[From ws12/16 p. 13 February 6-12]
“Those who live according to the spirit, [set their minds] on the things of the spirit.” – Ro 8:5
This is such an important topic that it seems fitting to approach it from three different angles.
The Beroean Approach: We will review the Watchtower study article without presenting counter arguments. Instead, we’ll adopt the posture of eager, but judicious Bible students whose only requirement is to be given Scriptural proof. Like the Missouri state licence plates, we only ask that you “Show Me.”[i]
The Writer’s Approach: We will take the view of a brother assigned to write an article like this to see how he might employ eisegesis (putting ideas into the text) to support the pre-existing doctrine of the Organization.
The Exegetical Approach: We will see what happens when we approach this topic by allowing the Bible to speak for itself.
The Beroean Approach
Quotes from the Watchtower study article will be presented in italics. Our comments will be in normal type face, framed by square brackets. Any questions we ask should be viewed as addressed to the article’s author.
Par. 1: IN CONNECTION with the annual commemoration of Jesus’ death, have you read Romans 8:15-17? Probably so. That key passage explains how Christians know that they are anointed—holy spirit bears witness with their spirit. And the opening verse in that chapter refers to “those in union with Christ Jesus.” [Actually, the Greek doesn’t include the words “union with”. Nevertheless, are some Christians not in Christ, or even not “in union with” Christ? If so, please provide the Bible reference.] But does Romans chapter 8 apply only to anointed ones? Or does it also speak to Christians who hope to live on earth? [This presumes that the anointed live in heaven and that there is a secondary class of Christian, a non-anointed class, who will live on earth. Bible references please.]
Par. 2: Anointed Christians are those principally addressed in that chapter. [“Principally” implies that others are also addressed. Where is the proof that more than one group is being addressed?] They receive “the spirit” as ones “waiting for adoption as sons, the release from [their fleshly] bodies.” (Rom. 8:23) Yes, their future is to be sons of God in heaven. [Where does the Bible indicate that their residence will be in heaven?] That is possible because they became baptized Christians, and God applied the ransom in their behalf, forgave their sins, and declared them righteous as spiritual sons.—Rom. 3:23-26; 4:25; 8:30. [Are there Christians who 1) are baptized; 2) benefit from the ransom; 3) have their sins forgiven; 4) are declared righteous; 5) and are not spiritual sons? If so, please provide the references.]
Par. 3: However, Romans chapter 8 is also of interest to those who have the earthly hope because God in a sense views them as righteous. [“In a sense”? Please provide Scriptural proof that God views people righteous in different senses.] We see an indication of that in what Paul wrote earlier in his letter. In chapter 4, he discussed Abraham. That man of faith lived before Jehovah gave the Law to Israel and long before Jesus died for our sins. Still, Jehovah noted Abraham’s outstanding faith and counted him as righteous. (Read Romans 4:20-22.) [If Abraham is an example of God declaring someone righteous in a different sense from the righteousness he imputes to anointed Christians, please explain how the verses immediately following your “read scripture” do not conflict with this reasoning. These read: “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.” – Ro 4:23, 24? Does this not imply that both Christians and Abraham share a common grace and justification from God for their faith?] Jehovah can in a similar way consider as righteous the faithful Christians today who have the Bible-based hope of living forever on earth. Accordingly, they can benefit from the counsel found in Romans chapter 8 that is given to righteous ones. [You are taking an unproven assumption—that Abraham was denied the hope held out for anointed Christians—and using it as spurious “proof” that there is a class of non-anointed Christian with a different hope than that spoken of in Romans 8. Why do you reason forward in time from the unproven (Abraham will not be adopted) to the unknown (there are God’s Christian friends as opposed to God’s children)? Instead, why not reason from the known (there are children of God) to conclude that Abraham, whose faith is compared to theirs, must be one of them?]
