This is part two from yesterday’s conversation. A few lines from part one have been included to give a little context. We were talking about what we need to do to have God’s approval.
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?
JW: Well, He would justify the godly.
KW: (Repeating his answer.) He would justify the godly. Okay then I have to get your interpretation on this verse. Let’s look at Romans 4:4-5.
My Witness friend read the verses aloud.
JW: “Now to the man who works, his pay is not counted as an undeserved kindness but as something owed to him. 5 On the other hand, to the man who does not work but puts faith in the One who declares the ungodly one righteous, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Um-Hmm.
KW: What is your thought on that?
JW: My thoughts on what?
KW: On what this says.
JW: Let me read this again.
He sat there mumbling for close to a minute just reading and re-reading the text.
JW: You’re pointing at the last sentence here? His faith is counted as righteousness?
KW: Verse four also. “Now to the man who works, his pay is not counted as an undeserved kindness but as something owed to him.”
KW: There is a contrast there between work and undeserved kindness. It is one or the other, it is not both. If I work, it is owed to me. If I don’t work, it is undeserved kindness. (Reading verse five) “On the other hand, to the man who does not work but puts faith in the One who declares the ungodly one righteous, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
JW: Okay. But Abraham was counted as righteous because of his works.
KW: He was counted righteous because he believed God.
JW: But he acted accordingly, even to the point where he almost killed his own son.
KW: Exactly, but that is a result of his faith by which he was already declared righteous. Abraham was counted righteous in Genesis 15:6 before Isaac was even born.
JW: Of course all those works are a result of faith. If you have faith that doesn’t result in works, then what?
KW: True faith produces works, but salvation, my being declared righteous is not based on my works. It is based on a gift. If it was based on my works, then God owes me, I earned it.
JW: If you take this into consideration with John 3:36, it doesn’t sound like it.
KW: It does if you take it from the perspective that disobedience means “not believing.” Think about it like this. For the sake of argument let’s say that God only wants us to believe. If God tells us to believe, and believe in the sense of fully committing and trusting, but I don’t and I try to work for it, that is disobedience. Because He didn’t tell me to work for it, He told me to believe. If He told me to believe and not work, but I don’t believe that, I work instead, that is disobedience.
I had to repeat the basic idea of this statement over and over. This was a completely new concept for him. I gave him a more explicit example.
KW: If God said, “Keith, you can’t work for it. Don’t work for it. If you believe me, I’ll give it to you.” If I tell God, “That sounds nice, but I don’t believe that, I’m going to work for it,” then I am not believing what God told me. That is disobedience, right? If God told me to believe and I didn’t because I worked and trusted that instead, then that would be disobedience.
JW: I don’t get it.
KW: What is it you don’t get? I’m trying to explain it to you, but maybe I am not explaining it well enough.
I knew full well that he understood what I was saying and I don’t know how I could have made my example any clearer. He just couldn’t reconcile it with what the Watchtower teaches him. Rather than challenge him on this, I kept the lines of communication open by asking him to help e explain it further.
He took me to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and tried to make the case that they were declared righteous because they changed their behavior. I reminded him that the Church in Corinth was not known for their morality and that is why they needed such a scathing letter from Paul. The reason why Paul told them to live like Christians was because they weren’t. He asked again;
JW: How can you say that our faith doesn’t have to be underlined by actions? Our salvation depends on that.
KW: That is two different issues. Our actions define the kind of faith we have, but the actions do not save me.
JW: It goes hand in hand. God can look at your heart. We cannot see that. We can go through the motions of living a Christian life, but our heart may not be in the right place. God can see that. So is it the actions that can save me? Not necessarily, but they both need to be there.
KW: It sounds like you and I are saying some of the same things some of the time, but that is why I brought up Romans 4:4-5 because you said that God would justify the godly, but Romans says God justifies the ungodly, so there is still some disconnect there still. If God sees our heart, then why do you think He also needs to see your works?
JW: Like you said. If we have the right heart attitude, it will reflect in works. If it doesn’t, then how can you say you have the right heart attitude?
KW: You are asking from a human perspective though. If God already knows my heart, why does He need to see the works? This is exactly what James is getting at in chapter two. How can I know if you have real faith? I can’t see your heart. God can, He knows. He doesn’t need to see the works, but I do. This is what James is answering. You can say you have faith. Anyone can say this, but you prove it by your works. But it is the faith that saves, that is what God sees, not the works.
We are looking at it from two different perspectives. Man has to see the works because he can’t see the faith. God, because He sees the faith, He sees the heart, He doesn’t have to see the works. He can declare me righteous before I work because He knows the faith I have will produce good works. But it is not those works which save, it is the faith that I have.
JW: They go hand in hand.
KW: Does God declare you righteous before your work or after it? Remember John 3:36 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.”(NWT) It seems like you want to focus on the exercise and I want to focus on faith, but regardless, it still say that the one who does it has everlasting life, yet you don’t believe you have everlasting life.
He completely ignored my statement, bounced to another passage for a bit and then got up to go to the bathroom. While he was gone, I was trying to think of a way to get to a verse I wanted him to look at. I didn’t want to ignore his questions like he sometimes does to mine so I was trying to figure out how to get to my question after we talked about whatever he wanted to talk about. When he came back he asked;
JW: Where do we go from here?
Perfect. I love it when God does that kind of stuff.
KW: I was just thinking about another verse. I’d like to get your opinion on it. Let’s go to Ephesians 2:8-9.
There is one thing I need to mention before I get back to the discussion. I noticed that both Romans 4:4-5 and Ephesians 2:8-9 are reworded in the Revised New World Translation. They haven’t been changed much, but I like the newer wording better as it isn’t as awkward and a little clearer. Compare the two. Changes will be emboldened.
