Exercising Faith With A Jehovah’s Witness Elder Part 1

Hard Work Doesn't Always Pay Off
Hard Work Doesn’t Always Pay Off

Ugh. Today’s mountain cedar pollen count is well over 30,000 with a 1,000% chance of miserable. I was praying all the way to the restaurant because when the pollen count gets this high, I lose mental focus and have a harder time keeping my temper. That is not a good combination for meeting with a Jehovah’s Witness elder. When I arrived, I prayed harder because I could see that my Witness friend was suffering from the same symptoms. Great. I started praying for his mental focus and irritability too.

We small-talked for about half an hour and then got into the Teach book. We read paragraph 15 of chapter three which states, “Sometimes when the Bible speaks of ‘the earth,’ it means the people who live on the earth.” The corresponding question at the bottom of the page then asks, “What is the ‘new earth?’”

I pointed out that the paragraph makes a general statement by use of the word “sometimes”, but the question doesn’t include that word. We have to define words based on their context. Just because a word can mean something and sometimes does, doesn’t mean it always means the same thing in other contexts. I didn’t get much disagreement from him and explained that I wanted to be careful about defining words the same way all the time if the context doesn’t call for it.

We moved on and read the next paragraph which includes a reference to John 3:16. I knew what this verse said in the New World Translation (NWT) and also how it differs in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT) so not only did I open my regular Bible app, I also opened the JW Library app. Have I ever mentioned that they never should have included the KIT on this app? My Witness friend read the verse from his Bible. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

KW: Mines says, “believes,” not “exercising faith.”

JW: Umm-hmm. We’ve talked about this before. You have to prove your faith by works.

I tapped on the verse in the JW app to read what the Greek said.

KW: The Greek says “believing,” not exercising faith.

JW: Uhmm-hmmm.

KW: So why is it translated as “exercising faith” if the Greek says “believe?”

JW: Because if you don’t live according to your faith, your faith is worth nothing.

KW: Then why not just translated it the way it says it in the Greek?

I kid you not there was almost 30 seconds of silence. He was scrambling and started flipping through his bible. I knew where he was going and decided to let the conversation go in that direction. I can always bring him back to this passage later.

JW: Look at James 2:26. “Indeed, just as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” It says “exercise faith” to give us the idea that we need to do something and not just believe.

A word to the witnessing Christian. It isn’t always a good idea to let a Jehovah’s Witness change passages like this. They rarely intend to answer the question you have about a particular verse, but will instead go to another verse which they think contradicts your point. Sometimes when people ask me how I explain a certain verse, I may go to another passage to make a point, but I always come back to the original verse in question and show how they work together. Jehovah’s Witnesses seldom do this so I was very pleased and surprised to see him attempt to tie the two passages together instead of ignoring John 3:16 and camping on James 2:26. Later on in the conversation though he tried another humorous tactic, which is sometimes easy to fall for. I’ll explain how to handle that later.

KW: When you hear the word, “believe” what do you think? What comes to your mind?

JW: The idea of believing… hmmm. Not necessarily the idea that we have to act on our beliefs.

KW: Not necessarily?

JW: No.

He was speaking of having a mental assent to a fact, but not a commitment to it. He was thinking about something and began speaking to himself like he was trying to work is way through a thought. He put his finger to his lips, looked out the window and asked;

JW: Do you believe in Jesus?

I decided to answer the question in two ways.

KW: Even that question could be interpreted in two different ways. There are some people who say that Jesus never existed so they would answer “No” in the sense that they don’t believe He ever lived. Or you could say “No” in the sense of believing that He existed, but not trusting Him.

You could put it another way. You could say “Yes” you believe He existed and not trust Him or you can believe He existed and trust Him. That is a different kind of belief. That is why I asked the question because I am curious what you think when you hear that word. In John 3:16 when it talks about belief, I think it is talking about trust and not just believing that He exists.

JW: I would say that most people would answer yes when asked if they believe in God or Jesus. Don’t you think that is true?

KW: Yes, but in which sense? In the sense of trusting or in the sense that He exists?

JW: That He exists. The question though is, does this belief reflect in their lives.

KW: Right, that is the trust aspect of it. In James 2:19 it mentions that the demons believe in the sense that God exists, but they certainly don’t trust Him.

JW: In the last verse of John 3 you get a better idea of what it takes to get everlasting life. Verse 36 says, “The one who exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; the one who disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.”

I looked it up in the KIT knowing what it said.

KW: In the Greek it still says “believe” though.

JW: In verse 16?

KW: In both. In verse 16 and 36.

JW: Okay, then let’s just say “believe.” Instead of saying “exercise faith,” we’ll say “believes in the Son.”

KW: Okay.

I knew where he was going next because we had already talked about this verse at the end of October of last year.

JW: So it contrasts believing with not believing. The one who believes in the Son has everlasting life. But on the contrary, the one who disobeys the Son does not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. This tells you that believing goes hand in hand with obeying. You have to do something about it.

KW: Or you could look at it from another perspective. Unbelief is disobeying. If we are commanded to believe and you don’t believe, then you are disobeying God.

JW: But you can also believe and still disobey.

KW: Absolutely. Sure, but I am concerned as to why they would translate in a way other than what the Greek says.

JW: It is supposed to convey the idea that your faith needs to go hand in hand with action which is what Jesus brings out in verse 36.

