Gospel Questions For A Jehovah’s Witness Elder

Will Work For SalvationPart two from November 8, 2013

My Jehovah’s Witness elder friend handed me a sheet of paper with something from the Watchtower Library CD-Rom copied onto it. He explained that it was an article about predestination and that even though that isn’t what we spoke about last week, there was information about making your salvation sure. I guess that idea is something objectionable to him.

JW: So you think you are saved, right?

KW: Um-hmm.

JW: Remember I told you it was an ongoing process and you wanted to know how much we had to do like if we could put a number on it or something.

KW: Oh, yeah. I want to know. What do I have to do to get a passing grade?

My friend directed me to 1 Peter 1:10 which reads in the NWT, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and choosing sure for yourselves, for if you keep on doing these things, you will by no means ever fail.”

JW: So we need to be diligent and if we don’t, then there is a big question mark.

KW: Yes, but, you can be sure.

My Witness friend didn’t like that part of the verse. His focus was on “if” part all the while missing the whole point of what Peter was saying. Peter is encouraging believers to make their “calling and choosing sure.” Why would he encourage us to do that if we can’t be sure of our calling and choosing? It makes no sense to use this verse as a proof text of never knowing if you are saved or not if Peter plainly exhorts us to do so.

My friend does not understand the difference yet, but there is a big difference between being saved and knowing that you are saved. One speaks to being secured in your salvation, which Jesus does for us because we can’t, and the other speaks to being secure in it, meaning that I understand and recognize that I am saved. It is possible to be saved and not yet fully understand that you are saved. This is called assurance of salvation. Peter is encouraging Christians to be assured of their salvation by doing the things that Christians should do. These works do not save us, they merely testify of our salvation. More about this later.

JW: Let’s look at another verse. Philippians 2:12. “Consequently, my beloved ones, just as you have always obeyed, not only during my presence but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” You see, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We can’t sit back and take it easy.

KW: Right, but what are you working out?

JW: What do you mean?

KW: Work out your…? (purposeful pause)

JW: …Salvation.

KW: You can’t work it out if you don’t have it.

JW: (after a long pause) You lost me there.

KW: Do you work out your muscles or do you work for muscles? When I work out, I work out the muscles I already have.

JW: I don’t understand.

KW: It means to exercise. Remember when your translation said to exercise our faith? I have faith and I have salvation so I need to exercise it or work it out. I’m not doing it to gain salvation, I already have it. I am working out what I already have, not working for something I do not have.

JW: If you don’t do something with it, then your salvation goes away.

My Witness friend is confusing the ideas of being saved and knowing it (assurance of salvation) with whether or not a person can lose their eternal salvation (eternal security). He was going back and forth and applying verses which speak of assurance and was trying to apply them to whether or not someone can be saved in the eternally starting now.

KW: That is a different topic, but I don’t believe that salvation goes away. I don’t believe someone can have eternal life temporarily. Let me ask you a question. I was thinking about this after our last conversation. I think it is interesting that you are bringing up these passages because you have mentioned that you don’t believe that you are working for your salvation. Is that correct?

JW: I have to do something for my salvation. If you don’t do anything, then that salvation will go away.

KW: Okay… do you have salvation now or do you have to work for it?

JW: I have to work for it.

KW: So you don’t have it now.

JW: No.

KW: So you’ve got to work for it.

JW: Um-hmm.

This may seem like I am being overly redundant, but I am trying to get him to pick a position and stick to it. The Watchtower teaches two opposite things about salvation at the same time and Jehovah’s Witnesses simultaneously believe both of them. They believe salvation is a gift, through the underserved kindness of Jehovah, yet at the same time they believe they need to work for it. By continuously asking him to commit to a position, I hope to frustrate him once he sees the inconsistency in his belief system. I know he is going to change his opinion once I start with a different line of questioning so by pounding home the same point over and over before I start the other set of questions, I hope to get him to see the contradiction. It doesn’t always work.

KW: So you work for something you call a gift…

JW: It is like a bicycle. What is it that keeps a bicycle going?

KW: Speed.

JW: What happens when you stop pedaling?

KW: You’d better be really good at balancing.

JW: (laughing) That’s right. You’ve got to keep pedaling. You want to cross the finish line a at some point, just like Paul talked about.

KW: Here is the difference though. We are talking about two different subjects. We are talking about whether or not you have salvation and also whether or not you can lose it.

JW: Yes, you are saying you can’t lose it.

KW: But, you are saying that you don’t even have it. You can’t lose what you don’t have.

