Jehovah’s Witnesses preach that salvation is heavily dependent on works. Obedience, loyalty and being part of their organization. Let’s review four requirements to salvation set forth in the study aid: “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth–But How?” (WT 15/02/1983, pp. 12-13)
- Study the Bible (John 17:3) with one of Jehovah’s Witness through a study aid produced by the Watch Tower Society.
- Obey God’s Laws (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Peter 4:3, 4).
- Associate with God’s channel, his organization (Acts 4:12).
- Be Loyal to the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) by advertising the Kingdom rule and teaching others what God’s purposes and what he requires.
This list may come as a surprise to most Christians – but Jehovah’s Witnesses are firmly convinced these are the Scriptural requirements for attaining salvation. So let’s see what Scripture teaches on this important topic, and if Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right.
Justification and Salvation
What is justification and how does it relate to salvation? Justification can be understood as ‘making righteous’.
Paul rightly observed that ‘all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God’. (Romans 3:23) This creates a tension between what God intends for us to be: righteous – and what we are: sinners.
We may become justified with the Father through repentance and faith in the shed blood of Christ. Our sins are washed clean and although we remain imperfect – we are “imputed righteousness”. (Romans 4:20-25)
While those who willfully practice what is wrong without repentance are, in essence, rejecting God’s grace (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Peter 4:3, 4), scripture is crystal clear that we cannot be justified through obedience to God’s laws. (Galatians 2:21) The simple reason is that for sinners, it is impossible to obey God’s laws fully, and offending just one letter of the Law means that we have failed to achieve God’s righteous standard. Thus, if even God’s Law through Moses cannot produce righteousness, no other Church may ever imagine another set of rules which would do better.
Although sacrifice and the law paved a way for forgiveness and blessing, sin remained a perpetual fact of humankind, so they did not provide reconciliation with the Father. Our Lord Jesus Christ died so that forgiveness could not only cover past sins, but future sins as well.
Sanctification and Salvation
Justification with the Father is an essential step for all Christians toward Salvation, because apart from Christ, we cannot be saved. Therefore, we must be holy. (1 Peter 1:16) All Christian brothers and sisters are often called “holy ones” in Scripture. (Acts 9:13; 26:10; Romans 1:7; 12:13; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 13:13) Justification is a legal status granted to us by the Father on the basis of Christ’s shed blood. It is also instant and binding from then on and for as long as we have faith in his ransom.
Sanctification is a little different. It should be understood as God’s work within the justified believer with the goal of conforming him to the image of Christ. (Philippians 2:13) A justified person will be molded by God to gradually produce more fruits of the spirit; “works” that are befitting a Christian.
It is important to note however that while our justification through faith is a requirement to begin the process of sanctification, sanctification itself has no bearing on our justification. Only faith in Christ’s blood does.
The Guarantee of Salvation
Salvation is guaranteed by God through his seal of ownership in the form of a deposit or token of his Holy Spirit in our hearts:
“[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:22 NIV)
It is through this token of Spirit that we know that we have eternal life:
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13; Compare Romans 8:15)
The Spirit outpouring from the Father upon our heart communicates with our spirit and bears testimony or evidence of our adoption as children:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16)
The outpouring of the Spirit on a Christian’s heart reminds us of the blood on the doorpost in ancient Egypt:
“And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13)
This blood on the doorpost was a reminder of their guarantee of their salvation. The sacrificing of the lamb and the marking the door with its blood was an act of faith. The blood gave reminder of assurance of the guarantee of salvation as per God’s promise.
Perhaps you have heard the expression “once saved, always saved”? It misleads people into thinking that they cannot do anything to undo their salvation once they have accepted Christ. The blood on the doorpost in Egypt would only save the household in case the blood was on the doorpost at the time of inspection. In other words, a person could have a change of heart and wash the blood on his doorpost away — perhaps due to peer pressure.
Likewise, a Christian could lose his faith, and thus have the token upon his heart removed. Without such a guarantee, he could not continue to be sure of his salvation.