KW: Let’s look back at verse 15 though. It says, “that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.” It doesn’t say “exercising faith” in the NWT like it does in verse 16.

JW: Let’s say you go to jail and ask the prisoners there if they believe in Jesus. Most of them say that they do. But there is still a reason why they are there. It is a drastic example, but they have violated the law and that is why they are there. Did they live up to their belief? No.

KW: I would say that they didn’t believe in Jesus. They believe He exists, but they don’t believe in the Biblical sense of trusting Him.

JW: But if you asked them, they would say they do.

KW: That is why James said what he said in verse 14. “Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it?”  James isn’t contrasting faith and works, he is contrasting true faith with a false faith. True faith has proof, works. A false faith is nothing but an empty profession.

My Witness friend started talking about hypocrites he has known throughout his life. As I was listening, I had to sneeze. If you know me personally, then you know how loud and how hard I sneeze. After I sneezed, someone from across the restaurant yelled, “God bless you!” I blew my nose and yelled back, “Thank you!”

JW: I don’t say “bless you,” but there is a reason for that.

I started chuckling to myself that he would mention that silly fact. Jehovah’s Witnesses ignore sneezes because they want to avoid the connection with superstition. It didn’t even occur to me that he didn’t say, “God bless you” until he mentioned it.

KW: Why not?

JW: That’s for another time.

KW: (laughing) Okay?

That was random. He went back to talking about hypocrites. It took awhile, but he finally made the connection between the hypocrites he once knew and making empty claims of faith. He correctly made the point that our actions should match our words.

KW: Right, our actions are a result of true belief.

JW: Yes. If you look at what it says here in verse 36 about everlasting life, then our everlasting life depends on our obedience.

KW: I still see it from the other perspective. People are quick to quote John 3:16 and they neglect to look at the verses right before it. Verse 14-15 say, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.” The example here is where Moses took the bronze serpent and put it on a pole. In Numbers 29 the people were complaining about God’s provision in the wilderness so He sent serpents to punish the people. Some who were bitten died. Once Moses went to the Lord on the people’s behalf, God told Moses to put a bronze serpent on a pole. Whoever looked at it was healed. What did the people have to do? All they had to do was look to the bronze serpent that was on the pole.

JW: Yes, even though it didn’t seem like much, there was still something they had to do. They had to look at it.

KW: Yes, they had to trust that it would work. It wasn’t anything they did. Looking at something isn’t work.

JW: It isn’t work per se’, but you had to acknowledge that salvation came from that source.

KW: Exactly! Salvation comes from that source, not based on what I do. I look to the source of salvation and the source saves me.

JW: If you just take this in context, in verse 36 doesn’t it show that you have to do something to prove your faith? If I believe in the Son, I have everlasting life. In contrast to that, if I disobey, I will not see life. So that means believing means obeying.

KW: Or disobeying means not believing.

JW: If I look at James 2:26 If I have faith and no works, it is dead. That tells you everything you need to know about it.

KW: That only defines true faith though.

JW: Evan an atheist would agree that of a Christian does not act according to his beliefs, what kind of Christian is that?

KW: True.

JW: So what would God say about that person if they don’t live according to His commandments?

KW: Where do we draw the line? We all break God’s commandments. If I were to be judged completely on my works, I’m sunk.

I decided to go in a direction and ask a question I once thought about asking a Mormon friend of mine. I never got the chance to ask my Mormon friend, but because of the similarities in their belief system, I know the question would have an impact on my Witness friend as well.

KW: Let me ask you a question. Does God justify the godly or the ungodly?

JW: It depends on what you mean by godly.

KW:  Those who are living righteous lives.

My friend avoided the question a read John 3:36 aloud… again. This time though, he read it in the King James Version.

JW: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” It says the same thing. Even though it doesn’t say “exercise faith” it still tells me that if I disobey God, I will not see life. He wants us to do our best, but if we fail, this sacrifice will kick in, but we still have to do something.

KW: Do you know that this is the same gospel that the Mormons preach?

JW: Maybe, I don’t know.

KW: They’ve got this little saying. “If you do your best, then Jesus will do the rest.”

JW: Yeah, it could be.

KW: This is irony here. We have two religions claiming to be the only true organization or Church which are claiming the same thing about the gospel. “If you do your best, then Jesus does the rest.”

JW: Um-hmm.

KW: Then why shouldn’t I become a Mormon?

JW: The Mormons don’t have any problems going to war and killing other people.

Okay, I did not expect that answer. I didn’t want to get off the topic of the gospel to talk about war. I let him make his point and then got back to the greater issue of the gospel. I asked my question again.

KW: I asked you earlier. “Does God justify the godly or the ungodly?” Which one does God justify?

JW: It really depends what “godly” means.

KW: From God’s perspective, whatever He views as godly. Would He justify those people who are godly or those people who are ungodly, according to His own standard?

This conversation is too long to continue so I will post the rest of it tomorrow. Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend.


2 thoughts on “Exercising Faith With A Jehovah’s Witness Elder Part 1”

  1. I hope this conversation had a good ending. The part you covered here seems to be going in circles. JWs and Mormons always see us as saying that works aren’t important at all, which isn’t what we are saying. I like the formulas you have used elsewhere, that it’s not “Faith + Works = Salvation” but that “Faith = Salvation + Works.” That acknowledges the importance of works but puts it on the correct side of the ledger.

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