Par. 4: At Romans 8:21, we find a guarantee that the new world will definitely come. This verse promises that “the creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The question is whether we will be there, whether we will gain that reward. Do you have confidence that you will? Romans chapter 8 offers advice that will help you to do so. [Romans 8:14, 15, 17 makes it clear that minding the spirit results in being sons of God who inherit life. “The creation” is here viewed as distinct from the sons of God. The creation is saved through the revealing of the sons of God. Verses 21 thru 23 shows that there is a sequence. So how can you apply Romans 8:1-20 to the creation “in a sense”? How can they mind the spirit for peace and life, be saved alongside the sons of God, but yet not to be sons of God?]
Par. 5: Read Romans 8:4-13. [Why do you stop at verse 13 when the next verse clearly identifies those who are led by God’s spirit? (“For all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons.” – Ro 8:14)] Romans chapter 8 speaks of those who walk “according to the flesh” in contrast with those who walk “according to the spirit.” Some might imagine that this is a contrast between those who are not in the truth and those who are, between those who are not Christians and those who are. However, Paul was writing to “those who are in Rome as God’s beloved ones, called to be holy ones.” (Rom. 1:7) [If Paul is talking to the “holy ones”, what is your basis for applying Romans 8 to those you say are not holy ones, the JW Other Sheep class?]
Par. 8: But you may wonder why Paul would stress to anointed Christians the danger of living “according to the flesh.” And could a similar danger today threaten Christians, whom God has accepted as his friends and views as righteous? [Where are the Scriptures showing that God accepts Christians as friends and not sons? Where are the Scriptures that speak of God declaring his Christian friends as righteous? Since salvation is such a fundamental issue—understandable by babes according to Matthew 11:25—one shouldn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. The evidence should be plentiful and obvious. So where is it?]
A Realistic Application
Before moving to the next approach, we need to take a good look at the practical application the writer makes about how Witnesses can “mind the spirit” today. These two extracts are particularly worthy of note:
One scholar says about that word at Romans 8:5: “They set their minds on—are most deeply interested in, constantly talk about, engage and glory in—the things pertaining to the flesh.” – par. 10
What is of greatest interest to us, and to what does our speech gravitate? What do we really pursue day in and day out? – par. 11
(The Watchtower continues its annoying and patronizing practice of not providing the reader with researchable references. “One scholar”? Which scholar? “…says about that word”? Which word?)
Undoubtedly, the Witnesses studying this article will assume that they are of the mind-on-the-spirit group. After all, their lives and conversations center on spiritual things. Since waking up to the true state of our so-called spiritual paradise, I’ve had occasion to put this to the test. I would encourage everyone to try this experiment themselves while in a car group out in service or any social setting involving fellow Witnesses. Pick a Bible topic, perhaps some interesting Scripture you’ve come across in your Bible reading and try to get a conversation going on it. My experience is that the group will nod their agreement, share some superficial platitudes and move on. It’s not that they don’t like what you’ve said, but rather that they are not trained to have Bible discussions outside of the context of the publications. They simply don’t know how to carry on a true Scriptural discussion and any discussion that draws outside the lines is viewed as borderline apostasy.
If you start up a conversation about the latest circuit assembly or regional convention, or if you talk about Organization activities and building projects, there will be no problem keeping the conversation going. Likewise, if you talk about the hope of living on earth, you’re sure to get extended discussions that demonstrate where Witness hearts truly lie. The discussion will often turn to the type of home that they hope to have. Perhaps they will even point to a house in the territory and express a desire to live in it when its current occupants have been annihilated at Armageddon. However, they will not imagine even for a moment that such discussions are materialistic. They will view them as “minding the spirit.”
