Friday, January 1, 2016

Can We Earn Salvation?

I received a comment on a blog article I wrote in December 2014 titled Jesus Is Our Savior. That article was intended to address the false claims that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian. The commenter however, wanted me to go in a slightly different direction. The moment he mentioned the “mechanics of human salvation,” I knew he was pointing to an old argument that some perceive as our not recognizing the value of God’s mercy and grace in salvation. But rather than put words in his mouth, I baited him to explain. Based on his reply, I actually commended him that he wasn’t just trying to start an argument but seemed sincerely concerned based both on his understanding of scripture and his perception of our beliefs.

In his comment, the poster cited Ephesians 2:8,9, which plainly states that our actions cannot merit or guarantee salvation. Romans 6:23 was cited as a supporting scripture. Both make it plain that what is given to us is a free gift. I (we, Jehovah’s Witnesses) completely agree. However, that is not the complete picture. Just because it is a free gift doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act appreciatively and obediently. But really, the point the commenter was making was based on a misunderstanding that Jehovah’s Witnesses somehow believe we must earn our way into God’s favor through various works. So hopefully, the following will clarify our stand.

That Jesus requires more than mere belief is seen in the illustration recorded at Matthew 25:14-30. In this illustration, before leaving on a trip, a master gave three servants some money to manage. The first and second understood what they were supposed to do -- to carry on business and increase the master’s financial portfolio. The last decided to just bury it in the ground. Now all three recognized that they were responsible to the master, however the last felt it was sufficient to merely return what the master had given him. The master didn’t agree. In fact, he referred to that last man as worthless and had him forcibly removed from the master’s home.

The other two servants were rewarded for their industriousness. But now does that mean that they did something extraordinary or does it mean they did what they knew was required of them? Even though the master was generous in this illustration, did he HAVE to be such? In another illustration Jesus gave, he answered that question. At Luke 17:7-10 we read that our humble attitude should be that we were merely doing what we should have done in the first place. What is it that Christians should be doing, even today?

Besides the requirements of the two greatest commandments recorded at Matthew 22:37-39, and besides the moral and social requirements set out in these passages, what else is needed of a Christian? (I do not intend to imply that there are not other key scriptures discussing Christian living. These are just a small sample.) Really, what are the valuable “talents” (from Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 25) that he expects us to increase? Again, Jesus himself answers that question. Yes, the requirement that a Christian share the message, knowing that it literally means people’s lives, is a weighty privilege and honor. Should anyone become “big headed” over this? If we truly perceive ourselves as slaves of God and Christ, that cannot happen. Truly, we’ve done exactly as our Christian dedication required of us. But that also doesn’t mean that Jehovah and Jesus are so unthankful that they wouldn’t reward us. In fact, that is exactly what Hebrews 6:10 assures us -- that we will be rewarded. This is in complete agreement with the opening illustration I quoted at Matthew 25.

So, can a Christian “earn” salvation? No. However, merely believing and keeping it to one’s self (effectively burying it) is also wrong. Instead we humbly see what we do as cooperatively working with God’s Will.

Here is some of the reply I made to the poster in the aforementioned article:
You are right that we cannot earn salvation. However, if you understand that to mean all one needs to do is sit back and do nothing, I'd refer you to Jesus' words at Matthew 22:37-29 and these words found at James1:12, 22, 27; 2:14-17. Just as James' words in chapter 2 accentuate, there is NO relationship where words are sufficient. Action is required to demonstrate true commitment. (Try 40+ years of marriage like I have and tell me that just saying "I love you" is all your wife wants. LOL)

1 comment:

  1. Nowhere in the scriptures is "faith alone" enough for salvation. The only time "faith alone" is mentioned is to describe what is not sufficient, so how can faith be enough!
    It seems that some suppose that the opposite of works is faith, so that if "faith is not enough for salvation” is true, then "works must be sufficient for salvation” must likewise be true. Assuming that the latter statement is true if the former is – the negation fallacy - they argue that we are wrong since the scriptures show that works are not enough. However, affirming the first statement does not assume the opposite to be true. For example, if I say, “I am at school on Monday,” it does not follow that I am not at school when it is not Monday. The latter, of course, may be true (in the case of Salvation it is not), but it does not follow that, just from affirmation of the positive, the negative is also true (“I am not at school when it is not Monday.”)
    Further, works are not the opposite of faith, lack of works are! Faith’s opposite is lack of faith! If those two things were opposites, then they would cancel each other out, yet we find that ‘faith without works is dead,’ so they are complimentary.
    The problem some take with us is that, because we say we can ‘work out our salvation’ by preforming necessary things and abstaining from forbidden things, they think we mean ‘we can earn our salvation.’ However, it is clear that “work out” and “earn” are not the same thing. I can work out an arrangement to fix my car by having another kindly and freely helping me, but that does not mean I earned a fixed car. Rather, if I did what I did in faith that they would kindly help me, expecting a reward for my seeking their help, they covered what I could not do, or what I failed to do, then I did not earn the repairs. It is still a free gift, but one that must be worked out.
    What must be worked out – now talking about salvation? Simply the necessary things. The scriptures speak of necessary things – so I am not speaking the thoughts of mere man; in Acts, the men at Jerusalem wrote ‘concerning these necessary things, but adding no burned to you.’ The existence of these necessary things does not remove the freeness of the salvation toward the one preforming them, as shown in the illustration above. Otherwise, the scriptures would be contradictory.