By Eric Johnson
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.)
February 7-13, 2022 (Genesis 12-17; Abraham 1-2)
Like many of us, Abraham lived in a wicked environment, yet he desired to be righteous. President Dallin H. Oaks taught the importance of having righteous desires: “As important as it is to lose every desire for sin, eternal life requires more. To achieve our eternal destiny, we will desire and work for the qualities required to become an eternal being. … If this seems too difficult—and surely it is not easy for any of us—then we should begin with a desire for such qualities and call upon our loving Heavenly Father for help with our feelings [see Moroni 7:48]” (“Desire,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 44–45).
God’s call to Abraham was not conditional on what Abraham did but rather on Abraham’s faith. Many biblical passages support this idea, including Genesis 15:6, which says, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” This verse is cited by Romans 4:3–the first two verses of that chapter report,
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Consider what verses 9-12 add,
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Notice how the covenant was not conditioned on Abraham’s “desire to be righteous,” as Oaks put it, but rather it was based on his belief. As verse 2 says, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about.” It wasn’t his works that justified Abraham, but rather his faith. Yet Oaks makes it appear that there are requirements necessary to be able to attain God’s righteousness. Such a view totally misses what Genesis 15 and the entire chapter of Romans 4 is talking about! Oaks gets an F for his poor exegesis.
Consider Hebrews 11:
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
It was “by faith” that “Abraham obeyed.” In other words, he obeyed based on his faith, or his actions followed the faith that he had. The same is true for Bible-believing Christians. We are obedient to God because of our faith, not because we hope to somehow conjure up enough righteousness to please God.
Unfortunately for Latter-day Saints, Mormonism turns the simple Gospel into something that is completely complicated. Galatians 2:16 explains how
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.
Galatians 3:10-11 adds,
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.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Mormonism teaches how something must be done–“keep the commandments continually” as D&C 25:15 puts it–in order for the person to be justified. Christianity teaches that justification comes before we have done anything, so there it is not something that must be done in order to earn God’s righteousness. By requiring works that can never be accomplished,Mormonism puts the cart in front of the horse.
As you read Abraham 1:1–19, consider how these verses demonstrate what President Oaks taught. Questions like these might help:
What did Abraham desire and seek after? What did he do to demonstrate his faith?
What are your desires? Is there something you feel you should do to purify your desires?
What challenges did Abraham face because of his righteous desires? How did God help him?
What message do these verses have for those whose family members do not desire righteousness?
Notice the second question, “Is there something you feel you should do…” This is in agreement with Abraham 1:2–a book that was not written by Abraham but was created by Joseph Smith–when it says the blessings of Abraham came by keeping the commandments of God. Although this is classic Mormonism, it is in direct contradiction with the verses cited above.
Notice, too, how Abraham 1:26-27 is conveniently skipped over. For information about this verse and the reason for the ban on those with African heritage from holding the priesthood, see Abraham 1:26 and the Priesthood Ban.
For more on the Book of Abraham, click here.
When the Lord made His covenant with Abraham, He promised that this covenant would continue in Abraham’s posterity, or “seed,” and that “as many as receive this Gospel shall be … accounted thy seed” (Abraham 2:10–11). This means that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant apply to members of the Church today, whether they are literal descendants of Abraham or adopted into his family through baptism and conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:26–29; Doctrine and Covenants 132:30–32). To be counted as Abraham’s seed, an individual must obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
Ahh, so the way to know if a person is under the covenant of Abraham, he or she must either be:
- Literal descendants (Jews)
- Adopted (Gentiles)
- Through baptism
- Converted to Mormonism
But, most important, “an individual must obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” In other words, the Latter-day Saint must do everything the church leadership says must be done, including paying a tithe, not drinking hot beverages (coffee and tea), attending LDS services, and having work done in an LDS temple. These are man-made rules burdening the Latter-day Saint people.
According to Mormonism, a person who becomes a Mormon is adopted into one of the tribes of Judaism, typically Ephraim. This takes place at the person’s patriarchal blessing. In every sense, then, the Latter-day Saint believes he or she is from that particular Jewish tribe, a unique way to consider being adopted.
