Just a Thought

True Conversion: 21 Lessons from the People of Ammon

It doesn’t matter how true the gospel of Jesus Christ is (and I believe it is), sometimes it just doesn’t stick. For some reason, good people choose not to engage. Or worse, they choose to walk away from something they once believed to be true. Perhaps it’s a question of conversion. Here are 21 lessons I’ve learned about true conversion from studying the account of the people of Ammon in the Book of Mormon.

My Biggest Concern

As parents of four kids, my husband and I have a healthy concern for many things in their lives. Are they kind to others? Are they making good choices? Will they be home by curfew? Are they safe drivers? Do they eat the right things? (Seriously, this is a bigger deal that I thought it would be. I have no idea what my college-age son eats!) But our biggest concern—and therefore, the thing that takes our most concerted efforts—is their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We worry because it’s not something we can give to them or do for them. As with everyone, us included, our kids need to experience true conversion for themselves. But what does true conversion to Jesus Christ look like? And what can we teach them about conversion to give them the best shot at experiencing it personally?

The People of Ammon

After their own miraculous conversion to Jesus Christ, Ammon and his brothers desired to share the truth with their enemies, the Lamanites. (You can read the whole story beginning here). Their experience wasn’t without trials. They faced intense persecution and hardships. But with persistence, they helped many people, even kings and queens, develop personal relationships with the Savior.

That’s what I want for the people I love. It’s what I want for myself. So, when I study the account of a people who experienced true conversion, I pay particular attention to the details of the story. Here are a few phrases in the account that merit further consideration.

1. “Converted unto the Lord” (Alma 23:3)

True conversion requires conversion “unto the Lord” (Amal 23:3). This means our faith is centered on Jesus Christ—not the Church, programs, policies, missionaries, other people, social interactions, or any number of things that are not Jesus Christ. He is the foundation of our faith. If we are going to stand strong against what President Russell M. Nelson recently described as “trouble ahead,” we have to be grounded on Jesus Christ.

2. “The word of God” (Alma 23:3)

Studying the word of God is key to true conversion. It helped this people discern truth about what they had been taught in the past. It helped them move forward when they needed additional light. The scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, help us become converted to Jesus Christ—born again. President Nelson taught, “The Book of Mormon provides the fullest and most authoritative understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be found anywhere. It teaches what it really means to be born again.” We should be reading, studying, and thinking about the word of God daily.

3. “They were all brethren” (Alma 23:3)

We are all children of God. When we are truly converted, we put aside other labels and take upon us the name of Christ. We become His disciples. True conversion breaks down barriers. We no longer claim an “us versus them” mentality. Rather, love increases and we see each other as equals in our journey back to live with our Heavenly Father.

4. “The spirit of revelation and prophecy” (Alma 23:6)

True conversion comes through the spirit of revelation. The Savior taught this principle simply in a personal interchange with Peter. Jesus asked, “Whom say ye that I am?” In response, Peter said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The Savior then identified the source for Peter’s certain knowledge. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15–17). Through the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost (revelation), we can also know not only that Jesus is the Christ, but that His gospel is true. That knowledge leads to conversion.

When we receive that witness from the Holy Ghost, we are then blessed with the spirit of prophecy. The scriptures teach, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). True conversion comes as we receive and strengthen our testimony of Jesus through the witness of the Holy Ghost.

5. “God working miracles in them” (Alma 23:6)

The scriptures relate that these truly converted people were brought to a knowledge of the truth through “the power of God working miracles in them” (Alma 23:6). Conversion is a gift from God. It certainly takes effort on our part. But if we humbly yield ourselves to God, He will work miracles in us to help us become truly converted.

6. “Never did fall away” (Alma 23:6)

Conversion is a lifelong condition. It’s a complete and exacting change of heart. It’s becoming a new person and letting go of old ways, beliefs, and traditions. True conversion takes work. We can’t experience a lifelong change of heart if we aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to keep it going. True conversion involves all the little things, like daily prayer and scripture study (especially in the Book of Mormon), as well as living the gospel principles consistently. When we’re committed to the little things, the gospel becomes a part of us.

7. “They did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God [or] their brethren” (Alma 23:7)

True conversion requires humility, submission, and meekness—characteristics sadly lacking in society today. Whenever I think about the description of the people of Ammon laying down the weapons of their rebellion, I think of President Ezra Taft Benson’s teaching on pride. He warned, “Pride is a very misunderstood sin.” He explained, “The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” A hallmark of true conversion is letting go of hostility and be willing to yield.

8. “They did repent” (Alma 23:15)

Truly converted disciples repent daily. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Repentance is not the emergency plan, it is the plan. A penitent heart becomes a converted heart.

9. “Come to a knowledge of the truth” (Alma 23:15)

There’s a popular belief going around these days about discovering “your” truth or “my” truth. Truth, in fact, does not vary from person to person. Rather, truth is universal and absolute. And when we come to a knowledge of the truth, we experience conversion.

Surprisingly, truth isn’t always found on social media feeds or extensive internet searches. It is found in divinely appointed resources like prophets, apostles, and the scriptures. Additionally, Jesus taught that the Holy Ghost “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Our quest, therefore, should be to come to a knowledge of the truth so we can become converted to Jesus Christ.