JW: I have a hope.

KW: You hope to get it, but you don’t have it.

JW: If I was to say that I have it, it would be presumptuous.

KW: Only if you think it depends on you.

JW: No, it is based on God’s undeserved kindness. That takes over. I cannot say that I deserve salvation.

KW: This is what I don’t understand though. You’ve just said you have to work for it. If you have to work for it, then you should deserve it.

JW: Jehovah doesn’t have to give us anything.

KW: I agree with that.

JW: With that in mind, I’m not saying you are totally wrong. Paul said that he was looking forward to the prize or the reward of eternal life.

KW: I don’t believe that eternal life is a reward. Do you see gifts and rewards as being the same thing or are they different?

JW: The Bible speaks about rewards.

KW: Yes, there are rewards, but eternal life is not one of them. Forgiveness of sin is not a reward.

JW: Why do you say that?

KW: Because that is what the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death,” which we talked about last week, but the second part of that says that, “the gift of God is everlasting life.” It is a gift. You don’t deserve gifts. You deserve rewards.

JW: Yes, it is a gift, but how do you show appreciation for it?

KW: That is a different subject. You can’t show appreciation for something you don’t have. I can’t be appreciative of something I don’t have. I have a couple of questions for you. I even wrote my note titled, “Gospel Questions for (my friend’s name).”

My friend smiled and laughed at that. I guess it made him feel special since I read the title in my “radio voice” like a game show announcer would read it. I scanned my list for a question that I thought would best fit the topic of discussion.

KW: Will God give eternal life to those who do not deserve it?

JW: (Long pause) No.

KW: Okay, so then you have to deserve it.

JW: God decides who deserves it.

KW: Right, but that is what you are saying. You have to deserve underserved kindness.

JW: (pause) Yeah, well, uh, okay then no one deserves it.

KW: So, if no one deserves it, then I can’t possibly earn it. Because if I earn it, then I deserve it, because I earned it.

JW: (Grinning) So what was your next question?

I started laughing because he had a sly sort of grin on his face like he knew he was caught and he knew I knew he was caught. He was hoping that there would be relief in the next question. I looked down at my list to find another question, but before I could get to it, he tried to redeem himself from the last question.

JW: God is not obliged to give us anything.

KW: If I earn it, then He is. If I earn something, then He is obliged to give it to me otherwise He is not a God of justice.

JW: There is a chance that everlasting life will be given to us. We cannot earn it. We could do whatever God wants us to do, but God still wouldn’t have to give it to us.

KW: If I do what He requires, and He doesn’t give it to me, then He is not just. If He doesn’t have to give me everlasting life, then why should I even try? This leads to my next question. If your religious system is not based on works righteousness, then how would it look different if your righteousness was based on your works?

JW: How would it look different?

KW: Yes, because I mentioned it last week. It sounds like it is a works righteousness based religion.

JW: No, Paul said to become imitators of me as I imitate Christ.

KW: Yes, but not for the purpose of forgiveness.

JW: Not for forgiveness? (long pause) We are indebted to Him because we are sinners. We do the best we can, but it is impossible for us to measure up to Christ no matter what we do.

My Witness friend then put his hands on opposite sides of the table edge. One hand represented the standard we were to achieve and the other standard represented what we actually accomplish.

JW: (Indicating the goal with one hand) We owe This much and even though we do the best we can, this (Indicating with his other hand) is what we can give. There is a gap there, but He is willing to accept the best we can do and have the ransom sacrifice kick in on our behalf. Is He obligated to do it? No. We are sinners and deserve death. That’s it.

KW: Then all you’ve done at that point is lowered the standard. You have lowered the standard from here (pointing to the goal) to here (what a person actually accomplishes) because God isn’t going to apply the ransom sacrifice unless I get to here (pointing to the lowered standard). See, you’ve just lowered God’s standard of perfection.

JW: No, no. That is what the sacrifice covers. He wants something in return. He wants our whole souled devotion.

KW: That is what I want to know. You are saying that what you believe in not works righteousness. If it isn’t…

JW: The thing is, what you believe needs to be underscored by works somehow. You know the old saying. Actions speak louder than words.

KW: Again, you are saying that it is not a works based thing, but if it were, how would it look different? What is a works based religion?

JW: Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25  Now everyone competing in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Of course, they do it to receive a crown that can perish, but we, one that does not perish. 26  Therefore, the way I am running is not aimlessly;+ the way I am aiming my blows is so as not to be striking the air; 27  but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” You see, Paul is saying that if he quits doing what he is doing, then he will become disapproved. We need to keep racing the race and keep on going for the crown of everlasting life. You can’t just sit back and hope that you get salvation.

