SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES



A False Spirituality

By Tom McGovern

(edited)


I was a member of the religious group known as Jehovah's Witnesses for nearly 30 years. This is a group whose members believe that only they have God's truth; all other religions are satanic counterfeits. They believe that they are the only truly spiritual people on earth, and that their organization is God's sole channel of communication with mankind. [Jehovah's] Witnesses are taught that their organization alone speaks for God and must be obeyed in all things in order to please God.

Yet, in practice, they measure their level of spirituality in very mechanical ways. The person most favored in the organization is the one who spends the most time knocking on doors and offering literature. These numbers are known to the leadership, since every [Jehovah's] Witness is required to report on a monthly basis the amount of time spent preaching the [Jehovah's] Witness version of the "good news" to outsiders, along with the amounts of literature distributed. Attendance at all of the five hours of meetings required during each week is also taken as a barometer of "spirituality".

[Jehovah's] Witnesses are encouraged to spend time in "personal Bible study," but it almost never focuses directly on the Bible. Rather, a publication of the Watchtower Society is studied, using the Bible like a dictionary to look up proof texts. Indeed, some years back, when it became something of a fad among [Jehovah's] Witnesses to gather in private groups and study the Bible independently, the Watchtower Society outlawed these private studies, since they found that people who studied the Bible alone soon stopped believing in [Jehovah's] Witness teachings.

They are also encouraged to "cultivate the fruitage of the holy spirit" ("holy spirit" not being capitalized since they believe that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person). They are expected to work hard in developing these character traits mentioned in the fifth chapter of Galatians, so as to merit God's approval.

The concept of the Holy Spirit living within them is completely lost upon them. Even the simple meaning of the word "fruitage" in this context seems to elude them. An apple tree does not strain itself to put forth apples. While Christians must fight against sinful inclinations, the fact is that, when we are saved, we undergo a fundamental change. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, and we begin to manifest His fruitage as a result. It's not a case of us having to work at "being good" so that God will accept us; it is Him working from within us to make us what He wants us to be (Philippians 2:12, 13).

I cite all these examples of how Jehovah's Witnesses think -- of how I used to think -- to illustrate an outstanding example of the principle presented at 1 Corinthians 2:14. Clearly, the majority of Jehovah's Witnesses (and especially their leadership) are "natural men," who, while considering themselves to be very spiritual, nonetheless "do not accept the things of the Spirit of God," and, "cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

Though they believe that they are very spiritual, and even tend to mock those of other religions as being deceived, they do not comprehend the true meaning of spirituality as expressed through a personal relationship with God. They are like those who Paul said would appear in the "last days": "having a form of godliness but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3: 1,5) Ultimately, Jehovah's Witnesses, though many of them may be sincere, are followers of men, not of God. They lack the personal relationship with God that comes with true Christian salvation.



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Paul and the Law

By Tom McGovern

(edited)


In his letters, the apostle Paul has much to say about the Law of God and the place that it holds in the life of the Christian believer. The Israelites had been given the Law as part of a covenant of works: God's blessings would accrue to them as a result of their obedience to the Law, and His curses would follow when they disobeyed (Deut. 30:15-20). In the context of Israel as a historical nation, these blessings and curses were generally seen as relating to temporal things; blessings might mean productive harvests or times of peace, whereas curses might involve droughts and famine or invasion by warlike neighbors.

Paul, however, considers the Law on a deeper level. He acknowledges that the Law is what defines sin and that the penalty for sin is death -- separation from God (Romans 7:7; 6:23). Since all men have sinned, all are alienated from God and in need of salvation. Paul points out that the Law served as a "tutor" to lead us to Christ, in whom real salvation is possible (Gal. 3:24, NASB). Since the Law points out our sins, we realize that we stand guilty before God and can do nothing to redeem ourselves -- only Jesus can pay the penalty on our behalf so that we may be justified by faith in Him.

The Christian who has been justified by faith is indwelt by the Spirit of God, and Paul points out that "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal. 5:18). This does not mean that Christians are not obligated by any moral norms, but that they are not enslaved to the Law as a means of salvation. There would be no hope in such an arrangement, since none can keep the Law perfectly. Jesus Christ has done that on our behalf, and His righteousness is imputed to us by faith. But the Law is nonetheless important for Christians, because it delineates the way God would have us live. As Paul points out, "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good" -- they provide a sure guide for holy living (Romans 7:12). Throughout his teaching, Paul emphasizes the principles that were found in the Ten Commandments, which had formed the core of the Law given to Israel through Moses (Exodus 20:2-17). In doing so, he emphasizes that these Commandments still have a place of honor at the heart of Christian living and he establishes a set of moral norms that are vital if the Christian is to live a holy life. What follows is a brief consideration of Paul's teaching in the area of each Commandment.

Commandment 1 -- "You shall have no other gods before me." [NIV]

The principle contained in this commandment is exclusivity -- the God of Israel is the only true God and no other God is to be worshipped in His place. The nation of Israel violated this Commandment repeatedly by engaging in the worship of false gods. This continued until God finally brought judgment on the nation, allowing them to experience exile and captivity in Babylon.