10. “That … they might be distinguished” (Alma 23:16)

Converted disciples of Jesus Christ long to be distinguished from the world and worldly beliefs. President Thomas S. Monson taught, “I’ve lived long enough to have witnessed much of the metamorphosis of society’s morals. Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”

As the world moves farther and farther away from God’s standards, converts not only rejoice in taking upon them the name of Christ, but in how the way they dress, speak, behave, and interact with others is different from the world.

11. “They were friendly with the Nephites” (Alma 23:18)

Much like choosing how they wanted to be distinguished, this group of converted Lamanites chose their associations wisely. Sometimes being converted means leaving behind old lifestyles, including old relationships that don’t support conversion. That’s not to say anyone should be unkind to others. But kindness does not require active association. We should choose to spend time with people who help us be the converted versions of ourselves.

12. “The curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:18)

The curse was separation from God. The scriptures teach, “The word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake …, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity” (2 Nephi 5:20–21).

We can recognize the strength of our own conversion to Jesus Christ as the gap between us and God narrows. The more we consistently want what God wants, behave as God wants us to behave, and long to be as He is, the more converted we become.

13. “Not one soul … would take up arms against their brethren” (Alma 24:6).

In the conversion process, anger and violence diminish. In exchange, hearts become softened and filled with love. Jesus taught, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.  Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:29–30).

To me, that’s a pretty tall order. It’s easy to lose patience and become angry with each other. It may not lead to “taking up arms,” but it might lead to unkind thoughts or feelings that fester and grow until they become unkind words or actions. True conversion, like the Lamanites experienced, does away with contention.

14. “I thank my God” (Alma 24:7)

How grateful are we for the blessings we have received? Recognizing the Lord’s hand in all things, even the hard ones, is a sign of true conversion. It has to do with perspective. When we are converted, we understand that in all things the Lord has abundantly blessed us and continues to care for us.

15. “All we could do … to repent of all our sins … and to get God to take them away from our hearts” (Alma 24:11)

Even with all that these faithful Lamanites did to repent and turn their lives around, they understood that their conversion hinged on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He took the stain of their former lives out of their hearts. He gave them a hope for the future. Through the price He paid in Gethsemane and on the Cross, He enabled them to become converted to a new life.

He offers that same gift to each of us. When we come to Him with a broken heart, willing to forsake our former selves, He can make us new, converted followers who will never want to fall away.

16. “That the plan of salvation might be made known unto us” (Alma 24:14)

Like these converted people, we should rejoice in the plan of salvation. Why? Because it broadens our perspective on everything. It helps us understand why God asks us to keep His commandments. It explains why bad things happen to good people (and good things happen to bad people). It gives us something to aspire to. It helps us understand the Savior’s central role in God’s plan for the happiness of His children.

17. “They were firm” (Alma 24:19)

Conversion strengthens our faith and resolve to do what’s right. I want my own children to understand this important characteristic. The teenage and young adult years can be particularly difficult to navigate. Friends play an important role in decision making. That’s why it’s so important to teach them to be firm in their beliefs so they have the courage to stand for what they believe, even if they have to stand alone.

18. “Prostrated themselves … and began to call on the name of the Lord” (Alma 24:21)

When this faithful, converted group of Lamanites faced trials (in their case, death), they didn’t turn on God. Rather, they bowed themselves to the earth in a show of complete humility, and they prayed. They turned completely to God for His help and deliverance. Some were delivered. Some were not. But all yielded to Someone greater than themselves.

19. “They … did observe to keep his commandments and his statutes” (Alma 25:14)

Our “natural man” tendencies (see Mosiah 3:19) paint rules or commandments in a negative light. To hardened, unconverted hearts, commandments restrict and infringe on freedom. However, the truly converted recognize the source and power of commandments to lead us closer to the Savior.

President Thomas S. Monson said, “God’s commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible. He has provided us with guidelines which, if we follow them, will see us safely through this often treacherous mortal journey.”

20. “They did not suppose that salvation came by the law … but the law … did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ” (Alma 25:16)

This group of converted Lamanites understood the relationship between obedience to the law (in their case the law of Moses) and access to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. They knew the law alone could not save them. No amount of rule following can do that for us any more than it could do it for them.

But they recognized that obedience changed them in fundamental ways. Through Christ’s enabling power, they became more like Him—more fully converted—by obedience to the law. The scriptures go on to describe how their deeper understanding of obedience filled them with hope and helped them rely on the Spirit. We can gauge our personal conversion by how willing we are to obey all of God’s commandments (not just the convenient ones or the ones that make sense to us) and by how much we understand that obedience alone doesn’t save as much as it grows us and leads us closer to Christ.

21. “We can witness of their sincerity, because of their love toward their brethren” (Alma 26:31)

In the end, true conversion looks like true love. Love at all times. Not a free-for-all love that says anything goes. But a true Christlike love that understands boundaries, requirements, softening, lifting, forsaking sin, and becoming. It means loving God as the Savior taught. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30). It also means loving others. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

A Lifelong Process

Obviously, conversion takes work. We could study extensively about each characteristic on this list and still have things to learn. But as we embark on this most important journey of conversion to Jesus Christ, it’s helpful to see what truly converted people look and act like so we can have some guideposts to follow.

For me and for those I love, I want, more than anything, for the gospel of Jesus Christ to stick. I want it to be the very core of our beliefs and the reason why we do what we do. Hopefully, with the help of the people of Ammon, we are on the right track.

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