reprinted from the book, Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses see catalog

Sin and Salvation, Law and Freedom

by Randall Watters

Biblical Overview

The word sin comes from the Greek hamartia, which means "to miss the mark," just as an archer would shoot an arrow that could never quite make it to the target. Likewise, the target that we are supposed to be reaching is moral perfection and close communion with God. To sin is to fall short of this target. Fornication, sensuality, idolatry, strife, drunkenness, etc. are some of the sins that we can become victims of, according to Galatians 5:19-21. The apostle Paul says that practicing such things will keep us out of the kingdom of God. But exactly why are these actions called sins?

For one thing, they are harmful to the welfare and spirituality of others. Even more importantly, they alienate us from God, and cause us to fall short of moral perfection. Could we say that jealousy and anger are "lesser" sins than lust? Both involve sins against another person, and could have an equally devastating effect. Both alienate us from God. Both are sins. Both carry the same penalty of death (Romans 6:23).


An angel appeared to a man called Joseph and spoke concerning his wife-to-be, Mary: "And she shall bear a son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Jesus was miraculously conceived, as Joseph had not yet had intercourse with her. Years later, when Jesus appeared to John the Baptist to be baptized, John spoke up and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). Like a sacrificial lamb, Jesus was to pay the price for our sins, and would live and die as a sacrifice for mankind. John 3:16 tells us,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.

What was Jesus' purpose in coming to earth? You will say, "To die for our sins and to draw men to God." But why did Jesus have to grow up and live among humans? Why couldn't a glorious angel just have declared the gospel of salvation? The answer lies in Jesus' humanity. He "emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:7) Jesus was humble. He found no better way to teach this humility than by washing the feet of his disciples. He knew of no better way to teach compassion and love than by healing the sick and raising the dead. God knew of no better way to bridge the chasm between himself and man than by becoming a man. Yet, being Deity by his very nature as well as human, Colossians 2:9 says of him: "For in him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."

This was not the first time God had manifested himself in the form of men; other times he had evidently done so. These appearances may have been, not the Father, but the preincarnate Son. Genesis 3:8 says that Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking in the garden. Abraham talked with God face-to-face (Gen. 18:23-33). Moses spoke with God face-to-face (Ex. 33:11). Isaiah feared that he would die for seeing Yahweh the Lord of Hosts (Isa. 6:15). None of these men saw the full glory and majesty of God (Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16), yet it says they saw God.

All those who looked upon the brazen serpent of Moses gained their lives (Num. 21:9). So also all that would gaze upon the Son of Man and believe in him would also gain life. The Bible speaks of no other way; there being no kind of works on our own that will save us, no matter how sincere we are. We must come to Christ.

All of the pre-Christian pictures of salvation, including the Mosaic Law, pointed forward to the supreme sacrifice of Christ:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24)


If the Law was simply a "tutor" leading men to Christ, what was to happen to it?

Galatians 3:25 says, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." Yahweh spent thousands of years in teaching mankind about the need for Christ as a sacrifice. The Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law were part of the lessons. Yet, as Romans 5:20 says, "The Ten Commandments were given so that all could see the extent of their failure to obey God's laws." (Living Bible)

Man needed to fully understand what sin is, and what better way to emphasize it than to give him a perfect law to follow! He could not keep it, no matter how hard he tried:

Now do you see it? No one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what the Law commands. For the more we know of God's laws, the clearer it becomes that we are not obeying them; his laws serve only to remind us that we are sinners. (Romans 3:20 [LB])

When we are faced with a list of God's perfect requirements, we soon realize how wide that gap between fallen human nature and moral perfection really is! Until we accept the atoning sacrifice of Christ to pay the price for our sins, we are dead in God's eyes:

You were dead in sins, and your sinful desires were not yet cut away. Then he gave you a share in the very life of Christ, for he forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of his commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross. In this way God took away Satan's power to accuse you of sin, and God openly displayed to the world Christ's triumph at the cross where your sins were all taken away. (Col. 2:13-15 [LB])

By Jesus dying a sacrificial death, he met the demands of the ransom. The Mosaic Law demanded perfect obedience, which he gave. The whole purpose of the Law was accomplished, and it was no longer binding on any men (Gal. 3:19). For generations to come, it would serve as a reminder of God's perfect moral standards; but would not be used as a law to judge God's people any more.

