Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jehovah's Witnesses and salvation by faith: some germane selections and a related, unique event


Do Jehovah's Witnesses believe that salvation comes by faith, or by works? It is a very rare occasion when this question is posed to a non-JW (including those who may have been a JW), that one will get the correct response. Rather than give my own opinion on this issue, I am going to let the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) provide the answer.

First, from the book, Reasoning from the Scriptures (which is similar to a Biblical topical guide), under the subject "Salvation":

Is anything more than faith needed in order to gain salvation?

Eph. 2:8, 9, RS: By grace ["undeserved kindness," NW] is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (The entire provision for salvation is an expression of God’s undeserved kindness. There is no way that a descendant of Adam can gain salvation on his own, no matter how noble his works are. Salvation is a gift from God given to those who put faith in the sin-atoning value of the sacrifice of his Son.)

Heb. 5:9, RS: “He [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Italics added.) (Does this conflict with the statement that Christians are “saved through faith”? Not at all. Obedience simply demonstrates that their faith is genuine.)

James 2:14, 26, RS: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (A person does not earn salvation by his works. But anyone who has genuine faith will have works to go with it—works of obedience to the commands of God and Christ, works that demonstrate his faith and love. Without such works, his faith is dead.)

Acts 16:30, 31 RS:
 “‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” (If that man and his household truly believed, would they not act in harmony with their belief? Certainly.) [Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989, p. 359 - full entry for the "Salvation" topic HERE]

Second, from the entry "DECLARE RIGHTEOUS", in Insight on the Scriptures:

Finishing his earthly course free from flaw in any sense of the word, Jesus was acknowledged by God as justified. He was thus the only man, who through test, stood firmly and positively just, or righeous before God on his own merit. By this "one act of justification [form of di•kai'o•ma],"that is, by Jesus' proving himself perfectly righteous his entire flawless course, including his sacrifice, he provided the basis for declaring righteous those persons having faith in Christ.—Rom. 5:17-19; 3:25, 26; 4:25. [Insight on the Scriptures, 1988, vol. 1.604, 605 - full entry HERE]

The third selection is from an extensive book published in 1973:

These sheeplike ones are not justified or declared righteous on the basis of their own works any more than the 144,000 heirs of Christ are. The prime thing that counted was the thing that was evidenced by their trying to do what they could in behalf of Christ just as the situation afforded, namely, their faith in him as the Messiah or Christ of God. They recognized that they had no righeousness wholly pleasing to God in themselves. In harmony with this they availed themselves of the propitiatory blood of the sacrificial Lamb of god, Jesus Christ. (John 1:29, 36) To gain a righteous apperance before Jehovah God, they did a washing, as it were, of their symbolic robes. [God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, 1973, p. 274]

And finally, in one of the few full length commentaries published by the WTBTS, we read:

James attacks several problems that had arisen in the congregations. One that caused much trouble was the misunderstanding and misconstruing by some persons of the doctrine of the free gift of righteousness through faith. (Rom. 5:15-17) These individuals mistakenly claimed that a Christian, having faith, did not need works-that faith had nothing to do with works. They overlooked the fact that true faith would show itself in some form of action. They were thereby denying that Christ "gave himself for us that he might deliver us from every sort of lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works." (Titus 2:14) James was contending with the idea held by some Christians that a purely intellectual faith was sufficient for the Christian. This would ignore any need for faith to affect the heart, and would deny that faith had power to move a person to make changes in his personality and his life and to do things for others in positive expression of that faith. They were, if they maintained this idea, becoming like those of whom Paul speaks as having "a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power."—2 Tim. 3:5.

It should not be understood that James argued against the doctrine of righteousness "apart from works of law," which teaching the apostle Paul clearly defines in Romans chapters three and four. (Rom. 3:28) James' comments and counsel on Christian conduct always rest on the basis of "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ."(Jas. 2:1) James was not in any way saying that works of themselves can bring salvation. We cannot properly devise a formula or build a structure through which we can work out our salvation. The faith must be there first. As James clearly emphasized, good works will come spontaneously from the heart, with the right motive of helping people in love and compassion. Jesus' life is an illustration of this. The law that the Christian follows is "the law of a free people," not a law code like the Mosaic law. (Jas. 2:12; Rom. 2:29; 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6) It is the divine law that is written on the Christian's heart.—Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10. (Commentary on the Letter of James, 1979, pp. 6, 7 - bold emphasis mine.)

