The following is a talk I gave in church on September 23, 2007.
The need for change
Because we are born the natural man, we must be born again. We must become childlike to return to live with our Heavenly Father. But we are naturally carnal, sensual and devilish. Christ’s atonement gives us the power to make the transition from the natural man to a Christ-like child of God over the course of our entire life.
A portion of the light of Christ is in every one of God’s children. Moroni 7:16 tells us “…the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil…” If you’re thinking about yourself or perhaps a friend not of our faith and thinking “I don’t think he/she is carnal and devilish”, then you recognize the light of Christ in that individual.
But it is not enough to have the light of Christ in our lives sufficient to judge between good and evil. We must pursue good and bring additional light into our lives. Moroni goes on to say:
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; …
19 … search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
It is not enough to stop sinning. Our hearts must be pure, we must keep all the commandments:
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
4 For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.
When we need to change
When are we planning to change? Are we subconsciously just hoping that in the resurrection we will look at ourselves and notice “Hey! I’m suddenly Christ-like!”? Amulek taught the people of Ammonihah when and how this change really needs to take place:
31 Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
The change must happen here, in our lives right now.
As Robert Louis Stevenson has said: “You cannot run away from a weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”
Who changes us
It is vitally important that we realize who will change us. We cannot change ourselves. Filth cannot clean filth. It takes someone who is pure to make someone else pure.
President Benson said:
The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.
Source: July 1989 Ensign – Born of God
It is our nature that must change. Repentance throughout our lives will only change our nature if we let Christ change us.
President McKay said:
“You do change human nature, your own human nature, if you surrender it to Christ. Human nature has been changed in the past. Human nature must be changed on an enormous scale in the future, unless the world is to be drowned in its own blood. And only Christ can change it.”
(Beverly Nichols, in David O. McKay, Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971, p. 23.) Source: July 1989 Ensign – Born of God
By acknowledging our dependence on God for this change of heart, we are on the path to the change in our human nature that we so desperately need.
Learning to accept the change
“When you choose to follow Christ, you choose to be changed.”
Although Christ does the changing, effort is required on our part.
Corrie Ten Boom’s story
A true story from Corrie Ten Boom illustrates this:
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. ...
And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. ...
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me.
"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, ..." his hand came out, ... "will you forgive me?"
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." ...
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.
Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512. Source: PBS
My first missionary companion
Toward the end of our time together, my missionary trainer and I got into some kind of argument. I closed myself up in the bedroom to fume over it. This comes from my journal:
I was so angry. I did not want to leave my bedroom. But at the same time, I knew that being angry was not what I was supposed to be. … But I was so angry I could not think straight. I prayed, “Father, I am so angry. I cannot understand what just happened. But though I know I should love my companion, I cannot let go of this anger by myself. Please help me.” I honestly would have taken the whole day to get over this incident. After my prayer, my anger just vanished in under 5 minutes. It truly was a miracle, because I know I could not have given up my anger that fast.
I had to ask for help to change, and when the change came, I had to accept it. Even after my anger was taken away, it was hard for me to accept it because it meant I had to swallow my pride and walk outside the bedroom and make amends with my companion. It took me two more hours to be willing to accept the gift God gave me that day and get back to the work I was supposed to be doing.
Letting the change happen
Letting the change happen, I believe, would be easy if we were not so prideful. President Benson said that “God can make a lot more out of our lives than we can,” so by accepting God’s help we become the best we can be.
When poisonous serpents bit the Israelites in the wilderness, Moses erected a brazen serpent that people merely had to look at to be healed. Nephi, the son of Lehi writes:
41 … the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.
Some of these Israelites would die before humbling themselves to believe that merely looking up could save them. The prophet Nephi (the one who was alive when Christ came) taught his neighbors about the symbolism of what Moses did:
14 Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.
15 And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.
If we look to Christ through faith and obedience to his commandments, our hearts will change. If we welcome that change and continue on the path we will be ready to greet Him at that great and last day.
The results of change
There are many blessings from this change in our nature while we are still in this life. When we are truly born of God, we will be aware of and enjoy the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
President David O. McKay said:
No man can sincerely resolve to apply to his daily life the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth without sensing a change in his own nature. The phrase ‘born again’ has a deeper significance than many people attach to it. This changed feeling may be indescribable, but it is real.
Source: July 1989 Ensign – Born of God
Desire for Service
One of the ways we are changed is in our desire for service. God’s work and glory is to serve others in the highest possible way: leading them to eternal life. Our desire for service must ultimately come to match His if we are to live with Him someday. As we continue in faith and obedience, God will change our nature; and we must be willing to accept and embrace that change when it comes.
This ministering to others must not always be to our own. I am reminded of a time when, as a young missionary, I was stricken with yellow jaundice, which was known to us as “missionaries’ disease.” I was so deathly sick, I was afraid I would not die. A good woman, not of our faith, nursed me back to health. I felt she literally saved my life. That surpassing service to me was unpurchased, for she accepted nothing in return. I am looking forward to seeing her in another world if I should be worthy to go where she is.
If performed in the right spirit, there is no higher worship than the unpurchased service to another soul of whatever faith, belief, or social stratum. The Savior of the world said it simply, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
I’d like to quote to you one of my favorite scriptures.
D&C 50:24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
I love this because it captures the idea that there is light in me, and that light will seek out more light, and I become filled with joy and love as I progress through this life. I am reminded of my potential as a child of God.
I leave you with my testimony that I know the Savior lives, that he loves us, and that he wants to be a part of our lives. I testify that he can and does change human nature as much as we’ll let him. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that Gordon B. Hinckley is a true prophet, and that this is the Lord’s Church.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
May 2007 Ensign, page 19 – Ye Must Be Born Again
May 1975 Ensign, page 4 – Birth
28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
Those who had been born of God after hearing King Benjamin’s address had a mighty change in their hearts. They had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”
More on the results of this change
President Marion G. Romney said:
Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. 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.
Source: Full Conversion Brings Happiness