What Defines a Testimony?

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It is a familiar scene in chapels across the world on the first Sunday of every month.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go up to the pulpit in Sacrament meeting and share their testimony of the gospel. For a few minutes, individuals will offer a witness to the truth of key gospel principles and affirm their faith in Jesus Christ’s role as our savior and redeemer.

That’s how fast and testimony meeting works in theory. It doesn’t always play out that way in practice.

All of us have observed people, more times than we can count, who use the opportunity to share a testimony of the gospel to prattle on about their latest travels, tell an irrelevant story, preach false doctrine or take a stand on a polarizing political or social issue.

These so-called testimonies fail to inspire or uplift the congregation. For some, attention drifts to playing on smart phones or catching a quick nap in the back of the chapel. For others, the words spoken stir up feelings of anger or confusion.

It doesn’t have to be like this at all. Sharing a genuine testimony of Christ and his gospel can be a powerful experience that bolsters our faith and the faith of those who hear us testify.

President M. Russell Ballard observed:

“Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies. Those who are entrusted to speak and teach in our meetings need to do so with doctrinal power that will be both heard and felt, lifting the spirits and edifying our people.” (Pure Testimony, Liahona November 2004).

Ingredients of a testimony

A testimony is a witness of the truth of a principle of the restored gospel. We receive this witness through the Holy Ghost and it provides a foundation for our lives.

When we gain a testimony of any gospel principle through the Holy Ghost, we are under an obligation to share this witness with others so they may gain the same witness and be strengthened in their faith in Christ. We are promised blessings from heaven when we share our testimony with others (D&C 62:3).

Jesus at the door

Any testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ is built on these simple core truths:

  • God lives and is our Father in Heaven. He loves his children and wants us to return to his presence.
  • Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. He is the Son of God who suffered and died for our sins and then rose from the grave. Through this atonement, we can also be resurrected and become clean from sin if we repent and become a disciple of Christ.
  • The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It is a second witness of Christ brought forth in our day by Joseph Smith.
  • Joseph Smith is a prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel upon the Earth. He received priesthood authority from God and was commanded to organize God’s church again in our day.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Savior’s true and living church on the Earth. A living prophet leads it today through revelation from God.

Once a testimony is obtained on these basic principles, it opens the door for us to gain a deeper understanding of the gospel. We learn to recognize when the Holy Ghost speaks to us and, over time, gain a witness of other essential truths.

Cultivating a Testimony

Testimonies are built through faith. This isn’t something that can be downloaded as an app or purchased at a store. It requires effort on our part to obtain a sure witness from the Holy Ghost.

Building a testimony begins with having a desire to believe. Alma encourages us to experiment on the word of God and let it take root in our hearts (Alma 32:27). If you want to gain a testimony of prayer, for example, the first step is to start praying. Testing out gospel principles in our lives can strengthen our belief in the truth of those principles when we begin to see the good that results from it.

Book of Mormon

Belief is only the first step. Searching the scriptures will help us gain an understanding of God’s will for us. All of us have questions related to life and its purpose. The scriptures offer God’s answers to those critical questions.

It is not simply enough to study. We also must act on what we learn. God wants us to ponder over the things we study. Then we should approach him in fasting and prayer to obtain a witness from the Holy Ghost as to whether or not these things are true. This is a simple and effective formula for obtaining a testimony (Alma 5:45-46). If we do these things with a humble heart and a sincere desire to know the truth, God will speak to us through revelation and witness unto us the truth of his restored gospel.

Testimonies often come as a quiet powerful assurance rather than a spectacular sign that rivals CGI effects from a summer blockbuster movie. It grows through experience. Continued study and prayer are essential to deepening a testimony.

Nurturing a Testimony

Once we obtain a testimony of Christ as our savior and the truthfulness of his gospel, it falls on our shoulders to take upon ourselves his name. We do this through keeping the commandments of God. Building our lives from day to day using the blueprint Christ has laid out for us will strengthen our testimonies (John 7:17). We will know key gospel principles are true because we will witness the blessings that come into our lives from living those principles.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf attested to life-changing power of a testimony:

“A testimony provides proper perspective, motivation, and a solid foundation on which to build a life of purpose and personal growth. It is a constant source of confidence, a true and faithful companion during good times and bad. A testimony provides us with a reason for hope and gladness. It helps us cultivate a spirit of optimism and happiness and enables us to rejoice in the beauties of nature. A testimony motivates us to choose the right at all times and in all circumstances. It motivates us to draw nearer to God, allowing Him to draw nearer to us. (The Power of a Personal Testimony, October 2006 General Conference)”

Once again, it is important to remember that a testimony should always be centered on Christ and his restored gospel. Endless stories, travelogues, and lectures are not testimonies. Testimony meetings are not an appropriate place to give an opinion on controversial political or social issues. Nor is it the right venue to delve into doctrinal tangents that have no bearing on our eternal salvation.

