Because of Halloween, there were some things I wanted to ask my Jehovah’s Witness friend. I expected the conversation to go in one direction, but it took a completely different course. Instead of waiting for my friend to start the religious discussion, I took the initiative.
KW: What do you guys do for Halloween?
KW: Nothing? So when you’ve got trick-or-treaters coming to your door, what do you do?
JW: (Smiling) We just say we don’t do Halloween and that’s it.
KW: Hmmm. Ok. I imagine you go door to door though, right? Because of your ministry work?
JW: Yes, but householders don’t play tricks on us.
KW: (Grinning) So I guess you don’t like it when random strangers show up at your door at inopportune times?
JW: (Completely understanding what I was saying) You know what? There is some truth to that. If I was a house-holder… I put myself in their shoes. I know I wouldn’t like it. I don’t even like people offering me the newspaper.
KW: How would you like it if people gave you candy when you went to their doors?
JW: I’m not really much of a candy-man, but it would be nice.
KW: Jesus said to, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31).
JW: You mean the golden rule?
KW: Yes! We are to treat trick-or-treaters in the same way we want to be treated.
JW: (Understanding the joke) Ahh, I see what you are saying.
KW: We have a tradition in my family that we do this time of the year. We all wear orange and sit amongst the pumpkins and take family pictures. We bring one pumpkin home and I’ll carve something into it. The one I did yesterday was unique. I kind of felt like God.
JW: How so?
KW: We went to the pumpkin patch and out of all of the ones there, we only brought one home. It is a big pumpkin. The kids weren’t so thrilled about it because it had some flaws to it, but I saw the potential. We took it home, prepared it and then opened it up.
I allowed the kids to get in there, get dirty and pull out all of the pumpkin guts and seeds. I started to see the inside of the pumpkin like we are in the inside. We are a mess. The Bible says that we are not good on our own. (Romans 3:10) We took out all the seeds of doubt and all of the sticky, slimy, gooey stuff, then went to work on carving it. I started cutting out pieces that I didn’t want.
This first picture is the pattern of what I wanted to carve. (Click on the right side of the image to advance the slide.) I showed my Witness friend the second picture on my iPad. He could tell it was a face, but could not really see who it was. I then showed him the last picture. He knew exactly who it was.
KW: Here is how I viewed the process.
JW: Did you paint this? It looks like there is a light in there.
KW: After you clean out the inside, you put a candle in there. It is like God giving us His Holy Spirit. He puts His light in us so that when we let it shine, we reflect then image of Christ. There is a candle in there and that is what makes it glow.
JW: It looks like a pretty good face, don’t tell me you don’t have any talent.
KW: Thanks. I guess this is how I view what God does to us. He takes the junk out that He doesn’t want in and puts His light in us. Our purpose is to be a reflection of His Son, Jesus.
JW: Not everybody.
KW: What do you mean?
JW: God doesn’t force us.
Here is where the conversation took a different route. I fully expected him to start talking about the evils of Halloween and how no true Christian could ever celebrate it or even be associated with things like carving pumpkins. Instead, he started talking about how we each have a responsibility to be willing to be molded by God. I responded;
KW: I can’t become good on my own. I can’t clean myself up. That is something that the Holy Spirit does in me. Ephesians two talks about being dead in our transgressions and our sins. What can a dead man do to save himself?
My friend went to 2 Timothy 4:22 which reads in the NWT, “The Lord be with the spirit you show. His undeserved kindness be with you.” He attempted to prove that we need to show our spirit, or willingness, first and then God will bless us. I opened up the JW Library app and noticed that none of the other translations say anything about “showing” a spirit. They all say a variation of, “The Lord be with your spirit.” He wasn’t sure of what to make of that so he just went to another verse. On a side note, I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t sick of this new Witness app by the time we stop meeting. The Watchtower NEVER should have included the Kingdom Interlinear Translation in this app.
JW: James 4:8 says, “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you indecisive ones.” You see, He wants to see initiative on our part, then He will draw near to us.