A bit later, the book relates the following:

Genesis 15:1-6 shows that Abraham was declared righteous by faith when he believed God's promise to make his seed like the stars of heaven for number, this at a time when there was no tangible evidence that Abraham would have a child, since Sarah had long been barren. Why, then, can James state that Abraham was "declared righteous by works"? Because God later gave a pronouncement or verdict of righteousness to Abraham as a result of or out of his works, when he offered Isaac. By this act Abraham proved, demonstrated beyond question, that his original faith in God and in his power had been, and still was, genuine. He proved that his faith was a living faith, not a dead one. It was not Abraham's works of themselves that brought righteousness to him, but his works were a product of that genuine faith that he had, and God, by his verdict, affirmed this fact. Abraham's willingness to obey God's command to sacrifice his son was an outstanding point at which to make the pronouncement of Genesis 22: 12. (Ibid., p. 85 - bold emphasis mine)

[PDF copy of the entire book available online HERE]

I do not feel any need to add commentary to the WTBTS's position on salvation by faith. However, with that said, a very interesting event took place concerning the publication of the above book—Commentary on the Letter of James—that I would like to chronicle, for some folk are of the opinion that it has pertinence to the WTBTS's position on salvation by faith.

Note the following from Raymond Franz—a former member of the Governing Body:

It had been very difficult to get the Governing Body as a whole to agree to the Writing Department’s recommendation for the preparation of a Bible commentary, not just on the letter of James but any commentary. For some reason certain members seemed to view it as a risky undertaking, and voiced strong reservations or negative feelings toward the project. Though eventually approved, published and included in the study program of the organization for a period, this commentary (the only actual Bible commentary the organization ever produced) has since been allowed to go out of print. Something that helps explain why is a decision made with reference to the book in one of the Governing Body sessions.

In the paragraph that follows the points quoted earlier, the book as originally written went on to state:

As James shows, no Christian should judge his brother or set up human standards that he must follow, though he may encourage a brother and incite him to fine works: and he may even reprove his brother where there is definite Scriptural reason and Scriptural proof for what he says.(Jas. 4:11, 12; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 10:24) When the right works are performed they must be carried out at the direction of conscience. The real Christian will not do things by rote, and he does not need a detailed code of rules. Neither does he carry out his good works because of pressure from others. The apostle Paul points out these facts at Romans chapter 14. So if a person has a genuine, living faith, the works will reasonably follow. They will be good works that God will reward, because they are performed out of heart devotion. However, one who tries to gain righteousness through a minutely defined structure of "dos" and "don'ts" will fail. Such "righteousness" is of men and not of God. [Original paragraph - typed from photocopy provided by Raymond Franz]

This is a photocopy of the way this paragraph (of page 7) was originally approved by the Writing Committee of the Governing Body, sent to the Watch Tower’s Brooklyn printing plant, and actually printed up in hundreds of thousands of copies. Yet outside of the Governing Body members and a few other persons, no Witness has seen this wording nor will he find it in the copy of the commentary he possesses. The reason is that due to opposition of certain Governing Body members the paragraph was rewritten and the hundreds of thousands of copies already printed were destroyed—not just hundreds of thousands of individual pages but of sections of 32 pages each. Why? The points they objected to, and ultimately changed, are significant in what they reveal as to the thinking of the men themselves.

Consider this same paragraph as it appears in the commentary as finally published and distributed:

As James shows, no Christian should judge his brother or set up human standards for gaining salvation, though he may encourage a brother and incite him to fine works; and he may even reprove his brother where there is definite Scriptural reason and Scriptural proof for what he says. (Jas. 4:11, 12; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 10:24) When the right works are performed they must be carried out in response to direction from God's Word. The real Christian will not do things by rote, and he does not need a detailed code of rules. Neither does he carry out his good works just to please men. So if a person has a genuine, living faith, fine works will reasonably follow, including preaching and teaching the good news of the Kingdom. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) They will be good works that God will reward, because they are performed out of heart devotion. However, one who tries to gain righteousness through a minutely defined structure of "dos" and "don'ts" will fail. Such "righteousness" is of men and not of God. (In Search of Christian Freedom,  Second Edition, 2007, pp. 181-183.)

Though the event related above is an interesting, historical fact, I do not believe that it should alter one's understanding of the WTBTS's position on salvation by faith. Have I perhaps missed something?


