Are You Keeping Christ at Arm’s Length?

Are You Keeping Christ at Arm's Length

At different times in our lives, many of us hold back a part of minds or hearts from the Lord. In a quiet moment, we can feel something deep inside us longer for a deeper connection with God, but we can also feel a part of us that hesitates. We don’t necessarily rebel or run away, but we resist moving forward. We keep the Lord at an arm’s length away from us. We have a testimony, but we’re not fully converted. Our hearts aren’t consecrated yet.

Marion G. Romney explained it this way: “Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted and having a testimony are not necessarily the same thing either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of the truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith. That is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion is the fruit or the reward for repentance and obedience.”

Elder Richard G. Scott used the above quote in a conference talk, and further explained: “Stated simply, true conversion is the fruit of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience. Faith comes by hearing the word of God  and responding to it. You will receive from the Holy Ghost a confirming witness of things you accept on faith by willingly doing them. You will be led to repent of errors resulting from wrong things done or right things not done. As a consequence, your capacity to consistently obey will be strengthened. This cycle of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience will lead you to greater conversion with its attendant blessings. True conversion will strengthen your capacity to do what you know you should do, when you should do it, regardless of the circumstances.” (Full Conversion Brings Happiness)

True Conversion Richard G Scott

If we aren’t converted yet; if we are holding back, we can take comfort in knowing that the Lord doesn’t feel such hesitancy toward us. Jeffrey R. Holland once reminded us of this, saying,

“Jesus Christ is the son of the living God. This is his true and living Church. He wishes us to come unto him, to follow him, to be comforted by him. Then he wishes us to give comfort to others. However halting our steps are toward him—though they shouldn’t be halting at all—his steps are never halting toward us.”

The Disadvantages of Holding Back

While the Lord is patient with us and our halting steps, we put ourselves at a disadvantage by not ‘going all in’. We’re missing out on peace and strength that could be ours. We’re missing power we need to help our family and friends. We’re putting ourselves at risk of falling away by going through the motions, and by not being fully converted to the Lord. Having a testimony is an important step, but our eternal growth goes beyond that. If we stop progressing beyond the initial feelings of testimony, we are holding back and keeping Christ at arm’s length from us.

No True Peace

President Howard W. Hunter once explained, “Peace can come to an individual only by an unconditional surrender—surrender to him who is the Prince of peace, who has the power to confer peace.”

Prince of Peace quote by Howard W Hunter

Vulnerable to Transgression

Elder D. Todd Christofferson shared this experience in conference, highlighting the dangers of not becoming truly converted unto the Lord.

“Years ago when I served as a stake president, a man came to confess a transgression. His confession surprised me. He had been an active member of the Church for years. I wondered how a person with his experience could have committed the sin that he did. After some pondering, it came to me that this brother had never become truly converted. Despite his Church activity, the gospel had not penetrated his heart. It was only an external influence in his life. When he was in wholesome environments, he kept the commandments, but in a different environment, other influences might control his actions.” (When Thou Art Converted).

Less Strength against Adversity

Another disadvantage to taking halting steps or holding back from the Lord is that when adversity hits, we will not have the strength that a closer relationship to God might have given us. When asked why some members become bitter while others endure adversity, Elder David A. Bednar explained that sometimes it is due to not being “converted unto the Lord”, which moves beyond having a testimony. He further explained, “a testimony is a foundation, but being converted unto the Lord provides a stability and a strength in facing adversity that doesn’t come any other way. I don’t want to appear at all harsh, but many of us as members of the Church, especially if our families have been members of the Church, we can go through the motions. We know the right things to say, we know the right appearances to give, but in a moment of real adversity, that’s when we find out what’s inside- simply the traditions of our fathers, or do we have a witness by the power of the Holy Ghost that this is true. … I look in the scriptures at people who face remarkable adversity, and it is the strength of their simple faith that enables them to continue moving forward when it doesn’t look like you’d be able to continue moving forward.” (The Power to Become; A Discussion with Women).

