What is conversion?
December 1974

“What is conversion?” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 26–27

What did Jesus mean when he said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”? What is conversion?

Daniel H. Ludlow, Chairman, Adult Correlation Committee of the Church: The basic meaning of the word convert is “to turn around, to transform, or to change.” Thus, when a person is truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, his whole life is changed. The scriptures refer to such a person as having been “reborn,” because he becomes a new person.

However, a person can be convinced of something without being so affected by it that it causes a change in his behavior. For example, millions of people in America today are convinced that cigarette smoking is not good for them, yet they continue to smoke cigarettes.

When the Savior was at Caesarea Philippi, he asked the disciples who they thought he was. “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 Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 16:16–17.) This answer indicated Peter was convinced of Christ’s divinity.

But the Savior knew Peter was still not fully converted. Thus, at the Feast of the Passover, the Savior said to Peter,” … when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren.” Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.” Then the Savior, who knew Peter even better than Peter knew himself, said, “… I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.” (Luke 22:32–34.) The events of that night later proved Peter was not yet converted, even though he was convinced.

President Joseph F. Smith suggested that none of the disciples of Jesus Christ were fully converted at the time of the Feast of the Passover, or even at the time of his crucifixion. He stated:

“To my mind it strongly appears that not one of the disciples possessed sufficient light, knowledge, nor wisdom, at the time of the crucifixion for either exaltation or condemnation; for it was afterward that their minds were opened to understand the scriptures, and that they were endowed with power from on high; without which they were only children in knowledge, in comparison to what they afterwards became under the influence of the Spirit.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th edition, Deseret News, 1919, p. 433.)

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has suggested that the conversion of the faithful disciples, including Peter, took place on the Day of Pentecost:

“Conversion is more—far more—than merely changing one’s belief from that which is false to that which is true; it is more than the acceptance of the verity of gospel truths, than the acquirement of a testimony. To convert is to change from one status to another, and gospel conversion consists in the transformation of man from his fallen and carnal state to a state of saintliness. …

“In real conversion, which is essential to salvation (Matt. 18:3), the convert not only changes his beliefs, casting off the false traditions of the past and accepting the beauties of revealed religions, but he changes his whole way of life, and the nature and structure of his very being is quickened and changed by the power of the Holy Ghost.

“Peter is the classic example of how the power of conversion works on receptive souls. During our Lord’s mortal ministry, Peter had a testimony, born of the Spirit, of the divinity of Christ and of the great plan of salvation which was in Christ. ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ he said, as the Holy Ghost gave him utterance. (Matt. 16:13–19.) When others fell away, Peter stood forth with the apostolic assurance, ‘We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.’ (John 6:69.) Peter knew, and his knowledge came by revelation.

“But Peter was not converted, because he had not become a new creature of the Holy Ghost. Rather, long after Peter had gained a testimony, and on the very night Jesus was arrested, he said to Peter: ‘When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’ (Luke 22:32.) Immediately thereafter, and regardless of his testimony, Peter denied that he knew Christ. (Luke 22:54–62.) After the crucifixion, Peter went fishing, only to be called back to the ministry by the risen Lord. (John 21:1–17.) Finally on the day of Pentecost the promised spiritual endowment was received; Peter and all the faithful disciples became new creatures of the Holy Ghost; they were truly converted; and their subsequent achievements manifest the fixity of their conversions. (Acts 3, 4.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft Co., 1973, vol. 1, pp. 770–71.)

The lesson taught by Peter’s experience is one all of us should learn: to be convinced is not enough. We must also become converted.