Grace and peace,

David

ADDENDUM (06-14-18): Yesterday, I reread a book I had not opened for more than thirty years. I quickly discovered that a good number of pages were germane to this thread. Note the following excerpts:

United in Worship of the Only True God
(1983)

How Can We Show Our Faith in Christ?
9 After pointing out to the Jewish high court in Jerusalem how prophecy had been fulfilled in Jesus, the apostle Peter forcefully concluded: “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” (Acts 4:11, 12; Ps. 118:22) All Adam’s offspring are sinners, so their death comes as the condemnation for sin and holds no merit that can be applied as a ransom for anyone. But Jesus was perfect, and the laying down of his life has sacrificial value. (Ps. 49:6-9; Heb. 2:9) He offered to God a ransom that exactly corresponded in value with what Adam had lost for his descendants. How has this benefited us?—1 Tim. 2:5, 6.
10 It has made possible our having a clean conscience because of forgiveness of sin—something far more than was ever achieved for Israel by the animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law. (Acts 13:38, 39; Heb. 9:13, 14) Having this, of course, requires that we be honest with ourselves and that we have genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Do we personally appreciate how much we need Christ’s sacrifice? “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:8, 9.
11 Of course, some who say that they know they are sinners and who profess to believe in Christ, who even share to some extent in telling others about God’s Kingdom as Jesus did, nevertheless stop short of full faith in Jesus. In what way? Well, as shown in the Bible, when persons in the first century truly became believers, how did they publicly demonstrate that? They got baptized. Why? Because Jesus had commanded that disciples be baptized. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 8:12; 18:8) When a person’s heart is really moved by the loving provision that Jehovah made through Jesus Christ, he will not hold back. He will make any needed adjustments in his life, dedicate himself to God and symbolize this by water immersion. As the Bible shows, it is by demonstrating faith in this way that he makes ‘request to God for a good conscience.’—1 Pet. 3:21.
12 Even after that, of course, sinful traits will show themselves. What then? “I am writing you these things that you may not commit a sin,” said the apostle John. So we should not lightly pass off sin in ourselves, whether manifest in action, speech or attitude. “And yet, if anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one. And he is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.” (1 John 2:1, 2) Does that mean that, no matter what we do, if we pray to God, ‘Forgive us our sins,’ everything will be all right? No. The key to forgiveness is genuine repentance. Help may also be needed from elders in the Christian congregation. We must recognize the wrongness of what was done and feel sincere regret over it so that we will make an earnest effort to avoid repeating it. (Acts 3:19; Jas. 5:13-16) If we do this, we can be assured of Jesus’ help. On the basis of our faith in the sin-atoning value of his sacrifice, restoration to Jehovah’s favor is possible, and this is vital if our worship is to be acceptable to him.
13 Jesus’ sacrifice has also opened to us the opportunity for eternal life—in the heavens for a “little flock,” and on a Paradise earth for billions more of mankind. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 20:11, 12; 21:3, 4) This is not a reward that we earn. No matter how much we do in Jehovah’s service, we can never build up such merit that God will owe us life. Eternal life is “the gift God gives . . . by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-10) Nevertheless, if we have faith in that gift and appreciation for the manner in which it was made possible, we will make this manifest. Discerning how marvelously Jehovah has used Jesus in accomplishing His will and how vital it is that all of us follow Jesus’ steps closely, we will make the Christian ministry one of the most important things in our life. Our faith will be evident from the conviction with which we tell others about this magnificent gift of God.—Compare Acts 20:24.
14 What a fine, unifying effect such faith has! By means of it we are drawn close to Jehovah, to his Son and to one another within the Christian congregation. (1 John 3:23, 24) It causes us to rejoice that Jehovah has kindly given to his Son “the name that is above every other name [except God’s name], so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”—Phil. 2:9-11.  (pp. 33-37)

