Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Doctrine of Salvation

In Jehovah’s Witnesses theology, salvation hinges upon strict obedience to the teachings of the Watchtower Society and active involvement in its diverse programs. They emphasize Philippians 2:12, as it is rendered in the New World Translation: “Consequently, my beloved ones, in the way that you have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that one’s inclusion in the Book of Life is contingent on his or her actions.[1] One should always be “working hard for the reward of eternal life.”[2] These works consist of numerous prohibitions like refraining from blood transfusions, abstaining from birthday celebrations, forgoing holiday festivities, avoiding wearing crosses, and much more.

Distribution of Watchtower Literature

Part of the process of “working out” one’s salvation involves faithfully delivering Watchtower literature to people’s doors. The Watchtower magazine says, “God requires that prospective subjects of his Kingdom support his government by loyally advocating his Kingdom rule to others.”  The magazine asks: “Will you meet this requirement by telling others about God’s Kingdom?”[3] Full-time “pioneers,” who are dedicated Jehovah’s Witnesses, may devote more than 100 hours per month to spreading their message through door-to-door preaching and conducting Bible studies in people’s homes.

Assurance of Salvation

Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be certain about their salvation in this lifetime. Their hope of salvation rests on maintaining a steadfast resistance to sin and faithfully obeying the teachings of the Watchtower Society. However, even with this dedication, they are warned that failing during the future millennial kingdom could result in annihilation. On the other hand, if they serve Jehovah faithfully throughout this 1000-year period, they may finally receive the gift of eternal life.

Jesus’ Work on the Cross

In the Watchtower view of salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross is significantly downplayed. Consider 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.…” They interpret this verse as meaning that the human life Jesus laid down in sacrifice was exactly equal to the human life Adam fell with. “Since one man’s sin (that of Adam) had been responsible for causing the entire human family to be sinners, the shed blood of another perfect human (in effect, a second Adam), being of corresponding value, could balance the scales of justice.”[4] The Watchtower asserts that if Jesus had indeed been God, the ransom payment would have been way too much.

Salvation and Grace

Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the importance of grace and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. They also describe salvation as a “free gift.” However, according to Watchtower theology, salvation requires more than just grace and faith. It is not truly a “free gift.” Duane Magnani, a former Jehovah’s Witness, explains:

What the Watchtower means by “free gift” is that Christ’s death only wiped away the sin inherited from Adam. They teach that without this work of atonement, men could not work their way toward salvation. But the “gift” of Christ’s ransom sacrifice is freely made available to all who desire it. In other words, without Christ’s sacrifice, the individual wouldn’t have a chance to get saved. But in view of His work, the free gift which removed the sin inherited from Adam, the individual now has a chance.[5]

So, Jesus’ sacrifice has redeemed us from the sin that we all inherited from Adam. However, it is now our responsibility to take that prerequisite redemption and live a life filled with good deeds. By doing so, we give ourselves the opportunity to attain salvation. 

To summarize:

1. Salvation is achieved through good works and requires complete obedience to the teachings of the Watchtower.

2. Distributing Watchtower literature door-to-door is a mandatory task.

3. Certainty about salvation in this lifetime is elusive.

4. The significance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is downplayed.

5. “Grace” entails the opportunity to actively work towards one’s salvation.

A Christian Assessment

Scripture unequivocally states that salvation… 

  • is wholly rooted in the boundless grace of God, not in human achievements;
  • is received through faith in Christ alone;
  • and is made possible through the finished and complete work of Christ—the Divine-human Mediator—upon the cross. 

“Grace” literally means “unmerited favor.” The very concept of grace directly contradicts the teachings of the Watchtower Society. It signifies the undeserved and unearned favor bestowed by God. Romans 5:1-11 reminds us that God generously grants this incredible grace to those who actually deserve the opposite—condemnation. The term “unmerited” emphasizes that this favor cannot be earned through good works. In fact, if grace is not freely given, it ceases to be true grace. “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).

The Bible makes it clear that eternal life cannot be earned. In verse after verse, it emphasizes that eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus Christ, our Savior. We read: “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The resurrected Christ affirms: “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost” (Revelation 21:6, emphasis added).

