How Elder Renlund relates a long, ascending mountain road and the Finnish word ‘sisu’ to lifelong conversion

For full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as its members, the road to eternal happiness depends on lifelong conversion to the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, taught Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Lifelong conversion means that we endure to the end, remaining firm in our commitment to keep the covenants we have made with God — no matter what,” said Elder Renlund in his Friday, June 25, address at the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders. “Such a commitment cannot be conditional or dependent on the circumstances in our lives.”

He told the 109 couples of newly called mission presidents and companions participating remotely via a livestream broadcast that the best way they can foster lifelong conversion of their missionaries is to help them be engaged with the doctrine of Christ — faith in the Savior and His Atonement, repentance, baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the second day of the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders on June 25, 2021, in the Conference Center Theater.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the second day of the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders on June 25, 2021, in the Conference Center Theater. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Repeatedly and iteratively

The doctrine of Christ, he said, “is not intended as a one-time event. We invite missionaries to do what they ask those they teach to do: to apply the doctrine of Christ in their lives, to get on and stay on the covenant path and to participate in the doctrine’s specified elements.” And missionaries need to know that they endure to the end by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly upon” the doctrine and merits of Christ (see 2 Nephi 31:19).

Elder Renlund described “repeatedly” as cycling through the elements in the doctrine of Christ throughout one’s life and “iteratively” as changing and improving with each cycle. Together, they lift one to a higher plane each time.

“The best way to picture this process is to imagine a long road ascending to a mountain peak,” he said. “If you view this road from a high altitude, all you see is a flat spiral. However, if you view it from the side, you see an ascending spiral. If you start at the bottom, you will trace a circle around the mountain. As you continue, you spiral upward so that the course you travel becomes helical.”

Each element in the doctrine of Christ builds on the preceding step, and then the sequence recurs. And each cycle ends progressively higher, with the “enduring to the end” of the doctrine of Christ simply actively and intentionally repeating the steps.

The role of the sacrament

All missionaries have been baptized, so repeating the step of baptism is through the sacrament. The covenants of baptism are renewed by partaking of the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, and the blessings of baptism are also renewed, he taught.

“Partaking of the sacrament is the next ordinance everyone needs after being confirmed a member of the Church. The sacrament is the next ordinance individuals need after being endowed in the temple. The sacrament is the next ordinance missionaries need after arriving in the mission, after a transfer, and every week during and after their missions.”

Elder Renlund underscored the importance of conscientiously preparing for and worthily partaking of the sacrament and how the sacramental covenants are made anew each week.

Missionaries can access the Holy Ghost by focusing on the sacrament throughout their lives, he added. “By iteratively claiming the cleansing effect of baptism through the sacrament, their own personal conversion becomes lifelong.”

As missionaries come to understand the role of the sacrament in the Doctrine of Christ, they gain appreciation for the doctrine’s iterative nature. The cycle begins with faith in Jesus Christ, which prompts repentance, which leads to the renewal of baptismal covenants and blessings with the sacrament, which in turn leads to having the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. That in turn increases faith. Then the cycle repeats.

The natural outcome of increasing faith in Jesus Christ is repetitive and iterative repentance, which leads to eternal progression, Elder Renlund taught, adding that conversion is increased by righteous living, not obsessively seeking perfection, but trying to be good.

“Give missionaries hope and encouragement as they repent, which will help them choose to repent in the future, propelling them along the covenant path. Repentance and lifelong conversion go hand in hand. Repentance is not to be feared. … Fearing repentance blocks cycling through the elements of the Doctrine of Christ, blocking lifelong conversion.”

Engaging with each element of the Doctrine of Christ iteratively is vital to lifelong conversion and becoming who God wants each to be. As missionaries iteratively cycle through the Doctrine of Christ, they learn of and develop Christlike attributes. As they become more and more like Christ, their hearts are changed, they have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2) and they can endure to the end, the Apostle said.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the second day of the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders on June 25, 2021, in the Conference Center Theater.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the second day of the 2021 Seminar for New Mission Leaders on June 25, 2021, in the Conference Center Theater. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Their faith has increased, they have become a little better, they are better prepared to partake of the sacrament next Sunday, and the Holy Ghost will have greater influence in their lives. As they become more like the Savior, they become more outwardly directed and less self-centered.”

Spiritual ‘sisu’

Whether missionaries remain converted throughout their lifetimes depends on their determination to be engaged with the doctrine of Christ, said Elder Renlund, using the Finnish word sisu to describe the type of determination needed.

Sisu has been described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, resilience and hardiness and expresses a characteristic that manifests itself in displaying grit, resolve and courage in the face of extreme adversity or against the odds, he said. “Someone with sisu decides on a course of action, and then adheres to it — no matter what. Sisu is the type of determination missionaries need to stay on the covenant path. Spiritual sisu is not conditioned on the circumstances in their lives.”

Missionaries with spiritual sisu

  • have settled it in their hearts that they “will do the things which [Jesus Christ] shall teach, and command” (see JST Luke 14:27–28).
  • are spiritually resilient and are better able to withstand challenges without falling or faltering.
  • grow up in the Lord and seek to receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost.
  • speedily repent and return to the covenant path after transgression, thereby qualifying for God’s promised blessings.
  • fulfill the covenant to live the law of the Gospel that they made in the temple.
  • and receive all promised temple blessings.

Elder Renlund told the new mission leaders that the Lord has called missionaries entrusted to them through the exercise of Apostolic keys. “Most of the time, the assignment to a specific mission is less important than their assignment to you,” he said, adding “As you help your missionaries engage with the Doctrine of Christ, you help them develop spiritual sisu, the spiritual resilience that is essential to lifelong conversion.”