By Eric Johnson
January 23-29, 2023: Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3
Jesus Christ and His gospel can change you. Luke quoted an ancient prophecy of Isaiah that described the effect that the Savior’s coming would have: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth” (Luke 3:5; see also Isaiah 40:4). This is a message for all of us, including those who think they cannot change. If something as permanent as a mountain can be flattened, then surely the Lord can help us straighten our own crooked paths (see Luke 3:4–5). As we accept John the Baptist’s invitation to repent and change, we prepare our minds and hearts to receive Jesus Christ so that we too can “see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6).
Both Latter-day Saints and Evangelical Christians have the same desire, to know God and “see the salvation of God.” The question is, what must be done? Mormonism says that a life of good works is necessary to qualify for this, including full repentance and baptism. Meanwhile, Jesus said that believing in Him and knowing Him in a personal way is the way to eternal life
Let’s take a closer week at the curriculum for this week and see where we have similarities but clearly differ.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Matthew 3:1–12; Mark 1:1–8; Luke 3:2–18
Repentance is a mighty change of mind and heart.
The mission of John the Baptist was to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the Savior and become more like Him. How did he do it? He proclaimed, “Repent ye” (Matthew 3:2). And he used images such as fruit and wheat to teach about repentance (see Luke 3:9, 17).
Bible-believing Christians believe in repentance. The literal word in Greek (meta-neow) literally means to go in the opposite direction. When a Christian believer repents of his or her sins, he or she no longer goes the way we, as sinners, were headed.
Mormon scripture says that true repentance means that the same sin is not done again. D&C 58:42-43 says,
42 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. 43 By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
One church manual states that “forsake” means a person “repents of, gives up and never does [it] again” (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Guide, 2001, 106). Another manual states,
“Abandonment of Sin. Although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, ‘By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43). Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression. When you keep this commitment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again.”True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, 134-135.
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball didn’t mince any words in his explanation of repentance when he said,
“Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 324-325
Just who is capable to meeting the requirement of “total repentance and meeting all the requirements”? Mormonism says stop the sins and qualify for forgiveness of sins. The Bible teaches that it is through faith alone and by God’s grace that forgiveness is available. I certainly am not able to do what Mormon leaders demand. Are you? Which plan sounds impossible?
For more on this, see Crash Course Mormonism: Forgiveness.
True repentance is “a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. … [It means] a turning of the heart and will to God” (Bible Dictionary, “Repentance”). In Luke 3:7–14, what changes did John invite the people to make to prepare to receive Christ? How might this counsel apply to you? How can you show that you have truly repented? (see Luke 3:8).
John said that we are supposed to bear fruit–something that Paul discussed in detail in Galatians 5:22-23. We need to live the way He commanded, such as sharing with those in need. And we should have integrity in our work, not stealing from our employer and be satisfied with what we are paid. Of course, the New Testament is full of references commanding the believer’s good works as a result of who we have become in Christ. While we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9), there is a clear mandate to do the right thing and follow His ways. As I like to say, we are not saved by what we do but because of who we are (a new creation in Christ is how 2 Cor. 5:17 put it). And who we are has an effect on what we do.
Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7
Who were the Pharisees and Sadducees?
The Pharisees were members of a Jewish religious party who prided themselves on strict observance of the law of Moses and its rituals. The Sadducees were a wealthy Jewish class with great religious and political influence; they did not believe in the doctrine of resurrection. Both groups had strayed from the original intent of God’s laws.
Not only did they stray from the “original intent of God’s laws,” but they turned God’s laws into a means of the end. Jesus criticized these groups for misaligning the Gospel and making it into something it was never intended to be. In many ways, these groups of religious leaders remind me of the LDS leadership who, while they do hold to the Bible, make rules that are beyond God’s Word.
Matthew 3:11, 13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
Jesus Christ was baptized to “fulfil all righteousness.”
When you were baptized, you followed the example of the Savior. Compare what you learn from the accounts of the Savior’s baptism with what happened during your baptism.
|The Savior’s Baptism||My Baptism|
|Who baptized Jesus, and what authority did he hold?||Who baptized you, and what authority did he hold?|
|Where was Jesus baptized?||Where were you baptized?|
|How was Jesus baptized?||How were you baptized?|
|Why was Jesus baptized?||Why were you baptized?|
|How did Heavenly Father show that He was pleased with Jesus?||How did Heavenly Father show that He was pleased when you were baptized? How has He shown His approval since then?|
In the first question asked under the title “My Baptism,” it asks “who baptized you” and “what authority did he hold.” This goes back to the LDS idea that, unless a certain person has “priesthood authority” who performs the ordinance, the baptism cannot be efficacious. This leads to the doctrine of the “Great Apostasy.” In essence, Mormonism teaches that the priesthood was lost and, in effect, Christians outside the LDS Church do not have valid baptisms because of the lack of authority.
