reprint of the March/April 1987 Bethel Ministries Newsletter

Salvation in Jesus Christ

by David Englund

Every Jehovah's Witness is familiar with the concept of the "ransom sacrifice" of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind. The thought is that Jesus died as a substitute for sinful man. But does the concept as taught by the Watchtower Society adequately explain what the Bible intends to convey? Consider this question: Where is the justice of Jehovah in the death of the innocent Jesus for guilty mankind? Not, "Where is the mercy?" Or, "Where is the grace?" The question is: Where is the justice in the death of Jesus Christ? Perhaps you have never considered this question, so let's use an example.

An Illustration

Imagine you are an observer in a courtroom where a guilty murderer is about to be sentenced. This murderer has killed several people. He has already been found guilty and the judge is about to pronounce sentence. The judge is aware that "the wages of sin is death" and in this case the defendant is eligible to receive the death penalty.  He has no defense.

Suppose the guilty one says, "Judge, I realize now what I did was terribly wrong. I want to repent and follow Jehovah. Please let me go." Of course, we would all agree that the judge cannot justly let him go. He has committed a great crime, and the penalty must be paid. Yet the defendant has anticipated this problem and he says, "Judge, I know the price has to be paid and that the wages of my sin is death, but there is a man in this courtroom who is willing to take my place."

At this point, a man comes forward from the back of the room and says, "That's correct, judge. If you check me out, you'll see that there is nothing against my record at all. I know this man doesn't deserve another chance; in fact, he deserves death. But out of love for him and out of obedience for Jehovah, I willingly volunteer to take his penalty so he can be freed to live a life pleasing to God." Now, we know that not every sacrifice would be acceptable to Jehovah, but let's suppose this volunteer is found to be sinless and free from the taint of Adam.

Continuing to observe this courtroom scene, we hear the judge say, "Very well. You are an acceptable substitute; you are totally free from sin. Therefore, I order that this guilty man be set free to serve Jehovah. As for the man who volunteered, put him in restraints, and nail him to the tree."

As we watch in stunned silence, the guards spit on him (as they did to Jesus), they put a crown of thorns on his head, they mock him, they whip him, and they take him out and kill him. The judge then pronounces that the righteous demands of Jehovah's law have been satisfied and orders that the guilty one be released.

Has justice been done? Granted, the man who volunteered has done a great deed for one who was helpless. Granted, there has been a death to pay the wages of sin. Yet it was not the death of the one who sinned; it was the death of a totally righteous man.

Hasn't this whole situation added greatly to the injustice in the world? What do you think of a judge who would act in such a way and consider the outcome to be an example of perfect justice?

Jehovah and Justice

The Old Testament gives us many insights into Jehovah's ideas of justice. For example, Nahum 1:3 tells us that "Jehovah will by no means clear the guilty." Isa. 26:10 says that "if favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness." Deut. 24:16 says, "Every man shall be put to death for his own sin."

Num. 35:31 says, "You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, but he shall be put to death." Prov. 17:15 says: "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to Jehovah."

How can the all-righteous Jehovah seemingly violate his own principles and justify sinners while allowing the only truly righteous man to be condemned in their place? (Rom. 4:5;5:6)

How can it be just for Jesus Christ to die as a sacrifice for Moses and David and Saul of Tarsus, all of whom committed murder at some point in their lives?

We can understand worldly judges making incomprehensible decisions, but what about Jehovah? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25) Of course! He is perfectly just in all his dealings. So how do we explain Jehovah not only condoning such a thing, but actually initiating it? Once again, where is the justice of Jehovah in the death of Jesus Christ?

Ransom: Partial or Complete?

Perhaps it is this feeling of the unfairness of the death of Jesus Christ that causes many groups, including the Watchtower Society, to reject the Bible concept of a personal and completed atonement for our sins. What does this mean? It means that Jesus paid our full debt of sin in his own blood. Salvation is by grace through faith alone in this completed work of atonement.

This idea is often rejected as being unfair: It seems too easy for guilty sinners. They get off scot-free, and it seems too hard on Jesus.

Consequently, many groups, including the Watchtower Society, prefer to believe in a partial works atonement. What does this mean? Simply put, it is the idea that Jesus made the down payment for sin but that we have to keep up the installments if we are to be saved.

