What does it mean to be a convert, as Elder Costa professed in October conference? We typically use it to identify someone who was not ‘born in the covenant;’ who joined the church based on their own spiritual quest. We know that 280,106 converts joined the church in 2009 (I can’t hazard a guess as to how many of those who joined last year are still active).
Let’s consider Simon Peter. Here is a man who had spent the better part of three years following Christ, seeing the miracles, and hearing the sermons. He was likely there when Christ cleansed the temple and when he confounded the scribes and Pharisees. He had a testimony; when Christ asked him “whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered “Thou art the Christ (Mark 8:29).” Yet, with all this firsthand knowledge, Peter was still not converted. At the last supper, Christ told Simon Peter that “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (Luke 22:32).”
So what does it mean to be converted? It appears from the above example that we can have a testimony; we can dedicate our lives to Christ and strive, in faith, to do all that is asked of us, yet still not be truly converted. In the original Greek, the word translated as ‘converted’ means to turn, turn about, or return. To me, it signifies a change in direction with us now moving in the direction of God rather than away from Him.
I would suggest that Simon Peter’s conversion occurred on the day of Pentecost when he was baptized by fire. Following that event, the apostles began to speak in tongues followed shortly by the healing of the lame man at the gates of the temple. As people gathered in awe at this event, Peter took the opportunity to preach; “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. (Acts 3:19).” Conversion, by this guide, is how one’s sins can be blotted out; how one can receive a remission of sins ‘by fire and by the Holy Ghost.’ (2 Nephi 31:17)
Conversion, in a scriptural sense, differs from its use in the church vernacular. We are not truly converted when we are baptized and confirmed. We are converted when a mighty change has been wrought in our hearts.
The people who came to the temple and set up their tents to listen to King Benjamin were likely good ‘members’ of the spiritual community at the time. They were faithful in their community and family and came at the call of the leadership to hear the words of their leader. But, they were not yet converted. It was not until
“they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.” (Mosiah 4:2-3)
It was at this point that the people of King Benjamin were truly converted. It was through this unforgettable experience that their hearts were changed; that they turned to God and were spiritually born again.
After all that he witnessed, Simon Peter was converted by the Holy Spirit and went on the strengthen his brethren.
What does it mean when we call someone a ‘convert?’
What think ye?