One of the most powerful examples of missionary work in the meridian of times occurred when Paul was brought before King Agrippa and his sister Bernice. Paul chose to bear a bold witness of Jesus Christ and “the heavenly vision” he had received (Acts 26:19).
His testimony was so effective that King Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). To this remark Paul responded, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am” (Acts 26:29). Paul hoped that it were possible to convert the entire world to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Concerning Paul’s testimony, the Come, Follow Me lesson for July 29-August 4 asks, “What inspires you about his words?”
Becoming an Instrument in the Hands of God
In some ways, Paul’s wish—that everyone believe as he did—is similar to Alma’s missionary desire, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of my heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1).
Alma quickly acknowledges, however, that compulsory conversion is not the way of the Lord: “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me. …for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life” (Alma 29:3-4). Successful missionary work is not about numbers but about offering and allowing individuals the freedom to accept the love of God’s plan of salvation.
Agency, as Lehi clearly taught all his children, is an irrevocable law of heaven: “men are free according to the flesh … to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27). Alma acknowledges that he understands the law of moral agency by concluding, “this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy” (Alma 29:9).
The gospel of Jesus Christ should be promulgated “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42). These are qualities that both leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to emulate when we bear testimony of the gospel, the restored Church, and Jesus Christ.
Latter-day Apostles Bear Testimony
A modern-day example of a persuasive, heartfelt, meek, loving, and knowledgeable testimony is offered to the world in “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.” Of this proclamation, which was published to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the Lord’s birth, President Russell M. Nelson has suggested: “As you seek to learn more about Jesus Christ, I urge you to study ‘The Living Christ’” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2017).
The importance of studying this document was dramatically demonstrated at the 2019 dedication of the Rome Italy Temple when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles released a video of each one of them repeating excerpts from “The Living Christ.”
I, like many members, have now memorized this proclamation. During my daily walks, I take time to recite in my mind the carefully chosen words of 15 prophets, seers, and revelators. This exercise has changed my thinking and understanding. For example, I noticed that in their testimony they only use verbal forms of the word atone: “infinite virtue of his great atoning sacrifice”; “He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice”; “He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind” (“The Living Christ”; italics added).
In 2017 President Nelson warned, “It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as ‘the Atonement’ or ‘the enabling power of the Atonement’ or ‘applying the Atonement’ or ‘being strengthened by the Atonement.’ These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” Instead, he emphasized, “The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives”).
O That I Could Speak like Apostles
President Nelson’s counsel and my subsequent study of “The Living Christ” have helped me focus my thoughts and nourished my worship of Jesus as our living Redeemer. For example, one day while I was cleaning my yard, a young man tapped me on my shoulder, causing me to turn off my leaf blower. I did not know him, so I asked his name and learned that he belonged to a different church. Then, he sincerely asked me, “Do you believe in Jesus?” I looked directly at him and responded by reciting key excerpts from “The Living Christ.” When I had finished, he looked surprised but happy. He knew that I believed in Jesus. We parted with a blessing for each other. After he left, I felt as if a portion of Alma’s missionary wish had been granted to me, for I had been able to speak briefly like Apostles in testifying about the divinity of Jesus Christ.
This is just one of many blessings and insights that have come into my mind and heart as I have pondered the testimony of Apostles, both ancient and modern. In sharing our testimonies, we should remember this emphatic declaration by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 49).