KW: I see this passage referring to people who are already Christians, not those who are not. Do you think those who are not Christians have to show initiative first?
JW: Yes, people need to show initiative. You need to get to know God. Everyone needs to do their part.
KW: It sounds to me like you are saying that we save ourselves.
JW: No, that’s not what I mean. Like Paul said, it is God’s undeserved Kindness. We don’t deserve it, we can’t save ourselves.
KW: But if we have to do our part, then you are fulfilling a requirement and then deserve what you were promised for fulfilling the requirement.
JW: Jehovah will apply the ransom sacrifice into a righteous standing to those who put forth effort.
KW: To those who put forth the effort… so you have to deserve it.
My Witness friend told the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and how they trusted God even if He didn’t save them from the fiery furnace. He then stated;
JW: Our hope is based upon Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. He doesn’t have to save us.
KW: So we have absolutely no assurance that He will save us?
KW: (Stunned) That … isn’t very comforting.
JW: No, it isn’t.
I was dumbfounded at this point. He was basically telling me that there is no basis for believing that we can be saved from our sin and that he is not comforted by that thought. Maybe that wasn’t what he was trying to communicate, but that is what he said. He starting looking for more Bible verses to prove his point and kept going to verses from the Old Testament which had nothing to do with personal salvation. I redirected the conversation back to how one obtains forgiveness by asking this question;
KW: If there is a certain requirement that I need to meet to be forgiven by God and I can’t meet that standard, then on what basis does God forgive me? It sounds like what you are saying is that we just have to hope God is in a good mood.
JW: No, it depends upon whether we are loyal and we endure.
KW: But we’ve already agreed that we aren’t going to meet that standard. We’re never going to be able to live up to what God requires. So on what basis are we declared righteous?
JW: On God’s undeserved kindness. Peter said to follow his footsteps, do what Jesus did as best as we can.
KW: I don’t understand how that is based on God’s undeserved kindness if I have to do things. Are you saying that God’s undeserved kindness is reserved for me, but I have to do something to get it?
JW: Yes, in a way, yes.
KW: So if I have to do something to get it and I do that thing to get it, then I should get it, right?
KW: Which means I earned it.
JW: Earned it?
KW: If I did what I was supposed to do to get what I want…
JW: He didn’t have to offer forgiveness in the first place.
KW: That is already a given. He offered it to us.
JW: Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that there is a narrow path. It isn’t easy to walk a narrow path.
KW: Right, I agree with that. Jesus is addressing how many will we be saved, not “How will we be saved,” but that doesn’t address my question. I’m not asking what would it look like to live your life as a Christian, but instead, how are we forgiven? Is that the same thing in your mind?
JW: We’ve talked about this before and I made some notes, but I don’t have them here.
He was stumbling here and wasn’t quite sure what to say. I know my questions are coming from a paradigm that he has never considered before.
JW: Let’s see for us… forgiven, ah, hmmm…
KW: To be accepted by God, fully forgiven, know that I have eternal life. That is what I am talking about.
Instead of answering the question, he started objecting to the mere thought of being forgiven by giving examples of how someone could take advantage of being forgiven. They could be a murderer or a thief and still claim to be forgiven. I made sure that he knew those would be empty professions. He again went to Old Testament verses which had nothing to do with the New Testament concept of forgiveness. He then looked for a New Testament verse, but couldn’t find it. It was the same one he referred to earlier when he said he didn’t bring note from a previous conversation. I guess he felt stuck so he decided to ask me a question.
JW: If you think you are saved, it is because God forgives you, right? No forgiveness, no salvation.
JW: So what is your forgiveness based on?
KW: Faith in Christ.
JW: How do you manifest your faith?
KW: That is a different subject. In my view, how we are saved and what it should look like to be saved are two different subjects.
I know this seems like a perfect opportunity to get into the nuts and bolts of the gospel, but I didn’t. He was still confused about my view of the difference between how one is saved and what the saved are to look like after they are saved. Christians have responsibilities as Christians, but to insist that sinners act like saints in order to become saints is not what the Bible teaches.
