Once we got into the “Teach” book, we only got through two paragraphs in chapter two before we spent the rest of our time discussing a completely unrelated topic. The first two paragraphs discuss receiving a gift from a friend and being grateful for it. The Bible is likened to a gift from God. The second paragraph speaks about some reasons why the Bible is an exciting gift, but it doesn’t mention a reason I believe is extremely important. Whenever you see a glaring omission like this, take advantage of it.
Paragraph two reads, “The Bible is a gift from God, one for which we can be truly grateful. This unique book reveals things that we could never find out otherwise. For example, it tells us about the creation of the starry heavens, the earth, and the first man and woman. The Bible contains reliable principles to help us cope with life’s problems and anxieties. It explains how God will fulfill his purpose and bring about better conditions on the earth. What an exciting gift the Bible is!”
The corresponding question asks, “In what ways is the Bible an exciting gift from God?” Those who are studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to give an answer from the paragraph they just read and then put the provided answer into their own words. I have mention numerous times on this blog that I like to ask my own questions and I certainly do not enjoy my answers given to me. I prefer my own. When my Jehovah’s Witness friend asked the question, I answered;
KW: I would say that the Bible is an exciting gift from God in a way different than how it was explained here. I think it is interesting that it doesn’t say anything about forgiveness of sin and how to be right with God. That is what makes it exciting to me.
By personalizing the answer, my Witness friend understands my heart and what is important to me. He also comes to realize that my answer is much better than what is taught in a book that is considered, “spiritual food at the proper time.” How can someone like me, a person who is not in “Jehovah’s organization,” give an answer better than the one provided for me by the “Faithful and Discreet Slave?” My friend’s eyes were wide with shock as he realized the oversight of not mentioning the importance of forgiveness of sin.
JW: Good point.
I did not expect what happened next. I assumed he would agree with my observation and then we would move on into the chapter. Instead he started talking about repentance and how we are forgiven. I was hoping that because today was the 12th anniversary of 9/11, perhaps we could talk a little about that. Jehovah’s Witnesses are always up for discussion about the evils of war and how they alone are the only neutral religion and do not send their members to war to fight each other. I even wore a patriotic shirt to hopefully get the ball rolling.
Even though I had plans of talking about one thing, I know that I need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and follow Him. God had completely different ideas evidenced by the fact that my friend wanted to talk about the gospel. He kept talking about how God wants to see signs of repentance.
KW: What do you mean?
JW: We need to turn our life around in order to draw close to God. If someone wants to obtain forgiveness, but they are doing things which does not please God, how can we expect to be forgiven if we don’t stop those things? There needs to be a reason for God to forgive you.
KW: (I repeated his last sentence for emphasis) “There needs to be a reason for God to forgive me,” and I give Him that reason?
KW: Based on what?
JW: Based on whether or not you are ready to do His will and draw close to him, then He will draw close to you. How do we show that we draw close to Him?
KW: So it starts with me then. Is that what you are saying?
JW: He stretches out His hand. He has already provided for us by the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. That is for everybody, but some action is required on your part. Some people think that all they need to do is believe in Jesus, but the Bible says, “faith without actions is dead.” He wants to see if we can bring our lives into harmony with the Scriptures as best as we can. We can’t be perfect, He knows that. But that is why Jesus died for us.
I felt like I was talking to a Mormon. I have extensive experience in talking with Mormons about what I call, “The Impossible Gospel of Mormonism.” Basically it is the idea that God will forgive us after we have repented and repentance is defined in part by completely forsaking our sins, never to repeat them. Mormons believe two opposite things at the same time, first that we must repent of our sins (stop doing them) before we can be forgiven and second that God will forgive us when we don’t fully repent because no one is perfect. If you want to see a number of presentations I have done on this topic, follow this link to our “Impossible Gospel” playlist on our YouTube channel. Back to my Witness friend.
KW: It sounds like I have to be perfect, but I can’t be perfect and He knows that so exactly how perfect do I have to be?
JW: The best you can.
KW: I never do the best I can.