What exactly is an installment payment? How do we recognize it? An installment payment (in the context of this discussion) is anything that we supposedly have to keep doing in order to be saved. Or it may be is something that we supposedly can't do if we are to be saved.

"Installment payments" may be such things as praying several times a day, giving alms or refraining from smoking. They are often commendable works or activities or perhaps the avoiding of "evil" works or activities. In You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (p.250), the Watchtower Society says that "more than faith is needed." Some of the "installment payments" the Watchtower Society considers essential are familiar to every Jehovah's Witness. They include the following:

--You must witness each month (suggested 10 hours).

--You must attend Watchtower meetings.

--You must obey "God's organization."

--You must read the "right" literature.

--You must not read the "wrong" literature.

--You must be persecuted for Jehovah.

This view of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ creates several problems. First, no one, not even the Watchtower Society, can give us a complete list of "installment payments." Second, even if they make a list of "installment payments" for us, they can't tell us for sure how many of them are enough.

Third, this partial atonement view of the Watchtower Society doesn't really answer the problem of the seeming injustice of the death of Jesus Christ. It only focuses our attention on ourselves and on our works. ". . . he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy." (Titus 3:5)

Fourth, even an eternity of "installment payments" can't wash away the stain of guilt of even one sin. Fifth, all our good works can't change the fact that we still have a sinful nature we inherited from Adam. ". . . those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:8) Jesus said we have to be transformed by God to escape this condition: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again.'" (John 3:6-7)

The Solution: In Christ

This comment by the Lord points out the solution to the dilemma. The "ransom sacrifice" must be viewed as far more than something the Father and Son did for us. To satisfy the demands of justice, it must also be something that God does to us and in us the moment we sincerely repent and call on Jesus to save us.

In the courtroom illustration presented earlier, the reason justice wasn't done is that the man who walked free from the courtroom was the same guilty, sinful man who walked in. Even if he had a change of attitude, the stain of sin and the sinful nature hadn't been overcome at all. In that important sense, the sacrifice of the righteous volunteer didn't help him at all.

What about Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul? I believe the Scriptures show us that, spiritually speaking, the person who arose from the dust of the Damascus road was a different man than the one who began the journey. Why so? Because he had encountered the risen Christ and Jesus had made him a new creation.

God did something to Saul and in Saul that day when he confessed Jesus Christ personally as his Lord and Savior. Christ is Lord and Savior, of course, whether we confess it or not, but as with Saul, this fact doesn't benefit us personally until we individually receive him by a commitment of faith.

I remember thinking one day that in order for justice to have been done, it should have been Paul, not Jesus, who paid the penalty for Paul's sin. Then I read (with astonishment) Paul's own words at Gal. 2:19,20:

For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. . . .

Several things struck me about this passage. First, this was a spiritual experience, not a physical one. Paul had not died physically at the time he wrote those words. Second, he speaks of this experience in the past tense; it was an accomplished fact.

He was not speaking of something that would happen to him at a future time, such as at the resurrection or during the Millennial reign. Third, this experience must have taken place when he decided to trust Christ. Surely it did not occur at the time Jesus died because at that time Paul was his enemy.

What Jehovah Wants

May I make a rather provocative comment at this point, based on what we have read from Jesus and Paul? Here it is: Jehovah is not interested in cleaning up our old sinful nature in order to save us. His remedy is to crucify it. The wages of sin is death. He is interested in transforming us. This is something Jesus does when we trust him, as he did with Paul. It is not a transaction that will occur after the resurrection. Please note also that this is a work that God does, not us. No one ever crucified himself; it's impossible.

God isn't waiting for us to improve our old natures. He wants us to receive his new nature in Jesus Christ, just as Paul did. Again I quote: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again.'" (John 3:6-7)

Perhaps you have been taught that this experience is only for the 144,000. Can you see now why it is for anyone who wants to be saved from the curse of his Adamic nature?

2 Cor. 13:5 says: "Be testing yourselves to prove if you are in the faith. Or do you not recognize that Christ is in you? Unless you are disapproved." (even the Watchtower's Kingdom Interlinear Translation supports that Christ is in the believer).