In fact, the Jews were never really saved by keeping the Mosaic Law, because they couldn't keep it perfectly. If all the Jews that ever lived were judged by their own law, none could be saved:

We aren't saved from sin's grasp by knowing the commandments of God, because we can't and don't keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours - except that ours are sinful - and destroyed sin's control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins. So now we can obey God's laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us. (Romans 8:3,4 [LB])

Just like the child that is told to "Stay out of the cookie jar!" and then immediately develops the desire to get into the cookies, so man's sinful nature causes him to desire what is wrong. (Though the overpowering nature of sin is broken when we are born again, we still experience a struggle in the flesh in many ways throughout our whole life.)

The Law code was written to judge our evil desires, and that it does! It actually excites them as well:

But sin used this law against evil desires by reminding me that such desires are wrong and arousing all kinds of forbidden desires within me! Only if there were no laws to break would there be no sinning. (Romans 7:8 [LB])

As long as there are rules to obey, we would always break them and therefore remain under guilt perpetually. Guilt separates us from God and widens the chasm between us and God. As Paul said, only if there were no laws to break would there be no consciousness of sin and guilt. Romans 4:15 (LB) says:

But the fact of the matter is this: when we try to gain God's blessing and salvation by keeping his laws we always end up under his anger, for we always fail to keep them. The only way we can keep from breaking laws is not to have any to break!

Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses


The above statement sounds logical, and is voiced by many other cults as well as a few churches. There is a serious contradiction here, though. For the above statement to be true, either [1] salvation is not really "free" at all, since it is a gift conditional on your performance (earned, in other words); or [2] it is partially given, leaving you to complete the rest of your salvation in your own strength. In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, both forms of reasoning are employed.

Adoption Versus Slavery

The difference between the JW view of salvation and the Christian view of salvation can be illustrated by two circumstances mentioned by the apostle Paul: slavery and adoption. In Galatians chapter four, Paul compares the Christian conversion to being adopted into a family complete with an inheritance. In contrast, he likens being under a law system (as the Pharisees' and the WT approach) to slavery. What is the difference between slavery and sonship? Note the difference between slaves and sons:


. . . have no inheritance.

. . . are not secure in their position.

. . . must follow laws and rules to be accepted.


. . . are automatic heirs of the promises; their inheritance is not conditional upon do's and don'ts.

. . . are secure in their permanent relationship with God.

. . . have been given the right heart, spirit, and frame of mind to be a part of the family. This is placed

there by the Holy Spirit at the new birth (2 Cor. 1:21,22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14).

Sons of God are predestined, according to Eph. 1:5 and Rom. 8:29,30. They have not worked their way to God, but were known beforehand by God and chosen to be his children, and he gave them an inheritance before they were aware of being chosen! They are known by their living according to the Spirit rather than the flesh (Rom. 8:12-17), meaning that they have discarded the notion that they can please God by performing proscribed laws, and have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enable them to live by the Spirit. You cannot live BY the Spirit unless the Spirit lives IN you, and both the Pharisees and JWs deny the new birth to their members, choosing instead to follow a religion of do's and don'ts. They are like slaves, who have no real inheritance, and who must forever prove their worth before their master, never being completely assured of his permanent favor.

The WT must come up with an alternate explanation for Paul's statements regarding adoption. The first approach is to deny this "adoption" into the body of Christ to all but 144,000 elite ones, who were chosen from among JWs prior to 1935. For the rest of the JWs, "adoption" into God's family will come only after 1000 years of obedience and testing. They are not even yet "sons of God" in the Biblical sense, as they will receive sonship only after the 1000 years! Note their statements illustrating this (emphasis added):

Christ Jesus as the Greater Moses now mediates the New Covenant toward his remnant of spiritual Israel, but he is not yet begetting earthly children. That is, he is not yet giving the "other sheep" the standing of sons of his, sons of "The everlasting Father". (Isa. 9:6) But these faithful ones will become such during his thousand-year reign after Armageddon; and now, by virtue of the prospect of eventually becoming Jehovah's perfect sons, they address him prospectively as "Our Father". (WT, Aug. 15, 1945, p.253)