For the question, “Why were you baptized?” Mormonism teaches that baptism is a requirement for salvation. In fact, under a picture of a man baptizing a young boy in the lesson, the caption reads, “When we are baptized, our sins are washed away.” However, according to biblical Christianity, baptism is part of the sanctification process and is done as a response to having received eternal life through faith alone. The act of baptism does not wash away sins, but only symbolizes the washing away of sins.
The last questions (“How did Heavenly Father show that He was pleased when you were baptized? How has He shown His approval since then?”) are rather confusing. Of course, God wants believers to obey. But I’m not sure how He has “shown His approval”–like assurance of one’s salvation or blessings for obeying? I’m not sure we can compare God speaking out of heaven (“This is my Son…”) and a dove coming down upon Jesus with something tangible that happens to us when we are baptized.
For more on baptism, visit the article on Crash Course Mormonism.
Matthew 3:16–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22
The members of the Godhead are three separate beings.
The Bible contains numerous evidences that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The accounts of the Savior’s baptism are one example. As you read these accounts, ponder what you learn about the godhead. Why are these doctrines important to you?
In other words, Mormonism teaches in three different gods. This is not monotheism as taught by the Bible but rather tritheism (three separate gods). Many Latter-day Saints advocate that God is one in purpose. And He is one in purpose. But He is also one in essence.
Many Latter-day Saints make the straw man fallacy of suggesting that Christians believe that God the Father is Jesus is the Holy Spirit. This is an error anciently called Sabellianism or Modalism. By no means do Christians believe that Jesus was a ventriloquist in the Garden of Gethsemane who was speaking to Himself. Then, it is asked, to whom was Jesus speaking? The Father who is a separate Person. In fact, Jesus is not the Father even though He is 100% fully God from the very beginning.
The Trinity is a deep issue, and it can’t be fully discussed in an online review where we try to keep the word count down. To discover more about this teaching, we suggest a deeper research into this topic. Here are some introductory articles to consider on the doctrine of the Trinity:
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
John the Baptist held the Aaronic Priesthood. What can we learn from John’s example about the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood? What blessings do we receive because of the Aaronic Priesthood? If you have a young man in your family, you might take time to help him understand how he can use the Aaronic Priesthood to bless others. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 13:1; 20:46–60.)
John the Baptist was a Levite who came from the line of Aaron, but nowhere does the Bible use the phrase “Aaronic priesthood.” This is a term made up by Joseph Smith. In Mormonism, the Aaronic Priesthood is an office given to males beginning at the age of 11, with a variety of offices including deacon and teacher. It supposedly was bestowed upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 by John the Baptist. However, what good is having the “Aaronic Priesthood” (or, for that matter, the “Melchizedek Priesthood”) if Jesus has a “superior priesthood,” as so described by Hebrews 7:11-28?
For more on the priesthood, see Crash Course Mormonism: Priesthood.
Matthew 3:11–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22.
Have members of your family seen someone be baptized or confirmed a member of the Church? What did family members feel? Perhaps you could teach them about the symbolism of baptism and confirmation. How is being baptized and confirmed like a new birth? Why are we fully immersed in water when we are baptized? Why do we wear white when we are baptized? Why is the gift of the Holy Ghost described as a “baptism of fire”? (Doctrine and Covenants 20:41; see also Bible Dictionary, “Baptism,” “Holy Ghost”).
For many LDS families, this part of the lesson will be considered a “teachable moment.” Children are going to be told about the importance of getting baptized, going to church, seminary participation, etc. For those family members who have not yet been baptized, this might give them some anticipation. As Christians, we also believe in baptism, but we fully teach that the act itself is symbolic (as the paragraph above puts it). But it’s not really symbolic in Mormonism, because it is through this act that a person’s sins are washed away.
Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22.
When have we felt that God has been pleased with us? What can we do as a family to please God?
Here is the question that I’m sure will cause many LDS family members to commit to baptism.
When it comes to the topic of God’s nature (the Godhead, as Mormonism calls it), repentance, and baptism, there are important differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity. We do not agree that there are three gods in the Godhead. The Trinity solves this problem, meaning that Bible-believing Christians are monotheistic.
For repentance, the command to cease the sin and never do it again–while it should be our aim–will not be possible. Even the apostle Paul said in Romans 7:21-24:
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
What is the answer the? Verse 25 gives it to us: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Only through Jesus, not our own efforts, can we be delivered from sin. It is so plain to see but it is unfortunately missed by Latter-day Saints.
Finally, concerning water baptism, it is important in Christianity and is practiced by Evangelical Christians all over the world. Yet we must understand that this is not something that is done as a work and attempt to qualify for justification before God. After all, Titus 3 says it is not possible to be saved by works of righteousness, and baptism is a work.
These three topics exemplify the dichotomy between our faiths as seen in the weekly lesson produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.