You Must be Born Again
Jesus Christ said: “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NLT)
Being born again relates to our reconciliation with God. Once we accept Christ in faith, we become as it were a new creature. The old sinful creature has passed away, and a new justified creature is born. The old one is born in sin and cannot approach the Father. The new one is a child of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
As children of God we are joint heirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God. (Romans 8:17) Thinking of ourselves as children of our Abba, our Heavenly Father, puts everything in the proper perspective:
“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NIV)
Children don’t earn their parent’s love. They already have it. They strive to win their parents’ approval, yet their parents love them no matter what.
Justification is as a result of our new birth, but afterward we are to grow to maturity. (1 Peter 2:2)
You Must Repent
Repentance leads to the removal of sin from the heart. (Acts 3:19; Matthew 15:19) As Acts 2:38 points out, repentance is required to receive the outpouring of Holy Spirit. Repentance for a new believer is symbolized by full immersion into water.
Our sorrow about our sinful state may lead to repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:8-11) Repentance leads to confession of our sins to God (1 John 1:9), whereby we ask forgiveness on the basis of our faith in Christ through prayer (Acts 8:22).
We must abandon our sin (Acts 19:18-19; 2 Timothy 2:19) and where possible take action in favor of those we have wronged. (Luke 19:18-19)
Even after we have received justification through our new birth, we must continue to seek forgiveness, as is proper for a child toward his parent.  Sometimes it is not possible for a child to undo the damage of a committed sin. This is when we have to trust in our parents.
For example, a 9-year-old boy plays with a bouncing ball inside his home and breaks an expensive piece of artwork. He does not have the financial means to compensate his father for the piece. He can only be sorry, confess, and ask forgiveness to his father, knowing that his father will take care of what he is unable to do. Afterwards, he shows appreciation and love for his father by not playing with the bouncing ball inside the house again.
You Must Seek Your Father
Perhaps you are familiar with this scenario. A mother and father see the last of their two daughters wed and move out of the home. One daughter calls every week and shares both her joys and hardships, while the other only calls when she needs assistance from her parents.
We may have noticed that when it comes to inheritance, parents often leave more to the children who have sought them out. It is impossible to have a relationship with those whom we don’t spend time with.
God’s instruction or Torah should be our delight. King David said:
“Oh, how I love Your Torah. I speak of it all day” (Psalms 119)
How do you feel about God’s Torah? Torah meaning instruction of Jehovah God. King David’s delight was in the Torah, and upon the Torah he meditated day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
Have you experienced such a delight in God’s Word? Perhaps you are of the idea that having faith in Christ along with God’s grace is sufficient. If so, you have been missing out! Paul wrote to Timothy: “Every Scripture is God-inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness”. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Is your Salvation Certain?
Jehovah’s Witnesses baptize in repentance of sins. They admit faith in Christ, and seek the Father. But they lack the new birth and have not embarked upon the process of sanctification. Therefore, they have not received the outpouring of spirit which guarantees their salvation and assures them that they are God’s approved children.
If you compare the required steps for salvation listed in the opening paragraph to what the Bible teaches, you may notice almost everything revolves around works and there is no mention of faith. Contrary to the official teachings of the Watch Tower society, many individual Jehovah’s Witnesses have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal mediator.
Since we cannot judge the hearts of others, we cannot comment on the salvation of individual Witnesses. We can only lament the official written teaching of the Watch Tower society as a false message which promotes works over faith.
As for Christianity at large, many lack the fruits of the Spirit and evidence of their sanctification. But we know that there are individuals scattered throughout, who have not engaged in creature worship and who are molded to the image of Christ. Again, it is not up to us to judge, but we can lament that many are deceived by false Christs and false gospels.
The true Good News is that we may be heirs to the Kingdom, inheriting all the promises contained therein. And since the Kingdom is promised to those who have become reconciled to God as born-again children, it is a ministry of reconciliation:
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
Only when we receive this good news, can we act upon it. This is the most important message in Scripture we could share with others, thus this is why we should be so eager to declare the ministry of reconciliation.
 Here I assume that if you are truly born again, then it was due to faith. Let’s keep in mind that justification (or being declared righteous) comes from faith. We are born again through faith, but it is the faith that comes first and which is spoken of in connection with being declared righteous. (Ro 5:1; Gal 2:16, 17; 3:8, 11, 24)
Author’s Update: The title on this article was updated from ‘How to earn Salvation’ to ‘How to receive Salvation’. I don’t want to give the wrong impression that we can earn salvation through works.