KW: Seriously! You know this about me. I am incredibly honest about my sin. I never do all I can do.
JW: Let’s just trust that God knows you better than you know yourself. Jesus paid the ransom so that we could have a relationship with God. He just wants to see us try to apply His will in our lives. We’re never going to be perfect.
KW: Then how would you ever know if you were right with God? How could you ever have peace with God?
JW: Because of Jesus’ sacrifice. He died for our sins, but there needs to be a balance. The Bible mentions that we have to repent.
KW: What does it mean to repent?
JW: To acknowledge that we did something wrong and prove it by not doing it again.
KW: I’m still fuzzy on what that would look like personally. I want to know exactly how much I need to clean up my life before God will accept me. If it is based on the sacrifice of Jesus, then I don’t understand what it has to do with me cleaning up my life. Those are two different things.
JW: If you want God to forgive your sins, then you need to do your part to clean up your life.
KW: So how do you know if you are ever forgiven?
JW: Well… uh. Let me do some research.
The question was uncomfortable for him. He started giving Old Testament examples about how God continued to forgive the Nation of Israel after they repented. The point he was trying to make was that forgiveness was conditional upon our obedience. He spoke about the sacrificial system and how it was never meant to cover all of our sins, but the sacrifice of Jesus did.
KW: So are all of my sins covered or not? It sounds like my sins are covered only if I keep the commandments.
KW: But I don’t keep the commandments.
JW: Then you are not covered.
KW: Okay, do you keep the commandments?
JW: I’m trying and I know you are trying too.
KW: Trying and succeeding are two different things.
JW: God isn’t going to accept me if I decide that I can do whatever I want and not even try to keep the commandments.
KW: It sounds to me like I really don’t need to keep the commandments. I only need to try to keep them. (Did I mention that it felt like I was talking to a Mormon?) I want to know exactly what is expected of me. Either I keep the commandments or I only need to try. If I only need to try, then how much is good enough?
JW: You only need to do the best you can. He can look into your heart. (Did I mention that it felt like I was talking to a Mormon?) I can’t point to a line and say, “This is enough.” Only God knows that.
KW: Then I don’t have any assurance. How can I ever know if I am acceptable to God? We often lie to ourselves and if I think I am doing my best, but God knows I’m not, I’m sunk.
My friend was stuck. He kept trying to go to Bible passages and give examples to back up his position, but everything he mentioned just worked against him. If God withholds forgiveness based upon my ability to keep the commandments, then what does that mean when we purposefully sin?
Jehovah’s Witnesses are like Mormons in that they have a low view of sin and a high view of their own self-righteousness. This leads to a very judgmental attitude towards others. They condemn others who sin, but make excuses for their own. Being brutally honest about my sin makes them uncomfortable and hopefully gets them to think about their sin in similar fashion. Deep down they know they are not doing their best. By admitting that I sin, and willfully so, it makes it easier for them to be honest about their sin too.
As my friend was reading various passages of Scripture, one of them jumped out at me and I decided to take a quick rabbit trail. He read John 14:15 which states in the NWT, “If YOU love me, YOU will observe my commandments.” I asked;
KW: Why did Jesus say we are to keep His commandments?
JW: Because he conveyed God’s commandments.
KW: He doesn’t call them God’s commandments.
KW: It seems to be an arrogant thing to say…
My friend brought up other verses where Jesus said similar things. I didn’t want to get too deep into this rabbit trail, but I did want to plant the seed for further conversations that Jesus said a lot of things that would be arrogant for a human being to say unless He was more than just a man. We didn’t spend much time on this thought. My friend went right back to talking about commandment keeping.
JW: The Bible says to draw close to God, so how would we do that unless we obey His commandments? (Did I say it felt like I was talking to a Mormon?)
KW: I understand that. But when we say we need to keep commandments, I want to know which ones, obviously all of them. When I think about how often, obviously it is all the time. When you put that together, if I have to keep all the commandments all of the time or I am not forgiven, then who is ever going to be forgiven?
JW: We need to try to do our best.
