Age-85 years. Length of service as member 56 years. Positions held, most except that of Bishop and Stake President. Have had my endowments and sealing to family done. In all those years and all of those positions I have never had a testimony that the Church is true. So why have I been in for so long? Because I enjoyed doing what I was called to do. Do you think this may be sufficient to get me past the pearly gates?
Thank you for your faithful service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For half a century you have built up Zion in your corner of the world, and it is appreciated.
You ask if your service is sufficient for exaltation, but I cannot answer this question. Judgment is the Lord’s and the best I can do is share some revealed principles and pray the Spirit tells you your standing before God.
Works without faith is dead
As a general principle, works without faith is dead. An extreme example of this was when Cain offered up the very best of his harvest in sacrifice to God. What generosity! What service! Surely he and his offering would be accepted the same as Abel’s. But it was not. Joseph Smith taught us why:
“By faith in this atonement or plan of redemption, Abel offered to God a sacrifice that was accepted, which was the firstlings of the flock. Cain offered of the fruit of the ground, and was not accepted, because he could not do it in faith, he could have no faith, or could not exercise faith contrary to the plan of heaven. … consequently Cain could have no faith; and whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.58).
This was not a problem of mere form but also motivation. Cain sacrificed his harvest because “Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:18). Mormon explains how even praiseworthy works can still lead to condemnation.
“For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness” (Moroni 7:6-7).
Jesus prayed, “life eternal [is to] know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent” (John 17:3) and you cannot be saved without this knowledge.
Righteous works grow faith
Also as a general principle, righteous works grow faith. Jesus taught “if any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). In doing we learn the divinity of the work we are engaged in. And “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Poetically this same principle is taught in the our dearly-loved hymn, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”. I here provide only a sample.
5. Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment–he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.
7. Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”
The author, in serving others, took upon himself the anointed roles of healer, comforter, and succorer. And wearing this mantle he finally saw the face of the Exemplar. It was not seen in the mirror, but in the visage of the stranger he served! Surely this character is saved for he has unknowingly known the Savior and “life eternal [is to] know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent.”
The light of testimony
Because of this, I suspect that you may have more testimony than you think. Too often we think that a testimony is only found through profound epiphanies. Elder Bednar assures us that we need not look for such flamboyant manifestation:
“Perhaps as we consider the experiences of Joseph in the Sacred Grove, of Saul on the road to Damascus, and of Alma the Younger, we come to believe something is wrong with or lacking in us if we fall short in our lives of these well-known and spiritually striking examples. If you have had similar thoughts or doubts, please know that you are quite normal. Just keep pressing forward obediently and with faith in the Savior” (The Spirit of Revelation, April 2011 General Conference).
He compares receiving a testimony to seeing light in three ways. The first is to have the Saul, Alma, or Joseph Smith experience comparable to flipping on a light switch. The second is comparable to a sunrise, when
“gradually and steadily the intensity of the light increased, and the darkness of night was replaced by the radiance of morning. Eventually, the sun did dawn over the skyline. But the visual evidence of the sun’s impending arrival was apparent hours before the sun actually appeared over the horizon. This experience was characterized by subtle and gradual discernment of light.”
This type of gradual realization of testimony is “more common than rare”. President David O. McKay shared his experience in seeking out a testimony.
“I hungered for it; I felt that if I could gain a testimony, all else would indeed seem insignificant. …
“I remember riding over the hills of Huntsville one afternoon, thinking of these things and concluding that there in the silence of the hills was the best place to get that testimony. I stopped my horse, threw the reins over his head, withdrew just a few steps, and knelt by the side of a tree. The air was clear and pure, the sunshine delightful; the growing verdure and flowers scented the air. …
“I knelt down and with all the fervor of my heart poured out my soul to God and asked him for a testimony of this gospel. I had in mind that there would be some manifestation; that I should receive some transformation that would leave me absolutely without doubt.
“I got up, mounted my horse, and as he started over the trail, I remember rather introspectively searching myself and involuntarily shaking my head, saying to myself, ‘No, sir, there is no change; I am just the same boy I was before I knelt down.’ The anticipated manifestation had not come.” (as quoted in “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay“, Chapter 17, A Testimony of the Truth).
He did not get the light switch experience he expected. it wasn’t until years later that “the spiritual manifestation … came as a natural result of the performance of duty” (Ibid.). His testimony was realized just as the rising sun.
The third light of testimony Elder Bednar mentions (and the one that I think is most pertinent to you) is a sunrise on a foggy day. The observer may recognize that there is light, but not know whether the sun is actually up. This is similar to an experience Oliver Cowdery had.
“Oliver felt impressed to offer his assistance to the young prophet. Consequently, he traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, and became Joseph’s scribe. The timing of his arrival and the help he provided were vital to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
“The Savior subsequently revealed to Oliver that as often as he had prayed for guidance, he had received direction from the Spirit of the Lord. ‘If it had not been so,’ the Lord declared, ‘thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time. Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth’ (D&C 6:14–15).
“Thus, Oliver received a revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith informing him that he had been receiving revelation. Apparently Oliver had not recognized how and when he had been receiving direction from God and needed this instruction to increase his understanding about the spirit of revelation” (The Spirit of Revelation).
You have enough
If you truly do not have a testimony, I cannot see how your service will do you any good. On the other hand, your service may have given you light that you simply do not recognize. Legally, a testimony is an account of what was seen, heard, or experienced firsthand. Start with that. Recognize that the Church has gotten you involved in a lot of good work. While you ponder and pray on it, leave room to acknowledge the divinity of that work and the organization that calls for it. As you read the scriptures of the restoration, look to recognize that there is light there, no matter how difficult it may be to pinpoint exactly the source. Finally, consider the correspondence Sister Rosemary M. Wixom shared between Mother Theresa and Archbishop Perier.
“In a 1953 letter, Mother Teresa wrote: ‘Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself—for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started “the work.” Ask Our Lord to give me courage.’
“Archbishop Périer responded: ‘God guides you, dear Mother; you are not so much in the dark as you think. The path to be followed may not always be clear at once. Pray for light; do not decide too quickly, listen to what others have to say, consider their reasons. You will always find something to help you. … Guided by faith, by prayer, and by reason with a right intention, you have enough.'” (Returning to Faith, April 2015 General Conference).
If you find that you really do have a testimony of the restored Gospel, even though you can’t pinpoint exactly (or generally) when you received it, you have enough. And if you find that such a testimony is not there, then by prayer, faith, service with a right intention, you have enough to find one.