By Eric Johnson
This is the first in a series of reviews of 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.)
December 26-January 1 , 2023 (We are Responsible for our Own Learning)
“What seek ye?” Jesus asked the disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:38). You might ask yourself the same question—for what you find in the New Testament this year will greatly depend on what you seek. “Seek, and ye shall find” is the Savior’s promise (Matthew 7:7). So ask the questions that come to your mind as you study, and then seek diligently for answers. In the New Testament you will read about the powerful spiritual experiences of disciples of Jesus Christ. As a faithful disciple of the Savior, you can have your own powerful spiritual experiences as you accept the Savior’s invitation, found throughout this sacred volume, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).
When it says that “you might ask yourself the same question”–well, trust me, I’ll be asking plenty of questions this year as I read through the curriculum and see how the church is interpreting the New Testament. I do look forward to it!
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
To truly learn from the Savior, I must accept His invitation, “Come, follow me.”
The Savior’s invitation, “Come, follow me,” applies to all—whether we are new on the path of discipleship or have walked it all our lives. This was His invitation to a rich young man who was striving to keep the commandments (see Matthew 19:16–22; Luke 18:18–23). What the young man learned—and what we all must learn—is that being a disciple means giving our whole souls to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We progress in our discipleship as we identify what we lack, make changes, and seek to more fully follow Them.
The passage of the rich young man is interesting. The passage reads:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
With lots of experience over my years talking to Latter-day Saints, I must say that the question of “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” is a question many Mormons are asking. On page 25 of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, 12th President Spencer W. Kimball provided a list of more than 80 things a Latter-day Saint must not do in order to qualify for celestial glory. (If you are a Latter-day Saint and have this book, I recommend you turn there and read what Kimball himself called “a lengthy list.”)
This rich young man allowed money to get in the way of his relationship with God. But if it’s not money, something else hampering a person’s efforts to gain God’s kingdom. Because of sin (Rom. 3:23), it is impossible to reach God on our own efforts. And while the wages of sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23a), the next part of the verse explains that “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s a topic we will cover later this year when we study Romans and Galatians, so I’ll leave it there since I don’t want to be sounding like a broken record so soon in this series.
I am responsible for my own learning.
Elder David A. Bednar taught: “We should not expect the Church as an organization to teach or tell us everything we need to know and do to become devoted disciples and endure valiantly to the end. Rather, our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become who the Master would have us become. And our homes are the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming” (“Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2019, 102).
I don’t find myself agreeing with an LDS Church general authority very often, but here is a case where I will. I agree with Bednar. You should not expect the church to teach you everything. Instead, you as an individual need to be responsible to read God’s Word (the Bible) for yourself and determine for yourself what it says. It can be dangerous to take someone’s words alone without confirmation from the Bible.
With that, I suggest not just taking this manual’s words at face value. Look up passages that are referenced. Consider everything in context. One thing that I have learned from the 2022 series is the authors of this series sometimes skip important parts to particular passages and, by doing so, interpret passages out of their context. This is dangerous. Be like the Bereans who, in Acts 17, searched the Old Testament scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was accurate. Verse 11 says they “were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
Hopefully by looking at this series on mrm.org, you can at least see what an Evangelical Christian with an advanced degree in the New Testament (M.Div.) has to say about each week’s lesson.
What does it mean to take responsibility for your own learning? Look for possible answers in Elder Bednar’s statement and in the following scriptures: John 7:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; James 1:5–6, 22; 2:17; 1 Nephi 10:17–19; 2 Nephi 4:15; Alma 32:27; and Doctrine and Covenants 18:18; 58:26–28; 88:118. What do you feel inspired to do to be more active in learning the gospel?
It is interesting to note the two biblical verses used as references. First Thessalonians 5:21 says to “test everything.” James 1:5-6, meanwhile, is usually used in the LDS context to show how we–like Joseph Smith–should use these verses to “pray” about truth. (In context, James 1 is referring to praying for wisdom (not “knowledge”) to help find a way out of a trial. To see more, click here and here.)
