, after many years of searching. It’s a scary thing to find the one true church, even when you’ve longed to find it, because it then requires much of you. Only later do you understand that what you receive is so much more than what you give.
“President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught that a person who has a testimony may not also be converted. The two are not necessarily the same. He said that a testimony is a witness of the Spirit given when a person is taught the gospel. And then if the person responds to that experience, it causes the person to repent and obey the commandments and thus be baptized. Conversion, on the other hand, means knowing your sins have been forgiven and having your spirit healed. He said that a person will know he is converted by how he feels (see Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 24).”
While it is the Savior’s sacrifice that gave us life after death, and made it possible for us to return to our Heavenly Father, we must do our part as well if we want the complete blessings promised us. Everyone gets the gift of the Savior’s atonement. What do we give in return? Can one be truly converted and then casually live a life entirely removed from what the Savior has asked him to live?
Luke 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
A small child will touch a hot stove a time or two, because he doesn’t yet really believe it can hurt him. However, eventually he gains a “testimony” that touching a hot stove is very painful. Once that happens, he really believes he will be happier if he doesn’t touch it, so he never again does so intentionally. A child who suddenly discovers the joy of reading will read often. Before she finds reading a joy, she doesn’t bother unless someone makes her read.
In the same way, when we know—really know—that God loves us and we have a testimony of that love, we want to do the right thing. We may slip here and there—even as adults we sometimes touch hot stoves or forget to read for a while—but overall, we make the right choices because we don’t just have a testimony of the gospel; we are converted. President Harold B. Lee said,
“As you can see, one is converted when he sees with his eyes what he ought to see; when he hears with his ears what he ought to hear; and when he understands with his heart what he ought to understand. And what he ought to see, hear, and understand is truth—eternal truth—and then practice it. That is conversion.” (Stand Ye in Holy Places, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, p. 92.)
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.