In the April 2008 General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told the following story:
Some years ago I met with a tribal king in Africa. When he realized that he was being taught by an Apostle of the Lord, he was deeply moved. He said that throngs of his people would be baptized if he were to give them such a mandate. I thanked him for his kindness but explained that the Lord does not work in that way.
The development of faith in the Lord is an individual matter. Repentance is also an individual matter. Only as an individual can one be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. Each of us is born individually; likewise, each of us is “born again” individually. Salvation is an individual matter.”– Elder Russell M. Nelson, Salvation and Exaltation.
Each of us must make our own personal decision about baptism. We mustn’t join because someone else is. We mustn’t try to make others join because we are joining. We can’t mandate a testimony for another and we can’t blame others if we’re unable to gain one.
It is, after all, not us who does the converting. It is the Holy Ghost and he only works one-on-one. In each heart that asks, he places a unique and personal testimony, especially designed to touch our hearts and work with who we are. It’s then our choice to accept or reject that testimony.
Once we have that testimony, we alone are responsible for our progress in the gospel. Often we’ll hear people say, “It’s not my fault I do this. I was raised that way. I had bad parents. I didn’t get an education. I didn’t have the opportunities others had.” In other words, they try to push their responsibility onto others.
It’s true not everyone is born into the same type of home. Some are given a home that makes joining the church easy. Others are raised in a home where the values are intensely opposed to those of the church. Some were given many opportunities, but others were not. However, we all got off to the same good start—we lived with Heavenly Father and chose to come here. What happened here was a space in the journey, not the beginning. We were someone before we came to earth, and we brought that someone to earth with us—our personality, our gifts, our spirit. If the events of our childhood altered that a bit, we can, as adults, choose to return to who we once were and even to improve upon that. You have been given the opportunity to hear the restored gospel. No matter how bad your life has been to this point, you have the same access to a testimony as does everyone else. You have the same right to become the person you want to be. The person you are inside is entirely under your own control. You can’t always control what happens on the outside, but you can control how you choose to cope with it.
“A second truth about our accountability is to know that we are not the helpless victims of our circumstances. The world tries to tell us that the opposite is true: imperfections in our parents or our faulty genetic inheritance are presented to us as absolving us of personal responsibility. But difficult as circumstances may be, they do not relieve us of accountability for our actions or our inactions. Nephi was right. God gives no commandments to the children of men save He prepares a way for them to obey. However difficult our circumstances, we can repent.”– Henry B. Eyring, “Do Not Delay,” Ensign, Nov 1999, 33
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.