I would continue to confuse him if I went any further so I pointed out that each of us are trying to understand the other guy, but we are doing it from our own perspectives. If we bounce back and forth between ourselves and continue to refute before we understand, we aren’t going to get anywhere. The good thing is, he really wants to understand my view, but before I explain it to him, I want him to see the deficiencies in his own view. He does not yet understand that he hold to two opposite views at the same time. He believes that forgiveness is based off of God’s underserved kindness, but that he has to deserve it to get it. He justified my decision of not explaining the gospel by immediately going to James 2:26.
JW: “Indeed, just as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
KW: Right, but I think this is answering a different question.
JW: What’s the question?
KW: This answers, “What does real faith look like,” not, “How are we forgiven?”
JW: No, no no… There are some things I don’t understand.
KW: That is what we are having this conversation.
JW: Jesus said to follow His footsteps.
KW: But here is the question. Do we follow His footsteps to be forgiven or because we are forgiven?
My witness friend then starting talking about a scenario which had nothing to do with my question. He does that a lot. This is where the patience comes in. I listen to him then wait for a good time to bring the conversation back to my point.
KW: That doesn’t really address my question. Do we follow His footsteps to be forgiven or because we are forgiven?
We were really missing each other on this point. Witnesses have such a completely different mindset when it comes to salvation that I had to come at the problem from an entirely different direction.
KW: Do you believe that someone can be forgiven in this life or is it something that happens when our life is over? That after our life is over, God views our whole life and then decides whether or not deserve it? When does that personal judgment take place?
JW: The Bible says that the wages sin pays is death. So after death, I will have a clean slate. I am hoping to be saved.
KW: After you are dead, does God look back on your life and decide whether or not He wants to resurrected you?
KW: Based on how I perform right? So if I didn’t do enough, then I will not be resurrected, but if I did enough, then I will be resurrected, right?
KW: Then it is based on me and what I do.
JW: Sort of, yes.
KW: How would it not be?
JW: We need to exercise faith. John 3:16 says we need to exercise faith.
KW: Exercise faith? I don’t think my version says that.
JW: “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: Yeah, mine doesn’t say that at all. It says, “believes.”
JW: In other words, have faith right? Remember, we looked at James, faith without works is dead. Faith has something to do with action.
KW: Why does your translation say “exercise faith” when the Greek says, “believe?”
JW: Because faith without works is dead.
KW: I would much rather prefer someone translated what it said instead of placing their thoughts from another passage into the text.
JW: What do you mean?
KW: Based off of what you said, it sounds like your translators were thinking about James two when they were translating John three.
I showed him the JW Library app so he could see the Greek for himself. They never should have included it in their app. I pointed out that even in their word for word translation, it says “believe,” not “exercising faith.”
JW: But what does believing entail?
KW: Why would they mistranslate that?
JW: It isn’t mistranslated.
KW: But that isn’t what it says. I’m having a bit of a revelation here. When I say “believe” I am focusing on what Christ did. When you say “exercise faith” you are emphasizing what you do. I focus on Him, you focus on you. If exercising faith is based upon my actions, then how does it make sense that I am exercising faith in Him? What does He have to do with my actions? I guess you summed it up when you said you are resurrected based upon what you do.
KW: Then the faith you are exercising isn’t in Him. It is in what you do.
JW: But I am trying to do what He wants me to do.
I was having a hard time formulating my thoughts and putting them in a way he could understand it. Even now I am having trouble explaining it. My basic thought was that if we “exercise faith,” the focus can’t be on Jesus because He doesn’t have anything to do with what we do. If however our responsibility is to believe, or fully trust, then the action is placed upon Jesus and why we believe in him. We believe for a reason. He just wasn’t getting it.
JW: Look at verse 36. “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.” You see that “exercising faith” is set in contrast to disobedience which means that “exercising faith” must mean obedience.
KW: The Kingdom Interlinear says believe again. It also says the one believing, or exercising faith, has everlasting life. That is present tense.
JW: No, stick with this verse.
KW: That is what I am doing. It says “has.”