Hence, before adopting them as his free sons through Jesus Christ, Jehovah God will subject all these perfected human creatures to a thorough test for all time. (Life Everlasting, 1966, p. 398)

Jehovah God will justify, declare righteous, on the basis of their own merit all perfected humans who have withstood that final, decisive test of mankind. He will adopt and acknowledge them as his sons through Jesus Christ. (ibid., p. 400)

Thereafter, when the final test is passed and all those then rebelling have been destroyed, Jehovah will lovingly adopt as his sons through Christ all perfected humans who have proved loyal. They will become a part of God's united universal family. . . . (WT, Feb. 1, 1984, p.17)

These of the "great crowd" are also tested as to their integrity. Their continued faithfulness now and on through the Thousand Year Reign and the final test will result in Jehovah's declaring them righteous as perfect humans, along with resurrected ones who become part of Jesus' "other sheep". . . . They then will be, as were originally Adam and Eve, the visible part of Jehovah's universal organization. (WT, Oct. 15, 1985, p.31)

The name "Jehovah's Witnesses" applies specifically to God's anointed ones who have been taken out of the world and made witnesses for Jehovah, and these alone bear the new name. . . . the official organization of Jehovah on earth consists of his anointed remnant, and the Jonadabs who walk with the anointed are to be taught, but not to be leaders. (WT, Aug. 15, 1934, p.249)

All of the above is an attempt to make their approach sound Biblical. Yet, by their own confession, the majority of JWs CANNOT be born again, they CANNOT be considered saved or predestined, they CANNOT be declared righteous in the Christian sense (compare WT, 2/15/86, p.19), and they WILL NOT be perfect or even considered as sons of God or part of "God's organization" until they pass a test at the end of 1000 years! Additionally, Christ is not even their mediator:

So in this strict Biblical sense Jesus is the "mediator" only for anointed Christians.

The new covenant will terminate with the glorification of the remnant who are today in that covenant mediated by Christ. The "great crowd" of "other sheep" that is forming today is not in that new covenant. However, by their associating with the "little flock" of those yet in that covenant they come under benefits that flow from that new covenant. (WT, 4/1/79, p. 31. [Compare WT 9/1/84, p.14])

What, then, is Christ's role in this program of salvation? Paul proceeds to say: "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men [not, all men], a man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all. ([italics theirs] WT, 11/15/79, p.26)

The emphasis is placed on working one's own salvation out, as if it is a process of following rules and procedures. Paul does speak of "working out our salvation with fear and trembling" in Phil. 2:12 and the WT quotes this often, but they always seem to miss the next verse and its qualifying statement: "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (v.13) Paul is saying that it is the indwelling Holy Spirit that is at work in you for salvation; and as you live in the Spirit, your salvation is firmly established! However, the WT uses this passage to convey another idea:

God has arranged for the "good news of the kingdom" to be proclaimed so that each individual will have opportunity to work out his own salvation. (WT, 2/1/85, p.5)

Speaking of the time under the 1000 year reign of Christ, the WT conveys this idea further that attaining perfection is largely a human process:

So everything in heaven and on earth will now be helpful to the surviving "great crowd" to overcome and deaden sin's law in themselves and to build up righteousness, bringing their bodies into subjection to their minds and hearts with which they serve God's law. The reigning King Jesus Christ will keep them constantly occupied with works of righteousness. (Life Everlasting, 1966, p. 388)

Finally, through faithful molding of themselves to righteousness they will get that "law of sin" nullified in themselves and become perfect human creatures, like the perfect Adam in the garden of Eden.

Accordingly, as those of the "great crowd" more and more cultivate actual, persistent righteousness within themselves, physical healing and betterment will be given. (ibid., pgs. 391, 392)

Attaining perfection and sinlessness is thus seen as a process of changing yourself, not of God working in you through the indwelling person of the Spirit. Note their emphasis upon personal efforts in trying to change their personalities over:

These sleep-like ones are now being taught by Jehovah through his growing, visible organization. Appreciating what they learn, they work to remake their personalities in God's image. (WT, 1/15/85, p.18)

Paul classified the Pharisees as being in the flesh for their attempts to conform to rules apart from the Holy Spirit (in other words, attempting to change their personalities, or become "holy"):

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Rom. 10:2,3)


Very true! If you do not have works to show or demonstrate your faith, it shows that you have a dead faith. Yet the Bible is full of examples of men of God like Samson, David, Hezekiah, Peter, etc. that at times not only failed to show works of faith, but showed great lack of faith and disobedience towards God. You could apply James' statement to them during these times, too, but nevertheless, their overall life was one of faithfulness. Just because a person isn't demonstrating faith in every moment doesn't mean that they aren't a Christian. It just means they may be momentarily walking in the flesh.

