The Change of Heart

by Autumn Dickson

In the chapters for this week, we find various sermons and experiences from Alma as he is traveling from city to city to try and build up the church. In one of the areas, Zarahemla, he found some issues within the church that were plaguing the Saints and taking them away from the Lord.

This is another one of those chapters growing up that troubled me and made me worry about my salvation. As I read verses about being stripped of pride and envy (particularly difficult as an insecure teenager), or when I read verses about walking blameless before God, I was convinced I didn’t stand a chance.

I never think it’s a bad idea to consider the state of your soul and talk to the Lord about it, but it has to be done right. There have been plenty of times that I’ve examined the apparently black state of my soul growing up and thinking that there was no way I’d ever be good enough to live with God again. This wasn’t uplifting or helpful. It didn’t make me a better person. It just made me focus more on myself. I was doing plenty of good things, but those good things weren’t changing me. Which is rather unfortunate and ironic when you think about the fact that change is literally the entire point of this earthly exercise.

A mighty change of heart absolutely includes a desire to do what’s right, to follow the Lord, and serve those around us. However, a mighty change of heart includes much more than that. There is a process to follow that I believe often gets pushed out of order to our own detriment.

Let’s observe exactly what Alma is teaching here, and I think we’ll find how to have our hearts changed in a way that is uplifting and joyful. Understanding exactly what Alma is teaching about being prepared to meet God can help us to accomplish more good works than we otherwise would be able to, and it can also help us go about this process in a way that fills our souls rather than leaving us empty.

How does the change of heart occur?

Alma is addressing the Saints in Zarahemla when he starts talking about remembering the captivity of their fathers. He talks about them being encircled by the bands of death and chains of hell. An everlasting destruction awaited them. Were they destroyed? No. Their restraints were loosed. Alma then asks:

Alma 5:10 And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

That’s what we’re trying to find out here, right? We’ve all found ourselves encircled with bands that we can’t break ourselves. We’ve all sinned. So how did our fathers escape? Because if we can figure out how they escaped, we can know how to escape ourselves. Luckily, Alma describes it clearly.

And if I had been able to observe the answer as a teenager, it would have surprised me.

Alma 5:12 And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.

What saved them? It wasn’t an incessant, bullheaded attempt to do everything right. It was faith! It’s so funny because I was absolutely surrounded by Texas Christians growing up who were of the opinion that “works” were completely unnecessary. You were only saved by believing in Christ. We believe in works, and there is a place for works, and we will talk about works. But maybe they were onto something. I feel like we have a culture in the church that talks about our belief in grace and faith as they are related to salvation, but we also inwardly scoff a little. We’re afraid to lean on grace and faith to the extent that we relinquish responsibility for our actions to our detriment. I feel like we profess the idea of grace and faith, and yet oftentimes, our beliefs about our own worthiness and the extent to which we beat ourselves up does not reflect this belief in the Savior’s ability to redeem.

And yet, here we have Alma, teaching that it was faith that freed them from their bonds.

So let’s cover grace and works again. Where does faith come in and what’s the point of works? How do the two relate together? I’ve only talked about it a million times, but that’s because the relationship between the two is complex. There are a lot of ways to teach it and better understand it. There are layers to it, so we’re going to add another layer here that can hopefully add to what we’ve already studied about grace and works.

Works-first method

Perhaps we don’t mean to, but I believe we often follow a “works first” method and we believe that the faith (and all the feelings associated with salvation) just kinda descends later. I tried that for a long time, and it never descended. I think sometimes we believe that if we’re following the commandments and standards, those good feelings of freedom and peace and salvation are simply going to show up. Not so.

Here is a disclaimer before I start elaborating. Someday perfection will come. Someday, you’ll never have to fall down again. That day is not today, not in this environment on earth. Heavenly Father set you up to fail, not because He doesn’t love you but because we had to fail. We needed to fail in order to become like Him. It had to happen. He wants us to be like Him, and He knew the only way to achieve that all-important goal was if we were placed in an environment with enough opposition to fall down repeatedly. He set us up to fail for a good reason, and He provided His Son to pay for those failures.