The Abrahamic covenant blesses me and my family
Because all members of the Church are included in the Abrahamic covenant, you might want to spend some time pondering why this covenant is meaningful in your life. Record your thoughts about the following questions:
Unlike Mormonism, Christians do not believe everyone is literally a child of God based on being born to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother in the preexistence. Instead, the Bible teaches that believers become “children of God” through faith, though they certainly don’t believe they become literal descendants of Abraham. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Romans 8:14 states, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Speaking about those who are called the “temple of God,” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:18 how God would “be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
What do I learn about the Abrahamic covenant from Genesis 15:1–6; 17:1–8, 15–22?
Here is Genesis 15:6, as referenced about and how Abraham’s belief was what was counted to God as righteousness.
In Genesis 17, it describes how the covenant would be kept through circumcision. Verse 14 reads, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Yet physical circumcision is not required for a male to be a Latter-day Saint. No explanation of this is provided in this lesson. Wouldn’t many Latter-day Saints become confused by being asked what they learn about the Abrahamic covenant?
For the Christian, circumcision is no longer required to be counted among believers. As Paul writes in Galatians 5:2-6:
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
If the church’s authors of this curriculum are going to have their people read these passages, shouldn’t an explanation be given as to what these verses mean for today?
What do I feel inspired to do to help fulfill the promise that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”? (Abraham 2:11).
Abraham 2:11 reads,
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.
I suppose the desired answer that the church’s authors expect is that those with the Priesthood (male missionaries) and other members should tell the world about the “blessings of salvation” and eternal life. But if the Gospel as presented in Mormonism is corrupt, is this message one of hope or condemnation? I propose its one of condemnation because, as talked about at the beginning of this review, a person is required to keep the commandments (continually) for any hope of eternal life. Yet I do not find Mormons who claim they are capable of doing this now. If they are not doing this now, what makes anyone else think it’s even possible to keep the commandments of Mormonism?
For more on the requirements of Mormonism, see this chapter in Crash Course Mormonism.
You might consider that some of the earthly blessings promised to Abraham and Sarah, such as inheriting a promised land and being parents of a great posterity, have eternal parallels. These include an inheritance in the celestial kingdom (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:29) and eternal marriage with eternal posterity (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4; 132:20–24, 28–32). It is “in the temple,” President Russell M. Nelson taught, that “we receive our ultimate blessings, as the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (“The Gathering of Scattered Israel,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 80).
A true study in the Old Testament would not force preconceived LDS notions onto the interpretation. The passage in Genesis has absolutely nothing to do with celestial marriage or the celestial kingdom. Yet the church forces these issues by citing from the Doctrine and Covenants. Already this series has spent much time considering the Pearl of Great Price and the Book of Mormon, and now the Doctrine and Covenants is used to support teachings that are far from biblical–otherwise, why not rely on the Bible for support?
Mormonism teaches that its people are the covenant people of God. To be a covenant people, though, it is taught that the commandments of God must be kept. As the lesson taught, “to be counted as Abraham’s seed, an individual must obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”
The question is, how many of these “laws and ordinances of the gospel” need to be kept? Most Latter-day Saints I ask answer “all of them.” “How often?” “All of the time,” I am told.
The question I have for Latter-day Saints who believe a person is in the covenant only when they are obeying all of the laws and ordinances all the time is, “So how are you doing at this?” Often, I am told, “Not so good. But I’m trying.”
Twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball understood this and explained,
Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. . . . To “try” is weak. To “do the best I can” is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 164-65).
Of course, if trying to climb a mountain means the task was not accomplished (i.e., failure), then trying does not mean the goal of actually climbing the mountain was achieved. If the Latter-day hopes to qualify for a celestial kingdom, then accomplishment means there are no excuses, especially if it true that God does not give commandments that cannot be kept (1 Nephi 3:7).
Once again, this teaching series through the Bible is disappointing because it relies so much on the unique standard works of the LDS Church. The gospel put forth by the church is another disappointment as it presents another gospel not authorized by the biblical writers (Gal. 1:8-9).