The Evangelical Herald
What Does God Require of Us?
Recently, I was given a pamphlet entitled, "What does God Require of Us?" by a Jehovah's Witness. The beginning of the pamphlet sets forth Jehovah's Witnesses' basic beliefs such as who God is, the authority of the Bible, the purpose of mankind, who Jesus is, the kingdom of God, and who Satan is.
While we may not agree with all these beliefs as interpreted by Jehovah's Witnesses, this in itself is not reason to condemn them as non-Christian. Many orthodox Christian groups are in complete agreement with some of Jehovah Witnesses' understandings on these subjects and many disagree among themselves on these same subjects. In fact, the presentation of their basic beliefs has a very positive impact for those who see them from a spiritual perspective. Whereas many orthodox Christians approach evangelism from a temporal platform, Jehovah's Witnesses rightly emphasize the eternal decisions that need to be made. The inquirer is taken away from the mundane into a level of spiritual thinking that brings him, perhaps for the first time, face to face with the reality of eternal, spiritual issues of life (John 17:16, Rom 8:6, Rom 12:2).
Eternity Vs Temporal
Naturally, a sincere man that is faced with the realities of eternity and death would be moved to ask, "what must I do to save myself?" (Acts 16:30). It is in this posture that we can see the dependency on a higher power to save us. It is in this posture also that moves us to humble ourselves before our Creator. So, to the point that Jehovah Witnesses can bring a man to this state, we say we have no dissension with them. It is the lack of teaching the realities of the eternal aspects of believing in Christ that has corroded the Christian message in our times. For many Christians, the motivation for becoming a Christian and walking in the faith seems to be entirely bound upon the blessings they can receive in the temporal world. Eternal things seem all too unreal -- to the point that their Christian walk is entirely tied to the mundane of daily living.
However, the answer given to these sincere, humble, seekers of life is where we completely differ. Although the pamphlet seems to allude that man can not perform the requirements of God without the help and communion with God, the emphasis is clear that we must perform certain requirements in order to be accepted of God. In taking this position, they join with so many of the world's religions that believe that God rewards us with life according to our performance. In other words, right behavior merits eternal life.
Right behavior, as they see it, is to live by God's law. God is a God of order and law -- so if we are to live we should live in harmony with His laws. But what are God's laws? No, they are not the Ten Commandments, nor are they the Levitical laws, nor are they the laws or teachings of the prophets. The law of God, they construe, are behaviors advocated by Jesus and the apostles. Doing the best we can to live according to this law and recognizing their organization as the only channel that God uses will earn us a place in the everlasting kingdom.
Here we must be careful not to be misguided, for truly any seeker of truth longs to live a Godly life that is honoring to his Heavenly Father, but the scriptures clearly teach that it is not right behavior that makes us acceptable to the Father. Rather, it is because of the love of God displayed by his grace and mercy that we can have assurance that we are accepted. In the afore mentioned pamphlet, we do not see the emphasis on the love and mercy of God as centered in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. He made atonement for our sins, He died in our place, and rose victorious over sin and death. This good news seems to be totally missing in the pamphlet. One does not have to read too far into Paul's writing before we can see that eternal life can not be gained by our performance to any law (be it Moses law or any construed New Testament exhortations of conduct). A new birth in the spirit by repentance of our sinful deeds, accepting in faith that Jesus has taken away our sins, and accepting the gift of eternal life by faith is all that is required in this present age (Isa 64:6, Jhn 3:3, Gal 2:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9).
