[From ws8/17 p. 17 – October 9-15]
“Strip off the old personality with its practices.”—Col 3:9
(Occurrences: Jehovah=16; Jesus=0)
When attempting to show how much better Jehovah’s Witnesses are than every other religion in the world, the Organization often goes back to the well of the Nazi persecution of the “Earnest Bible Students” (Die Ernsten Bibelforscher). It is not clear why they continued to be known by this name eight years after the International Bible Students had adopted the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Jehovas Zeugen), but one thing is clear: these were, for the most part, Christians who considered themselves to be spirit anointed brothers of Christ and Sons of God.
The faith of those Christians is remarkable. However, that was then. This is now. It is 80 years since that persecution created hundreds of Christian martyrs. Do the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today have a right to claim that legacy for themselves? They would answer Yes! In fact, the Organization goes back much farther than the 1930s in claiming they are part of an approved lineage of faithful servants of God. They consider that all the loyal Christians of the first century were also “Jehovah’s Witnesses”.[i]
Are such claims valid?
Paragraph 2 relates an experience from South Africa the like of which we have seen before.
“Such comments by non-Witnesses show that our international brotherhood is truly unique. (1 Pet. 5:9, ftn.) What, though, makes us so different from any other organization?” – par. 3
There can be no denying that when meeting in large groups for annual conventions, Witnesses present a very different profile from the crowds that normally congregate at large stadiums. But are we comparing apples with apples here? Is it really honest to contrast well-dressed Christians gathering for a Bible conference against rowdy sporting fans or the fans that gather for rock concerts? Let’s be fair about this. Since we are claiming uniqueness among the religious community, how about making a comparison between large Witness gatherings and those of other religions? Are we to assume that when other Christian groups gather for large conventions there is nothing but chaos and revelry? Is there evidence to prove the claim that “our international brotherhood is truly unique”? Are we really to believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones capable of displaying Christian qualities when under the microscope of the media?
After self-praising, the article introduces a note of caution.
“Thus, we all need to take to heart the warning: “Let the one who thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Cor. 10:12” – par. 4
What follows is a brief examination of some unchristian practices—such as ‘sexual immorality, uncleanness, anger, abusive speech, and lying’ with an eye to ensuring that Witnesses do not fall while thinking they are standing. Many of those studying this article will review these things in their mind and come away with a clean checklist. However, we can also imagine we are standing because of our perceived righteousness. If we are not practicing any of these sins, are we really standing? Was not this the attitude of the Pharisees who maintained a façade of righteousness, yet were among those whom Jesus condemned the most?
Throughout the rest of the article we are treated to a number of personal experiences of ones who have fought against sinful traits like promiscuity, addiction, fits of anger, and the like. We are led to believe that only among Jehovah’s Witnesses is it really possible to free oneself from such things and that this is done in the power of Jehovah and the holy spirit.
Yet, there is abundant evidence that countless individuals have freed themselves from all types of harmful practices without any contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many other religions can make similar claims citing their own series of life-transforming case histories. Additionally, non-religious entities such as Alcoholics Anonymous have a long history of success. Are these other examples of what Ephesians calls ‘putting away the old personality’, or are these counterfeits?
It cannot be denied that helping people to strip off old, harmful practices can be achieved through community support and by establishing strong routines in life. The more rigid the routine and the stronger the community support, the better the result.
Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a strong and busy routine to keep one occupied along with constant community support and verbal reinforcement to help the individual to stay the course. Is this why they have success or is it all about God’s spirit?
Before answering too quickly, let us remember that Ephesians speaks of a two-step process: First, we strip away the old personality, then we don the new one. Next week’s article addresses the second part of these verses. However, before going there, let us take one last look at Ephesians 4:20-24 to see if this first article is on the right track.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self,f which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24 ESV)
Do you see from reading this what is missing already from the article? This new personality is derived from Christ: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.” This new personality or “self” was “created in the likeness of God”. Jesus is the likeness of God. He is the very image of God; and we are to be fashioned in his image, the image of Jesus. (2 Co 4:4; Ro 8:28, 29) This new personality or self isn’t just one that people would refer to as clean and upstanding. Just because most would consider you to be a well-groomed, polite, and outwardly moral person doesn’t mean you’ve put on the new personality that is fashioned after the Christ. The new personality is “created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[ii]
Therefore, we should all ask ourselves, “Am I a truly righteous person? Am I a holy person? Do I really display a Christ-like personality?”
How can this article attempt to help us to strip away the old personality and prepare us for next week’s consideration about putting on the new personality when it doesn’t even mention Jesus once? Jesus Christ is writ large over these five verses to the Ephesians, but we are to consider accomplishing the task of stripping away the old self without so much as a nod to the one who makes it all possible. Perhaps next week’s study will correct this oversight. Let us hope so, because while we can be nice people without Jesus in our lives, we are talking about something that far surpasses what the world would describe as a nice or even a good person.
[i] sg study 12 p. 58 par. 1; jv chap. 3 p. 26 “Christian Witnesses of Jehovah in the First Century”; rsg16 p. 37
“See Jehovah’s Witnesses ➤ History ➤ First Century”
[ii] The NWT renders this “true righteousness and loyalty”. However, the Greek word (hosiotés) doesn’t mean “loyalty” but “piety or holiness.” This makes particular sense in this instance, because loyalty is not a virtue in itself. The demons are loyal to their cause, but they are hardly holy. The latest version of the NWT has mistranslated Greek and Hebrew words as loyalty in several locations (e.g., Micah 6:8) possibly due to the perceived need to get Jehovah’s Witnesses to be loyal to the Governing Body.