This is one in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To link to all of the 2022 teachings, click here. Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence written in the curriculum is being reviewed.)
May 2-8 (Exodus 35-40; Leviticus 1; 16; 19)
Leaving Egypt—as important and miraculous as that was—didn’t fully accomplish God’s purposes for the children of Israel. Even future prosperity in the promised land wasn’t God’s ultimate objective for them. These were only steps toward what God really wanted for His people: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). How did God seek to make His people holy when they had known nothing but captivity for generations? He commanded them to create a place of holiness to the Lord—a tabernacle in the wilderness. He gave them covenants and laws to guide their actions and, ultimately, to change their hearts. And when they fell short in their efforts to keep those laws, He commanded them to make animal sacrifices to symbolize atonement for their sins. All of this was meant to point their minds, their hearts, and their lives toward the Savior and the redemption He offers. He is the true path to holiness, for the Israelites and for us. We have all spent some time in the captivity of sin, and we are all invited to repent—to leave sin behind and follow Jesus Christ, who has promised, “I am able to make you holy” (Doctrine and Covenants 60:7).
It appears the writers of this curriculum made an anachronistic error by claiming that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were meant to point the minds, hearts and lives of those living in those days toward the Savior “for the redemption He offers.” Of course, this is ultimately the meaning, but Jesus as Savior was not understood by those who made sacrifices in these Old Testament days. Their goal was to obey God, not impress a “Savior” they did not know.
When D&C 60:7 is used to describe how God is “able to make you holy,” that is true, but not in the way Mormonism teaches. According to LDS leaders, becoming holy is based on what the individual does with the commandments that have been given. As Russell M. Nelson put it:
Obedience to the sacred covenants made in temples qualifies us for eternal life—the greatest gift of God to man” (“Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign Special Issue Temples, October 2010, 42).
A few months later Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency, stated,
God’s love is so great that He requires His children to obey His laws because only through that obedience can they progress toward the eternal destiny He desires for them. Thus, in the final judgment we will all be assigned to the kingdom of glory that is commensurate with our obedience to His law (“Fundamental to our Faith,” Ensign, January 2011, 27).
Christianity interprets the Bible in a completely different way. Forgiveness of sins is based on what Jesus did on the cross. First Corinthians 6:20 says that “you were bought with a price.” John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 6:23, which describes the penalty for sin (“death”), explains how “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 1:7 says that “we have redemption through his blood” and “forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” According to 2 Corinthians 5:17,” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Christians deny the importance of good works. They do believe in good works, which is the result of the transformation that took place in their lives. First Peter 2:24 says that Jesus bore the believers’ sins on the cross so that they could die to sin and live for righteousness. Because Christians “were bought with a price,” we are commanded to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20) and not become “slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). Meanwhile, verse 21 says that “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Forensically, we are no longer seen as sinners destined for death, and then practically we are called to live righteous lives.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Exodus 35–40; Leviticus 19
The Lord wants me to become holy as He is.
Exodus 25–31 records the Lord’s instructions to the Israelites about how to build a tabernacle, where sacred ordinances would help them become a holy people. Exodus 35–40 describes the Israelites’ efforts to obey these instructions. As you read chapters 35–40, look for the things the Lord asked His people to place in the tabernacle, and ponder what these items could represent and what they suggest to you about increasing in holiness.
Yes, the Lord wants His people to be holy, but how can this be accomplished? There are many differences between the answer provided by the Latter-day Saint and the Evangelical Christian.
Especially consider how these items turn your thoughts toward the Savior. A table like this might help you:
What object did you find?
What can this represent?
Ark of the covenant (Exodus 37:1–9; 40:20–21)
God’s presence; His covenants and commandments
Altar of incense (Exodus 40:26–27; see also Exodus 30:1, 6–8)
Prayers rising to the Lord
Candlestick or lampstand (Exodus 37:17–24)
Altar of sacrifice (Exodus 38:1–7; see also Exodus 27:1; 29:10–14)
Laver (basin) of water (Exodus 30:17–21)
I think Hebrews 9 (not cited anywhere in this lesson, of course) helps the reader understand the ultimate meaning of these items. Verses 1-5 reads,
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Notice how the author of Hebrews says it can not be spoken about “in detail.” He went on to explain how Jesus fulfilled everything accomplished in the tabernacle:
- He is the high priest (v. 11) (needed to preside at the altar)
- He went through a heavenly tent representing the tabernacle (v. 11)
- He entered into the holy place not by animal blood but His own (v. 12)
- His blood is much more valuable than the blood of animals (vv. 13-14)
- Through the Holy Spirit Jesus offered Himself (v. 14)
- Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant (v. 15)
- The new covenant is provided by Jesus to those called to receive the promised eternal inheritance (v. 15)
- Jesus’s death redeems sin (v. 15)
- The death of the sacrificial victim must be established, as Jesus’s death was (v. 16)
- He entered into heaven itself and appeared in the presence of God (v. 24)
- He came once for all and did not need to be sacrificed over and over again like animal sacrifices (v. 25)
- Sin is therefore put away because Jesus’s blood is on the altar (v. 26)
- Jesus will return (v. 28)
I encourage you to read for yourself how Jesus purifies His people from their sins based on what is called imputation, or the credit of God’s righteousness to believers who did not (nor could never) earn this right. Instead, the gift is based on His work on the cross and who declared, “It is finished.”