Our focus should always be on Christ, the author of our eternal salvation, and his gospel. Testimonies strengthen faith when grounded in true gospel principles and shared with others.

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Receiving the Second Comforter

christus statue

One of the greatest promises in modern scripture is contained in section 93 of the Doctrine & Covenants. In the first verse, Christ tells Joseph Smith:

“It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.”

Interpretation of the doctrine in that verse has fueled a recent schism among some who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Denver Snuffer – a lawyer in Sandy, Utah – was excommunicated for apostasy in 2013. Snuffer first gained notoriety for teaching in his book, “The Second Comforter” that every person should seek to obtain a personal visitation from Jesus Christ in this life. Snuffer drew the ire of LDS Church leadership with his book “Passing the Heavenly Gift.” In this book, Snuffer denied that the prophets and apostles after Joseph Smith died had actually seen Christ and concluded that they had gradually led the church away from many doctrines of the gospel that Joseph restored.

Snuffer’s incorrect thesis has sown confusion among many well-meaning members of the church and caused them to misunderstand the true context of D&C 93:1. It put several at odds with both the scriptures and the living prophets and apostles and led them to follow Snuffer out of Christ’s church.

When we look at what the verse actually says, it outlines four conditions that must be met by a follower of Christ before receiving the second comforter:

  • Forsaking sins
  • Coming unto Christ
  • Obeying his voice
  • Keeping his commandments

In other words, obtaining a personal visit from Christ is not like ordering a pizza or streaming a movie. God does not deal in instant gratification. He wants us to demonstrate a firm commitment to his gospel and exercise faith in Christ before blessing us with such a lofty sign. We must be humble and patient and be willing to endure a trial of our faith. Even after doing these things, we must leave it up to God to decide when, where and how he reveals himself to us.

Prophets and apostles who saw Christ in the scriptures were blessed with that experience because they first exercised great faith and lived in harmony with his gospel. They listened to the voice of the Holy Ghost and kept the commandments over many years. They prayed with humility and only sought to do his will. Never do you see an occasion where a prophet or an apostle demanded a personal visit from Christ simply to satisfy their own curiosity.

God will not magically appear like a genie in a lamp to anyone who demands to see him. Pestering him until you see him face-to-face is not what the scriptures teach.

Consider what Moroni tell us in Ether 12:6:

“And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”

In other words, God expects us to exercise faith in him and be patient. We do not receive any sign, miracle or other dramatic spiritual manifestation at a time of our own choosing. We only receive these things after a trial of our faith. God wants us to learn to walk by faith and obedience. The concept of a trial of faith implies the passage of a long period of time.

Returning to the presence of God is a journey that requires many steps. The first step is building faith in Christ. Repenting of our sins is next. Then we must be baptized for the remission of those sins by one who has authority from God. We then are given the gift of the Holy Ghost and must receive the Holy Ghost.

This is only the beginning of the path as Nephi teaches in Chapter 31 of 2nd Nephi. We must continue to press forward in faith, receive the Holy Ghost and keep the commandments of God. Only by showing God that we will live by every word that comes from him through the scriptures, the voice of the spirit and his chosen leaders do we prove ourselves worthy to enter into his presence. Only when we show we are determined to obey God’s voice at all costs will our calling and election be made sure and we receive the second comforter as promised in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John.

Christ affirmed this principle in D&C 88:67-68 when he said to Joseph Smith:

“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.

Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”

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Joseph F. Smith warned us about focusing too much energy on pursuing after dramatic spiritual manifestations when he said:

“Show me Latter-day Saints who have to feed upon miracles, signs and visions in order to keep them steadfast in the Church, and I will show you members of the Church who are not in good standing before God, and who are walking in slippery paths. It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1900, Page 40).

Seek to pattern your life after the Savior and his teachings and build faith in him, his gospel and his chosen servants. We should all aspire to receive the second comforter. The best way to do it is to follow the pattern he outlined in the scriptures.

Don’t fall for the trap laid by Denver Snuffer. Rejecting the prophets and apostles God has called through revelation to lead his church will not aid us in obtaining the second comforter. Christ does not show us a miracle or sign without the purpose of furthering his work, no matter how badly we want it. Faith is always the key and, if we prove ourselves faithful, we will obtain any blessing God desires us to have – on his own timetable.