Yet the Bible never teaches that we are supposed to pray for truth. Instead, we are commanded to seek out the truth and make a determination based on the evidence. For instance, Jesus said in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” And John wrote in 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Please don’t misunderstand, as Christians do believe in prayer. Like not praying if it is OK to steal a neighbor’s car or not praying to see if sexual immorality is OK as long as you love the other person, so too should we never rely on our feelings to determine truth.
I need to know the truth for myself.
Perhaps you know people who never seem to lose their faith, no matter what happens in their lives. They may remind you of the five wise virgins in the Savior’s parable (see Matthew 25:1–13). What you may not see are their diligent efforts to strengthen their testimonies of the truth.
Yes, you must know the truth for yourself. We recommend that you put in diligent efforts this year to strengthen your testimony of the truth by understanding what the New Testament teaches. If what Mormonism teaches is true, then it will be upheld by this further investigation. As I tell my high school students, it’s time to “own your own faith.” And it’s time to quit borrowing your mommy’s/bishop’s/spouse’s/etc. faith.
Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” If truth is your main motivation, I believe the God of the Bible will be found.
What should I do when I have questions?
As you seek spiritual knowledge, questions will come to your mind. The following principles can help you address questions in ways that build faith and testimony:
- Seek understanding from God. God is the source of all truth, and He reveals truth through the Holy Ghost, the scriptures, and His prophets and apostles.
- Act in faith. If answers don’t come right away, trust that the Lord will reveal answers when the time is right. In the meantime, keep living by the truth you already know.
- Keep an eternal perspective. Try to see things as the Lord sees them, not as the world does. View your questions in the context of our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.
I agree with the basic premises here. Yes, you should seek understanding from God, and I believe He will reveal Himself though God’s Word rather than LDS general authorities. We must act in faith based on the inference to the best explanation. In other words, consider the teachings of the Bible and believe it over anything anyone says. In this year’s series, we will be looking at the correct way to interpret the New Testament in its context. Unless this is done, a person can make anything up that is not biblically true.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
To help your family prepare to learn from the New Testament this year, you could read the parable of the sower. Your family might enjoy going outside and looking for the different types of ground described in the parable. How can we make our hearts like the “good ground” Jesus described? (Matthew 13:8).
I think that the most important thing anyone (including myself) can do is be open to the truth. Ground that is sterile is not good to plant in. Let God work with our attitude as truth-seeker and let’s see what He will do.
Galatians 5:22–23; Philippians 4:8.
President Russell M. Nelson has invited you to “transform [your] home into a sanctuary of faith” and to “remodel your home into a center of gospel learning.” To those who do these things, he promised: “Your children will be excited to learn and to live the Savior’s teachings, and the influence of the adversary in your life and in your home will decrease. Changes in your family will be dramatic and sustaining” (“Becoming Exemplary Latter-day Saints,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2018, 113).
The beginning of the new year is a good time to hold a family council about making your home “a sanctuary of faith” and “a center of gospel learning.” What ideas about how to do this come to mind as we read Galatians 5:22–23 and Philippians 4:8? Maybe your family could set personal and family goals to study the New Testament this coming year. What can we do to remind ourselves of our goals?
I hope you, reader, are willing to read the New Testament for yourself. Instead of merely relying on what your leaders are teaching in this series, I highly recommend setting a goal to read the entire passage that the church says it is covering. Do this book by book. In other words, start in Matthew and keep going for each week of this series. Be willing to see what else the passage says and listen to what God has said in His Word. Do this and I think this can be the most valuable way to study this series. And perhaps some of my criticism provided each week will begin to make sense.
I look forward to going through these lessons and I hope you will join me as we take a closer look at the New Testament. I want to have an attitude of expectation. Let’s buckle up together and see what it says . . . and be willing to receive whatever He has for you. May 2023 be a year where the truth is at the forefront and you gain a better understanding of the words of Jesus and the apostles.