We understand that for many, grasping the concept of grace can be difficult. Our society is focused on performance, where good grades in school and climbing the corporate ladder depend on how well we perform. However, when it comes to God’s gift of salvation, it is truly a grace-gift. It is freely given and not something we can earn through good performance. Ephesians 2:8-9 affirms, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Titus 3:5 tells us that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy.”

By contrast, Romans 3:20 states that no one will be justified or declared righteous in God’s sight by their own works. In Galatians 2:16, the apostle Paul affirms that justification does not come through obeying the Law but through having faith in Jesus Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses are in desperate need of hearing this liberating news.

Gifts are not obtained through work, only wages can be earned through work. As stated in Romans 4:4-5, “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.” Since salvation is a freely given gift, it cannot be achieved or earned.

Scripture emphasizes not only that salvation is based on God’s grace, but also that it is received through faith in Christ. Close to 200 times in the New Testament, salvation is said to be by faith alone—without works. For example:

• In John 3:15 Jesus says that “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

• In John 11:25 Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

• In John 12:46 Jesus says, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

• John 20:31 informs us that the messianic signs recorded in John’s gospel “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

• In Acts 16:30-32, Paul and Silas were in jail and the jailer asked them: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (verse 30). Paul responded: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (verses 31).

I noted previously that Jehovah’s Witnesses often refer to 1 Timothy 2:5-6 to support their belief that Jesus paid a “corresponding ransom” for humanity. They argue that the life Jesus sacrificed is exactly equal to the life that Adam lost when he fell.

However, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not limited to Adam’s sin alone; it encompassed the sins of all human beings on earth. Jesus saw His death as a sacrificial offering for the sins of all of humanity. 

• Jesus affirmed: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10, emphasis added). All human beings are “lost” and are in need of salvation. 

• Jesus affirmed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, emphasis added). Christ thus died for the sins of all people in the world, not just the sins of Adam. 

While salvation is available to everyone—while the provision has been made for all—not everyone chooses to believe in Jesus to receive that salvation. But those who turn to Jesus in faith will indeed be saved. 

Now, if all of this is true, what are we to make of Philippians 2:12 where the apostle Paul urges: “work out your own salvation.” This verse has nothing to do with the assurance of final salvation for individual believers. As a backdrop, one must keep in mind the situation at the church in Philippi. This particular church was dealing with several issues: internal rivalries and people driven by personal ambition (Philippians 2:34; 4:2), the influence of Judaizers who believed that circumcision was necessary for salvation (3:1-3), the belief in perfectionism—the idea that one could achieve sinless perfection in this life (3:12-14), and the impact of “antinomian libertines” who disregarded God’s law and lived recklessly (3:18-19). Given these struggles, the church as a whole needed to focus on working out their “salvation” in a temporal and experiential sense, rather than an eternal one.

It is interesting to note that the Greek term for “work out” (katergazomai) is a verb that signifies accomplishment or reaching a conclusion. Paul was urging the Philippians to tackle all the issues within the church, thus bringing collective “salvation” or deliverance to a state of final achievement. Paul was determined not to allow things to persist as they were. The problems needed to be resolved. The Philippians were encouraged to persevere until the end.

Finally, in contrast to the teachings of the Watchtower Society, one can indeed have an assurance of salvation, as stated by Paul in Romans 8:29-30: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son… and whom He predestined, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Here we can observe a seamless progression from predestination to glorification. Furthermore, the tense of the term “glorified” (in its Greek form) suggests that our forthcoming glorification is so certain for those who have faith in Christ that it can be considered as already accomplished.

Paul also asserted that believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). The seal signifies ownership and assurance. The presence of the Holy Spirit within a believer’s life serves as an unbreakable seal, guaranteeing the eternal security of their salvation. Therefore, those who have put their faith in Christ can confidently trust that they will be in the presence of God in heaven for all eternity.

My friends, it is of utmost importance that we share the glorious message of the true gospel of Jesus Christ with our friends who are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their hearts yearn to be liberated by the boundless grace of God. Will you stand with me in our mission to bring them this life-changing message?

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If you’re seeking a comprehensive treatment on this subject, I invite you to dive into my 464-page book titled, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (published by Harvest House).

  1. The Watchtower, 1 April 1947, p. 204.
  2. Ibid., 15 August 1972, p. 491.
  3. Both quotes are from The Watchtower, 15 February 1983, pp. 12-13.
  4. Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989), p. 308.
  5. Duane Magnani, The Watchtower Files (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985), p. 232.

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