Where Freedom Can Be Found
6 In view of conditions today, it is no surprise that people long for greater freedom than what they have. But where can real freedom be found? Jesus Christ said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) This freedom is not the limited kind that men hope for when they reject one political ruler or form of government in favor of another. Instead, it gets right to the core of human problems. What Jesus was discussing was freedom from sin, slavish bondage to sin. (See John 8:24, 34-36.) Thus if a person becomes a true disciple of Jesus Christ, this results in a notable change in his life, a liberation.
7 That does not mean that at present true Christians no longer feel the effects of the inborn tendency toward sinful conduct. On the contrary, they have a struggle because of it. (Rom. 7:21-25) But if a person really lives in harmony with Jesus’ teachings, he will no longer be an abject slave to sin. Sin will no longer be to him like a king that gives orders that he obeys. He will no longer be trapped in a way of life that lacks purpose and that leaves him with a disturbed conscience. He will enjoy a clean conscience before God because past sins have been forgiven on the basis of his faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Sinful inclinations may try to assert themselves, but when he refuses to act on them because he calls to mind the clean teachings of Christ he will show that sin is not his master.—Rom. 6:12-17.
8 As Christians we enjoy great freedom. We have been liberated from the effects of false teachings, from bondage to superstition and servitude to sin. The grand truths about the condition of the dead and the resurrection have freed us from the unreasoning fear of violent death that causes men to suppress their conscience. Knowledge that imperfect human governments will be replaced by God’s righteous Kingdom frees us from hopelessness. But such freedom does not justify disregard for law or disrespect for governmental officials on the premise that soon the old system will be gone.—1 Pet. 2:16, 17; Titus 3:1, 2.
9 Jehovah does not leave us to figure out by trial and error which is the best way to live. He knows how we are made, what will bring us genuine contentment and a feeling of personal dignity, and what will be most lastingly beneficial for us. He also knows his own time schedule for carrying out his purpose and, therefore, the activities in which it is most worth while for us to engage. He likewise is aware of thoughts and conduct that can degrade a person or spoil his relations with others, even bar him from the blessings of God’s Kingdom. Lovingly he informs us of these things through the Bible and by means of his visible organization. (Gal. 5:19-23; Mark 13:10; compare 1 Timothy 1:12, 13.) Then it is up to us, using our God-given free will, to decide how we are going to respond. If we have taken to heart what the Bible tells us about how Adam lost the freedom given to mankind at the start, we will make those decisions wisely. We will show that a good relationship with Jehovah is our main concern in life. (pp. 40-42)

9 Even if severely put to the test, those who truly know Jehovah do not turn away from him. Satan charged that if Job lost his possessions or was physically abused, even this one of whom Jehovah spoke highly would desert God. But Job proved the Devil a liar, and he did it even though he did not know what accounted for all the calamity that was engulfing him. (Job 2:3, 9, 10) Still trying to prove his point, Satan later caused an infuriated king of Babylon to threaten three young Hebrews with death in a fiery furnace if they did not bow in worship before an image set up by the king. Forced to choose between the command of the king and Jehovah’s law against idolatry, they firmly made it known that they served Jehovah and that he was their Supreme Sovereign. More precious to them than life was faithfulness to God.—Dan. 3:14-18.
10 Are we to conclude from this that to be loyal to Jehovah a person has to be perfect, that one who makes a mistake has completely failed? By no means! The Bible specifically tells us about times when Moses fell short. Jehovah was displeased, but he did not reject Moses. The apostles, though exemplary in many respects, had their weaknesses. Loyalty requires consistent obedience from the heart. But, taking into account our inheritance of imperfection, Jehovah is pleased if we do not deliberately ignore his will in any respect. If, because of weakness, we become involved in wrongdoing, it is important that we be sincerely repentant and so not make a practice of it. Thus we demonstrate that we truly do love what Jehovah says is good and hate what he shows to be bad. On the basis of our faith in the sin-atoning value of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can enjoy a clean standing before God.—Amos 5:15; Acts 3:19; Heb. 9:14. (pp. 51, 52)

Equipped to Be Conquerors
13 Before Jesus’ death he said to his apostles: “Take courage! I have conquered the world.” So, too, they could be conquerors; and over 60 years later the apostle John wrote: “Who is the one that conquers the world but he who has faith that Jesus is the Son of God?” (John 16:33; 1 John 5:5) Such faith is shown by our obeying Jesus’ commands and relying on God’s Word, even as he did. What else is required? That we stay close to the congregation of which he is the head. When we fall short, we must earnestly repent and seek God’s forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice. In this way, despite our imperfections, we too can be conquerors. (pp. 67, 68)

