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 in the church’s curriculum is being reviewed.)
May 8-14, 2023
Matthew 19-20; Mark 10; Luke 18
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Matthew 19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12
Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.
This interchange between the Savior and the Pharisees is one of the few recorded instances in which the Savior taught specifically about marriage. After reading Matthew 19:3–9 and Mark 10:2–12, make a list of several statements that you feel summarize the Lord’s views on marriage. Then study some of the resources found in “Marriage” and add more statements to your list. How does your knowledge of the Father’s plan of salvation affect the way you think and feel about marriage?
Here we can agree. According to the Bible, marriage is reserved for a man and a woman. Not for two of the same sex or polygamous relationships. No, two people, opposite sex. It was this way from creation. As Jesus said in Mark 10:6, “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.'” This fact is not always understood by many who may consider themselves “Christian” but who have moved to the “progressive” left. The LDS Church has taken some hits on this stand recently and many Latter-day Saints are in disagreement. It will be interesting to see if the progressive element in this church holds sway over future decisions of the LDS leaders. By some of its actions, including officially endorsing a bill that supported same-sex marriage, the church has become strange bedfellows with immorality. Shouldn’t this anger God-fearing, conservative members?
Matthew 19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12
Did Jesus teach that divorce is never acceptable or that divorced people should not remarry?
In an address on divorce, President Dallin H. Oaks taught that Heavenly Father intends for the marriage relationship to be eternal. However, God also understands that divorce is sometimes necessary. President Oaks explained that the Lord “permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members” (“Divorce,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 70).
Matthew 19 gives the “exclusion clause”: “Except for martial fidelity.” Unfortunately, many end up divorcing for reasons that do not involve “marital fidelity.” I think the lesson here does a disservice to the reader because it says how “God also understands that divorce is sometimes necessary.” How should a member take this? Then the lesson moves right into the ability to get remarried, even though the passage says in Mark 10 that any person who divorces commits adultery. The LDS response above is neat and trim, I suppose, but such a big issue as this should not have been relegated to a single paragraph that could be open to a variety of interpretations. This is quite the complex issue and one that needed more guidance. This also makes me wonder how “marriage for time and eternity” can be considered legitimate when it could be so easily broken. Eternity doesn’t mean what it used to! Who decides that this “eternal” marriage should dissolve? It seems quite precarious.
Matthew 19:16–22; Mark 10:17–22; Luke 18:18–23
If I ask the Lord, He will teach me what I need to do to inherit eternal life.
The account of the rich young man can give pause even to the faithful, lifelong disciple. As you read Mark 10:17–22, what evidence do you find of the young man’s faithfulness and sincerity? How did the Lord feel toward this young man?
This account may prompt you to ask, “What lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20). How does the Lord help us make up for what we lack? (see Ether 12:27). What can we do to prepare ourselves to accept His correction and help as we seek to improve?
There is a huge difference between salvation in Mormonism and Christianity. In Christianity, salvation comes by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). That concept is mocked by LDS leaders:
“One erroneous teaching of many Christian churches is: By faith alone we are saved. This false doctrine would relieve man from the responsibility of his acts other than to confess a belief in God, and would teach man that no matter how great the sin, a confession would bring him complete forgiveness and salvation.”LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, 24.
“Certain saved-by-grace-alone fanatics flatter their followers into believing they can be saved through no act other than confessing Christ with their lips.”Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 287.
“If the false claims about salvation by grace alone, or whatever the anti-Mormon literature is proclaiming, if these claims trouble you, search out the answers. They are in the scriptures. Anyone who cannot learn from the Bible that salvation does not come by simply confessing the Lord with one’s lips, without reference to all the other terms and conditions of the true plan of salvation, does not deserve to be saved.”Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 233.
“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.”Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206. See also The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, 36.
“God our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection. They beckon us to follow eternal verities and to become perfect, as they are perfect (see Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48).”Thomas S. Monson, “An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1988, 54.