KW: Your take on this passage is that Paul is earning his salvation? He has to keep going otherwise he will be disapproved?

JW: He has to keep going, yeah.

KW: So that is what you are saying?

JW: Yes.

KW: So Paul does not have salvation, he still needs to earn it?

JW: Uh-huh.

KW: How is this not works based?

My Witness friend stalled, then scrambled. He brought up a salutation that Paul often uses, “May God’s undeserved kindness be with you,” but was completely misusing the phrase. I pointed out that it can’t be both. It can’t be based on undeserved kindness and earned at the same time. It is one or the other, but not both. My friend then directed me to Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already received it or am already made perfect, but I am pressing on to see if I may also lay hold on that for which Christ Jesus selected me. 13  Brothers, I do not yet consider myself as having taken hold of it; but one thing is certain: Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, 14  I am pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.”

JW: You see we have a prize, a reward and it will take effort to gain salvation.

KW: I see this passage differently. Do you remember when I told you that there are rewards, but that they are different from the gift of everlasting life? I don’t think Paul is talking about forgiveness of sin here. I think he is talking about rewards in heaven. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 talks about this. “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

KW: Christians already have the foundation which is Jesus Christ, but what does my Christian life look like? Does it reflect gold, silver and precious stones or is it wood, hay and straw? When I appear before the Lord, my works will be tested. If they burn up, I have nothing there but my foundation. I am still saved, but as through fire. In other words, the guy with the precious things, those are eternal rewards showing what he did for Jesus in his life. Contrast this to the guy who has no rewards, but still has Jesus, he is in heaven, but he smells like smoke. He doesn’t have any works to show what he did, but he still has the foundation of Jesus.

So when Paul is talking about earning prizes and working hard, I don’t think it is for salvation because he has already laid the foundation of Jesus Christ. I believe that he is talking about what he does for Jesus. Are his works going to be wood, hay, and straw or are they going to be gold and silver?

JW: What about the parable where the master calls his servants to him and gives them each a different amount of talents? Two of the three multiply their talents, but the third buries it. He didn’t do anything. He kicked him out. No salvation.

KW: I don’t think that is talking about salvation because God doesn’t give us different levels of salvation. He doesn’t give you one talent of salvation and give me five. Salvation is salvation.

JW: So what about the guy who got kicked out?

KW: I think what Jesus is doing is pointing out that we all have a responsibility to do things for God.

JW: Then people don’t have to do anything and they are still saved.

KW: That is where Ephesians 2:10 comes in. Let me show you real quick. I’m going to read verses eight and nine and then show you verse 10. “For by grace you have been saved (past tense) through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Here is where works do come in. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. So the way I see it is I get salvation first and then I work. I work not to get salvation, but because of appreciation.

JW: When Paul says, “by works,” he is talking about the Mosaic Law. The people believed they had to do the works of the Mosaic Law and then they could be saved. Paul is correcting them and saying, “No, not by works, but by faith.”

KW: Except that this was written to the Ephesians who were not Jews. This is not referring to just the Mosaic Law. This refers to anything that people think they have to do to earn forgiveness. He is saying that yes, there is a place for works. They don’t come before forgiveness, they come after. The reason why I do what I do is in appreciation to God, not for salvation because He has already given it to me and that is why I am appreciative.

JW: Then why is it that in Revelation 3:11 it says, “I am coming quickly. Keep holding fast to what you have, so that no one may take your crown.” It is talking about the crown of life. The crown can be taken away.

KW: Again, I think of crowns as rewards, not salvation.

JW: The crown means salvation or everlasting life.

KW: Where do you get the idea that this crown is referring to salvation?

JW: Paul said it in the passage about the race.

KW: That is a different context and from a difference author.

JW: That is the reward you get when you serve God loyally, the crown of life, but it can be taken away.

KW: You can’t have something taken away unless you first posses it.

My Witness friend shifted the conversation again. He kept going back and forth between two ideas. Every time I showed that everlasting life is a gift, he would counter with the idea that unless we work hard enough we will lose it. I would respond by showing that it is impossible to lose what you do not have. He would then claim the undeserved kindness of God. I would then point out that if my works are involved, then we can’t call it underserved kindness.

It sums up nicely like this. My friend was saying that you have to work for a gift that you do not have. If you work hard enough, you will receive God’s undeserved kindness. If you do not work hard enough, you will lose… what you do not yet have. What a maddening concept.