Right Behavior/Right Motivation
Yet, right behavior is a natural fruit of accepting our Father's gift of mercy and love. Without a love for right behavior, we can not enjoy the assurance of being in Christ. As natural as a good orange tree bears good oranges, so the new creatures in Christ will bear fruits that reflect the character of their Creator. The firstfruit of a new creature in Christ is that he/she loves God and their fellow men. The main characteristic of the love of God is the love of righteousness. Righteous living is based on the Ten Commandments, but goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. Christians live according to right principles as taught by Jesus and the apostles - which includes the conduct advocated by Jehovah Witnesses as God's law. However, the burden of performing in order to obtain life has been lifted from us, now our natural desire is to fellowship with our Savior in fullness of his spirit - and the closer we walk with Him the more fruits we will bear. (Mat 22:37-40, Rom 6:1-4, Gal 5:18-25, Col 1:10)
Doctrines and False Religion
Another requirement to be accepted by God according to the pamphlet is to disassociate ourselves from false religion. False religion is defined as religions that teach false doctrines. While we readily agree that we should have correct doctrine in order to be saved, we question which doctrines are necessary. These are the fundamental beliefs that we believe are necessary: 1) There is a all-mighty God that created all things - animate and inanimate, 2) God reveals Himself and His purposes for man in the Holy Scriptures, 3) Because of our first parent's sin, we are sinful, imperfect, and destined to die eternally, 4) the way to reconciliation is belief in Jesus and accepting Him as our Savior, 5) there will be a resurrection of the dead and an eternal judgement and 6) we are to grow and mature in our new spiritual nature in Christ. Beyond these fundamentals, there are many doctrines that will lead us to a more God honoring life. It is the Christian's nature to seek truth that honors and glorifies his Heavenly Father. As we seek to know Him more intimately, we form certain beliefs ranging from the nature of God to the final destiny of the universe. However, all beliefs must be grounded on the fundamentals and only based on scriptural revelation. Christians believe that the Spirit of God will guide us to all truth if we seek Him with a humble and broken heart. (see 1 Cor 8:5-6, 2 Tim 3:16, Heb 6:1-2, Jhn 16:13)
Jehovah Witnesses seem to base their hope of living forever on a correct understanding of the nature of God and the prophetic plan of God for mankind. It is important that we have the concept of one God because it is to His person that we must ascribe all honor and worship. However, because of our earthly limitations, salvation is not based on the ability to grasp His nature with all the spiritual implications of eternity, space, power and divine realities. All that is required is that we believe in the manifestation of Himself in the form of His son Jesus. It is not necessary that we know the exact relationship and makeup of the Son with the Father for salvation, but it is necessary that we trust the Son that through Him we have been reconciled to the Father. God being a spirit in nature and we being carnal in nature, we will not fully understand the nature of God this side of death. By the new birth in the spirit we can behold Him as in a mirror, but then we shall see Him as he really is. In the meantime, because of our new nature in the spirit, God only desires that we strive to know Him and become one in His nature's characteristics.
(John 1:1-2,14, Rom 5:7-11, 1 Cor 13:12)
God's Plan - Correct Understanding Saves?
God indeed has a plan for all His creation. He has a plan for mankind and the earth. To be sure, He has revealed this plan through the Holy Scriptures. Yet, with all our human intellectual and spirit led powers of understanding, we can not base our hope of living in the eternal kingdom on correct understanding of this plan. We do see plain and easily understood aspects of this plan that give us hope, but many details of this plan are not shown clearly to us. Anyone reading the book of Revelation can see certain coming events that have no arguments: 1) the glorification and vindication of God 2) the destruction of evil and death 3) the establishment of a paradise kingdom 4) the punishment of all enemies of God and 5) the reward of living in the paradise kingdom for those righteous in Christ. Although as Christians we should study all aspects to these events, we should not make any perceived understood details about God's plan critical to our salvation, our unity and our hope. Suffice it to say, true Christians long for the coming manifestation and fulfillment of God's plan of the ages. (Tit 3:9)
What then does God require of us to be acceptable to Him? Without a doubt, God can only accept us if we are clothed in Christ's righteousness -- covered in the blood of his sacrifice. To be thus accepted, we must come to Him in faith with a broken and contrite heart in repentance. God ratifies the genuineness of our faith in repentance by giving us a new birth in the spirit. Being thus a newborn creature in Christ, it is a natural thing to grow and bear fruit under the new Lord of our lives.
Growing and bearing fruit means right behavior according to God's will. Scriptures allude that we must be perfect and holy even as Christ was and they also allude that those that practice wrong behavior will not enter the kingdom of God. If right behavior is not the criteria to gain eternal life then what is its purpose? To reconcile the idea that right behavior is important to God, yet does not constitute the requirement of salvation, we can only conclude that those who truly have been born of the spirit will desire to practice right behavior. We may not know entirely for what purpose God wants us to grow and bear fruit (Is it to be judges? Is it to prove our faith? Is it to prepare us to live under His rule?), but this we do know -- it brings glory and honor to Him and that satisfies our beings.
Christ -- our Redeemer
All that God required of man - his relationship to the earth, to Himself, and to his fellow beings - Jesus fulfilled. He was the one who was victorious over Satan with all of his cruelties, deceptions, and lies . He was the one who triumphed over death and the grave. He did this by being obedient - even unto death. He did this by sacrificing Himself in our behalf. When we in faith and in spirit believe in Him and accept Him as our only qualified redeemer, we are then cloth in His righteousness. We are then accepted in the Beloved Son. As redeemed children, we yearn to reflect behavior that honors our Heavenly Father and Redeemer. Righteous living is living by the principles taught us by our Savior and that fulfilled the written letter of the law. In Him we rely on, in Him we are empowered to live lives that are pleasing to the Father. It is in Him that we meet all the requirements to be accepted by the Father.
What does God require of us? The Scriptures are clear - to repent of our sins and exercise faith in God's son who can take away our sins. Faith will lead us to die to ourselves and be born anew by spiritual baptism into His Kingdom. What does God desire for us? The Scriptures are clear - that we may live forever in His Kingdom - that we may grow unto a mature person that honors His Father by holy living under the principles of that Kingdom.