Many more citations could be added. In previous reviews of this series, I have talked extensively about the topic. For a summary of the issues, consider these articles from CrashCourseMormonism.org.
Issues of Salvation
- The Gospel
- Sin / Transgression
- Covenants / Commandments
In the Come, Follow Me lesson, this question is asked: “How does the Lord help us make up for what we lack? (see Ether 12:27).” To answer this, Apostle Boyd K. Packer used 2 Nephi 25:23 in the Book of Mormon by stating, “Even that grace of God promised in the scriptures comes only ‘after all we can do’” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1995, 19).
Using this concept, one BYU professor coined a famous line that I hear repeated regularly: “You just do your best and Jesus does the rest.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard this! My response is to request a chapter and verse from LDS scripture where it teaches that you have to “do the rest.” (Maybe it would be a better statement to say, “Jesus paid the price and you do the rest.”) The Bible contradicts such a concept, instead saying that Jesus paid the entire price (all) and that nobody has the ability to even earn a penny of their own salvation.
I notice that the lesson does not mention this important line in Luke 18:27: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” This is the answer to Jesus’s point. What He told the rich young ruler was not a laundry list for what a person must accomplish to attain eternal life, i.e., keeping all the commandments all the time. The young man in the story was pretty proud that, yes, he believed that he had accomplished the things that Jesus mentioned. (Isn’t pride a sin?)
But Jesus knew the man’s heart and told him to do something that the law did not specifically say must be done, that is, to sell all he had and then follow Jesus. This man loved money, which had become his idol. Jesus said he needed to get rid of this idol before he could follow Jesus. Hence, the famous line that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was testing the young man. If he sold all he had, it wouldn’t mean that somehow this action qualified him for eternal life. Instead, this was a call out by Jesus. But, what is impossible for this man, God can do if a person is willing. Upon faith, Jesus imputes His righteousness into a person by crediting him with righteousness that could never be earned through good works.
The lesson asks two questions:
- How does the Lord help us make up for what we lack? (see Ether 12:27).
- What can we do to prepare ourselves to accept His correction and help as we seek to improve?
In other words, these questions are an admission that it’s impossible to do what is required, but you ought to try anyway. By asking these questions, the writers swing and miss in a mighty way.
Everyone can receive the blessing of eternal life, no matter when they accept the gospel.
Can you relate to the experience of any of the laborers in the vineyard? What lessons do you find for yourself in this passage? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s message “The Laborers in the Vineyard” (Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 31–33) might help you see new ways to apply this parable. What additional promptings does the Spirit give to you?
According to Mormonism, the gospel can be accepted in the next life (spirit prison). This is the reason for vicarious work for the dead performed in LDS temples. Based on the reading from this paragraph, should we assume that “the last will be first and the first will be last” means those who receive the gospel in the next life are first? Is there more blessing in receiving it after death than during this lifetime? And how does this acceptance of the Gospel after death correspond to Alma 34:32 and following? I’m curious how a Latter-day Saint would respond.
This is how Apostle Bruce R. McConkie dealt with this issue:
“If you teach a doctrine that there is a second chance for salvation, you may lose your soul. You will, if you believe that doctrine to the point that you do not live right and if you go on the assumption that someday you will have the opportunity for salvation even though you did not keep the commandments here.”Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 338.
I should trust God’s mercy, not my own righteousness.
How would you summarize the differences between the two prayers in this parable? Ponder what you feel you should do to be more like the publican in this story and less like the Pharisee.
Wow, the headline is an incredible statement. If a Latter-day Saint should trust God’s mercy and “not my own righteousness”–which I fully agree with–then what does the Mormon do with these quotes?
“Without works of righteousness it is not possible to save a man.”Francis M. Lyman, July 19, 1896, [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses 5:164.
