For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The doorbell startled me on a rainy morning not too long ago. I opened the door and found two middle-aged women dressed neatly in skirts, sweaters, and sensible shoes. They introduced themselves as Patricia and Carol and asked if they could have just a moment of my time. I invited them in out of the rain, and Carol said that they wanted to share a brief message of hope with me. She flipped open a Bible and began to read selections from Psalm 37, ending with verse 11 about the meek inheriting the earth. She asked me, “Is this a new thought for you, the idea that evil will one day be gone from the earth and you could live here forever?” Not wanting to get into a detailed and probably fruitless discussion of eschatology, I briefly replied that I believed I would live forever in a recreated world after Jesus’ second coming.
By this point I had no remaining doubt that the two kindly ladies were Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I switched the subject slightly to get to the heart of the matter. “Tell me a little more about what you believe,” I said. “Will everyone who believes in Jesus be resurrected to eternal life with him?”
As I had anticipated, I didn’t exactly get a direct answer. Patricia said, “Well, let’s look at the Bible for an answer to that.” (I could hardly argue with that!) She turned to Matthew 7:21 and read, “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.'” Closing her Bible, she explained, “You see, a lot of people just say that they believe, but as Jesus tells us here, the important thing is to actually do God’s will.” “Sure,” I replied, “if by that you mean to say that faith without works is dead [James 2:17]. But what about all the Bible’s promises about the gift of eternal life won for us by Jesus – John 3:16, for instance?”
Now it was their turn to change the subject. Carol started talking about how God is love, and Patricia chimed in with some thoughts on how God gave us the Bible as an instruction book for life, while the two of them started edging toward the door. Without getting into any more discussion, they commended me for my “spiritual” interest, gave me one of their Watchtower tracts, and offered to have someone call me to answer my questions.
You see, despite their impressive knowledge of the Bible (which in their version contains some significant mistranslations) and the Christian-sounding way they began talking, Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t Christians at all. They do not believe in the Triune God, nor do they believe that Jesus is true God and Savior. Rather, they believe that eternal life is earned by our human effort.
In fact, that’s part of the reason that they may show up at your door – many Jehovah’s Witnesses spend hundreds of hours each year going door-to-door – all of which helps if you’ve got to earn your eternal life. And if they’re sincere in their faith, as Patricia and Carol obviously were, they want to tell other people how to start earning their way to eternal life. Maybe Lutherans would do a better job of witnessing too if we thought salvation depended on it…but wait a minute, salvation does depend on it. No, we don’t believe that can earn our way to heaven by knocking on doors or any other means – but we do believe that there is no salvation apart from Jesus, and how will people know if we don’t tell them? (Romans 11:14)
Do we really believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? If so, we ought to be out there telling everyone we know, and even finding ways to work it into conversations with chance acquaintances. If Patricia and Carol could be so enthusiastic about the idea that we have a chance (but not a certainty) of earning eternal life by hard work, then shouldn’t we be even more enthusiastic about the promise that eternal life has already, certainly, irrevocably been purchased for us and for all those who hear the Word and believe?
It is tragic to realize that all the enthusiasm of the two friendly women who rang the doorbell is eternally misguided, that their hundreds of hours of diligent volunteer work will be judged and found woefully insufficient on the Last Day, when the only work that matters for salvation is the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Memorize a few Bible passages – we can all remember John 3:16 at least – and pray that your assurance in the Word will be able to plant a seed of truth and life in the heart of the Patricia or Carol you find on your doorstep or wherever else God places lost souls for you to find.
p.s. To learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses, check out this link: http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/LCMS/wa_jehovahswitnesses.pdf