Romans 4:4-5 (1984 NWT) Now to the man that works the pay is counted, not as an undeserved kindness, but as a debt. 5 On the other hand, to the man that does not work but puts faith in him who declares the ungodly one righteous, his faith is counted as righteousness.
Romans 4:4-5 (RNWT) Now to the man who works, his pay is not counted as an undeserved kindness but as something owed to him. 5 On the other hand, to the man who does not work but puts faith in the One who declares the ungodly one righteous, his faith is counted as righteousness.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (1984 NWT) By this undeserved kindness, indeed, YOU have been saved through faith; and this not owing to YOU, it is God’s gift. 9 No, it is not owing to works, in order that no man should have ground for boasting.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (RNWT) By this undeserved kindness you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; rather, it is God’s gift. 9 No, it is not a result of works, so that no one should have grounds for boasting.
He read it silently and pointed out the term “undeserved kindness.” He rhetorically asked and answered, “Do we deserve it? No?” He then tried to explain how Christians were wondering if they needed to keep the Mosaic Law and that Paul wrote to the Ephesians to tell them that they no longer needed to practice circumcision or animal sacrifice.
KW: Let me see if I understand you. You are saying this is referring only to the idea that Christians don’t have to keep the Mosaic Law.
KW: So then what does it mean when it says, “not of your own doing; rather, it is God’s gift?”
JW: Yes, it is undeserved kindness.
KW: Not of your own doing.
JW: Well, how can you show appreciation for a gift?
KW: A gift that you have or a gift that you don’t have?
JW: A gift that you receive.
KW: Okay, if you already have the gift…
He didn’t like that point and interrupted me. Ephesians 2:8 clearly states that by undeserved kindness you have been, past tense, saved. He started talking about someone who shows no appreciation for the gift.
KW: What is the gift that is given?
JW: The gift that is given? Everlasting life.
KW: So you have the gift?
JW: It comes with conditions.
KW: So then you don’t have it.
JW: What did Jesus say right before He ascended to heaven? In Matthew…
KW: I’m still trying to understand your perspective here.
JW: We have to put it in context.
KW: Of another book?
JW: Of another book? What do you mean?
KW: The context is Ephesians chapter two.
JW: Well, the context of what Jesus Himself said right before He left the earth.
KW: I’m just concerned about Ephesians two right now.
JW: God didn’t have to do anything for us. The fact that He is dealing with us at all is undeserved kindness. He has given us a chance, but there is something tied to it.
KW: If there is something tied to it, something that I have to do, then I don’t understand why it says, it is not of your own doing and that it is not a result of works. Because if it is, then I could boast about it.
JW: There can be a healthy amount of boasting.
KW: This says I can’t boast.
JW: You can’t boast about things you don’t actually deserve.
KW: But if I work for it, I do deserve it, don’t I?
JW: You can’t boast if you are obligated to do it.
KW: I’m taking this at face value. It is either, I do it and I deserve it or I don’t do it and I don’t deserve it. But if I get it when I don’t do it, then it has to be a gift because I didn’t do anything to get it. Oh, I better write that down. That was good wasn’t it?
He laughed. I had to throw some humor into the discussion as we were going back over some of the same things we have talked about before. It can get frustrating going over the same things and I didn’t want him getting upset.
JW: It’s both.
KW: I was just going to address that! I was just going to say that you seem like you are trying to put the two things together when I see them as opposites.
JW: Faith goes hand in hand with works. you can’t say you have faith unless you prove it by works. It isn’t works alone that save me. You have to have the faith too.
KW: It says, “not as a result of works.”
We were pretty much beating a dead horse at this point and both of us knew it. I told him that I needed to think about how to better communicate what I was trying to say. He told me that he thought he knew what I believe.
KW: Okay, let’s do this. Let’s switch places. You be me and I’ll be you. You tell me what you think I am trying to tell you.
JW: Jesus died for us and that’s it. It doesn’t matter because we are all saved. It doesn’t matter what we do because since Jesus died for us, we are all saved.
KW: That is what you think I am saying?
KW: That is not what I am trying to say. I guess I need a whole lot of clarifying to do. I need to think of a picture or something I can draw for you.
JW: We could postpone this topic because it gets deeper when we get farther into the book.
We agreed to do that. He talked a little bit more about what he thought I was saying and again mentioned that he thought we are closer than I think we are. That is an interesting thing to hear a Jehovah’s Witness elder say. I further explained that I didn’t understand how he held what appeared to me to be two opposite beliefs at the same time. I explained that I see faith and works as being as diametrically opposed to each other as are gifts and rewards.
I sensed that his allergies were getting the best of him and I knew I was not as sharp either. I was tired and he was starting to get a little frustrated at things which would not usually frustrate him. I slowed down and changed the pace of the discussion. It didn’t take long before we were talking like old friends again and really trying to understand each other. The defensive walls were down and we were both really listening to one another.
KW: One you earn and the other you are given. I’m still having trouble trying to reconcile how you see it differently. I understand how some people think that James two contradicts Ephesians two. I can reconcile those two passages from my view. What I am trying to do is understand how you reconcile those two passages from your view.
I asked how long he has been going door to door and if he has ever had another Christian tell him the same things I am trying to tell him. He has been going door to door for roughly 30 years and he said that he has never talked with a Christian about the gospel even though he has talked with pastors. I am hoping that he is wrong. I’m hoping that Christians have tried to talk to him about the gospel, but just didn’t know how to communicate to him in a way that catches his attention. He said I was unique.
Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness friend.