How long does it take for Christ to change a person from rascal to righteous? Can it really happen in short order? During a recent campaign, one political candidate scoffed at the biography of another candidate who claimed to have been changed in a moment of decision.
“Give me a break,” railed the critic, “It doesn’t happen that way.”
Well if it doesn’t then our 80,000 Mormon missionaries inviting people to repent and come to Christ are wasting their breath. Fact is, however, most of us who served the Lord by taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to others can tell personal stories of conversion that were marvelous to our eyes when they occurred in the lives of humble people, and even in our own.
True, conversion doesn’t happen merely by a mouthed confession of faith, but rather by a change of heart — as souls are not so much “saved” by grace as “changed” by the Savior’s enabling grace. And while faith is a principle, and a principle may be hard to “see,” we recognize it in the lives of people as reflected in their outlook, their attitude, and their conduct.
To the rash politician I can only cite the Persian proverb that when you point the finger of scorn, look at your hand and you will find three fingers pointing back at you.
A few years ago I walked the steep streets of a busy Mexico City neighborhood with two young Mormon missionaries to visit the home of a new member of the Church. I had met Brother Noah and his young son at Sunday meetings a few days earlier, but now sat with him and heard him speak of his hunger to read the scriptures, and how he understood them so much better following his baptism. He mentioned how the gospel of Jesus Christ had already changed him in more permanent ways than “groups” had done, referring to alcohol recovery programs he had attended. With clear eyes, he looked forward to his new life in Christ and to serving others, and commented that his weaknesses before were now becoming strengths.
From the Book of Mormon he was reading I shared with him Christ’s promise to a prophet centuries ago, and still valid for us today: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).”
While conversion can be marked by a moment on the road to Damascus that transforms a wicked Saul into a faith-filled apostle Paul, it comes with a challenge worthy of a lifetime of effort, as it did for Paul.
My brother and sister and I thank the Lord for the transforming changes we saw in our good parents when they determined to live what Christ had taught and “line upon line, precept upon precept” learned to follow the Master. These things didn’t have to be sudden to influence our young lives for good and be a lasting blessing, but they had to be sure. Now we try to live worthy of the faith of our parents and the love of our Savior.
Christian author Victor W. Harris observed, “We demonstrate the degree to which the love, the light, and the teachings of Jesus Christ fill our hearts and lives by the way we treat ourselves and treat others.”
I see a good resolution for the new year. The invitation and example are set before each of us. “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23-24, in a revelation dated 1830).”