6 The description of the “great crowd” as found at Revelation 7:9-15 adds further important details. In telling us how those of the “great crowd” appear after the “great tribulation,” the Scriptures also draw attention to factors that led to their being preserved.
7 Though they come from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, they are shown unitedly “standing before the throne,” giving recognition to Jehovah, the One seated on the throne, as the Universal Sovereign. They have proved by their way of life that they are loyal upholders of his rulership. The fact that they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” indicates that they have recognized their need of the sin-atoning merit of Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb of God. (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2) In faith they have dedicated themselves to God on the basis of that sacrifice, have symbolized this by water immersion and now enjoy a clean standing before God, as pictured by their white robes. They have not held back from publicly making known their faith in God’s Son. (Matt. 10:32, 33) Consistent with all of this, they are shown as being in God’s temple, or universal house of worship, as worshipers who render to God “sacred service day and night.” Thus they have made a record as loyal supporters of true worship and proclaimers of his Kingdom.—Isa. 2:2, 3. (pp. 106, 107)

Why the Law?
3 How we view the Law today is affected by whether we understand why Jehovah gave Israel a Law code. The Scriptures explain: “It was added [to the Abrahamic covenant] to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made . . . Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.” (Gal. 3:19, 24) How did the Law do this?
4 By setting out a perfect pattern covering the various facets of life, it showed up the Jews as sinners. It became evident that, despite any good intentions and diligent efforts, they could not measure up to its requirements. Using the Jews as a sample of the imperfect human family, the Law exposed all the world, including each one of us, as sinners, liable to God for punishment. (Rom. 3:19, 20) Thus it emphasized the need for a savior for mankind, and it led faithful ones to Jesus Christ as that Savior. In what way? It identified him as the only one who kept the Law perfectly, thus the only human who was sinless. Animal sacrifices under the Law had only limited value, but as a perfect human, Jesus could offer his life as a sacrifice that would really remove sin and open the way to eternal life for all those exercising faith.—John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19. (p. 147)

