A testimony is a personal conviction of gospel truths, based on knowledge revealed by the Holy Ghost. Most Church members have a testimony of some principle of the gospel, and on this foundation a more complete testimony can be built. A testimony motivates us to live righteously, and righteous living causes a testimony to grow. A testimony of the Savior and his gospel is essential to our exaltation.
A testimony is really quite simple and has three main elements as explained by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: "A testimony in our day consists of three things: It consists of the knowledge that Jesus is the Lord, that he is the Son of the living God who was crucified for the sins of the world; it consists of the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God called to restore the gospel truths and be the revealer of the knowledge of Christ for our day; and it consists of knowing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth, the one place where salvation is found, the organization which administers the gospel and therefore administers salvation to the sons of men" (in "Gaining a Testimony of Jesus Christ," Ensign, Dec. 1980, 15).
The three elements described by Elder McConkie are critical for a testimony because they are the foundation for a testimony of other gospel truths. Everything in the gospel of Jesus Christ depends on these three elements.
It is important that we know for ourselves that Jesus is our Savior, that Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth. We cannot depend on the testimonies of other people. We can be taught and inspired by them, but ultimately we can only gain a strong testimony when we feel the witness of the Holy Ghost ourselves.
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
"And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias [Jeremiah], or one of the prophets.
"He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
"And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:13-17).
Peter testified of the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He gained this personal knowledge when Heavenly Father revealed it to him through the Holy Ghost. We know that Heavenly Father reveals truth through the Holy Ghost because the ancient American prophet,
told us: "And by the power of the
Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things"
(Book of Mormon - Another Testament of
Jesus Christ, Moroni
Peter had walked with Jesus and witnessed the many miracles that Jesus performed, but he received his testimony just as we can and do. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: "The original Apostles were eyewitnesses to the ministry and resurrection of the Savior (see Acts 10:39-41)….
"[But] an eyewitness was not enough. Even the witness and testimony of the original Apostles had to be rooted in the testimony of the Holy Ghost. [President Joseph Fielding Smith] has told us that the witness of the Holy Ghost makes an impression on our soul that is more significant than `a visitation of an angel'" (Ensign, May 1983, 80).
Each of us can obtain a testimony of Jesus Christ and his gospel. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "Every Latter-day Saint has the responsibility to know for himself or herself with a certainty beyond doubt that Jesus is the resurrected, living Son of the living God" (Ensign, May 1983, 80).
Another ancient American prophet named Alma described how we can gain a testimony by likening the word of God to a seed: "But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
"Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves - It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me." .
"But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
"And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ,
32:27-28, 30, 33). Alma
Alma continued: "And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.
"But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life" (verses 37 and 41).
Once the word of God has grown in our hearts, we must nourish it. As we work diligently and exercise faith and patience, we can develop testimonies of individual doctrines and principles of the gospel. Our testimonies can grow to include more gospel truths as we progress spiritually. Continued righteous living helps nourish the portion of our testimonies that we have already obtained. There are many ways that the Lord has provided for us to experiment on his word and strengthen our testimonies. [Previous posts have been about faith, repentance, the gift of the Holy Ghost, prayer, fasting, personal revelation, patriarchal blessings, scripture study, following the prophet, and Church service - all principles that help strengthen testimonies.]
As we strengthen our testimonies, our testimonies give us strength. Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy presented an example of how we can gain strength by knowing the truth. "I am reminded of a little village called Panacaxtlan, situated where the coastal plains meet the mountains of central
. The village is situated in a lush, green,
humid area known as the Huesteca, and the inhabitants are sons and daughters of
Lehi. In 1979, … missionaries began
proselyting in the Huesteca. Fifty-two
people joined the Church in Panacaxtlan…. Mexico
"A short time later, a meeting was called in Panacaxtlan at which Church members were given the following options: denounce the Church, leave the village, or be killed (not an idle threat).
"The members, particularly the women, said they knew the Church to be true and would not denounce it. They also indicated they had worked just as hard as the rest of the community to secure their homesteads, and they would not leave. Boldly stepping forward, they told their taunters if they were going to kill them, to get on with it. The moment grew tense as machetes were raised, then finally lowered while the Latter-day Saints stood up for that which the Spirit had testified to them to be true.
"These Saints eventually learned, as most of us do, that it is harder to live the gospel day by day than to die for it in an instant, but their early commitment came because the Spirit had touched their hearts and changed their lives. Their conversion process had taken place as the Book of Mormon helped build their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God" ("The Incomparable Gifts," Ensign, Feb. 1995, 7).
The fact that the Saints in Panacaxtlan had the courage to stand up for the Church testifies of their testimonies. They obviously had received confirmation through the Holy Ghost or else they would not have stood firm. We can follow the example of the Saints in Panacaxtlan when we stand up for the gospel and the Church in whatever situation we may encounter.
Most members of the Church will not be asked to die in defense of their beliefs, but we are all asked to "live the gospel day by day" as Elder Dickson said. Daily life presents many obstacles to everyone. Choosing to live the gospel takes much more courage that choosing to die for it.
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained one way we can strengthen our testimonies: "Share your testimony …. Let others know that you know. Bear your testimony in fast meeting. Tell your family; tell your friends. You will find when you share your testimony it becomes stronger, and there are many others around you who also want to embrace the truth" (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 22).
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "None of us ever need hesitate to speak up for this Church, for its doctrine, for its people, for its divine organization and divinely given responsibility. It is true. It is the work of God" (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 51).
I can say that I know for myself that we have a loving Father in Heaven who sent His Son, Jesus Christ to earth to atone for our sins. I know that they live! I also know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God called to restore the gospel truths and be an instrument in the hands of God in revealing the knowledge of Christ in our day. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth. I know that the Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ is the word of God. I know these truths because I studied them out, asked God if they were true, and received confirmation from the Holy Ghost that they are true. I invite you to read the Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ and learn the truth for yourself.
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