In an interesting confluence of events, I was reading Romans 8 in my daily Bible reading today, and Menrov’s thought-provoking comment of yesterday came to mind—particularly, this paragraph:

“It is one of those study articles that will make each JW feel rather “useless” as there is always something that one needs to improve, according to the WBTS doctrine. But in none of the verses reviewed, does the Bible make it clear that these so-called weaknesses need to be worked on in order to be “acceptable” to God, in order to gain His approval. I always wonder, to what would that approval lead? Also, until one received that so-called approval, what is his position towards God?”

Then, while logging into the web sites, I found this appeal for help on Discuss the Truth:

“The organization has made a connection between service time and qualifying for certain privileges. I recently had someone close to me (mother in law) feel the effects of this. My Father in Law is no longer able to go to Warwick and assist even though he is an active elder because my Mother in Law’s service time is low.”

Have Jehovah’s Witnesses become the Pharisees of the 21st Century, striving to be declared righteous by works?

Before answering that, let’s discuss why Romans 8 might be relevant to this discussion.

 “Therefore, those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation. 2 For the law of the spirit that gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 What the Law was incapable of doing because it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemning sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, on the things of the spirit. 6 For setting the mind on the flesh means death, but setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace; 7 because setting the mind on the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not in subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be. 8 So those who are in harmony with the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are in harmony, not with the flesh, but with the spirit, if God’s spirit truly dwells in you. But if anyone does not have Christ’s spirit, this person does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:1-9)

I would have missed the full meaning of this had I not just read the preceding chapters.  I had always believed that setting “the mind on the flesh” meant thinking about fleshly desires, specifically wrong desires such as the works of the flesh listed at Galatians 5:19-21.  Of course, setting the mind on such things goes contrary to the spirit, but that is not Paul’s point here.  He is not saying, ‘Stop thinking about fleshly sins, so that you can be saved.’  Who of us can stop that?  Paul just spent the previous chapter explaining how impossible that was, even for him.  (Romans 7:13-25)

When Paul here speaks of minding the flesh, he is speaking of minding the Law of Moses, or more specifically, the idea of justification by obedience to that Law.  Minding the flesh in this context means striving for salvation by works.  This is a vain attempt, one doomed to fail, because as he tells the Galatians, “due to works of law no flesh will be declared righteous.” (Ga 2:15, 16)

So when Paul comes to chapter 8, he isn’t suddenly switching themes.  Rather, he’s about to wrap up his argument.

He starts by contrasting “the law of the spirit” with the Mosaic Law, “the law of sin and of death” (vs. 2).

Then he connects the latter to the flesh:   “What the Law was incapable of doing because it was weak through the flesh…” (vs. 3).  The Mosaic Law could not achieve salvation because the flesh is weak; it cannot obey perfectly.

His argument to this point is that if the Jewish Christians tried to achieve justification or salvation by obedience to the law, they were minding the flesh, not the spirit.

“For setting the mind on the flesh means death, but setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace;” (Romans 8:6)

We must bear in mind that the flesh is of us, but the spirit is of God.  Trying to achieve salvation by the flesh is doomed to fail, because we are trying to achieve it by ourselves—an impossible task.  Achieving salvation by God’s grace through the spirit is our only chance.  So when Paul speaks of minding the flesh, he is referring to striving for “salvation by works”, but minding the spirit means “salvation by faith”.

To emphasize this once more, when Paul says, “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh”, he is not speaking of people whose minds are filled with sinful desires.  He is referring to those who strive to achieve salvation by works of the flesh.

How sad it is to have to say that this now aptly describes the situation in the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The publications may overtly teach that salvation is by faith, but in a myriad of subtle ways they teach the opposite.  This creates an oral law that infiltrates JW thinking from the top down to the local level and results in a Pharisaical mindset.

It has been said that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Judeo-Christian religion with heavy emphasis on the “Judeo”.  Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to see themselves as a modern-day equivalent to the nation of Israel with its rules and laws. Obedience to the Organization is seen as vital to survival.  To be outside of it is to die.  (w89 9/1 p. 19 par. 7 “Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium”)

This means we must conform to the Organization’s rules and laws which frequently deny the individual the choice of conscience.  Fail to comply, and run the risk of being disfellowshipped which means losing out on life.

At this year’s convention we saw a video depicting a brother named Kevin who declined to participate in the special condemnatory preaching campaign (the so-called Judgment Message) the Governing Body will at some point require all to engage in.  As a result, he was excluded from the life-saving provision of being inside “Jehovah’s Organization” when the end came.  In short, to be saved, we have to be in the Organization, and to be in the Organization, we must go out in field service and report our time.  If we don’t report our time, we are not counted as members of the Organization and will not get the call when the time comes.  We will not know the “secret knock” that leads to salvation.

It doesn’t stop there.  We must also obey all the other rules, even seemingly minor ones (the tenth of the dill and the cumin).  For instance, if we do not put in a certain, orally determined, number of hours, we will be denied “privileges” of sacred service to God.  In other words, Jehovah doesn’t want our sacred service if we are performing below the congregation average, which condemns many in any congregation because for there to be an average, some have to be below it.  (That’s just simple math.)  If God doesn’t want our sacred service in some construction project because our hours are too low, how could he want us to live in the New World?

Even our dress and grooming can become a matter of salvation.  A brother wearing jeans, or a sister in a pant suit, will likely be denied participation in the field service.  No field service means eventually one is not counted as a member of the congregation which means one won’t be saved through Armageddon.  Dress, grooming, association, education, recreation, type of work—the list goes on—are all regulated by rules which, if followed, allow a Witness to stay in the Organization.  Salvation depends on being in the Organization.

This is the “Judeo” part—the mindset of the Pharisee with his oral law that exalted some while denigrating the majority.  (Mt 23:23-24; John 7:49)

In summary, what Paul warned the Christians in Rome about is counsel which Jehovah’s Witnesses have failed to heed.  Salvation by Organization amounts to “minding the flesh”.  If the Jews could not be saved by minding the Laws of God given through Moses, how much less can minding the laws of the Organization result in being declared righteous by Jehovah?

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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