In line with this Commandment, Paul points out that there is only one God (Romans 3:30) and that any other gods are "so-called" gods, pretenders who are not to be worshipped. He concludes this line of reasoning by writing, "for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (1 Cor 8:4-6).

Commandment 2 -- "You shall not make for yourself an idol."

The second Commandment is related to the first, since it involves an object of worship other than the true God. Idols are objects made by man that take on religious significance, in that they are seen as representations of deities, and they are worshipped in a representative way. No man can craft anything that resembles the transcendent God, so no image of Him would be appropriate for worship. Obviously, the use of idols in worship of false gods would be condemned by both the first and second Commandment.

Paul's writings contain repeated warnings against idolatry (1 Cor. 5:11; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). He acknowledges that "an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one" (1 Cor. 8:4). He strongly admonishes Christians to "flee from idolatry" (1 Cor. 10:14).

EDITOR: Actually, the manufacturing/worship of idols representing false gods is prohibited under Commandment #1. Commandment #2 prohibits the manufacturing/worship of idols intended to represent YHWH.

Commandment 3 -- "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God."

Some translations translate this verse in a manner similar to the NASB, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). [See also the Authorized (King James) Version, the Amplified Bible, the English Standard Version, and the NET Bible.] This terminology seems to imply more than a mere "misuse" of the name through blasphemy, though such misuse is common indeed in today's world, in which so many use the names of God and Jesus Christ as curse words. It can also imply a taking up of God's name to oneself in a meaningless or worthless way. A false prophet, for example, who claims that God has spoken through him when God has not done so, would be guilty under this Commandment.

Paul confesses before King Agrippa that he himself was a blasphemer before he came to know Christ (Acts 26:11). He likewise cites blasphemy as the sin of the false teachers Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had "shipwrecked their faith" and needed to be "handed over to Satan" (1 Tim. 1:20). He also says that "blasphemers" will be among the evil works of men that will characterize the last days (2 Tim. 3:2, AV).

In discussing the development of a Christian life, Paul also points out the necessity of building upon the foundation, which is Christ, with materials of high quality, since all of our works will be tested as if by fire (1 Cor 3:9-15). Anyone who follows Paul's advice in this area is incapable of taking up God's name in a
meaningless way. Rather, his works glorify God before men and will produce rewards of eternal value.

Commandment 4 -- "Remember the Sabbath day [to keep it holy]."

Among all of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath Commandment is the only one that is not specifically reinforced in the New Testament as necessary for holy living under the New Covenant. Rather, Paul explicitly disclaims the need for Christians to specifically observe the seventh day, as was required under the Law. [EDITOR: INCORRECT. See Below.] He writes, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God" (Romans 14:5, 6). 

By the time of Paul's ministry, Christians had developed the custom of worshipping on the first day of the week, in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). [3] However, this observance was not required of Christians in a legalistic way, nor was it necessary that they refrain from work on that day, as had been the case under the Law. Rather, Paul wrote, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:16, 17).

[3] FOOTNOTE: It is to be noted that some sabbatarian groups deny this, pointing to incidents of Paul and the other apostles going to the Jewish synagogue on the seventh-day Sabbath (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:2). A full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, however, it is to be noted that these instances do not necessarily imply that the apostles were legalistically observing the Sabbath as they would have done under the Law. The synagogue was where the Word of God was read publicly on a weekly basis, which was important in a society where individuals did not generally have personal copies of the Scriptures. In addition, what better place to evangelize unbelieving Jews than at the synagogue where they gathered, and the time to find them gathered there was on the Sabbath (Acts 18:4)!

EDITOR: YHWH declared the seventh day of the week SACRED, or HOLY; that is, "set apart" on the Seventh Day following Creation. (Genesis 2:2-3) It naturally follows that YHWH would have instituted the seventh day sabbath celebration in the Garden of Eden. Ancient records evidence derivative weekly and monthly sabbath celebrations in other societies long before the Mosaic Law. Even in the prioritized "Ten Commandments", the Sabbath commandment is so important -- FOURTH -- that it immediately followed those commandments pertaining to mankind's obligation to YHWH, and before those commandments pertaining to mankind's obligations to other humans. Misinterpreting the NT's release of the Christian Church from celebrating the Mosaic Law's multiple other "sabbaths" has resulted in the Christian Church's failure to maintain the seventh day sabbath, from which we cannot find God's specific release. Note that we do NOT believe the maintenance of the seventh day sabbath to be a requirement of "salvation", which is by FAITH ALONE. However, we do believe that maintenance of the seventh day sabbath can be part of "holy living", and may be part of "sanctification". We only make an issue of such when other Christians make an issue of such otherwise.  


Commandment 5 -- "Honor your father and your mother."