Less Power to Help Others

If we don’t feel like we’re fully converted to the Lord, we can take some comfort that an apostle was in the same boat with us. Jesus, near the end of his earthly ministry, counseled Peter, the future leader of the Church, on becoming converted. Elder Richard G. Scott taught in general conference using this example:

“Each of us has observed how some individuals go through life consistently doing the right things. They seem happy, even enthusiastic about life. When difficult choices are to be made, they seem to invariably make the right ones, even though there were enticing alternatives available to them. We know that they are subject to temptation, but they seem oblivious to it. Likewise, we have observed how others are not so valiant in the decisions they make. In a powerfully spiritual environment, they resolve to do better, to change their course of life, to set aside debilitating habits. They are very sincere in their determination to change, yet they are soon back doing the same things they resolved to abandon.

“What is it that makes the difference in the lives of these two groups? How can you consistently make the right choices? The scriptures give us insight. Consider enthusiastic, impetuous Peter. For three years he had served as an Apostle beside the Master, observing miracles and hearing transforming teachings and private explanations of parables. With James and John, Peter experienced the glorious Transfiguration of Jesus Christ with the accompanying visitations of Moses and Elijah.  Yet with all of this, the Savior could see that Peter still lacked consistency. The Master knew him very well, as He does each of us. In the Bible, we read:

“‘And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you. … But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.’ Certainly these were not, from the perspective of Peter, idle words. He sincerely meant what he said but would act otherwise.”

We know that later Peter denied even knowing the Lord, not once, not twice, but three times, as the Savior had prophesied. We also know that Peter wept bitterly when he realized what he had done. Elder Scott continues to say:

“As painful as that confirmation of prophecy must have been for Peter, his life began to change forever. He became that unwavering, rock-solid servant essential to the plan of the Father after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Savior. This tender passage also illustrates how very much the Savior loved Peter. Although He was in the midst of an overpowering challenge to His own life, with all of the weight of what was to transpire upon His shoulders, yet He turned and looked at Peter—the love of a teacher transmitted to a beloved student, giving courage and enlightenment in time of need. Thereafter, Peter rose to the full stature of his calling. He taught with power and unshakable testimony despite threats, imprisonment, and beatings. He was truly converted.” (Full Conversion Brings Happiness)

After we are converted unto the Lord, we have increased power to strengthen our brothers and sisters, just as Peter did. That’s perhaps the most inspiring reason of all to stop keeping the Lord an arm’s length away, and to become fully converted.

Peter denies Christ - Carl Bloch

Why We Keep God an Arm’s Length Away

Being fully converted unto the Lord, or having experienced a mighty change of heart, brings us true peace, increased strength during adversity, and increased power to help others. Why would our steps be halting toward something so desirable? The reason is very individual for each of us, but here are a few that came up in general conference.

Fear of Consecration

Elder Neal A. Maxwell counseled on us on overcoming our fear of consecration during his general conference talk, Consecrate Thy Performance:

“Many ignore consecration because it seems too abstract or too daunting. The conscientious among us, however, experience divine discontent because of progression mixed with procrastination. Hence, loving counsel is given with the confirmation of this direction, encouragement to continue the journey, and consolation as we experience individually the inherent degrees of difficulty.

Divine Discontent - LDS Quote by Neal A. Maxwell

“…Since knees often bend long before minds, holding back this ‘part’ deprives God’s work of some of mankind’s very best intellects. Far better to be meek like Moses, who learned things he ‘never had supposed’ (Moses 1:10). Yet, sadly, brothers and sisters, in the subtle interplay of agency and identity, there is so much hesitation. The surrender of the mind is actually a victory, because it then introduces us to God’s stretching and ‘higher’ ways! (see Isa. 55:9).

“… In pondering and pursuing consecration, understandably we tremble inwardly at what may be required. Yet the Lord has said consolingly, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (D&C 17:8). Do we really believe Him? He has also promised to make weak things strong (see Ether 12:27). Are we really willing to submit to that process? Yet if we desire fulness, we cannot hold back part!”

My grace is sufficient for you

Waiting on the road to Damascus

In his talk Waiting on the Road to Damascus, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf talked about the miraculous conversion of Saul, and the heavenly vision of Joseph Smith. Pres. Uchtdorf then expressed concern that some of us refuse to take small steps of faith as we wait for some big manifestation:

“There are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe. They stand at the waters of baptism but do not enter. They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe.

“They spend their days waiting on the road to Damascus.

