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 14-20, 2022 (Genesis 18-23)
Abraham’s life, filled with events both heartbreaking and heartwarming, is evidence of a truth Abraham learned in a vision—that we are on earth to be proven, “to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command” (Abraham 3:25).
It is interesting that the week’s lesson is supposed to cover Genesis chapters 18-23, yet as the previous seven weeks did, the Pearl of Great Price is referenced. This “scripture” is unique to Mormonism and is not accepted by anyone outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Would Abraham himself prove faithful? Would he continue to have faith in God’s promise of a large posterity, even when he and Sarah were still childless in their old age? And once Isaac was born, would Abraham’s faith endure the unthinkable—a command to sacrifice the very son through whom God had promised to fulfill that covenant? Abraham did prove faithful. Abraham trusted God, and God trusted Abraham. In Genesis 18–23, we find stories from the lives of Abraham and others that can prompt us to think about our own ability to believe God’s promises, to flee wickedness and never look back, and to trust God regardless of the sacrifice.
Of course, the patriarch Abraham did prove faithful. As discussed in last week’s review, what was it that caused Abraham to be considered righteous? According to this short passage, he trusted God and believed in God’s promises. He also fled wickedness and never looked back while trusting God. As mentioned, Mormonism teaches that more than “trust” is needed–that keeping the commandments of God is what qualifies a person. For instance, 10th President Joseph Fielding Smith explained,
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.)
Meanwhile, 11th President Harold B. Lee said this in a general conference talk:
The miracle of forgiveness is available to all of those who turn from their evil doings and return no more, because the Lord has said in a revelation to us in our days: ‘. . . go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning again] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.’ (D&C 82:7.) Have that in mind, all of you who may be troubled with a burden of sin (Conference Report, April 7, 1973, 185. Cited in The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 120, and Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, 185. Ellipsis in original).
Let’s consider Romans 4 again:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . .
Talking about Abraham, Hebrews 11 states,
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, not by his works, that God blessed Abraham. But it was through his faith that Abraham obeyed.
What lessons do you learn about fleeing wickedness as you read about Lot and his family? For example, what impresses you about what the angels said and did to help Lot and his family escape destruction? (see Genesis 19:12–17). How does the Lord help you and your family flee or find protection from evil influences in the world?
Of course, Christians believe in fleeing wickedness as well. They just don’t believe that doing this is what earns them favor before God.
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5).
Jacob 4:5 in the Book of Mormon states,
Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.
Here is another proof that the Book of Mormon was written after the fact, as the above was supposedly written in the 5th century BC. To put it another way, this passage was written in the Americas about 500 years before Jesus was even born. The word for “Only Begotten Son” is Greek (monogenes), not Hebrew, and there are no parallels with other Old Testament passages predicting the Messiah that gives Jesus such a title.
Again, we see that obedience is stressed for Abraham being chosen by God. Yet Mormon leaders just don’t understand the New Testament admonition that Abraham believed God, and it was “credited” to him as righteousness. Let’s again consider Romans 4 to see what was meant, as I continue citing from that chapter:
9 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 Abraham was credited with righteousness before he did anything good, including circumcision! In fact, circumcision was the proof but it did not cause the effect. It came after faith and the righteousness already given to Abraham. And consider the last part of verse 12, “the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” The circumcision, then, is the result of his faith and not the cause.
Let’s read the rest of chapter 4, which is completely ignored by the authors of the LDS curriculum:
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
Notice how Paul specifically points out how the promise “did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith”! It continues:
14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Such powerful words! Verse 23 declares that “it was counted to him” is meant not just for Abraham but for all believers today! Jesus delivered His people from sin and justified them freely.
As you ponder the similarities between Abraham’s test and God the Father’s offering of His Son as a sacrifice for us, what do you feel for your Heavenly Father?
There are also similarities between Isaac and the Savior. Consider reading Genesis 22:1–19 again, looking for these similarities.
Hebrews 11:17-19 explains the situation:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Verse 19 is important: Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise him back from the dead.” The authors of the curriculum are correct in saying this incident parallels the life of Jesus who also was raised from the dead! This all took place at Mt. Moriah, the very place on Temple Mount today where the temple was built and where the Holy of Holies was erected.
I’m surprised, though, that the authors of the curriculum did not cite from the New Testament to help the reader better understand what took place in the Old Testament and how it relates to believers today. Perhaps the idea of sola fides (only by faith) is not mentioned because what was written in Romans and Hebrews contradicts LDS theology.
- Genesis 22:1–14.
- How can you help your family see the connection between the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and the Savior’s atoning sacrifice? You could show pictures of Abraham and Isaac and of the Crucifixion (see “Abraham and Isaac” in Old Testament Stories) while family members discuss similarities they see between these events. You could also sing a hymn or song about the Savior’s sacrifice, such as “He Sent His Son” (Children’s Songbook, 34–35), and look for phrases that describe the Savior’s sacrifice.
I think it definitely is possible show a connection between Abraham/Isaac and Jesus. The parallels are certainly there. The difference is that Isaac was not killed but could be considered risen from the dead. In essence, he was not a true sacrifice; instead, it was the ram who had been caught in the thicket. However, Jesus really did die as the sacrificial lamb who provided for the forgiveness of sins to all who have true faith.
The last sentence of the LDS primary song “He Sent His Son” states, “What does he ask? Live like his Son.” Unfortunately, this is the message of Mormonism, which teaches that faith plus what we do is what qualifies us for glory.
Just one more passage to show this very powerful point that it is faith, not works, that justifies a person before the all-holy God. Galatians 3:5-9 explains,
5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
How does a person come into a relationship with God? It’s not through what is accomplished (i.e., good works) but rather through faith alone. This is clearly taught throughout the Bible. Requiring works for a person’s justification before God is a point of no return, which is why it is completely rejected by the biblical writers and Christians today.
There are several nuggets of truth in the LDS lesson. Without considering the New Testament passages I have cited above, though, the member is left to fend for herself. I am reminded of Acts 8:30-31 and the story of Philip and his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. The passage reads,
So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
Those who rely on the LDS leaders to teach truth will be left wanting because they will have to depend on the interpretation they are given. “How can I, unless someone guides me?” the eunuch answered Philip. It is a shame that so many people who study the Come, Follow Me series will depend on these writers to guide them. Meanwhile, the total biblical message is completely ignored. “Just keep striving and doing your best and someday you may arrive,” LDS believers are told. When will this day ever come?