KW: Do you have the crown of life right now?

JW: No.

KW: Then God can’t take it away.

JW: This is referring to those who have eternal life in heaven.

KW: Do they have eternal life now?

JW: No.

KW: Then God can’t take it away. You can’t take something away from someone who doesn’t have anything.

My friend paused for awhile and tried to come up with a futile example buying a car and signing all of the contracts, but before the car is delivered to you, they find something bad about your credit and cancel the contract. It is considered yours unless something is found out later on that will nullify the contract.

KW: I understand your illustration, but everything is dependent upon my credit. I don’t believe that. I believe that everything is dependent upon the credit of Jesus, who has a perfect credit rating. The reason why I have a problem with your illustration is because I don’t think it is dependent upon me. It is dependent on Jesus. That is the whole reason why He died.

JW: Then in that case even Hitler has a chance, right?

KW: No, because he rejected God’s offer. That offer expired when Hitler died.

JW:  Didn’t Jesus die for all mankind?

KW: Yes, Jesus did die for all mankind in the sense that…

JW: (Interrupting) Depending on what?

KW: Depending on their faith.

JW: Faith is proven by our works.

KW: Yes, if Hitler made a claim that he was a Christian, then we have his works to testify that he is not. It doesn’t matter what he says. The works are what we can see to determine whether or not his claim is valid. Works do not earn our salvation, they only give evidence to prove whether or our claim is valid.

JW: Doesn’t God judge people by their actions?

KW: There are certain people that God does judge by their actions, but those are people who are not forgiven.

JW: They have to prove it by their actions.

KW: Proving something is different than gaining something. I have eternal life. I prove it by what I do.

JW: What if you stop doing what you do? Do you still have eternal life?

KW: How long does eternal last? This actually leads me to another question. I understand that you believe that everyone is going to have eternal life on this earth at some future point in time. If you are granted eternal life after the 1,000 year reign of Christ, what will keep you from disobeying God then?

JW: Nothing.

KW: Are you saying you could be granted eternal life, then live like hell and you are still okay?

JW: No.

KW: So what would happen to someone who sinned after they had been given eternal life?

JW: He would die.

KW: So you are saying that it is possible to have eternal life physically and then die.

JW: That is unlikely.

KW: But it is possible.

JW: Perfection doesn’t mean that we cannot do the wrong thing. If that was the case, then we would be robots.

KW: Is God a robot?

JW: No, but He doesn’t do the wrong thing.

KW: Could God decide to do something wrong?

JW: No.

KW: I agree, but that doesn’t make Him a robot. I believe that once mankind is perfected in the Kingdom, we will not be able to do anything evil either because our complete nature will have changed. I really don’t understand how someone could have eternal life, temporarily.

JW: Temporarily?

My friend was confused at that statement even though I said it before. He was lost in his own world view and his only recourse was to give me the November 1, 2013 Watchtower. There is an article on page 11 titled, “The Rewarder of Those Earnestly Seeking Him.” I have yet to read the short one page article. As I look through the magazine, there are other topics which I will want to discuss one day, but the article immediately following the one on page 11 is titled, “She Was ‘Declared righteous by Works.’”

Didn’t I just say this sounds like a works based religion? As we wrapped up our conversation, my friend said he would do a little research on the issues of the crowns. He laughed as I said that we both had homework to do. He needs to look at crowns and 1975 and I have new reading material.

Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness Elder friend.

7 thoughts on “Gospel Questions For A Jehovah’s Witness Elder”

  1. Hello Keith, you are right that it is a works based religion. Undeserved kindness, means you don’t deserve this kindness unless you work for it.
    My children deserve my kindness because I love them. If I believed the JW way, then my children would be my little slave workers. Meaning I can only give them love based on what they can do for me (i.e. Love, toys, candy, family vacation etc.). Weird, right?

    1. Rob,
      He knows I am a missionary, but that is it. He doesn’t know my focus groups. I am glad the blog posts are helping. It is good to know they are appreciated because they are VERY time consuming. I’ll be meeting with him again today.

  2. Wow excellent Keith! He is obstinately holding fast to his cognitive dissonance but the seeds your planting brother if this ever comes to a close will sit in his craw and he will think about these conversations but this one all the time! This is the meat the one thing that we can talk to JW’s without real angst like a discussion on the trinity but can open doors for everything else. The New Birth is the centrality of any discussion with the cults and works versus grace is at the heart of the new birth for both Mormons and JW’s that we should center on! Hold on that was so meaty I got to BURP!!!! Ahh like a great meal!

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