This is not a test of whether we are one of the 144,000. It is a test of whether we are "in the faith." It is a test of whether we are approved or disapproved. The test is: Is Christ in us? Did we have the same transforming experience Paul had?

Jehovah is not impressed with any "installment payments" we may be relying on, even if they are commendable deeds and even if we do many of them. The only solution that counts in his sight is a transformation which he describes as a crucifixion and a new creation:

But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world was crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:14-15 RSV)

Paul also puts it this way: "Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. . . " (2 Cor. 5:17 RSV).

The New Testament Speaks

Does this concept of being crucified and being born again appear elsewhere in the New Testament? Yes, in many places. Of course, one objection to this concept is the thought that if Jesus has provided us with a completed work of atonement without the need for "installment payments" to help save us, then we are free to sin. This objection was raised in Paul's day, too. Here is what he said about it (Rom. 6:1-8 RSV):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who have died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into his death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ we believe we shall also live with him. (italics added)

This does not mean that Christians are sinless in the sense that we are incapable of sinning again. It does mean that we are no longer slaves to our Adamic nature because those who are born again have a new nature that wants to please God.

Is this experience only for 144,000? No. We might observe at this point that few, if any, Jehovah's Witnesses who profess to be of the "anointed class" would claim to have had the experiences as described above by Paul.

Perhaps more importantly, this passage in Romans in no way states that these experiences identify a select group of Christians. Rather, it is described as being necessary for any one of us who wants to be:

--Assured of our own resurrection

--Freed from bondage to sin

--Freed from bondage to our Adamic nature

--Living a life pleasing to God.

Ephesians 1 and 2 contain 45 verses with at least 30 references to Christians being "in Christ" or Christ being in Christians.

Rom. 8:11 says: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you." This passage clearly does not refer to people who hope to attain to a spirit resurrection rather than a physical one.

Perhaps the greatest blessing connected with being in Christ is stated in Rom. 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Do you want to avoid condemnation by Jehovah? There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. When is this blessing available? Now.

This experience is the same experience referred to Jesus in John 6, where he speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. There he states that this experience is necessary for anyone who wants to attain life.

The Watchtower Society frequently quotes part of Phil. 2:12 in order to support its idea of the necessity of making "installment payments" in order to be saved. The part the Watchtower Society quotes reads, ". . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. . ." They fail to quote the following verse (v.13).

The passage does not conclude by saying "because if you don't work hard enough you won't be saved." Verse 13 says, ". . . for God is at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." It is written to people who already have God at work in them and it exhorts them to be in fear and trembling--not because they might not make it--but because God is doing this work in them.

Christ--or Adam?

The Watchtower Society says that what Jesus did was to buy back for us what Adam lost--no more, no less. But what it really means is that someday, if you are faithful enough (exactly how much is enough is never explained), you may be accounted righteous enough to make it and then you can get back to where Adam was before he sinned.

But perhaps you won't make it. Jesus didn't die to give you everlasting life; he died to give you only a chance for everlasting life. He didn't give you a free gift; he gave you a 1,000-year mortgage. Jesus made the down payment, but you keep up the installments.

Romans 5 shows the falsity of this view. Jesus is much greater than Adam and the free gift is much greater than the trespass.

Where is the justice of Jehovah in the death of Jesus Christ? It comes only when we die to the old creation and come into Jesus Christ, the new creation, by a spiritual rebirth through faith alone.

If we are Christians, it isn't simply that Jesus Christ died instead of us. It's that, by faith, we died with him.

Application

Let's make this personal. Are you, the reader, in Jesus Christ today, or are you still just in Adam? In Adam, there is only condemnation. Yet, "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1)

In Adam there is only fear--fear of Armageddon, fear of elders, fear of not making enough installment payments. But "perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)

In Adam there is only bondage, but "where the Spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom." (2 Cor. 3:17) In Adam, we have wages of death. In Christ, we get the free gift of life.

In Adam we have our "righteousness," which is really not righteousness at all. In Christ, we receive the righteousness that comes as a gift from God.

In Adam we received an old, fleshly birth. It is in Christ that we receive a new, spiritual birth. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again.'" (John 3:6,7)

If you were to die today, whose righteousness would you take with you into the presence of Jehovah--yours or his? Adam's or Christ's? Are you in Christ today, or in Adam? You can settle the matter right now.



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