Great weight was given under the Law to the relationship between parent and child and the respect that a child should have for his or her parents, even as an adult. A person who openly cursed his parents was subject to the penalty of death (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9).

Paul explicitly refers to this command when he writes, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" -- which is the first commandment with a promise -- that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Eph. 6:1-3). It seems that the original context implied an understanding of "long life" in the temporal sense of many years. However, placed in the context of Paul's writing, the term may take on a greater meaning, implying that eternal life might result from a child's heeding the instruction of godly parents and turning to Christ. While this may be reading more than was intended into the passage, it is clear that Paul advocated respect for parents as an essential part of a believer's holy life.


Commandment 6 -- "You shall not murder."

The extreme sinfulness of unjustly taking the life of a fellow human being has been included in every code of law ever developed by virtually [every] human society. The Law of Israel, given by God, was no exception. This is not surprising, since laws developed by men are merely a reflection of the Law that God has written in their hearts (Romans 2:15).

Not surprisingly, Paul associates murder with "every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity" (Romans 1:29). Furthermore, he associates love of neighbor with obedience to the Commandments, including the one prohibiting murder (Romans 13:9).


Commandment 7 -- "You shall not commit adultery."

The sanctity of the marriage bond, including fidelity to the marriage bed, is a cornerstone upon which human society is built. God instituted the standard with the first human couple: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). For a married person to unite physically with someone other than his or her mate constitutes a serious defilement of God's arrangement, and was punishable by death under the Law (Lev. 20:10).

Paul is clear that the penalty for such defilement is no less severe under the New Covenant: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9, 10). He also refers to adultery as a "work of the flesh", as contrasted with the fruits produced in the lives of those in whom God's Holy Spirit is at work (Gal 5:19-23).


Commandment 8 -- "You shall not steal."

Respect for the property of others is another fundamental human value, inscribed on the hearts of men by God and codified in the laws of nearly every civilization. This principle was also enshrined in the Law of Israel, and is reinforced by Paul under the Christian covenant. In 1 Corinthians 6:10, cited above in relation to Commandment 7, "thieves" are identified along with adulterers as being among the "wicked" who will not inherit God's kingdom.

Further, Paul writes, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need" (Eph. 4:28). Honest labor, not theft, is to be the way in which a believer in Christ provides for his own material needs and those of others.


Commandment 9 -- "You shall not give false testimony."

In order to provide a just means of determining disputes between individuals and exercising justice against those who break society's laws, most civilizations have instituted some sort of court system. When testimony is given in courts, it is essential that it be truthful if justice is to be done. Therefore, most societies have set in place significant sanctions against false testimony, and this was true under Israel's Law as well (Deut. 19:15-21). In a less formal sense, however, it is important that all communications between persons should be honest and forthright, especially for those who claim a spiritual relationship with the "God of truth" (Psalm 31:5).

Paul reiterated this principle several times in his writings. With reference to the ministry God had given him, Paul wrote: "We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2). He commanded the Christians at Ephesus: "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Eph 4:25). And he spoke of lying as characteristic of the "old self", which has been taken off by those in whom Christ lives (Col. 3:9).


Commandment 10 -- "You shall not covet."

The apostle James pointed out that "each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:14). If we had no desire for things that are wrong in God's eyes, we would never sin. Sin begins with desire. We steal because we want something to which we are not entitled. We commit adultery because we covet another person's spouse. Covetousness is so inextricably tied up with sin that it is no wonder it was included in God's Law as a sin in itself.

Paul warns about covetousness and, like James, attributes to it the roots of sin. "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.' But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead" (Romans 7:7, 8).

It is interesting that Paul chooses the final Commandment to illustrate the relationship between the Law and sin. He understood that this final Commandment attacks the root of the problem, the desires and lusts of the heart that incline us toward sin. Indeed, Paul's words bring to mind the statement of Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:27, 28). Not only the overt act, but the inappropriate desire itself offends God.


Summary:

As Paul pointed out repeatedly, Christians are "not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). The same verse that says that, however, also admonishes, "Sin shall not be your master." Christians are not "under the Law", in the sense that their salvation rests upon obedience to it. Paul tells us plainly, "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8, 9). While there are no works we can perform that would make us worthy of eternal life in God's eyes, He has provided One who did perform such meritorious works -- His Son, Jesus Christ. It is by faith in Him that we are justified.

Nonetheless, God is pleased when we, as His children, strive to live a holy life before Him. In the Ten Commandments, He has provided a perfect set of moral norms, a guide to holy living, by which we can express our love for Him in our daily lives. Though we do so imperfectly, His Spirit produces within us the spiritual growth that makes us more like Christ, day by day. In all of his writings, Paul illustrates the importance of these Commandments and the place that they should hold in the lives of Christians. The morality that is advocated by Paul is a challenge to every believer to live in a godly manner, thus bringing glory to the Holy God.


Bibliography:

Barker, Kenneth, Gen. Ed. The NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Goldberg, Louis. Apologetics -- Study Guide. Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1990.

Zodhiates, Spiros. Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1990.