“One dear sister had been a faithful member of the Church all her life. But she carried a personal sorrow. Years before, her daughter had died after a short illness, and the wounds from this tragedy still haunted her. She agonized over the profound questions that accompany an event such as this. She frankly admitted that her testimony wasn’t what it used to be. She felt that unless the heavens parted for her, she would never be able to believe again.

“So she found herself waiting.

“There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting on the road to Damascus. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples. They hope to receive the priesthood but hesitate to live worthy of that privilege. They desire to enter the temple but delay the final act of faith to qualify. They remain waiting for the Christ to be given to them like a magnificent Carl Bloch painting—to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.

“The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.

“This can be our experience if we move forward with faith and do not wait too long on the road to Damascus.”

Past Abuse

I don’t bring up the subject of abuse lightly, or with authority to treat or advise anyone. I do know that it occurs, from mild to unimaginable. I know that prophets have said that abuse, past or present, can interfere with our relationship with Heavenly Father. Elder Richard G. Scott, a prophet of God, understood the necessity of approaching the subject with care. He introduced his conference talk, To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse, with these words:

“Some matters are so sensitive and intensely personal and can awaken such disturbing feelings that they are seldom mentioned publicly. Yet, if tenderly and compassionately treated in the light of truth, discussion of these matters can bring greater understanding, with the easing of pain, the blessing of healing, and even the avoidance of further tragedy.”

Here’s the whole talk on video below, or you can read it at lds.org. He can say it so much better than I could summarize, and he has the priesthood authority to address the subject, whereas I have neither the Church authority nor the professional training to advise on this.

How to Become Fully Converted Unto the Lord

How can we stop keeping Christ at arm’s length? How can we become fully converted unto the Lord, and live a consecrated life? Elder Christofferson asked at conference, “do you want this for yourself? I can tell you how that can happen, but it must be something you want. The gospel cannot be written in your heart unless your heart is open. Without a heartfelt desire, you can participate in sacrament meetings, classes, and Church activities and do the things I will tell you, but it won’t make much difference. But if your heart is open and willing, like the heart of a child, let me tell you what you can do to be converted.” (When Thou Art Converted)

Prophetic Counsel from Elder Bednar

“Conversion is an enlarging, a deepening, and a broadening of the undergirding base of testimony. It is the result of revelation from God, accompanied by individual repentance, obedience, and diligence. Any honest seeker of truth can become converted by experiencing the mighty change of heart and being spiritually born of God (see Alma 5:12–14). As we honor the ordinances and covenants of salvation and exaltation (see D&C 20:25), ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ’ (2 Nephi 31:20), and endure in faith to the end (see D&C 14:7), we become new creatures in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Conversion is an offering of self, of love, and of loyalty we give to God in gratitude for the gift of testimony.”

conversion and testimony LDS quote David A Bednar

Prophetic Counsel from Elder Christofferson

Elder Christofferson counsels how to become fully converted:

“As a first step, you must lay aside any feeling of pride that is so common in the world today. By this I mean the attitude that rejects the authority of God to rule in our lives. … Further, for the gospel to be written in your heart, you need to know what it is and grow to understand it more fully. That means you will study it. … ” Elder Christofferson also instructs us on the part prayer must play in becoming converted: “Your Heavenly Father wants you to pray about your hopes and fears, your friends and family, your school and work, and the needs of those around you. Most of all, you should pray to be filled with the love of Christ.”

Elder Christofferson counseled further: “In ancient times when people wanted to worship the Lord and seek His blessings, they often brought a gift.  … As you seek the blessing of conversion, you can offer the Lord the gift of your broken, or repentant, heart and your contrite, or obedient, spirit. In reality, it is the gift of yourself—what you are and what you are becoming.” (When Thou Art Converted)

A few years after speaking on becoming fully converted unto the Lord, Elder Christofferson gave a wonderful talk, Reflections on a Consecrated Life, in which he discussed “five of the elements of a consecrated life: purity, work, respect for one’s physical body, service, and integrity.”