Jehovah Unifies His People
6 To Christians in Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote about Jehovah’s program for unifying his people—God’s arrangement whereby those who exercise faith can become beloved members of His household, saying: “[God] made known to us the sacred secret of his will. It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration [household management] at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” (Eph. 1:9, 10) This “administration” centers around Jesus Christ. Through him, humans are brought into an approved condition before God—some with the prospect of being in heaven; others, on earth—to serve in unity with the angelic sons of God who have proved loyal to Jehovah.
7 First, starting with Pentecost of 33 C.E., attention was given to “the things in the heavens,” that is, those who would be joint heirs with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom. On the basis of their faith in the value of Jesus’ sacrifice, they were declared righteous by God. (Rom. 5:1, 2) Then they were “born again,” or brought forth as sons of God with the prospect of heavenly life. (John 3:3; 1:12, 13) With these as a spiritual nation God made the new covenant. In time, both Jews and Gentiles were to be included, and these would total 144,000.—Gal. 3:26-29; Rev. 14:1.
8 Though still imperfect in the flesh, the remnant of such heirs of the heavenly Kingdom enjoy a precious and intimate relationship with the Father. Concerning this, Paul wrote: “Now because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts and it cries out: ‘Abba, Father!’ So, then, you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:6, 7) That Aramaic expression “Abba” means “father,” but it is an endearing form of address—the kind used by a young child for his father. Because of the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s own undeserved kindness, these spirit-anointed Christians enjoy a relationship with God that is more intimate than any that was possible for imperfect humans under the Law. However, what lies ahead for them is even more wonderful.
9 If they prove faithful until death, they receive the full realization of their sonship by being resurrected to immortal life in the heavens. There they will be privileged to serve unitedly in the very presence of Jehovah God. Only a relatively small number of these sons of God are still on earth.—Rom. 8:14, 23; 1 John 3:1, 2.
Gathering “the Things on the Earth”
10 The same “administration” that makes it possible for humans to be gathered into God’s household with heavenly life in view also directs attention to “the things on the earth.” Particularly since 1935 C.E. have persons with faith in the sacrifice of Christ been gathered with the prospect of eternal life on earth. Shoulder to shoulder with the remaining ones of the anointed class, they magnify the name of Jehovah and exalt his worship. (Zeph. 3:9; Isa. 2:2, 3) With deep respect these, too, address Jehovah as “Father,” recognizing him as the Source of life, and they earnestly endeavor to reflect his qualities as he expects his sons to do. They enjoy an approved standing before him on the basis of their faith in Jesus’ shed blood. (Matt. 6:9; Rev. 7:9, 14) But they know that the joy of being fully acknowledged by God as his children is yet in the future for them.
11 As shown at Romans 8:19-21, they are eagerly waiting for the “revealing of the sons of God,” because then the time will come for these of the human creation to be “set free from enslavement to corruption.” That “revealing” will take place when humans here on earth see evidence that the spirit-anointed sons of God who have attained their heavenly reward have gone into action as associates of their glorified Lord, Jesus Christ. This will be manifest in the destruction of the entire wicked system of things, to be followed by the blessings of the Thousand Year Reign of Christ in which these “sons of God” will share with him as kings and priests.—Rev. 2:26, 27; 20:6.
12 How exhilarating it will be when the great tribulation is past and those sons of God who have been united with Christ join their voices in praise to God, joyously proclaiming: “Great and wonderful are your works, Jehovah God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, King of eternity. Who will not really fear you, Jehovah, and glorify your name, because you alone are loyal? For all the nations will come and worship before you, because your righteous decrees have been made manifest”! (Rev. 15:3, 4) Yes, all mankind, made up of persons out of all the former nations, will unite in worship of the true God. Even those in the memorial tombs will be resurrected and be given opportunity to join their voices in praise to Jehovah.
13 No longer will Satan the Devil be the “god of this system of things.” No longer will worshipers of Jehovah here on earth have to contend with his vile influence. (2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 20:1-3) No longer will false religion misrepresent our loving God and serve as a divisive influence in human society. No longer will servants of the true God experience injustice and exploitation at the hands of men in governmental office. What marvelous freedom that will signify for survivors of the great tribulation!
14 As the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” Jesus Christ will make application of the value of his sacrifice so as to cancel out all the past sins of mankind. (John 1:29) On earth, when Jesus pronounced a person’s sins forgiven, he also healed the forgiven one as proof of it. (Matt. 9:1-7) In like manner, from heaven he will miraculously heal the blind, the deaf, the speechless, those physically maimed, the mentally afflicted and those with any other sickness. Gradually, through faithful molding of themselves to God’s righteous ways, all willing and obedient ones will get “sin’s law” completely nullified in themselves so that all their actions, their thoughts and the desires of their hearts will be pleasing both to themselves and to God. (Rom. 7:21-23; compare Isaiah 25:7, 8 and Revelation 21:3, 4.) Before the end of the Millennium, they will have been aided to full human perfection. They will be completely freed from sin and all its grievous effects. They will properly reflect ‘God’s image and likeness’ in the midst of an earthly Paradise that embraces the entire globe.—Gen. 1:26.
15 When Christ has brought mankind to perfection, he will then return to the Father the authority that was conferred upon him for this work. As foretold at 1 Corinthians 15:28: “When all things will have been subjected to him [the Son], then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.”
16 Now perfected mankind will be given the opportunity to demonstrate that their unchangeable choice is to serve the only living and true God forever. Hence, before adopting them as his sons through Jesus Christ, Jehovah will subject all those perfected humans to a thorough, final test. Satan and his demons will be loosed from the abyss. This will result in no lasting harm to those who truly love Jehovah. But any who disloyally allow themselves to be led into disobedience to Jehovah will be forever destroyed along with the original rebel and his demons.—Rev. 20:7-10.
17 Jehovah will now lovingly adopt as his sons through Christ all the perfected humans who withstand that final, decisive test. They will then share to the full in the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21) They will at last become a part of God’s united, universal family, to all of whom Jehovah will forever be the only God, the Universal Sovereign, and their loving Father. Then all of Jehovah’s intelligent creation, in heaven and on earth, will once again be united in worship of the only true God. (pp. 186-191)

11 comments:

Sean Killackey said...

You can see how four Witnesses describe the relation of faith, works and salvation here:

http://bartreflect.blogspot.com/2016/01/can-we-earn-salvation.html

http://dismythed.blogspot.com/2016/01/do-jehovahs-witnesses-believe-in-works.html

https://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.com/2017/09/a-soteriological-narrative.html

http://defendingjehovahswitnesses.blogspot.com/2013/06/do-jehovahs-witnesses-believe-that-they.html

Actually five Witnesses, since I commented on the first post two years ago (when I was still a Witness) and gave my own thoughts. My view has changed, and I don't think I do the best job representing the Witness view either.

They're all similar, but there is variation among them among them, partly because the terms used admit of a variety of meanings.

Sean Killackey said...

And this only reminds me that there is a linguistic gap between Witnesses and your average protestant, which is largely ignored, or at least not
explicitly discussed, by most critics of Witnesses I've read on this point. Probably the most significant linguistic gap is over good works being 'required' or 'necessary' for salvation. What is meant by these terms?

