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.)
September 25-October 1, 2023
The gospel of Jesus Christ offers freedom from spiritual bondage. But sometimes people who have experienced the freedom of the gospel turn away from it and “desire again to be in bondage” (Galatians 4:9). This is what some Galatian Saints were doing—they were turning away from the liberty Christ had offered them (see Galatians 1:6). Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, then, was an urgent call to come back to “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1). This call is one we also need to hear and heed because while circumstances change, the struggle between freedom and bondage is constant. As Paul taught, it’s not enough to be “called unto liberty” (Galatians 5:13); we must also “stand fast” in it (Galatians 5:1) by relying on Christ.
Let me say from the start that Galatians is a book in the New Testament that might go against the religion of Mormonism in a more determined way than any other biblical book. I am writing these words before I have read the lesson, so we will soon see how the writers do in their commentary. What they miss, you can be sure that I will note throughout.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
The law of Christ makes me free.
Paul’s original teachings from chapters 1 and 2 are, for the most part, ignored in this lesson. To me, this is an incredible ommission. To help you, the reader, understand the importance of these two chapters, I’d like to provide some of highlights:
1:4: Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us”–it was what He did on the cross that provides complete justification through faith. Paul will deal with this issue later in the book.
1:6: Paul is astonished that the Galatians have turned to a “different gospel.”
1:7: People were corrupting the Gospel, which Paul says is a problem.
1:8: Even if it is “an angel from heaven” who is teaching, a false Gosepl must be opposed.
1:9: Paul repeats himself and says if the Gospel is different from what was originally taught, it ought to be fully rejected. Saying this twice like this is very strong.
The lesson then says this:
Paul wrote to the Galatian Saints when he learned they were being led astray by false teachings (see Galatians 1:6–9). One of these teachings was that in order to be saved, Gentiles who had accepted the gospel needed to be circumcised and to keep other traditions of the law of Moses (see Galatians 2). Paul called these traditions the “yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
Is this all we get for the first two chapters of this powerful book? Indeed, the only verses referenced are verses 6-9. The writers claim that the false teachers were teaching circumcision and the dietary law. This is true to a point, as Paul opposed the Judaizers and their false teachings that specifically named these things. But the writers miss the main point that Paul was trying to communicate. He said that a false gospel is anything that goes beyond grace. To apply this passage to our day, this is more than just circumcision or dietary (kosher) law. It is anything used as a “good work” to try to earn God’s favor. In modern day language, going beyond the Gospel of Grace could include requirements such as:
- Regular church attendance
- Work in the temple
- Abstaining from hot drinks or alcohol
And the list can go on. For many Latter-day Saints successful completion of the above list is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Church leaders have made this clear. Here are just a few quotes from top leaders from the eighth to the 17th presidents of the church to show that complete obedience of requirements such as these as necessary to qualify for celestial glory:
8th President George Albert Smith:
“Obedience in this life is a foundation for eternal happiness. The fact that we have been baptized into the Church is not sufficient. The fact that our names are on the Church records is not sufficient. . . therefore we cannot drink with the drunken, we cannot debauch our lives, we cannot be dishonorable in our dealings with our fellowmen and gain celestial glory. We must keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father. We are told in other scripture that those who do not keep the commandments of God will forfeit their right to the blessings of the celestial kingdom.”The Teachings of George Albert Smith, 97. Italics in original. Ellipsis mine.
9th President David O. McKay:
“FAITH, GRACE, AND WORKS. The fallacy that Jesus has done all for us, and live as we may, if on our deathbed, we only believe, we shall be saved in his glorious presence, is most pernicious. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, has given us the means whereby man may obtain eternal happiness and peace in the kingdom of our Father, but man must work out his own salvation through obedience to the eternal principles and ordinances of the gospel. For centuries men have been blinded by the false teaching of ‘belief alone sufficient’; and today there is manifest on every hand the sorry plight into which this and other perverse doctrines have thrown the pseudo-Christian sects. The world is in sore need at the present time of the gospel of individual effort—the gospel of faith and works. He who will not grasp this means provided him, will sink beneath the waves of sin and falsehood.”Gospel Ideals, 8.
10th President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“Complete obedience brings eternal life. But to be exalted one must keep the whole law. This is the great love he shows forth for his children: notwithstanding they sin and close their eyes against the truth, yet his arm is stretched out still, and he will feel after them and bring them back if they will keep his commandments; and if not, he will do for them just the best he can. . . the commandments of the Lord must be kept in all things. [DS 2:6.]”Selections from Doctrines of Salvation, 502. Bold and italics in original. Ellipsis mine.
11th President Harold B. Lee:
“The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi put this principle in a tremendous orbit when he said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Nephi 25:23.) The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments. All of the principles of the gospel are principles of promise by which the plans of the Almighty are unfolded to us.”Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, 246.
