This is one of a series of reviews from a Christian perspective on the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence is being reviewed.)
July 10-16, 2023
If anyone seemed like an unlikely candidate for conversion, it was probably Saul—a Pharisee who had a reputation for persecuting Christians. So when the Lord told a disciple named Ananias to seek out Saul and offer him a blessing, Ananias was understandably hesitant. “Lord,” he said, “I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints” (Acts 9:13). But the Lord knew Saul’s heart and his potential, and He had a mission in mind for Saul: “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). So Ananias obeyed, and when he found this former persecutor, he called him “Brother Saul” (Acts 9:17). If Saul could change so completely and Ananias could welcome him so freely, then should we ever consider anyone an unlikely candidate for change—including ourselves?
Indeed, we see that God worked a mighty miracle in the life of Saul (later Paul), but it took a vision from Jesus to make this happen. We don’t always understand how God works, but when He wants someone as His own, He does what He has in His own time frame to get that person’s attention.
But consider this: According to this passage in Acts, Paul was an accessory to murder, participating in the murder of Stephen. In Mormonism, murder is an “unforgiveable” sin, as taught by the unique standard works as well as by church leaders. For instance, Doctrine and Covenants 132:27 says,
“The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord.”
Consider the quotes from these church leaders:
Member of the First Presidency George Q. Cannon:
“No Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who understands his duty would baptize a man who has been guilty of wilful murder. For such a crime, according to the Law of God, his blood should be shed; it is a crime which tears and repentance alone cannot entirely wash away.”Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon 1:121.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie:
“Murder, the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought or under such circumstances of criminality that the malice is presumed, ‘is a sin unto death’ (1 John 5:16-17), a sin for which there is ‘no forgiveness’ meaning that a murderer cannot receive salvation. ‘No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.’ (1 John 3:15.) He cannot join the Church by baptism; he is outside the pale of redeeming grace.”Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 520. Italics in original.
The best a murderer could ever receive in the next life is the telestial kingdom, according to McConkie:
“Murderers are forgiven eventually but only in the sense that all sins are forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost; they are not forgiven in the sense that celestial salvation is made available to them. (Matt. 12:31-32; Teachings, p. 356-357.) After they have paid the full penalty for their crime, they shall go on to a telestial inheritance. (Rev. 22:15.)”Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 520.
10th President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“John says there are two kinds of sins. One kind that can be forgiven; the other kind a sin unto death, for which there is no forgiveness. Murder is one of the latter class.”The Restoration of All Things, 1964, 204.
Smith also said, “Murder, the shedding of innocent blood, is a sin unto death” (The Way to Perfection, 236). He also stated,
“Some sins are more serious than others and less easily repented of. There are sins that cannot be forgiven, such as murder, without the punishment of the guilty with the shedding of blood.”Seek Ye Earnestly, 151.
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball agreed with this assessment, crediting the LDS Church founder with the teaching:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith underlined the seriousness of the sin of murder for David as for all men, and the fact that there is no forgiveness for it.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 128.
Kimball also taught:
“Perhaps one reason murder is unforgivable is that having taken a life, the murderer cannot restore it. Restitution in full is not possible. Also, having robbed one of virtue, it is impossible to give it back.”The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 85.
Boyd K. Packer, a member of the First Presidency, said this:
“The doctrine we teach has no provision for lying or stealing, for pornography, for immoralities, for child abuse, for abortion, for murder. We are bound by the laws of the Lord’s church, as sons and daughters of God, to avoid all of these and every other unholy or impure practice.”Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, 292.
Current member of the First Presidency Dallin H. Oaks taught:
“A deliberate murder is what the scriptures call ‘a sin unto death.’ (1 Jn. 5:16.) It deprives the murderer of eternal life (1 Jn. 3:15) because there is ‘no forgiveness’ for this act (D&C 42:79). In other words, a person who deliberately kills another shall die spiritually.”The Lord’s Way, 213.
With all of these citations as evidence, it appears the apostle Paul should never get celestial glory, no matter how much he repented in this life and even the next. If Paul cannot be fully forgiven of his sin, then how can I ever be forgiven of my sins?
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
My heart needs to be “right in the sight of God.”
A growing church meant a growing need for disciples to serve in the kingdom. According to Acts 6:1–5, what qualities were the Twelve Apostles looking for in those who would serve with them? As you read Acts 6–8, note how these qualities, and others, were demonstrated in people like Stephen and Philip.
It is all about integrity, plain and simple.
Is there anything you feel inspired to change to ensure that your heart is “right in the sight of God”? (Acts 8:21–22). How might making this change bless you as you serve God?
The problem is that we are all sinners. For the believer, it is a constant battle against sin. I have to check my heart on a regular basis and repent of my sins and shortcomings. Paul says the following in Romans 7:14-20 (which we’ll look at in a later lesson):
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Resisting the Holy Ghost can lead to rejecting the Savior and His servants.
The Jewish leaders were responsible for preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. And yet they failed to recognize the Messiah and rejected Him. How did this happen? Part of the answer may be found in Stephen’s words: “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51). What do you think it means to resist the Holy Ghost? Why does resisting the Holy Ghost lead to rejecting the Savior and His servants?
Resisting the Holy Spirit means a person purposely resists the truth. This happens for a number of reasons, including holding to a presupposition that a view is correct in spite of the opposition and to never take seriously other views, including the one that is true. I think every person ought to entertain all views but be choosy when determining the one that is true.
As you read Acts 6–7, look for other messages that Stephen taught the Jews. What attitudes was he warning against? Do you detect any similar attitudes in yourself? What do Stephen’s words teach you about the consequences of resisting the Holy Ghost? How can you be more sensitive and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost in your life?
The Bible says we are to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21). First John 4:1 says that we are to “test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Only when we reject false teachers and their doctrines can we become open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
When accounts of King David and Saul doing the wrong thing (in the case of David, adultery and murder, while Saul participated in the murder of Uriah the Hittite) are brought up in conversations with Latter-day Saints, I have heard a variety of responses. Recently I had two missionaries at my home. This issue was brought up as he talked about how David and Paul would not get celestial glory because they were murderers. Other Latter-day Saints who have disagreed with this assessment. It’s certainly not an issue brought up often by the leaders.
When both the unique LDS standard works as well as the teachings of both past and present leaders is considered, it’s very clear that murder is something that ought to prohibit a person from gaining future celestial glory. This is a problem. After all, Jesus likened murder to hating your brother. In Matthew 5, Jesus said,
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Hating a brother or sister was not taken lightly by Jesus. Meanwhile, the apostle John wrote this in 1 John 4:
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
This issue was completely ignored in the church’s lesson. Yet the introduction said this: “If Saul could change so completely and Ananias could welcome him so freely, then should we ever consider anyone an unlikely candidate for change—including ourselves?” The point I am making is, if Saul/Paul could never be forgiven for his crime as it has been taught in the past, how should I ever pretend that I can be forgiven?
The idea that murder (and adultery) could keep a person out of the celestial kingdom does not seem to be a popular current teaching in the church. Of course, I realize that the writers of this curriculum want to deal with “feel good” issues. Yet I wonder why this teaching was completely ignored.