Faith itself can be considered a "work" at times, as Jesus replied to the multitude who questioned him when they said,

What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?

Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:28,29)

Yet in the normal sense of the word "work" (meaning performance of deeds), one cannot be declared righteous by works. Paul says,

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. (Rom. 4:25)

Paul attacks the view that you can achieve righteousness through following law systems or organizations:

It is clear, then, that God's promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was not because Abraham obeyed God's laws but because he trusted God to keep his promise. So if you still claim that God's blessings go to those who are "good enough," then you are saying that God's promises to those who have faith are meaningless, and faith is foolish. But the fact of the matter is this: when we try to gain God's blessing and salvation by keeping his laws we always end up under his anger, for we always fail to keep them. The only way we can keep from breaking laws is not to have any to break! (Rom. 4:13-15, [LB])

Note the power of Paul's statement:

[1] Trusting God from the heart made Abraham righteous.

[2] Trying to attain a level of goodness is not the right way; in fact,

[3] You will end up under God's anger by attempting to do so.

[4] There cannot be a law system alongside a covenant of grace, as they are opposed to

each other. You must be indwelt by the Spirit, allowing Him to work out your salvation.


This is a recent attempt to cover over their obvious unscriptural approach to justification. In the Watchtower of Dec. 1, 1985, a series of articles begins on being "declared righteous" for life, and what it means. An attempt is made to compare Christ's sacrifice as a "credit" arrangement, whereby Jehovah "cleans the slate" of a man's sins, thereby enabling him to start over and build up right works with God. Note how they phrase this:

It was an equivalent, or corresponding, sacrifice seeing that, as a perfect man, Jesus bought back what the perfect man Adam lost. Justice having been satisfied, Jehovah is lovingly willing to "wipe out," or "blot out," the sins charged against the account of "the man that has faith in Jesus." If such a man remains faithful, not only does Jehovah refrain from "reckoning to him his trespasses" but He actually credits righteousness to his account. By means of this merciful credit arrangement, "many have been constituted righteous." (p.9)

Incidentally, this reveals one of the major errors of the JWs when they say that Christ died for the sins of Adam, with no mention or discussion of personal sins against God. The Bible reveals that we at times deliberately sin against God, not just due to "Adam's sin" (compare Manasseh's great sins against Yahweh and his repentance in 2 Chron. 33:1-17--this was not due to mere "Adamic sin"). The WT cannot conceive of the depth of man's sin and depravity. They do not realize that even if our past sins are erased, we will still continue to fall far short of righteousness, and will sometimes deliberately sin. Christ's blood must cover ADAMIC sin as well as continual PERSONAL sins against God and men.

The last-quoted WT statement was not a new teaching, but was emphasized to pave the way for a revised understanding in 1985, that while there are "two classes" of Christians, the 144,000 who will live in heaven and the "great crowd" who will live on the earth, both share ONE type of righteousness, while only the 144,000 share an additional, superior form of righteousness. Quoting the WT:

There are two aspects to justification, or the declaration of righteousness:

[1] God's accounting that person guiltless

[2] God's declaring that person perfect and worthy of everlasting life on earth

The 144,000 anointed Christians are declared righteous in both respects. They sacrifice their human rights and are begotten as spiritual "sons" called to become kings and priests with Christ in the "new heavens." (WT, 12/1/85, p.11)

The idea being conveyed is that those of the "great crowd" can be considered relatively "guiltless" in comparison with the rest of mankind. Speaking of faithful men of the OT (who are classed in the "great crowd"):

[Jehovah] lovingly accounted them relatively guiltless, when compared to the majority of mankind alienated from God. He gave them a righteous standing, declaring them righteous to the extent that was appropriate at the time. (ibid., p.14)

They then attempt to prove that Abraham was not "declared righteous for life," but only considered righteous in comparison with the rest of the world. They allow him to be called a friend of God but not a son of God:

Yes, due to his faith, Abraham was declared righteous as a friend of Jehovah, not as a son with the right to perfect human life or to kingship with Christ. Interestingly, in his Synonyms of the Old Testament, Robert Girdlestone wrote concerning Abraham's righteousness: "This righteousness was not absolute, i.e. such as would commend Abraham to God as a rightful claimant of the inheritance of sonship." (ibid., p.15)

What was Robert Girdlestone really saying in his book? Was he conveying the WT idea of "partial righteousness"?