12th President Spencer W. Kimball:
“One cannot expect a degree from any college without having paid his tuition and fees, done his residence work, and shown proof of his having met the requirements. God’s eternal rewards will similarly be dependent upon man’s compliance with the required conditions.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 7.
16th President Thomas S. Monson:
“I testify to you that turning away from God brings broken covenants, shattered dreams, vanished ambitions, evaporated plans, unfulfilled expectations, crushed hopes, misused drives, warped character, and wrecked lives. Such a quagmire of quicksand must be avoided. We are of a noble birthright. Eternal life in the kingdom of our Father is our goal. Such a goal is not achieved in one glorious attempt but rather is the result of a lifetime of righteousness, an accumulation of wise choices, even a constancy of purpose. Like the coveted A grade on the report card of a difficult and required college course, the reward of eternal life requires effort. The A grade is the result of each theme, each quiz, each class, each examination, each library project, each term paper. So each Sunday School lesson, each Young Men or Young Women teacher, each prayer, each date, each friend, all precede the goal of temple marriage–that giant step toward an A grade on the report card of life.”Pathways to Perfection: Discourses of Thomas S. Monson, 65.
Citations from additional leaders are simple to find, so I’ll end the quotations here. The point is that salvation by grace alone, as taught in Galatians, is not what LDS leaders have taught over the 20th century and beyond.
Let’s keep going in Galatians 1 and see what else Paul says:
1:11: The Gospel was not something made up by Paul.
1:12: It was received not from man but from God.
1:15: Paul was set apart at birth to be in the position he was given.
1:16-17: Paul did not consult with men to create their own version of the Gospel.
1:18: After three years in Arabia, Paul stayed with Peter for 2 weeks.
1:20: He was not lying.
In chapter 2, more of Paul’s story is told as he recognized the grace given to him. In the second half of chapter 2, we see how Paul publicly opposed Peter because Peter was a hypocrite. Notice what Paul told Peter in verses 15-16:
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
In the context, “justified by faith” is what happens without anything else being added to it, includng cirucmcision, dietary law, baptism, or church attendance. As Romans 3:28 explains, “For we maintain that a man is justifed by faith apart from observing the law.” This is not rocket science. Adding anything to grace, no matter how good of a work it might be, creates a different gosepl that needs to be rejected.
What did Peter think of Paul and his teaching? Here is what Peter said in 2 Peter 3:16:
He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Peter understood that Paul had a special commissioning. Paul then ended Galatians 2 with verse 21: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.”
Before I leave this section, let’s take a minute to consider how one apostle (Paul) told another apostle (Peter) that he was wrong on a doctrinal teaching. Perhaps the same thing might happen at a private LDS Church leaders meeting. Yet Paul brings up this conflict publicly in this chapter so the whole world can see! Can you imagine Jeffrey R. Holland telling Neil A. Andersen in a public forum that Andersen was wrong? And is it even possible for Andersen to receive the criticism and tell Holland how glad he is that this was pointed out in a public manner?
We just don’t see this type of open dialogue (including criticism) marking the current LDS leadership. And I don’t expect it will ever happen.
As you read Paul’s counsel to the Galatians, look for principles that can help you understand what true freedom is. You could also ponder what false traditions or other yokes of bondage might exist in your life. Is there anything that is preventing you from experiencing the freedom that the gospel offers? How have Christ and His gospel “made [you] free”? (Galatians 5:1).
Yes, I agree there can be “false traditions.” These, I believe, are prominent in the LDS Church. Such traditions lead to bondage.
How do I know this? I talk regularly to Latter-day Saints who do not know if they are forgiven of their sins. This situation happened just this past weekend just outside Lavell Edwards stadium at the BYU football home opener as I spoke to a 19-year-old BYU student. He said he was trying his best but he did not know if his sins were forgiven. Like so many, they believe their obedience to commandments is what God requires to offer the forgiveness of sins.
First John 5:13 says that Christians may know (not wish for, try to accomplish, or do their best) that they have (present tense) eternal life. It’s not something we try to gain in our own power; rather, this is something that has been offered as God’s gift (which we’ll discuss in next week’s lesson).
I am an heir to the blessings promised to Abraham.
Some of the Galatian Saints were concerned that because they were not literal descendants (“seed”) of Abraham, they would not receive the blessings promised to Abraham, including exaltation. According to Galatians 3:7–9, 13–14, 27–29, what qualifies a person to be the “seed of Abraham”?
I agree that Christians are heirs to the blessings promised to Abraham. Galatians 3:7-9 says this:
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
These are the ones who rely on faith and not based on “works of the law” (verse 2). In verse 6 (not cited), it says that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteouness.”