So stop trying to stop failing. Don’t make that your goal. When we follow a works-first based method, we place all of our hopes on the idea that we’re going to stop falling down. We believe that we have to stop falling down in order to go home. Perhaps we don’t phrase it like that out loud, but that’s what we internally believe. That’s why we beat ourselves up every time we mess up or when we can’t overcome our flaws as fast as we want. That’s why we get discouraged and wonder if we’re good enough. It’s because we subconsciously believe we have to stop falling, and as we covered before, there is purpose in our weaknesses and fallen environment.

In a works-first method, we’re placing our faith in ourselves, not in Christ. We claim to believe in Christ. We claim that He pays for our sins and will forgive as often as we repent. However, if we truly believed that, if we truly let His grace seep into our hearts, we would feel joyful about His ability to save us and bring us home. When I say we’re placing our faith in ourselves, I mean that we’re trying to use our own abilities to stop falling down. It won’t work. It will only leave you battered and discouraged until you eventually want to stop trying. Have you ever felt that way? “I can’t do everything. I’m so tired. I want to just give up.” It’s because subconsciously we believe that we have to do everything, and it’s simply not true.

Faith-first method

Like I mentioned previously, sometimes we internally scoff at people who tell us to stop striving, that belief is all you need. I’m not telling you to stop striving. I’m telling you to change your goal. I’m telling you to switch to a much more effective method of striving.

The works-based method and the faith-based method both have the same eventual goal: perfection. However, they approach it in dramatically different ways. Only one is effective: faith-based.

When you are following the faith-based method, you know that trusting Christ is the only way to salvation. You stop trying to stop falling down. Instead, you collect strength every time you fall down and get back up. You have faith in a Savior who paid the price so you could be sent here to fail and gain the experience you so desperately needed.

And as we choose to focus on collecting strength and developing a deep gratitude for the Savior’s ability to redeem, something absolutely incredible happens.

Our hearts change.

I have experienced it, and it feels so good. The gospel feels good. Salvation feels good.

I do fail. I’m not a perfect mother or wife. I get angry when I feel wronged. I murmur. I can be vain. I can be selfish, and I can hold a grudge. But because I believe in my Savior, I turn to Him. I believe that He adores me, that He thinks I’m wonderful, that He believes in me, so I turn to Him. And as I repeatedly turn to Him with trust, I feel those wonderful feelings of salvation, and I change. It’s difficult to be angry and vain and selfish when faced with the reality of the love of your Savior. My heart changes. I want to do good, and it becomes easier to do good and become good.

Faith comes in two forms, or at least that’s how I’m going to describe it so I can make sure I’m really hitting this point home. There is faith in the form of obedience, and there is faith in the form of trusting your relationship with the Savior. Both types of faith are action words. I had to choose to trust my Savior as much as I’ve ever had to choose to be obedient. Trying to choose faith in the form of obedience without faith in the form of trust is the worst. Don’t do it. It’s a miserable way to live the gospel, and it’s completely ineffective.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to let go of our own constant nagging towards ourselves because we’re afraid we’ll let go, become comfortable in our sin, and then we’ll actually find ourselves in a ton of trouble. I know I was afraid of that.

But it’s not what happens. When we let go of the nagging and embrace the Savior and His ability to save, you find a much deeper motivation to do good and be good. You want to be stripped of envy and pride? Experience the love of your Savior, and you won’t feel a need to compare yourself to anyone. It melts away.

Embrace the Savior. Embrace faith and trust in Him. It’s the only happy and effective way to live the gospel.



Autumn Dickson was born and raised in a small town in Texas. She served a mission in the Indianapolis Indiana mission. She studied elementary education but has found a particular passion in teaching the gospel. Her desire for her content is to inspire people to feel confident, peaceful, and joyful about their relationship with Jesus Christ and to allow that relationship to touch every aspect of their lives.

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