Nothing is as stressful as trying to do something that simply cannot be done, especially when you think that your eternal life depends on it. This is the situation in which the Watchtower places Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They are trying to deserve “undeserved kindness.”
Instead of using the word “grace,” the Watchtower speaks of God’s “undeserved kindness.” Typical is this statement: “Since Pentecost 33 C.E., spiritual Israelites have endeavored to prove worthy of God’s undeserved kindness so that the ‘acceptable time’ would be ‘a day of salvation’ for them… Some men associated with the Corinthian congregation were not proving worthy of God’s undeserved kindness.”
But this is self-contradictory. “To deserve” means “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital.” If you “prove worthy” of something, don’t you therefore deserve it? Aren’t you trying to deserve “undeserved kindness”?
If asked this question, a Witness would be likely to say that if someone gave you an undeserved gift, their generosity should lead you out of appreciation to improve your attitudes and behavior. But the Watchtower doctrine of works goes far beyond that. Notice from the quotation above that if people do not “prove worthy” that the “acceptable time” will not be a “day of salvation” for them.
So the “undeserved kindness” the Watchtower proclaims is not salvation itself. Rather, it is the chance to straighten out your life in accordance with Jehovah’s standards to the point that you have become worthy of salvation.
They are working for a “gift”
The Watchtower says that salvation is a “gift” based on “Jehovah’s undeserved kindness” received by “exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.” But the key language is the phrase “exercising faith,” which turns out to be just another name for works. How is something a gift if you have to keep working to make sure you receive it? In Watchtower theology, survival into everlasting life is not dependent on Christ’s righteousness—imputed and received as a gift—but on works, especially on faithful performance of the door-to-door field service ministry.
Despite this emphasis on what Jehovah’s Witnesses must do in order to be saved, the Watchtower denies that Jehovah’s Witnesses try to earn their salvation by their works. Here is its explanation:
“We engage regularly in our door-to-door ministry, but we don’t believe that we earn our salvation by doing such work. (Ephesians 2:8) Why not?
Think of this comparison: Imagine that a benevolent man promised an expensive gift to everyone who showed up at a certain location on a given date. If you really believed the man’s promise, would you follow his instructions? No doubt! Likely, you would also tell your friends and family about the opportunity, so that they too could benefit from it. Even so, you wouldn’t earn the gift by following the man’s instructions. The gift is still a gift.
Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe God’s promise of everlasting life for all who obey him. (Romans 6:23). We endeavor to share our faith with others, hoping that they will benefit from God’s promises. But we don’t believe that we earn our salvation by engaging in our ministry. (Romans 1:17; 3:28) Really, no human could ever do enough to merit such an astounding blessing from God. ‘He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done.’’  (emphasis original)
Let’s analyze the Watchtower’s argument by using a specific example. Suppose a car dealer promises to make a gift to you of the latest, top-of-the-line automobile in his showroom. But there’s a stipulation. In order to obtain the gift, you have to come to his office at noon tomorrow and prove to him that you have a valid driver’s license. I’m sure we would agree that this transaction would be a gift. Why? Because the requirements are inconsequential. No one would say that by meeting those simple conditions you had somehow earned the car.
But now let’s vary the scenario. Suppose that when you arrive at the dealership, the owner tells you that in order to receive the car you need to “prove worthy” of it. Specifically, you will have to abide by all of his dealership’s rules and policies. You will have to attend training sessions each week so you will be knowledgeable about all the car’s features and the history of the dealership. You will be required to invest many hours for the rest of your life going door-to-door in your community telling people about his offer and trying to persuade them to do likewise. At the end of that time, if you have proved yourself worthy, then you will receive the car you were promised.
Those additional requirements change the nature of the transaction completely. No matter what terminology he uses, in this situation the dealer isn’t giving you a gift. What he is really doing is offering you a lifelong job with the car being your wages. If you meet all of those requirements, you will have earned that car.
According to Watchtower teaching, in order to obtain everlasting life you have to continually take in knowledge of God and Christ, obey each of God’s laws, participate in the Watchtower Society’s meetings and other activities, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom door-to-door. That includes exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, showing love for others, and treating the name of Jehovah as holy and making it known to others. How long do you have to do this in order to prove worthy? For the rest of your life and throughout the coming 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, enduring faithfully until the end!
Romans 4:4-5 sums up the difference between a biblical faith-based salvation system and such a works-based salvation system as follows: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
The importance of understanding this inner struggle
It is important that you understand the inner struggle that this Watchtower perform-or-perish motivational system produces. The Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to your door believe they are “in the truth” and “in Jehovah’s organization,” but they have no assurance of their own salvation because they have been taught that it depends on them. They are taught that God’s kindness is undeserved, but in order to obtain salvation, they have to show that they are deserving of it. Salvation is a gift, but in order to be deemed worthy to receive it they must continually prove their worthiness through their works and endure to the end.
Self-contradictory? I certainly think so. But Jehovah’s Witnesses do not see the contradictions. Instead, they keep striving to prove worthy while fearing that they will fall short. They are caught in a system of belief that makes it impossible to know if they doing enough to merit God’s approval. In addition, they are constantly being exhorted to do more and more in view of the fact that Armageddon is just around the corner.
As you can imagine, the angst caused by this organizational pressure and perpetual state of spiritual uncertainty is not a topic of open conversation among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many think they are the only ones who struggle with feelings of fear, inadequacy, and unworthiness, not realizing that the Watchtower itself causes these feelings by its doctrines and, in fact, depends on them as powerful motivators in its works-oriented salvation system.
Certainly, Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t likely to disclose these anxieties and insecurities to you at the door or in your living room. After all, they are trying to convince you that you need to “come into the truth” by becoming a Jehovah’s Witness yourself.
Nevertheless, understanding this inner struggle of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a critical factor in learning how to share the gospel with them effectively. It helps us see past the apparent confidence and condescension they often display (“I am in the truth; you are in darkness”). It also affords us the opportunity of identifying with the spiritual hunger they have as human beings, as opposed to simply arguing doctrine with them. Although we do need to discuss doctrinal differences openly with Jehovah’s Witnesses, our objective must not be simply to win debates. Rather, our goal must be to lead hungry souls to a genuine saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
What suggestions do you have for helping Jehovah’s Witnesses see that the Watchtower has them attempting to do the impossible?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
 The Watchtower, “This Is the Day of Salvation!” 12/15/98, p. 19
 Miriam-Webster dictionary
 The Watchtower, “Do You Really Have Faith in the Good News?”, 1/15/03, p. 10
 The Watchtower, “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth—But How?”, 2/15/83, p. 15
 Official Watchtower website: www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/salvation-and-door-to-door-ministry