I gave my friend an illustration that I often use with Mormons. Did I mention that it felt like I was talking to a Mormon? I was playing volleyball one time with some friends. I noticed that whenever someone put forth great effort to return the ball over the net, but failed, someone always said, “Nice try.” However, if someone was successful and made a great play, it was always, “Good job!” The difference between “Good job” and “Nice try” was the difference between success and failure. No one ever said “Nice try” when someone succeeded. “Nice try” always meant that I failed. I asked my friend;
KW: Do I want to stand before the Lord some day and hear “Nice try?”
My friend ignored my question and gave an illustration about a trapeze artist who died because he didn’t have as safety net. He likened Jesus to the safety net and added that just because an artist has the safety net it doesn’t mean that he can do whatever he wants. God wants to see us try our best. I asked;
KW: So if I don’t do my best, does God take away the safety net?
JW: What is your best?
KW: That is what concerns me, I don’t do my best. I never do. Never.
JW: There is a gray area about if we are doing our best and being honest with ourselves. If we mess up, Jehovah says, “I got you.”
KW: But how do I know if I am in the gray area? God takes sin much more seriously than we do. The Bible says that if I have committed one sin, I am just as guilty as if I broke all of God’s commandments. If I need to please God by living a certain way, then I want to know when I am pleasing to Him and when I am not. If I am not pleasing to God every time I sin, then I am sunk.
Does God take away the safety net when I sin? How good to I have to be to have the net? Here is some irony for you in regards to the safety net. If I do my best, then I don’t need the net. I only need it when I fail. But if I fail, I am not pleasing God and do not deserve the safety net.
JW: The artist who died probably thought she was doing her best.
KW: OK. If I think I am doing my best and I am not, then I have deceived myself into thinking I did my best when I didn’t. How can I ever have peace with God if I think I am doing my best, but I really am not?
JW: Forgiveness is a pretty complex subject. Yes, Jesus died for us, but does it mean we don’t have to do anything about it? No. Our sins are covered, but he wants something in exchange.
KW: If that is what he requires of me and I am not doing it, how can I ever know if I have Jehovah’s approval if I can deceive myself into thinking I’m doing my best?
JW: It is a continuous process. (Did I mention that I felt like I was talking to a Mormon?) You are never going to be able to get to a place where you can say, “I am perfectly doing God’s will.”
KW: Then how can you know if you are acceptable to Him?
JW: Well, we cannot earn our approval from God.
KW: That sounds exactly what you are talking about.
JW: Paul talks about undeserved kindness. We don’t deserve to have a relationship with God.
KW: So I either have a relationship with God or I don’t.
JW: That is based on Jesus sacrifice. We can have a relationship with God.
KW: But that is only if I do what He says.
KW: Then it is based on me earning it.
JW: No one can say they deserve forgiveness. (Did I mention that I felt like I was talking to a Mormon?)
KW: If I perfectly kept God commandments, then could I not rightly say, “I deserve it?”
JW: It is undeserved no matter what.
KW: Well, now I’m really confused. Am I forgiven before I keep the commandments or after? If I am only forgiven after I keep the commandments, then it would apply to every commandment and no one would be forgiven because I am going to sin until the day I die. God tells us to keep the commandments for one reason; because I am not. If God withholds forgiveness until I keep the commandments, then I am sunk.
JW: I am going to have to do more research and then we can pick up where we left off next time.
Our meeting was a good one, but was a bit different than some of our other ones because of the two different topics. I am not sure what our next meeting holds. He could go back to talking about the Name of God again once he realizes that out of the 5,700 New Testament manuscripts which exist, the Tetragrammaton never appears in a single one.
We could also talk more about forgiveness of sin and how it is obtained. It is important to note that not once did I tell him he was wrong for believing what he believes or even try to correct his view of how we are forgiven. It is much more effective if he comes to that realization himself. Once he understands that forgiveness is impossible in the Watchtower system, then hopefully he will be interested in what I believe and why. If I push that on him before he is ready, I could lose him. I am waiting for a receptive heart before I cast my pearls. Did I mention that I felt like I was talking with a Mormon?