That same apostle gave a general conference message where he said,
“By humility and faith and repentance we obtain the forgiveness of our sins, and are entitled to have our names upon the records of the Church as members of the Church. But that fact does not demonstrate particularly any very important work that we have accomplished in sustaining the work of the Lord. By it we are entitled to enter in, but after we have been recorded members of the Church we must then work out our salvation and earn eternal life, for it is not obtained without earning it.”
Francis Lyman, Conference Reports, October 1899, 35.
A Latter-day Saint might object, saying those quotes were given more than a hundred years ago. The question, then, is this: Was this apostle teaching false doctrine? And is this concept still not taught by Mormonism’s leaders today?
See, I think the same concept continues to be expounded on in LDS pulpits around the world. Consider the words of Dallin H. Oaks, currently the first counselor in the First Presidency:
“Some Christians accuse Latter-day Saints…of denying the grace of God through claiming they can earn their own salvation. We answer this accusation with the words of two Book of Mormon prophets. Nephi taught, ‘For we labor diligently…to persuade our children…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). And what is ‘all we can do’? It surely includes repentance (see Alma 24:11) and baptism, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end. Moroni pleaded, ‘Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ’ (Moroni 10:32). We are not saved in our sins, as by being unconditionally saved through confessing Christ and then, inevitably, committing sins in our remaining lives (see Alma 11:36-37). We are saved from our sins (see Helaman 5:10) by a weekly renewal of our repentance and cleansing through the grace of God and His blessed plan of salvation (see 3 Nephi 9:20-22).”Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121-122, 2009, 94-95. Italics and ellipsis in original. See also Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1998, 56.
The question is, how can Oaks feel that a person is “saved from our sins” by merely repenting weekly? After all, the “being saved” apparently goes away once a person sins again. The verses he uses in his citation are determinantal for a Latter-day Saint who have any desire to be assured that they are forever forgiven of their sins.
Meanwhile, seventeenth President Russell M. Nelson described the difference between general salvation provided to everyone who has lived and individual salvation (or eternal life/exaltation) made possible in the celestial kingdom for those who are consistent in keeping the commandments. He told a general conference audience:
“To be saved—or to gain salvation—means to be saved from physical and spiritual death. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected and saved from physical death People may also be saved from individual spiritual death through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, by their faith in Him, by living in obedience to the laws and ordinances of His gospel, and by serving Him.”“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2008, 8.
Church manuals also support the idea that salvation is not based on God’s mercy but rather one’s merits. For example:
“(41-3) Romans 10:9, 10. Can One Achieve Salvation Simply by Confessing with the Mouth? These two verses of scripture have been quoted very often by those who believe that salvation comes by grace alone and is not dependent in any way upon man’s good works. Some groups even go so far as to say that if a man should confess Jesus before he is killed in an accident he will be saved in the kingdom of God, even if he had lived a wicked life prior to that time. Not only does this idea go contrary to the vast weight of Paul’s own teachings (some within the Roman epistle itself—for example, 2:5–13; 6:13, 16; all of chapters 12–14), but it is also a gross misinterpretation of what Paul is really saying.”The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles Religion 211-212, 1979, 332.
“Note that you cannot be saved in your sins; you cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring your belief in Christ with the understanding that you will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of your life (see Alma 11:36-37). Through the grace of God, you can be saved from your sins (see Helaman 5:10-11). To receive this blessing, you must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, strive to keep the commandments, forsake sin, and renew your repentance and cleansing through the ordinance of the sacrament.”True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, 151-152. Italics in original.
Should it be comforting to realize that all a person has to do to get forgiveness of sin is to “forsake sin”? Easier said than done.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
What is the difference between having riches and trusting in riches? (see Mark 10:23–24). As you read verse 27, you may want to point out the Joseph Smith Translation: “With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible” (Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 10:26 [in Mark 10:27, footnote a]). As a family, how are we showing that we trust God more than material things?