Look carefully. It is belief alone that provides righteousness and the forgiveness of sins. It’s not credited based on an individual’s ability to do righteous acts. This is key to understanding the meaning of the Book of Galatians. The authors of this lesson are not helping the readers grasp the message that Paul was trying to get across.
Abraham had the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “We cannot believe that the ancients in all ages were so ignorant of the system of heaven as many suppose, since all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much so before the coming of Christ as since. … Abraham offered sacrifice, and notwithstanding this, had the Gospel preached to him” (“The Elders of the Church in Kirtland to Their Brethren Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Mar. 1834, 143, JosephSmithPapers.org). Why do you think it was important for the Saints in Paul’s time to know that Abraham and other ancient prophets had the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why is it important to you to know this? (See Helaman 8:13–20; Moses 5:58–59; 6:50–66.)
I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. Abraham did not have the gospel of Jesus Christ because he had never heard of Jesus. Now, Abraham was given the ability to see that true faith was not based on the sacrificial system in order to be made right with God. Verse 7 says that “those who believe are children of Abraham.” How much clearer can Paul be? In the same way, verse 8 says, the Gentiles would be justified by faith and “those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (v. 9).
Verse 10 says , “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'” This goes hand in hand with James 2:10, which says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Let’s go back to what George Albert Smith once said:
“We must keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father. We are told in other scriptures that those who do not keep the commandments of God will forfeit their right to the blessings of the celestial kingdom.”The Teachings of George Albert Smith, 33-34.
Forgiveness is not provided unless full obedience is offered, according to Spencer W. Kimball:
“The Lord says: . . . I the Lord cannot 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 1:31-32. Italics added.) This scripture is most precise. First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 81-82. Ellipsis in original.
And 15th President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
“’Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive.’ [D&C 25:15.] That was the promise of the Lord to Emma Hale Smith. It is the promise of the Lord to each of you. Happiness lies in keeping the commandments. For a Latter-day Saint… there can be only misery in the violation of those commandments. And for each who observe them, there is the promise of a crown…of righteousness and eternal truth.”Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 182. Ellipsis in original.
If a person is going to hold to LDS teaching, forgiveness is not available by grace alone. A person who strives to keep all of the commandments must be successful or there is no forgiveness that can be attained. It is impossible to do enough according to this religion.
Before moving out of this section, notice verses 12-14:
12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will 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 hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Paul doesn’t mince words. We must note that was no law during the day of Abraham, so you can see that this is not just talking about circumcision and dietary laws but it’s based on faith.
Somehow the writers have decided to ignore the second half of chapter 3. Let’s not make the same mistake. Verses 16-18 says,
16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
Verse 18 could read, “If the inheritance depends on our obedience, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” Justification in the sight of God is not based on circumcision, baptism, or any other work. The works done as a response to God’s grace are not works accomplished to earn God’s grace.
Why were we given the law four centuries after Abraham? Paul explains in verse 19 that the law was fulfilled when Jesus came 2,000 years later. Though it is not opposed to the promises of God, the law makes everyone accountable; sin creates an uncrossable chasm between humans and God. Verses 24 says that “the law was our “guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” Now faith is all that is needed to obtain a righteous stature before God. It does not come by obedience.
Galatians 3:26-27 says,
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
In Mormonism, all people are believed to be children of God based on a previous spirit life called the preexistence. Yet these verses says we become children of God through faith. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” First John 3:1-2 agrees. Thus, if we belong to Christ, then we truly are Abraham’s seed, as verse 29 points out.
Galatians 5:13–26; 6:7–10
If I “walk in the Spirit,” I will receive the “fruit of the Spirit.”
Studying these verses can help you evaluate how fully you are walking in the Spirit. Are you experiencing the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in verses 22–23? What other fruit, or results, of spiritual living have you noticed? Ponder what you need to do to cultivate this fruit more fully. How might cultivating this fruit improve the important relationships in your life?
It makes sense that the writers of this lesson will want to head straight to works because this is the centerpiece of the LDS religion. Christianity teaches good works as well, so please do not be mistaken This process of salvation is called sanctificaiton. Good fruit is the natural outcome of being a child of God. We become children of God by receiving the free gift of eternal life through faith alone. Jesus then imputes His righteousness into the believer’s account not based on what we did or could do but rather on what He did on the cross.
As I like to say, being a Christian isn’t based on what we do but rather it’s based on who we are. Second Corinthians 5:17 says a Christian becomes a new creation when he or she is born again, as old things have passed away and all things become new. Who we are (a new creaton) then has a direct effect on what we do. In the case of Galatians 5, we should reject living according to the sinful nature (5:19-21). Things that come naturally according to our sinful desires, such as sexual immorality, drunkeness, etc, are to be rejected by the child of God. Those who live according to this will not receive the kingdom of God (v. 21).
