Can we earn our salvation by our works?
The Watchtower’s answer to that question is, “No.”
Based on that, an unsuspecting Christian might well think, “Oh, I guess the Watchtower accords with Paul.”
Ask Jehovah’s Witnesses this question: “Do we have to prove worthy by our works in order to obtain salvation?”
If they are honest, they should answer that question, “Yes.”
Consider this statement from a 1998 Watchtower: “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.”[i]
What we need to understand is that the Watchtower teaches that good works are necessary for salvation—necessary, but not sufficient. We also need God’s “undeserved kindness.”
In a way—even though it wouldn’t use these words—the Watchtower would agree with 2 Nephi 25:23 from the Book of Mormon, “…that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (emphasis added)
“Bible Teach”, Chapter 19, paragraphs 21-22 (p. 192) state that you won’t really enjoy the life that God intended until you dwell on the paradise earth, but that you can “get a firm hold on the real life” by obeying Paul’s admonition “to work at good” and “to be rich in fine works. (1 Timothy 6:18).”
Despite the Watchtower’s heavy emphasis on works, paragraph 22 (pp. 192-193) denies that we can earn our salvation that way: “But did Paul mean that we earn ‘the real life’ by performing good works? No, for such marvelous prospects really depend on our receiving ‘undeserved kindness’ from God. (Romans 5:15) However, Jehovah delights in rewarding those who serve him faithfully. He wants to see you live ‘the real life.’ Such a happy, peaceful, everlasting life lies ahead for those who remain in God’s love.”
The book doesn’t go into further detail, but the issue is so important that I recommend you discuss with the Witnesses the article entitled, “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Trying to Earn Salvation by Their Door-to-Door Ministry?” which appears on the Watchtower’s website.
In answering that question in the negative, the Watchtower gives the following illustration:
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.
If the Witnesses give you that answer, ask them if they are trying to prove worthy of their salvation by their door-to-door ministry.
Also ask them if they will be saved if they don’t do enough door-to-door or cart witnessing.
Here is what I said in a blog post entitled, “The Inner Struggle of Jehovah’s Witnesses: Attempting the Impossible”:
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.
Think of it this way. Your boss wasn’t required to offer you a job, so in that sense his or her offer to hire you was an “undeserved kindness,” wasn’t it?
However, so long as you faithfully perform your duties, your wages aren’t a gift from the boss. You have earned them.
Compare this to the Watchtower’s list of requirements for salvation set out earlier in this chapter. 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? 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.”
End by coming back to the need to come to Jesus for salvation
Paragraph 23 (p. 193) ends the book with this appeal: “Each of us does well to ask himself, ‘Am I worshipping God in the way he has set out in the Bible?’ If we make sure, day by day, that the answer is yes, then we are on the right path… If you make such choices now, you will enjoy ‘the real life,’ life as Jehovah God meant it to be, throughout all eternity!”
What this really means is this: Enthusiastically do everything the Watchtower organization tells you to do for the rest of your life, and you will make it through into the millennial kingdom, which is just around the corner.
The last sentence of “Bible Teach” (summary box, p. 193) states: “Those who remain in God’s love have the hope of enjoying ‘the real life.’”
I recommend that you end with what I said on pp. 95-97 of The Faith and Works Approach from my book, Getting Through to Jehovah’s Witnesses: Approaching Bible Discussions in Unexpected Ways, by pointing out to the Witnesses their need to come to Jesus by faith for salvation based on his sacrifice alone, and emphasize that this step is the opposite of depending—even partially—on good works or affiliation with an organization.
Focus on the critical distinction between the roles of faith and works as set forth in Ephesians 2:8-10.
This completes our study of What Does the Bible Really Teach?
Next week, I will sum up the series.
[i] The Watchtower, “This Is the Day of Salvation!”, 12/15/1998, p. 19