Question: What about Jehovah's Witnesses and works' salvation?
Answer: Speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses about salvation by grace alone
Today I spoke with a JW who agreed with me that we are in need of grace to cover our sins, yet he added that we also have to follow God’s law in order to be saved in accordance with JW theology. After admitting that he cannot always follow the law correctly, his view was pared down to "Don’t do the really bad things and at least try." What we are left with is a salvation that depends upon human effort at least as much as divine grace. He admitted that we need to have an attitude of humility but that works are necessary for salvation. Salvation, in JW theology of course, means something different, but for this article we will have to shelve that discussion.
Scripture clearly teaches salvation by grace through faith alone. However, it also teaches good works. So, in the JW mindset, the two apparently become confused. The following is an argument that could possibly be used to help the open-minded JW (or anyone struggling with the interplay between faith and works).
In John 14:21, Jesus said that whoever loves Him will obey His commands. But surely this demands that we obey at all times, not only some of the time. One theologian made this observation: "Genuine love for God leads to wholehearted obedience. If you told your spouse that you loved her (or him) at certain times but that you struggled to love her at others, your relationship would be in jeopardy. Yet we assume that God is satisfied with occasional love or partial obedience. He is not."
If God is not satisfied with partial obedience, then none of us can satisfy God. None of us can please Him since we are all disobedient at times. If our love for God is dependent upon our obedience as Jesus said and if His acceptance of us depends upon our love for Him, then we cannot be accepted because we all disobey. But what if we sincerely try? Surely God would accept that. What if I told my wife that I really try to love her but I can’t always do it?
So then, how is anyone accepted? It is not by our love for God but His love for us (1 John 4:10). We are accepted by grace through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:28 say that grace alone brings justification before God. Our efforts to obey could not satisfy Him as Blackaby pointed out. Only Christ’s finished work on the cross could do that (Romans 3:21-25). It would be arrogant to say that we can add anything to Christ’s finished work.
But doesn’t James say that faith without works is dead (James 2:26)? What role do works play in God’s acceptance of us? None! We have already seen that. So, how do good works fit in then? First, they are an outward sign of the faith that has already saved the one who has it. In the "faith-without-works-is-dead" passage, James used Abraham’s work of offering his son to God as an example (James 2:20-23). But this act of righteousness did not do anything to bring him righteousness. That had already been granted.
Not only do works point to the saving grace in us but also they earn us the rewards, among them a greater quality of life, especially in the life to come.
Good works are the result of our salvation. God saves us to do good works. It is not that He saves us by them (Ephesians 2:10).
To summarize the argument:
- To love God means to obey Him.
- But we do not always obey Him.
- God is not pleased with our occasional love any more than our spouse would be.
- Therefore, we cannot gain God’s acceptance through our obedience.
- Christ’s sacrifice wins God’s acceptance for us when we put our faith in Him.
- Good works follow as a sign to other people that we are God’s people and we are rewarded for our good works.