Often it seems to me that Witnesses are noting that these (morally
obligatory) good works are merely
logically necessary for salvation, whereas their critics claim that they think that works are causally necessary for salvation (faith plus works). Or that is what I think their critics accuse them of. (Or they're saying that Witnesses teach that faith picks up where works drop off and "puts us over" the saved line, which works alone couldn't do.)

They don't phrase things in terms of logically necessity, but many of their statements are consistent with such a reading, and don't necessitate us to read anything further into them. In these case at least they don't seem to run afoul of sola fide even if they tend to be
legalistic. Logical necessity - if one has saving faith, one does good
works (or better, has a tendency to do good works) - doesn't say that these good works save us anymore than saying 'if one does good works, one must exist' means that existing saves us. It is only a logical
concommitment to having saving faith.

Sean Killackey said...

It seems that Witnesses don't (explictly) distinguish what (they claim) is necessary for salvation and what (they claim) is necessary for holy, Christian living. And this seems to irritate their Protestant critics, but even here, provided they don't intend what they see as (a tendency toward) holy living as more than a logical concomitant of having saving faith, they
haven't run afoul of sola fide.

They do translate "pistis" and such as "exercise faith" which their critics find suspect - salvation by faith. But perhaps these are being too rash. If a Witness claims that God saves all those who exercise faith in Christ, does this require they believe the works (the exercising) are anything more
than logically necessary for salvation? I don't think so. Besides, Scripture does say that Christ is responsible for the salvation of all those who obey Him. This at least means that obedience (exercising faith) is a logical concommitment of having saving faith.

Sean Killackey said...

Other times, Witnesses do speak as if works are causally necessary for
salvation (in some sense). But even here, I'm not sure if we should take
them as going afoul of Scripture.

For it does look as if Jesus separates the sheep from the goats on the basis of whether one did various acts of mercy to 'the least of these'. ('Enter into the Kingdom, FOR you did X, Y, Z vs. 'Depart from me, FOR you did not do X, Y, Z but could have.') So works seem to play some role beyond logically necessity.

But these good works are not salvific qua works, since Christ says, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we do powerful works in your name: expelling demons, propheciying, healing?' But I will say to
them, 'Get away from me, I never knew you.'" So works are nothing, but good works are something, but not qua works, but qua good. And what makes them
good? The faith which is prior in time to and more fundamental than the works: which underlies the works. What are these good works but embodied faith, or the instruments by which faith expresses itself through charity?
Faith is the first cause, and these works are like secondary causes. They have whatever import they do because of the faith in
them. Faith working through charity is something, not works of the law like circumscion.

I'm not saying that Witnesses phrase things this way, but I don't think it is at odds with what they're getting at. And I don't think this view offends Scripture.

I think they should develop a better theology of grave, and of God's
promotion in our coming to faith and remaining in it, but while not
expressed in these terms, they have some inchoate notion of these - in
certain places, at least, or so it seems to me.

The good works are but the embodiment of faith, but are not together faith. Works are to faith as squiggles of ink or arrangements of pixels are to meanings. It is only the meaning of the word that is communicated, not the squiggles. Likewise, it is the faith that is in and prior to the works that saves. But this faith that saves cannot (long remain) unembodied. It is faith working through charity that saves, and it is in this way that it produces sanctification without which no one may see the Lord.

Well, I've rambled on enough, but I think most statements Witnesses have
made would be congenial with want I've said. And this isn't to suggest that I agree with Witnesses on what salvation ultimately consist of, or what works genuine faith must tend toward. Or that their critics are entirely wrong: they have a tendency toward legalism and focusing on works.

If Witnesses are wrong on this point, I don't loose anything since I'm not a Witness. But I don't think they're wrong, given the qualifications above. At least there is a real thread in Witness thought that teaches sola fide in a meaningful way

David Waltz said...

Hi Sean,

Thanks much for the links, and your reflections. I found the following from the second link to be spot-on:

>>Faith is what saves, and works demonstrate faith, but without works, you cannot be saved, just as without faith you cannot be saved, because the absence of righteous works demonstrate an absence of righteous faith. If your faith does not produce a change in your thinking and actions then you have no faith. (Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 10:22) That is what we have always taught and always will teach, because that is what the Bible teaches. We teach the Bible.>>

BTW, did you notice the following from the same post:

>>Commentary on the Letter of James, 1975, p. 359, par. 2>>

The book was actually published in 1979, and the quotation is from page 92.