Unfortunately, Mormonism teaches in the old covenant of the law and stresses how one needs to be perfected based on one’s own works. Paul called those who believe in good works such as dietary regulations and circumcision for justification as teaching “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8, 9). Rather, Christians are “justified by faith,” as Galatians chapter 2 reads:
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
In the next chapter of the same book, Paul reiterates that the Holy Spirit is received by faith:
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The gospel of Mormonism is do, do, and do some more while never knowing if enough has been done. The gospel of biblical Christianity, on the other hand, is that the work was already done. This is quite a difference. I encourage you to read through the book of Galatians.
If you have participated in temple ordinances, what do you learn about the tabernacle from Exodus 35–40 that reminds you of your experience there? (see also “Thoughts to Keep in Mind: The Tabernacle and Sacrifice”).
Although the temple ordinances are secret and temple patrons are not allowed to say what goes inside these special buildings, I guarantee you that nothing taking place in more than the 170 LDS temples located around the world has anything to do with the Old Testament tabernacle. I’ll say that again, absolutely nothing at all!
Most of what was done in the tabernacle and Jerusalem temple were blood sacrifices. In LDS temples, however, the following are part of the ritual:
- Showing a temple recommend to get into the temple (in contrast to those participating in tabernacle/temple work who had to be from the tribe of Levi–not a requirement for a church member to enter the LDS temple)
- Marriages for time and eternity
- Tokens (handshakes) that come from Masonry
- Washing and anointing room (for cleansing)
- Receiving new names used on Resurrection Day
- Patriarchal order
- Baptisms for the dead
- Making covenants promising to keep all the commandments
None of these practices were a part of either the tabernacle or temple endowment. No work was ever done on behalf of dead people, even though the majority of LDS work is done on behalf of the dead. In fact, the entire temple endowment ceremony has no basis in historical Judaism or biblical Christianity; these practices were introduced by Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders. Nothing done in these buildings has anything to do with the Bible!
Ponder how temple covenants help you become more holy like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
To the faithful Latter-day Saint, I ask, How are you doing at keeping those temple covenants? Over and over, Latter-day Saints explain how they are “trying” or doing their “best,” but that is not what is required. If God truly gave commandments that could be kept, as 1 Nephi 3:7 in the Book of Mormon states, and if the goal of repentance is stopping that sin (D&C 58:43; D&C 82:7), then it would seem that more Latter-day Saints ought to stop repenting and start following the commandments they promise each week they will keep.
Of course, simply being in holy places doesn’t make us holy. Leviticus 19 describes laws and commandments the Lord gave to help the Israelites increase in holiness. What do you find in these commandments that could help you become more holy? What do you feel impressed to do to more fully live these principles?
This lesson is just bogging down and, I would hope, increasing the angst of Latter-day Saints who fully grasp how they are not doing what they have promised to do. Again, I have no problem with keeping God’s commandments–as Christians, we are commissioned to do so!–but LDS leaders have inundated their membership with things that cannot possibly be kept. Instead of trying to earn God’s favor, the gift of forgiveness of sins needs to be accepted to become a son and daughter of the King!
The Lord asks me to make my offerings with a willing heart.
In the year after leaving Egypt, the relationship of the children of Israel with Jehovah could be described as inconsistent. And yet, as you read Exodus 35:4–36:7, notice how the Israelites responded to the commandment to build the tabernacle. What do you learn from the Israelites that could help you better serve the Lord?
The tithe is required in the LDS Church, whether or not a person has a “willing heart.” A person who does not give 10% of either the gross or net income is not supposed to get a temple recommend, which was talked about above. And without the temple, a person cannot have any hope for the celestial kingdom.
Leviticus 1:1–9; 16
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I can be forgiven.
D&C 1:31-32 say that God will not “look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” D&C 76:52 states,
That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power.
If you sin again, all forgiveness is washed away and you start all over again:
And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God (Doctrine and Covenants 82:7).
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball taught that repentance must be successful for forgiveness to be effectual:
To be forgiven one must repent. Repentance means not only to convict yourselves of the horror of the sin, but to confess it, abandon it, and restore to all who have been damaged to the total extent possible; then spend the balance of your lives trying to live the commandments of the Lord so he can eventually pardon you and cleanse you (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 200).
Confession (repentance) will only go so far, but complete abandonment of the sin is required. Let’s be honest, authors of this series, and give the full truth to the matter.
A Latter-day Saint who reads this week’s lesson in Come, Follow Me will, no doubt, walk away discouraged. It is more of the “do good, be better” platitudes so often offered at general conferences. Most Latter-day Saints with whom I have dialogued know full well what they are supposed to do in order to qualify for celestial glory. It’s doing what they are supposed to do that is so troublesome!
I know some who are reading this article are not Evangelical Christians. I do appreciate you reading. I’d like to conclude by suggesting that you consider reading 10 Reasons Why a Person Ought to Consider Becoming a Christian. Forgiveness of your sins is readily available, as Jesus wants to accept you into the family of God.
If you have any questions, I’d love to answer them ([email protected]). Explain that you’d like the email to go to Eric Johnson and I will personally answer you.