What do Jehovah's Witnesses teach about grace, justification, and sanctification?

by Lesley Mitchell

The first thing to be aware of is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have replaced the word “grace” with “undeserved kindness.” Their “Insight On The Scriptures” book (Volume 2, page 155)1 says the word “grace” has 14 different meanings (without listing them). They say “grace” is an archaic term that does not convey the correct biblical meaning and so they have replaced it with the phrase “undeserved kindness” for the Greek word kha'ris: "kindness bestowed on one who does not deserve it."

Regardless of terminology, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses view grace? Do they believe it is by God’s grace they have been saved through faith? Well, sort of. Yes, salvation is an undeserved kindness according to the Watchtower, but you can’t be assured of it. You must endure to the end before you know if you’ve been good enough to be rewarded with eternal life. You have not been saved yet; you can only HOPE to be saved at some point in the future. They base this on a misunderstanding of Matthew 10:22 and 24:13: "He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved,” (NWT). What Jesus is saying is that perseverance, especially under harsh persecution, is evidence of a saving relationship with Him. We are not saved by our perseverance; we persevere because we are saved.

But if God saves us through undeserved kindness, that means we didn’t earn or deserve his kindness. Therefore, we did not earn salvation. Neither do we keep ourselves saved through our own efforts. If God’s kindness (grace) saves us, how can we not be assured of that grace? Will God’s kindness suddenly become unkind? Will he withdraw his grace? And if we have to maintain his kindness through our efforts, at what point does his kindness cease to be undeserved and become deserved kindness? It defies logic.

Christians fully understand there is a race to be run, and some people who claim to be Christians have fallen by the wayside, spiritually speaking, proving that their profession of faith was just that—a profession. It was not a reality. But Jesus assures us that all who belong to him, who follow him, cannot be lost: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one,” (John 10:27-30).

All who belong to Jesus have the assurance of the Holy Spirit indwelling them so they can cry out “Abba, Father,” knowing they have been adopted into God’s family. But not Jehovah’s Witnesses because they have been deceived into thinking they do not need to be born again and indwelt by the Spirit. They have been deceived into thinking salvation is by their efforts and can be lost if their efforts are insufficient.

What does the Bible say about grace?

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
    • The NWT replaces grace with “undeserved kindness”
  • Galatians 2:21: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
    • The NWT replaces grace with “undeserved kindness”
  • Ephesians 2:5: “God… made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
    • The NWT says “even when we were dead in trespasses, by undeserved kindness you have been saved.”
  • Ephesians 2: 8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
    • The NWT replaces grace with “undeserved kindness”
  • Romans 4:16: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be GUARANTEED to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”
    • The NWT replaces grace with “undeserved kindness”

Justification and Sanctification - the Watchtower's teaching

Justification is a change in a sinner's legal standing before God. God's act of justification instantly changes a condemned sinner into a pardoned sinner. It happens the moment a person truly believes. From then on, God can legally view the person justified ("just as if" they had never sinned. Salvation cannot happen without justification first being applied to the believing sinner. Justification is a legal standing that is conferred on a repentant sinner who places all their faith in Jesus. It happens in a moment of time, at the point of being born from above by the Holy Spirit. God pardons the sins of that person due to what Jesus accomplished on the cross on their behalf. That person is then sanctified, which means “set apart for holy use.” His/her whole life is then a process of becoming more and more sanctified, learning to live for God and no longer for self.

Sadly, this is not a process understood by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Justification does not appear in the Insight book – instead, it is described as "declared righteous."

Under Righteousness the “Insight” book (Volume 2, page 857) says it is only those who become "Christ's brothers" (those who will go to Heaven) who are declared righteous. On page 811 the book says those accepting Christ were declared righteous, not as something earned, but as a gift. Since they claim only 144,000 persons can ever be declared righteous, they ought to confine justification (being declared righteous) to that tiny group but, no, in this section they imply that those who persevere in righteousness include those to whom the earth is promised. This will lead earth-bound Witnesses to think that even though they have not been declared righteous by God, they can still work at being righteous and this will merit them a paradise earth! Once again, the Witnesses have been deceived into thinking that they can earn the right to be declared righteous by virtue of their own efforts.

Under Sanctification “Insight” says: "The act or process of making holy, separating, or setting apart for the service or use of Jehovah God." But under the heading “The Process of Sanctification" (Volume 2, page 857), they apply this only to those who will go to heaven. This means that 99% of all Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot claim to be sanctified, for the “Insight” book says it is a "procedure for those who are to become joint heirs with Christ."

What a contrast with the Bible’s assurances to ALL believers! Jehovah’s Witnesses think there are two hopes (one heavenly and the other earthly) in spite of the Bible saying, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians4:4-5). Because of this, they have been deceived into thinking that the New Covenant and the promises of the New Testament are to be realized only by 144,000 persons, those who hope to rule as kings and priests with Christ Jesus from heaven.

They teach that only the “anointed remnant” (some 12,000 Witnesses) say Christ Jesus is their mediator, who intercedes for them (Hebrews 7:25). Only they can be in the new covenant and take the bread and the wine as a symbol of their heavenly calling. The rest (some 8 million Witnesses) have been excluded. Christ Jesus is NOT their mediator, they are not in the new covenant, and the best they can hope for is that the 144,000 “will put in a good word for them,” and that they will endure to the end so they might be declared righteous on the basis of their good works.

Jehovah’s Witness have no real experience of God’s grace at work in their lives because they have not been born again. If only the 144,000 can be “declared righteous” (justified) and only they can go through the “process of sanctification,” then virtually all Witnesses have not been saved. How tragic, and what a travesty of the biblical doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

What does the Bible say about Justification and Sanctification?

  • 1 Corinthians 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
    • The NWT replaces justified with “declared righteous”
  • Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
    • The NWT replaces justified with “declared righteous” and replaces grace with “undeserved kindness”
  • 1. 1988, Watchtower Bible And Tract Society of New York, Inc.; International Bible Students Association (Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.)