by Timothy Sellman
On September 1, 1951, I was born into a fifth generation Mormon Family. (It is reported in my family that Joseph Smith and his first wife stayed in my ancestor's home in Nauvoo). However, in 1980, I requested an appearance before a bishop's court to share my assurance of salvation with him and his high council. I knew that I was turning my back on the possibility of ever becoming a god. I also knew that my action could condemn me to an endless hell as a son of perdition if the teachings of the Mormon church were true. What brought me to such drastic action? Please let me share with you a brief testimony of my real faith in Jesus Christ. My search began when I was 19 years old. I was working for a freelance house painter named Ira, who claimed to be a Christian. I started watching him like a hawk. He was not a Mormon, but he was different than any member of the Mormon Church that I had ever known. He had a peace and gentleness about him I had never seen. No matter what went wrong, he would never get angry or uptight. Even when I painted the whole living room of a house the wrong color, he apologized for getting irritated with me. He had what I was looking for, so I asked him a question over lunch one day. "What gives you your inner peace?" He replied, "Jesus." "What do you mean, Jesus", I retorted. He gently answered, "I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I am absolutely positive I am going to heaven if I die." I scoffed, "What makes you so sure?" He answered, "Jesus Christ lives in my heart." And then he shared John 3:16 with me: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life."
Immediately I rejected the possibility of anyone having this kind of assurance. I said to him, "It can't be that simple!" But I never forgot him, or his assurance of everlasting life.
I started searching for someone within the Mormon Church that had this same assurance and this same inner peace. I found no one. In fact most of the people that I asked in my ward looked at me like I was crazy. And after a while other members started avoiding me. Obviously my question bothered them as much as it bothered me. I came to one conclusion: I would not find the key to the peace and assurance I had seen in Ira with the keepers of the "restored gospel".
My ensuing search was very difficult and sometimes terrifying. No one could understand the inner turmoil I was going through but Jesus Christ Himself. Yet, the very person I was searching for was faithfully drawing me. The more I trusted Him to reveal himself through my King James Bible, the more I learned to trust Him and love Him, until in 1980 I was standing in a Bishop's court, willing to trust Jesus Christ alone with my eternity no matter what.
Today I have the inner peace and assurance that I had seen demonstrated in the life of my friend Ira. And I have prayerfully prepared this testimony for those who are now like I was, looking for that inner peace and assurance of eternal life. My prayer is that you will find it with less of a struggle than I did.
THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL
As a Mormon I was in a real dilemma. I had come to realize that the faith that I had been raised in could not help me find the inner peace that my soul was crying out for. Yet I had been taught all my life that no other church had the truth. My heart screamed out, "Where can I find the truth!" I felt very much like Joseph Smith must have felt, over one hundred years before, searching for the truth but not knowing where to find it. So I cried out to my Heavenly Father for guidance and the Holy Spirit reminded me of the verse that Joseph Smith claimed in James 1:5 which reads, "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth liberally and upbraideth not." I didn't have to wait very long before I began to get some answers. I went to one of the works of the Mormon Church, A MARVELOUS WORK AND A WONDER, authored by LeGrand Richards. I knew this book had been written to explain the tenets of the Mormon Faith. Therefore I was hoping he might have some answers. As I was reading the section that explains how the gospel had been lost I noticed in Revelation 14:6 that the angel was proclaiming the "everlasting gospel." Even though my heart was pounding out of my chest, I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to me this "everlasting gospel" being spoken of. As God's word had promised he gave me the wisdom I had been asking for. Was the gospel everlasting? I looked in the topical index of my Bible, and found I Peter 1:23-25: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible , by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." It "abideth for ever"? "How can this be true," I asked myself. Then I saw the cross-reference, Psalm 100:5, which said God's truth endureth to all generations. A cross-reference there led to Psalm 119:89, which speaks of God's word being forever settled in heaven. And another reference I found was Matthew 24:35, which says "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
In further study I learned that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to him in repentance. That supplied me with a reason for His not allowing the gospel to be taken from the earth (II Peter 3:9 and I Tim. 2:4). As I studied about the gospel, I was surprised to read that one can be right with God by faith! "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first and also to the Greek (i.e. Gentiles). For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'." And I learned from Romans 2:16 that men are going to be judged by the standard of Paul's gospel.
This was all unsettling. If the gospel had not been lost because God wanted it available so men could believe it and it was going to be used as a standard for judgment on the judgment day, how was I to understand the passages I had been taught as a Mormon?
APOSTASY SCRIPTURES EXPLAINED
As I prayed that the Holy Spirit would reveal to me the truth, here is what I found: I began by checking II Timothy 3:1-5, which I had been taught as a member. I noticed it spoke of "despisers of those that are good" and of those who deny the power of Godliness. I already knew that the GOSPEL is God's power for becoming godly (Rom. 1:16). How could the wicked deny the gospel if it was not in existence. The answer was they could not! Then I looked at II Thessalonians 2:1-4. As I looked at the time frame involved, I could see it just HAD to be in the future because it spoke of the man of sin being revealed, who is destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming! (2:8) This was obviously the same one as is described in Rev. 19:15 and Rev. 13:1, both of which describe future events in their contexts. As I meditated on these things, the truth hit me, in the pit of my stomach, like a ton of bricks. The truth was that there never had been a total apostasy. I felt betrayed by the very ones I had believed had the truth. (Two other scriptures often used are Isaiah 29:4 and Amos 8:11, which both refer to apostasy of Israel, not the church. The two are not the same - see Romans 11:25. The fulfillment of Amos 8:11 was during the 400 silent years before Christ was born, when no voice of a prophet was heard -- no reference is made in the scripture to the written word.)