The fruit of the Spirit is the natural outpouring of God’s power in a believer’s life. Notice how verse 24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” It does not say that those who have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires belong to Christ. Far from it, as this is a backwards concept. Yet this is what Mormonism teaches, opposite of what Paul was saying.
If you are trying to walk in the Spirit but your efforts don’t seem to be bearing the promised fruit, read Galatians 6:7–10. What message do you feel the Lord has for you in these verses?
These verses are talking about sanctification. Christians certainly believe in walking in the Spirit since they are chiildren of God. True believers just don’t believe that a person must keep the commandments in order to obtain justification and the forgiveness of sins. Instead, good works are a result of a truly reborn life.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
What does it mean to “live by faith”? How are we living by faith as a family?
The verse says, “Clearly noone is justified before God by the law, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.'” Based on faith and receiving the Holy Spirit, the true Christian believer will walk in the steps of the Holy Spirit.
You might introduce Galatians 4 by discussing the differences between a king’s servants and his children. What opportunities or potential does a king’s child have that a servant does not? Think about this as you read together verses 1–7. What do these verses teach about our relationship with Heavenly Father?
This is the only commentary on the fourth chapter, with most of the chapter completley ignored. The first 7 verses talk about how Chirstian believers become sons of God. Verses 4-7 says,
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Who is being referenced? Of course, Jesus! He is the one who was born of Mary and has redeemed His people as children of God. Again, this is based not on what we as Christians do but it’s based on what He did for us on the cross, paying for all of our sins, past, persent and future. We are therefore heirs of this precious inheritance.
As has been done earlier, most of the chapter in Galatians is ignored. Here are several verses not mentioned at all.
4:8: When you did not know God, you were slaves of false gods
4:10: We are enslaved by customs that are not efficacious.
4:16: Paul writes, “Have I now become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” In other words, Paul is saying that someobody shouldn’t be offended when they are told the truth about their spiritual status. Even if the news is not good, it is important to consider the truth.
Then, in verses 21-31, Paul contrasts Hagar (representing the law) and Sarah (representing freedom). To miss this rich parallel in the LDS lesson is another giant miss.
Consider discussing the difference between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” To add some fun to your discussion, your family could label different fruits with words Paul used to describe the fruit of the Spirit. Then each family member could select one, define it, and talk about someone who exemplifies that fruit. This could lead to a discussion about ways your family could invite the Spirit into your home and cultivate this fruit.
The first half of Galatians 5 is ignored. (Sound familiar?) There are a number of things that ought to have been mentioned from this chapter, including:
- Vs. 1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” In other words, we are commanded not to allow ourselves to become enslaved
- Vs. 2: Don’t get circumcised thinking that, somehow, you are making yourself right before God. (Again, it could be “Don’t get baptized…” “Don’t attend church”…”Don’t refrain from coffee” etc)
- Vs. 3: The law is a terrible taskmaster. If you are going to keep the law, then you must keep all of it. If you can’t, then you have fallen short no matter how far you think you may have come.
- V. 4: “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
- Vs. 6: The only thing that counts is faith
- Vs. 13: You were called not to slavery but to freedom in Christ. The next part of the verse is important in terms of sanctification: Don’t let your freedom cause you to indulge in the carnal nature. Christians have been given freedom, but it’s not to do whatever they like. Taken in context, sanctification is a perfect follow-up to justificaiton.
After the discussion, you could enjoy a fruit salad together.
Now, we return to life by the Spirit, which was discussed above. But this last line is silly. To miss out on the heart of what Paul was saying with a corny line like this is a crime. Somebody ought to be arrested.
If your family has ever planted something together, you could use that experience to illustrate the principle “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (verse 7). Or you could ask family members about their favorite fruits or vegetables and talk about what it takes to grow a plant that produces that food. (See the picture at the end of this outline.) You could talk about the blessings your family hopes to receive and how to “reap” those blessings.
Major stress throughout this lesson was given to verses emphasizing works (sanctification), yet the main point of what Paul is saying is completely missed.
Verse 14 says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” What counts, Paul says, isn’t how good a person is or how many laws that person has kept. Rather, verse 15 says, the person becomes a new creation and old things have now passed away.
To me, this lesson is gut-wrenching as it misses the main ideas Paul was trying to communicate. Latter-day Saints who will read this lesson have no clue as to the powerful message of Paul’s first epistle. The warning against harboring a false Gospel and how it’s not possible to add works to the salvation that comes by grace through faith is lost and is nowhere to be found.
Perhaps the person reading my review has gotten much more understanding of Galatians than anything offered in the Come, Follow Me lesson. What an opportunity the church had to teach New Testament truth, yet what a loss for anyone trying to understand God’s Word. Again, I think this ought to be considered a spiritual crime. As Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8-9, anyone who preaches a different gosepl ought to be accursed. These are not mere idle words.
For a complete rundown on the Book of Galatians along with a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast series, click here.