JW: This is our translation?
KW: Yes, this is your app. It says that if you exercise faith in the Son, whoever does that has everlasting life. Now. Present tense. Are you exercising faith in the Son?
JW: If I remain loyal…
KW: No, I mean right now. Are you doing it? Where you are at right now, are you exercising faith in the Son right now?
JW: I would have to say I am.
KW: If you say that you are exercising faith in the Son, then you would also have to say that you have, present tense, right now, everlasting life.
JW: Well, then I don’t know how to reconcile that with undeserved kindness.
KW: Because you are exercising faith in the Son.
JW: I can’t expect God to resurrect me.
KW: I am just being consistent with what the verse says. If you exercise faith in the Son, then you have everlasting life.
Obviously, I do not believe that my Witness friend has everlasting life since he has not trusted Christ alone for it. I am not trying to insist that he has life. What I was doing was taking advantage of the Watchtower doctrine that teaches that he cannot have everlasting life until he proves himself deserving of it. It is a blatant contradiction to what we have in John 3:36. If he thinks we have to exercise faith in the Son to have life, then to be consistent with the text, he has to believe that he can have it now.
KW: It sounds like you are saying that you don’t have life even though you are exercising faith in the Son. Is that what you are telling me?
JW: Yeah, because of Matthew 24:13, “But the one who has endured to the end will be saved.”
KW: From what?
JW: From the destruction that will occur.
KW: Right, which is not what John 3:36 is talking about. We are talking about whether or not you exercise faith in the Son and has everlasting life.
JW: If I do not endure, then I will not be among the ones who will be saved.
KW: Again, it is dependent upon what you do.
My witness friend wanted to see the JW Library app again. It seems like he was having trouble believing that the Kingdom Interlinear actually said “believe.”
JW: In the American standard it says believe, right? It also says, “Obeyeth not the Son.” That means that one is the opposite of the other, which means that to believe is equal to obeying. You have to obey the Son.
KW: There is another way to look at it. I would say that disobeying is the opposite of believing in the sense that obeying is the opposite of unbelief. If they are equivalent, then to believe is to obey and to disobey is to not believe. All these translations say “believe” except the New World Translation. Even the Kingdom Interlinear says “believe.” But for the sake of argument, if I fulfill the requirement, regardless of whether or not it is exercising faith or believing, if I believe this verse, then I would have to say that I have, present tense, everlasting life.
My Witness friend kept trying to come up with Old Testament examples of people who did not remain faithful. He mentioned Solomon whose life did not end as faithful as he was towards the beginning of his reign as King.
KW: You know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like you don’t believe John 3:36.
JW: (Laughing) I do!
KW: It doesn’t sound like you believe you have everlasting life. You’re going to have to help me with that.
JW: (Still laughing) OK, I will help you with that.
I think the reason he was laughing was because he knew he was caught and he didn’t know how to get out of the problem. I gently prodded him throughout the conversation and expressed my confusion over him holding two opposite views. I believe he is starting to understand the reasons for my confusion. It just doesn’t make sense to say that being forgiven is based off of God’s underserved kindness, yet at the same time claim that you have to perform to be forgiven.
What makes this scenario even more confusing is assuming he is correct in that he has to prove his faithfulness by exercising faith and then watch him disagree with what the Bible says about those who accomplish the goal.
The simple fact of the matter is, if exercising faith in the Son means that you have everlasting life, but you do not believe that you have everlasting life, then the logical conclusion is, you haven’t truly exercised faith in Christ. I hope to continue our conversation about this topic next week.
Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend.
Editorial note: I am not interested in fighting with my brothers and sisters in Christ about whether or not Christians have the liberty to participate in Halloween activities. That is not what this blog is for. If you feel that you must address this issue here, please be courteous in your comments. This is a perfect opportunity to show my Jehovah’s Witnesses readers that Christians can agree to disagree on important, but not foundational, issues of Christianity… in a charitable way. If I feel that your comments cross that line, I simply will not allow them to be posted. Have fun tonight, regardless of whether you celebrate Halloween or not.