I HAD BEEN LIED TO!
They had said the gospel was lost. The scriptures revealed the gospel was everlasting. They said there was a total apostasy historically. That apostasy was yet future. My mind was reeling as I tried to comprehend the impact of what the Holy Spirit had shown me in response to my sincere prayer over the weeks of searching. I felt sick in my heart. Everything I had believed all my life was falling apart like a house of cards in a typhoon. How could it all be a lie? I was afraid to continue any further with my search at that time...afraid of what I would find. But my hunger to fill the void in my soul drove me onward. And what I later found changed my life forever.
THE TERRIBLE TRUTH
About this time I was married. I temporarily put my doubts in the back of my mind. As we settled into our apartment in Hawaii, though, the emptiness became so great I could no longer ignore it. How was I going to tell my new Mormon bride that I didn't believe the church was true? I needed to make sure before saying anything!
As I thought it through several things became clear. "IF" what I had learned from my study so far was true, then Joseph Smith's vision was suspect because the personages who appeared to him said the gospel had been lost." IF" my study had brought me truth, then no "restoration of the gospel" was needed, which meant Joseph Smith's alleged calling to restore the gospel was unnecessary. In other words, he was not a prophet of God! Further, there would be no need to reveal any restored truths in the Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants, because I had learned that Jesus had revealed "all truth" the first time (John 14:26, 16:13). It was a falling domino effect! No restoration, no vision from God, no true prophet, no restored church, no modern revelations. ....and what about the gospel? Was the LDS gospel true or not? I had to know the real truth because it would have eternal consequences. Again I prayed, and began to read more about the gospel. I Corinthians 15:1-5 was eye-opening. The gospel was defined as the truths that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. I was excited and troubled at the same time, for I had been taught all my life that Jesus did not die for my personal sins, but only for Adam's transgression. (Articles of Faith) That's why we could never be sure if we would go into God's presence. But if Paul was right and Jesus died for all my personal sins, then I could know that all my sins were forgiven and that I would be with God eternally. The Holy Spirit taught me through other scriptures as well. Galatians 1:3-4 say that Christ gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil world. I Peter 2:24 and I John 2:2 taught me that Christ bore our sin on the cross, and that he is the propitiation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. There was agreement here that Christ died for our personal sins. I then learned what was required to have forgiveness, from Acts 16:31. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." No mention of keeping the commandments. Just believe. This was foreign to what I had been taught. They said that "salvation by faith alone" was a teaching of the Devil, and here it was in the Bible! I found the same thing in Ephesians 2:8-10, and for the first time in my life, this passage made sense. "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." But I wanted more evidence. This was so hard to believe! As I entreated the Holy Spirit, he revealed the evidence that I needed. Romans 11:6 spells out the principle that if we are saved on the basis of grace, then it is not on the basis of our works. Grace and works are the opposite of one another. Titus 3:5 explains that works of righteousness have nothing to do with our salvation. Amazing! Then I saw that when the religious leaders asked Jesus what they should do to earn eternal life he simply told them to believe on himself! John 6:29) What? No being baptized? No keeping the commandments? Yes, and it was the same thing in John 3:15-16, and John 1:12 and John 5:24 and Romans 3:24 and 5:1 and 10:9-10. I was later to learn that the principle of forgiveness (salvation) by faith alone is found in well over 100 new testament passages! On the most important issue of all, I had been lied to!
FINDING THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL
One day I was in a phone booth calling my wife, and noticed a small booklet entitled "The Romans Road to Heaven." The 3 questions on its cover captivated my attention: " 1. If you were to die today, are you 100% sure you would go to heaven? 2. If you are, what gives you that assurance? 3. If not, would you like to know what the Bible says, so you can know for sure?" I had wanted to know since I was 19, and I was now 22. I forgot all about calling my wife, and with shaking hands I opened the booklet and started to read it. What I found inside changed my life. In it were six questions followed with scriptural answers from Paul's letter to the Romans. Here is what I read. Please read on, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through God's word:
WHO IS GOOD? (Romans 3:10) "As it is written, "There is none righteous, no not one."
WHO HAS SINNED? (Romans 3:23) "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
WHERE DID SIN COME FROM? (Romans 5:12) "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned."
WHAT IS GOD'S SOLUTION FOR MY PENALTY? (Romans 5:8) "But God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
WHY DID GOD DO THIS? (Romans 2:4) "...the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance."
HOW DO WE BENEFIT FROM GOD'S GIFT? (Romans 6:23b) "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 10:13) "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:9-10) "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, 'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.'"
The booklet concluded, "If you will agree, right now with God that you are a sinner, give Jesus every area of your life, make him Lord of your life and ask Him to take away your sins and be your Savior, you will be saved."
There in the phone booth I bowed my head and did as the booklet said to do. And that load of sin that I had carried for years, and the confusion, fled from my heart as Jesus Christ came into my life as my Lord and Savior. I knew if I died I would be with God eternally! Praise the Lord! I had found the everlasting gospel I was searching for all my adult life.
The booklet gave a phone number, and I was through it led to a local church. And I have been following the Lord ever since then. This is my testimony. I know that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and I know that if I die today I will be with my Heavenly Father for eternity. I am absolutely sure you can have that same assurance, right now, on the basis of God's word .
"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." I John 5:13