Prophetic Counsel from Elder Oaks

“To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be ‘converted,’ which requires us to do and to become. If any of us relies solely upon our knowledge and testimony of the gospel, we are in the same position as the blessed but still unfinished Apostles whom Jesus challenged to be ‘converted.’ We all know someone who has a strong testimony but does not act upon it so as to be converted. …

“Now is the time for each of us to work toward our personal conversion, toward becoming what our Heavenly Father desires us to become. As we do so, we should remember that our family relationships—even more than our Church callings—are the setting in which the most important part of that development can occur. The conversion we must achieve requires us to be a good husband and father or a good wife and mother. Being a successful Church leader is not enough. Exaltation is an eternal family experience, and it is our mortal family experiences that are best suited to prepare us for it.” (The Challenge to Become)

Dallin H Oaks - to do and to become

Prophetic Counsel from Elder Nelson

“The doctrine of repentance is much broader than a dictionary’s definition. When Jesus said ‘repent’, His disciples recorded that command in the Greek language with the verb metanoeo. This powerful word has great significance. In this word, the prefix meta means ‘change.’ The suffix relates to four important Greek terms: nous, meaning ‘the mind’; gnosis, meaning ‘knowledge’; pneuma, meaning ‘spirit’; and pnoe, meaning ‘breath.’

“Thus, when Jesus said ‘repent,’ He asked us to change—to change our mind, knowledge, and spirit—even our breath. …

“Repentance is the Lord’s regimen for spiritual growth. King Benjamin explained that ‘the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.’ Brothers and sisters, that means conversion! Repentance is conversion! A repentant soul is a converted soul, and a converted soul is a repentant soul.”

Following the Example of the Prophets

The first talks as apostles - examples to follow

Our prophets lead by example. Some of their words that reveal their hearts and minds can guide us to deeper understanding of the attitude and spirit that accompanies conversion and consecration. Here a few excerpts from the first talk given in conference after each current apostle was called. I chose their first talk because they tend to talk a little more about themselves and how they feel about the calling than in subsequent talks.

When we stop holding Christ at arm’s length, and become converted and consecrate ourselves, our feelings may often mirror the prophets’ feelings as they undertake their new calling from God. Humility. Gratitude. Feelings of inadequacy coupled with faith. A little sweet agony. Tears. Tender, sacred feelings. Our words in prayer may also include similar declarations of complete devotion and commitment. And then, as they have done, may we go on to consistently live up to our words the very best we can.

President Thomas S. Monson: “My sincere prayer today, President McKay, is that I might always obey you and these, my brethren. I pledge my life, all that I may have. I will strive to the utmost of my ability to be what you would want me to be. I am grateful for the words of Jesus Christ, our Savior, when he said: ‘I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him’ (Rev. 3:20). I earnestly pray, my brothers and sisters, that my life might merit this promise from our Savior.” (I Stand at the Door and Knock)

Elder Henry B. Eyring: “I will keep my covenant to take his name upon me and always remember him. And I will go wherever I am sent to teach of him and offer the ordinances by which we take his name upon us and promise that we will always remember him and keep his commandments.” (Always Remember Him)

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf : “To describe my inner feelings, I would say I am calm as a hurricane, or even better, I am happy and frightened. In one sentence, I need your prayers; I need the Lord. Having received a call and been given a sacred trust that will completely influence my life forever, my feelings are tender and my emotions often close to tears. I have a great sense of inadequacy, and I have felt a sweet agony from a deep and often painful examination of my soul during the many hours which have passed day and night since Friday morning this week.” (The Opportunity to Testify)

Elder Russell M. Nelson: “Feelings of commitment well up from the depths of my soul. My sweetheart, Dantzel, and I first made those covenants in the temple of the Lord over thirty-eight years ago, to consecrate our lives to the service of the Lord. Today, I reaffirm that promise, to give all I have to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth. In accepting this call, knowing that challenges, charges, and keys will be conferred and that buffetings will likewise come, I commit my effort, my energy, and my all.” (Call to the Holy Apostleship)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “I am thrilled with this calling. Having been ‘called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority’ (A of F 1:5), I have gladly forsaken my professional activities to spend the rest of my days in the service of the Lord. I will devote my whole heart, might, mind, and strength to the great trusts placed in me, especially to the responsibilities of a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world.” (Why Do We Serve?)