This is another example of their misquoting scholars to prove their point. They are choosing one aspect of Abraham's righteousness as being discussed by Girdlestone, and not telling you the other part of the discussion. Girdlestone actually continues to say,

. . . the passage does not teach us that Abraham's faith was regarded or estimated by God as if it were righteousness - the one quality being taken for another - but that owing to the fact that he had faith in the promises, God accepted him, acquitted him from the charge of sin, pronounced him righteous, and conferred on him an inheritance. (Synonyms of the Old Testament, Girdlestone, p.183)

The point that Girdlestone is making, which the WT totally distorts, is that Abraham was righteous; God conferred upon him sonship and therefore ABSOLUTE righteousness was the result. Girdlestone says that there are two aspects to Abraham's righteousness: [1] Abraham's righteousness as spoken of in Gen. 18:19 was RELATIVE in that it was not perfect in and of itself, [2] but that God conferred upon Abraham ABSOLUTE righteousness in Gen. 15:6 as a result of his sonship towards God. He emphasizes this in speaking of the Israelites brought into Canaan as being "trained in the idea that the(ir) inheritance was not to be regarded as a reward for human merit, but was to be received as a gift from the covenant-keeping God." (ibid., p.184)

Contrary to the WT, Girdlestone believed that God sees righteousness in his servants in terms of their faith (imperfect though it may be), and then subsequently confers on them his ABSOLUTE RIGHTEOUSNESS. Yet the WT denies Abraham or the modern "great crowd" receiving this righteousness or sonship, in effect claiming that they must work for it!

The good works that make one "relatively righteous" according to the WT involve obedience to organizational policies. Two out of four requirements for gaining everlasting life as mentioned in the WT of Feb. 15, 1983 are that one be associated with the organization:

To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it. (p. 12)

The fourth requirement is closely related, in that one has to be loyal to God's government (as represented by the Watchtower Society) and spread its message abroad. According to the Dec. 1, 1985 WT,

All who put faith in Christ's blood and accomplish appropriate "deeds" will eventually have their names written in "the book of life." (p.17-18)

Even with the "new light" on "relative righteousness," the "great crowd" still do not have Christ as their mediator, nor can they be called sons of God, nor are they "declared righteous for life."

The theme of loyalty to "God's organization" continues full force through the `80's. A publication entitled, Worldwide Security Under The Prince of Peace, released at the District Assemblies in 1986, has no less than three chapters boasting of the organization.


For decades, the WT has conveyed the idea that you are never sure of your salvation; it is dependent on your performance. While they are taught that they can say to others that they are "saved" on a momentary basis if cornered by Christians (see Reasoning From The Scriptures, p. 360), they live in fear of losing their lives at Armageddon. After quoting a favorite passage in Zeph. 2:3, the April 15, 1977 WT says,

Why does it say, "Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah's anger"? It is because those words originally applied to the nation of Israel before its destruction in 607 B.C.E., and it was a question of God's showing mercy towards those who conform. These words are thus a reminder that we cannot presume on God's mercy. (p.241)

However, while surviving the destruction of Jerusalem was not guaranteed, salvation through Christ is! The Bible makes it plain that you are in one of two conditions, lost or saved, dead or alive (Eph. 2:16). If you are alive, it is because you are IN CHRIST and raised up with him, seated in the heavenly places (verse 6). You are in ONE HOUSEHOLD, which is built upon the foundation of the prophets (Old Testament) and the apostles (New Testament). (Eph. 2:19-22) What does it mean to be "in Christ"?

Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20) Galatians 3:26-28 says that "you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus."

John tells us that "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). He continues, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that YOU HAVE eternal life" (1 John 5:13). John 5:24 says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent Me, HAS ETERNAL LIFE, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." 

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