Now, some personally musings on "legalism". JWs certainly place a lot of emphasis on what type of works demonstrate salvific/true faith. There is also the belief that faithful JWs alone are true followers of Jehovah and Jesus Christ. But JWs are not alone in such beliefs, for a good number of differing conservative Christians hold similar views. I would argue that church discipline would be virtually impossible without such beliefs. I would also argue that it is disagreement over what are the "essentials" and "non-essentials" which divides those sects that take their faith seriously.

So much more can be said, but I shall end for now...


Grace and peace,

David

Sean Killackey said...

"I would also argue that it is disagreement over what are the "essentials" and "non-essentials" which divides those sects that take their faith seriously."

Could you clarify this? Are you saying that only if a group, say, the Church of the Nazarene, or what have you, beloved that it is the only true Church to effectively or coherently have church discipline?

I'll finish commenting later, as I'm using this on my phone now.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Sean,

Church discipline and their list of "essential beliefs" are interrelated in that you cannot exercise church discipline unless there is/are violation/s of "essential" church beliefs. Churches that have not been infected with post-modernism, and take their views of the "essentials" seriously, will naturally 'judge' it's own members by their "essentials"; as well as other churches, leading to declare some as 'true' churches, and others as 'false'. For instance, a good number of conservative, Protestant churches have declared the RCC and EO churches as 'false' churches. I know of some Reformed folk who believe that Arminianism teaches a false gospel, and as such, are also 'false' churches.

Sincerely hope that I have added some clarification. Please feel free to ask further questions if clarity is still lacking.


Grace and peace,

David

Sean Killackey said...

I see.

Though not quite the same as declaring other churches as false, I know the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod considers other churches as heterodox. It seems a church has to at least have some spine to say, "to be a member in our church you can't believe X" etc. They don't necessarily have to view themselves as the one true Church. The LCMS doesn't (in the way I mean, anyway). But they will not just think that any group is Christian.

An example of that: I was talking to a minister in the Evangelical Free Church (ordained Southern Baptist) and he considers the Episcopal Church to be apostate. Considered as a Church, I agree. There are probably some (a minority) who are Christian. Hopefully they join a continuing Anglican church, or a denomination (or nondenominational church) that isn't off in la la land.

To clarify what I said above, it would make sense for the Church of the Nazarene to not allow a full five point Calvinist from being a member, since he couldn't affirm the articles of faith of that denonination. But they need not consider him a non-Christian: just in error on an important albeit not essential doctrine.

Back to Witnesses. I will say that if they are legalistic, most groups take the opposite extreme of laxity. And is this really prefferable? I don't think so.

Sean Killackey said...

P.S. Indeed, if churches were more discerning, we would not have the plague of the prosperity gospel, sexual decadence, and secularism that burn through the Church.

Alex said...

AF, I need your help. How can the term "God" be used to refer to three persons at once? Where does the scripture do this? I am a Trinitarian but the way the Nicene Creed words it seems to make more sense, and the early fathers seem to defend monotheism on the grounds that the Father is the one true God. Idk what to do with all of this. Please help.

David Waltz said...

Hi Alex,

Yesterday, you asked:

==How can the term "God" be used to refer to three persons at once? ==

The term "God" (Heb. El, Elohim; Gr. theos), is often used in a qualitative sense; when done so it is essentially an equivalent of divine/divinity.

== Where does the scripture do this?==

It does not do so. However, in John 1:1 theos is certainly used in a qualitative sense with reference to the Word/Son of God.

== I am a Trinitarian but the way the Nicene Creed words it seems to make more sense, and the early fathers seem to defend monotheism on the grounds that the Father is the one true God.==

The Nicene Creed teaches that it is God the Father alone who is "the one God" in an absolute sense—i.e. the Father alone is the source of everything else that exists, including the Son and the Holy Spirit. Though the Son and Holy Spirit are fully divine/God (they share the exact same essence as the Father), their divinity comes from the Father. Hence the phrase "God from God" in the Nicene Creed.

I would like to recommend the following threads which delve into the important issue of the Father as the cause/source of the Son:

Augustine - on the causality of the Son from the Father and the monarchy of God the Father

The Muslim apologist, Paul Williams, does not understand the deep teachings of John's Gospel

The employment of the term God

Clear elements of Nicene Monarchism from an esteemed. 19th century Catholic theologian

Sincerely hope I have provided some assistance to your questions and concerns.


Grace and peace,

David