Smith’s rendering is a paraphrase, as there is no biblical manuscript–not even one–that provides the words in such as way as Smith has put it. However, I do think Smith did get the interpretation correct. It’s based on one’s trust in God and His works, not your own.
To illustrate the principles in Matthew 20:1–16, you might set up a simple competition, such as a short race. After everyone has completed the competition, award everyone the same prize, starting with the person who finished last and ending with the person who finished first. What does this teach us about who receives the blessings of eternal life in Heavenly Father’s plan?
Let’s finish the illustration. To continue the competition, have someone play dead by laying on the floor. Then, have everyone get up and have that person get in line first to receive the prize–you can make whatever you’d like the prize. Since that person chose last, they now become first in line to receive the dessert for that evening–even though they waited until after death. But they get to go first since they were last in making their choice. Would this make children want to obey now rather than later? Does this make sense? No. And neither does the idea that a person can make an efficacious choice in the next life.
Matthew 20:25–28; Mark 10:42–45.
What is the meaning of the phrase “whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant”? (Matthew 20:27). How did Jesus Christ exemplify this principle? How can we follow His example in our family, our ward or branch, and our neighborhood?
Like me, maybe you’ve been to general conference where everyone stands at the beginning of each of the five sessions when the leaders come walking through a side door onto the stage. You can hear a pin drop. Everyone is in awe. Why, here are the men who are successful in living their Mormonism! Is that really true?
My impression is that these leaders lord their position over the rest of the Latter-day Saints. During general conference talks, we never hear these general authorities admit that they struggle in life or may not have all the answers. Their inevitable “do good and do better” talks point to the members who they say need to up their game. I have to be honest, I personally do not see these leaders ever take on the role of a servant. Many of their members work hard, that’s for sure, but the leaders can never be seen serving anyone in their expensive Armani suits. Maybe even a photo op at the bishop’s storehouse handing out groceries would be a wonderful PR move to show how servant-minded they are. But, they are not.
What do we learn about prayer from the two parables in these verses?
In the first (18:1-8), persistence in prayer is crucial. While it might sound spiritual to pray once and never pray the same prayer again, that’s not how Jesus taught. We are commanded to show how much we want the answer by continuing to bring our requests before the throne.
In the second, one’s attitude in prayer is more important than the style in which it is presented. In his parable, Jesus shows how the sincerity of the prayer of the publican is more admirable than the fancy-pants prayer of the Pharisee. Look at what the Pharisee said in his prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
Isn’t this the attitude the LDS Church leaders foist on its membership? After all, most Mormons consider themselves “good people” who are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. They don’t chew or participate with the girls who do. They even fast (the first weekend of each month) and tithe–a requirement for a temple recommend.
Think about it. What does a Latter-day Saint do each time he or she desires a temple recommend? They must lay out their church participation, their following of the Word of Wisdom, their full payment of tithes, etc. to their ecclesiastical authorities.
Who might the Pharisee represent in this parable? Isn’t it a reference to what LDS leaders commend via the outward appearance (nice clothes at church or the temple, praying prayers in the King James vernacular, etc.) taking precedence over the intent of the heart. Jesus is not interested in the outward but rather what is inside one’s heart.
First Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” Proverbs 21:2 explains, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” And Jesus said in Matthew 5:8 that “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I think this parable and these verses clearly show that the heart, not outward appearance, is God’s top priority for His people.
Is a person saved by mercy or good works? I, for one, say it is mercy–something this lesson said is important. But does mercy trump one’s good works? True Christianity is not about what we do but rather who we are (new creations in Christ); who we are determines what we do (good works, known as sanctification).
As I have tried to explain in this review, Mormonism lays out what is required for eternal life. It is based on what one does, not who they have become in Christ. This is why biblical Christians cannot consider their LDS friends and family members saved members, because those who are saved realize they are forgiven of past, present and future sins–not based on what they have done or will do. And all glory goes to God for His indescribable mercy!