If these types of conversations bother you, there is a sure-fire way to kill them. Simply substitute Jesus whenever you would have previously referred to Jehovah. It also helps to refer to Jesus by his title. For instance, “Won’t it be wonderful to be resurrected to life in the New World by our Lord Jesus?”, or “What an interesting assembly program that was. It just shows how well Lord Jesus feeds us,” or “It can be a challenge going door to door, but Jesus our Lord is with us.” Of course, such statements have the full backing of Scripture. (John 5:25-28; Mt 24:45-47; 18:20) They will, nevertheless, stop the conversation dead. The hearers will be caught in a state of cognitive dissonance as their minds try to resolve what sounds wrong with what they know is right.
The Writer’s Approach
Let us imagine that you have been assigned to write this particular Watchtower study article. How can you make a chapter like Romans 8, which so obviously applies to anointed Christians called to be adopted children of God, apply also to millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who consider themselves to be non-anointed friends of God?
You start by recognizing your audience is already conditioned to believe in the dual-hope system of salvation preached by JWs, and that only if a Christian gets a special, inexplicable and mysterious calling from God will he consider himself of the anointed. Otherwise, by default, he has the “earthly hope.” With that in mind, Romans 8:16 hardly needs to be explained and you can get it out of the way right up front.
Your main task is to talk about minding the spirit rather than the flesh in such a way that your audience doesn’t connect the dots that lead to the consequence of becoming adopted children of God, heirs to a promise. To accomplish this, you read verses out of context so that any verse that reveals the truth is ignored, or at least, misapplied. Your audience is primed to put their full trust in men, so this isn’t such a hard task as it might seem initially. (Ps 146:3) Therefore, when discussing the verses from Romans 8:4 to 13 that compare minding the flesh with minding the spirit, you stop before getting to verses 14 thru 17 which speak of the reward that comes, because this is the reward you are denying your audience. (Mt 23:13)
“For all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons.” (Ro 8:14)
“All” can be such a pesky word, can’t it? Here you’re trying to get Witnesses to reject the flesh and follow the spirit, without expecting all the benefits that accrue, and the Bible is making your task difficult by assuring its readers that “all”—that is ‘everyone’, ‘everybody’, ‘no exceptions’—who follow the spirit get to be adopted by God. If there’s any doubt, it is removed by the next verse which clarifies the meaning:
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!”” (Ro 8:15)
What a pain! You want your readers to think of themselves as free, no longer slaves of sin, but the same spirit that frees them, also causes them to be adopted as sons. If only there were a Scripture that said that some get a ‘spirit of adoption as friends of God’, but of course that’s silly, isn’t it? One doesn’t adopt a friend. So you must rely on the training Witnesses get to not look beyond the Scriptures actually cited. Still, you need to cite Romans 8:15-17 when speaking of the hope for anointed Christians, but you get that out of the way in paragraph 1, so that by the time you get to the part you’re applying to your audience, those verses are forgotten.
Next, you have to focus on the reward that comes from minding the spirit. We’re big on rewards. We’re always talking about how close the end is and how we’re going to enjoy everlasting life and all, and what’s not to like about that, right? Still, you have to deny our audience the reward of becoming God’s children and heirs, so best to avoid Romans 8:14 through 23 and stick just with verse 6.
“…setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace;” (Ro 8:6)
Unfortunately, even this verse supports the idea of adoption, as the context indicates. For example, the peace is peace with God since the next verse contrasts this with setting the mind on the flesh which means “enmity with God”. Likewise, the life in question is spiritual life that the Christian gets even now in his imperfect state, just as we learned in last week’s study of Romans chapter 6. This peace results in reconciliation with God allowing Him to adopt us, and the life we get is by virtue of the inheritance that comes from being God’s children.
Of course, we do not want our readers to come to this conclusion. In addition, we want our readers to ignore the current Watchtower teaching that even upon their resurrection on earth or survival of Armageddon, faithful Witnesses don’t actually get everlasting life, but just a chance at it if they stay faithful for the next 1,000 years. So best to muddy the waters a bit. When it comes to peace, we can speak of peace of mind and a peaceful life even now, and then in the new world, peace with God. We’ll leave it at that and not get more specific, but leave it up to the imagination of our audience as to just what that means.