Elder M. Russell Ballard: “My brothers and sisters, I am deeply humbled at the confidence of the Lord and my Brethren and pledge to you that I will do the very best I know how. The past nine and a half years, as I have been sent on errands for the Lord throughout the earth, have caused me to know that this Church is filled with righteous, good, dedicated men. Each of us obediently learns that we will come forth as we are called, to try to do the very best we can in our callings, whether it be home teacher, whether it be stake president, or whether it be General Authority.” (In Response to the Call)

Elder Robert D. Hales: “It is not in death or in one event that we give our lives, but in every day as we are asked to do it. … I ask the Lord’s blessings, that I might be one in purpose with the Twelve and with all the General Authorities, and with you, my brothers and sisters; and I say to the priesthood holders that any one of you could be here this day. One cannot ask the question ‘Why me?’ and dwell on it. But I will do as the prophet has said, to put behind me my past life and dedicate and consecrate all my time, talents, and efforts to His work.” (A Question of Free Agency)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “A line of scripture reminds us with searing understatement that ‘they which preach the gospel should live … the gospel’ (1 Cor. 9:14). Beyond my words and teachings and spoken witness, my life must be part of that testimony of Jesus. My very being should reflect the divinity of this work. I could not bear it if anything I might ever say or do would in any way diminish your faith in Christ, your love for this church, or the esteem in which you hold the holy apostleship. I do promise you—as I have promised the Lord and these my brethren—that I will strive to live worthy of this trust and serve to the full measure of my ability.” (Miracles of the Restoration)

Elder David A. Bednar: “I will go where the Lord and the leaders of His Church want me to go, I will do what they want me to do, I will teach what they want me to teach, and I will strive to become what I should and must become. In the strength of the Lord and through His grace, I know that you and I can be blessed to accomplish all things. As one of the weakest of the weak, I testify that God lives. I testify and witness that Jesus is the Christ.” (In the Strength of the Lord)

Elder Quentin L. Cook: “President Hinckley extended this call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve late Thursday afternoon. I cannot possibly articulate the kaleidoscope of feelings I have experienced since then. There have been sleepless nights and much prayer. My spirits have been buoyed, however, by the knowledge that President Hinckley is the prophet and that the membership of the Church will be praying for me and my family. To say that I feel deeply inadequate would be an understatement. When I was called as a General Authority in April of 1996, I also felt unequal to the calling. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reassured me then that the most important qualification for all of us serving in the kingdom is to be comfortable in bearing witness of the divinity of the Savior. A peace came over me at that time and has stayed with me since because I love the Savior and have had spiritual experiences that allow me to testify of Him.” (Live by Faith and Not by Fear)

Elder D. Todd Christofferson: “I plead with my Heavenly Father to sustain me as He ever has that I might measure up to something that is far beyond my native capacity and be able to focus outwardly, losing myself in your service. I trust in Him, and I know that His grace is sufficient, and so I here unreservedly commit all that I have and am to God and His Beloved Son. I also commit myself, my loyalty, my service, and my love to the First Presidency and to my Brethren of the Twelve.” (Born Again)

 Elder Neil L. Andersen: “To those who know me, if ever I have been less than I should have been in your presence, I ask for your forgiveness and patience. I so very much need your faith and prayers in my behalf. I know that I am not what I must become. I pray that I might be willing and moldable to the Lord’s tutoring and correction. I take comfort from the words of President Monson last night in the priesthood session that the Lord will shape the back to fit the burden placed upon it.” (Come Unto Him)

Elder Ronald A. Rasband: “President Monson, President Eyring, President Uchtdorf, I love you and will serve the Lord and you with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength. … When I think of those who have helped make me who I am, I think first of my sweet and selfless eternal companion, Melanie. Through the years, she has helped mold me like potter’s clay into a more polished disciple of Jesus Christ. Her love and support, and that of our 5 children, their spouses, and our 24 grandchildren, sustain me. To my dear family, I love you.” (I Stand All Amazed)

Elder Gary E. Stevenson: “As I agonized over my inadequacies this week, I received a distinct impression which both chastened and comforted me: to focus not on what I can’t do but rather on what I can do. I can testify of the plain and precious truths of the gospel.” (Plain and Precious Truths)

Elder Dale G. Renlund: “With all my heart I want to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. I love Him. I adore Him. I witness of His living reality. I witness that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah. I am a witness of His incomparable mercy, compassion, and love. I add my testimony to that of the Apostles who, in the year 2000, stated ‘that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. … He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world’.” (Through God’s Eyes)



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Image of Christ, Carl Bloch painting of Peter, and photo of 1st Presidency are from lds.org
Meme background images from 123RF; memes compiled by Kathryn S. Allen