When it comes to life, we can talk about how good our lives will be right now if we mind the spirit and then afterwards we all get to live forever. If they forget the part about still being imperfect and sinful and that God will still view them as dead for a full millennium, so much the better. (Re 20:5)
The Exegetical Approach
Romans 8 cannot be understood in isolation any more than the verse at Romans 8:16 can be interpreted in isolation. The letter to the Romans is a single missive written with a particular audience in mind (though its words apply to the whole of the Christian community) and while it covers a number of side issues, the overriding theme is the means of our salvation. Paul spends a lot of time on the Law showing how it condemns us to death by making our sinfulness manifest. (Ro 7:7, 14) He then shows how life comes from faith in Jesus. This faith results in our justification, or as the NWT puts it, our being “declared righteous.”
The first half of Romans 8 can be summed up in a phrase: the flesh leads to death, while the spirit leads to life.
This will not be an in-depth analysis of Romans 8. That must remain a project for the future when time permits. Rather, we will examine it, bearing in mind the belief the Watchtower is trying to impose on this chapter using its trademark method of Bible study: eisegesis. We will conduct our study exegetically, meaning we will let the Bible do the talking and not impose an interpretation not actually supported by the evidence of Scripture.
Exegesis requires us to look at the context, to view the discussion as a whole. We cannot extract a verse nor a passage from the whole and interpret it as if it stands alone.
As we read through Romans, it becomes evident that Romans 8 is a continuation of the arguments Paul has made in previous chapters, with chapters 6 and 7 forming the main foundation for what he reveals in 8. The death he speaks of in those chapters is not physical death, but the death that comes from sin. Of course, sin produces physical death, but the point is that even though we may view ourselves as alive, not having yet died physically, God views us as already dead. Sadly, the phrase “dead man walking” applies to all humanity. God’s view of us can change, however, based on our faith. By faith, we live in his eyes. By faith, we can be freed from sin—acquitted or declared innocent—and brought to life in the spirit, so that even though we die physically, we are alive to God. He views us as sleeping. Just as we do not view a sleeping friend as dead, neither does our God. (Mt 22:32; John 11:11, 25, 26; Ro 6:2-7, 10)
With this in mind, Paul tells us how to avoid the one eventuality (death) and attain to the other (life). This is done, not by minding the flesh which leads to death, but rather, by minding the spirit which leads to peace with God and life. (Ro 8:6) The peace Paul speaks of in verse 6 is not simply peace of mind, but rather, peace with God. We know this, because in the next verse he contrasts that peace with “enmity with God” which comes from minding the flesh. Paul takes a very binary approach to salvation: Flesh vs. spirit; death vs. life; peace vs. enmity. There is no third option; no secondary reward.
Verse 6 also shows that the minding of the spirit results in life. But why? Is life the end goal, or merely the consequence of something else?
This is a crucial question. The answer to it will demonstrate that the JW idea of a dual hope cannot be possible. It is not simply that no evidence can be found in the Bible for the idea of friends of God getting everlasting life by being “declared righteous.” Lack of evidence isn’t proof that an idea is wrong; merely that it cannot yet be proven. This is not the case here, however. The evidence, as we’ll see, is that the JW Other Sheep doctrine contradicts the Bible, and therefore cannot be true.
If we examine Romans 8:14, 15 we see that minding the spirit and putting faith in Jesus results in justification or being declared righteous which, in turn, results in the adoption as God’s children.
“For all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!”” (Ro 8:14, 15)
As children, we get to inherit life.
“If, then, we are children, we are also heirs—heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ—provided we suffer together so that we may also be glorified together.” (Ro 8:17)
So life comes second. Adoption comes first and everlasting life comes as a consequence. In fact, there can be no everlasting life without the adoption.
Much is revealed by Romans 8:17. The adoption as God’s children and eternal life are not separate rewards; nor is everlasting life the first reward. The reward is being restored to the family of God. This is done by adoption. Once adopted, we are in line to inherit and we inherit what the Father has, which is everlasting life. (“For just as the Father has life in himself…” – John 5:26) Adam lost everlasting life by getting thrown out of God’s family. Fatherless, he became no better than the animals who die because only the children of God are in line to inherit life.
“. . .For there is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity.” (Ec 3:19)
To reiterate: eternal life is not given to any creation that is not considered part of God’s family. A dog dies because it was meant to. It is not a child of God, but only a creation of His. Adam, by being thrown out of the family of God, became no better than any member of the animal kingdom. Adam was still a creation of God, but no longer a child of God. We can refer to all sinful humans as God’s creation, but not as God’s children. If sinful humans are still His children, then there is no need for Him to adopt any of them. A man doesn’t adopt his own children, he adopts orphans, fatherless boys and girls. Once adopted—once restored to the family of God—His children can again inherit what is now lawfully theirs: everlasting life from the Father through the Son. (John 5:26; John 6:40)
“. . .And everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.” (Mt 19:29; see also Mark 10:29; John 17:1, 2; 1Jo 1:1, 2)
God gives eternal life as an inheritance, but only to his children. It’s all well and good to consider yourself a friend of God, but if it stops there—if it stops at friendship—then you have no right to claim an inheritance. You cannot inherit as a friend. You are just part of creation.
With this view in mind, the following verses make sense:
“For I consider that the sufferings of the present time do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us. 19 For the creation is waiting with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but through the one who subjected it, on the basis of hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.” (Ro 8:18-22)
Here “the creation” is contrasted with “the sons of God.” Creation does not have everlasting life. Sinful humans have the same eventuality as the beasts of the field. They cannot be saved until first the Sons of God are saved. It’s all about family! Jehovah uses human family members to save the human family. First, he used his only-begotten Son—the son of Man—to provide the means to save humankind by providing the means for adoption. Through him, he has called other humans as sons and he will use them as kings and priests to reconcile the rest of humanity back into his universal family. (Re 5:10; 20:4-6; 21:24; 22:5)
With the revealing of the Sons of God in the first century, the hope for the reconciliation of all humankind became manifest. (Ro 8:22) The children of God are the first, because they have the first fruits, the spirit. But their release only comes at death or at the revelation of our Lord Jesus. (2Th 1:7) Until such time, they too groan as they await their adoption. (Ro 8:23) It is God’s purpose that they become “patterned after the image of his Son,” so as to be “firstborn among many brothers.” (Ro 8:29)
The children of God have a commission which does not end at death. Upon their resurrection, this commission continues. They are chosen to reconcile the whole world to God. (2Co 5:18-20) Eventually, Jehovah will use his adopted children under Jesus to reconcile all humanity back into the family of God. (Col 1:19, 20)
So the message of the eighth chapter of Romans is that Christians have two options before them. There is the physical option which comes from minding the flesh, and the spiritual option which comes from minding the spirit. The former ends in death, while the latter results in being adopted by God. Adoption results in inheritance. The inheritance includes life everlasting. Outside of God’s family, there can be no everlasting life. God does not give life eternal to the creation, but only to his children.
By contrast to this understanding, here is a succinct expression of the essence of the JW Other Sheep doctrine:
w98 2/1 p. 20 par. 7 The Other Sheep and the New Covenant
For the other sheep, being declared righteous as God’s friends allows them to embrace the hope of everlasting life in a paradise earth—either by surviving Armageddon as part of the great crowd or through the ‘resurrection of the righteous.’ (Acts 24:15) What a privilege to have such a hope and to be a friend of the Sovereign of the universe, to be “a guest in [his] tent”!
Romans 8 proves conclusively that only sons inherit everlasting life. Thus, the JW Other Sheep doctrine as expressed above is false.
[i] “However the slogan originated, it has since passed into a different meaning entirely, and is now used to indicate the stalwart, conservative, noncredulous character of Missourians.”