I get e-mails regularly from fellow Christians who are working their way out of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and finding their path back to Christ and through him to our Heavenly Father, Yahweh. I try my best to answer every e-mail I get because we are all in this together, brothers and sisters, the family of God “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7)
Ours is not an easy path to walk. Initially, it requires us to take a course of action that leads to ostracism—a near-total isolation from beloved family members and former friends who are still steeped within the indoctrination of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. No sane person wants to be treated like a pariah. We don’t choose to live as lonely outcasts, but we do choose Jesus Christ, and if that means being shunned, so be it. We are sustained by the promise made to us by our Lord:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29,30 NIV)
Nevertheless, that promise is not fulfilled in an instant, but only over a period of time. We have to be patient and endure some hardship. That is when we have to fight with an ever-present adversary: Self-doubt.
I’m going to share with you an excerpt from an e-mail giving voice to doubts and concerns I think many of us have also experienced. This is from a fellow Christian who has journeyed widely, seen a good part of the world, and observed firsthand the poverty and misery that millions experience. Like you and me, he yearns for it all to end—for the kingdom to come and restore humanity back into the family of God. He writes:
“I have prayed for 50 years now. I have lost my whole family and friends and given up everything for Jesus as I didn’t have to write a letter of disassociation, but I did as my conscience could not stand by that religion (jw) I was in. All told me not to stand up for Jesus and just be quiet. Just fade. I have prayed and prayed. I have not “felt” the Holy Spirit. I often wonder if there is something wrong with me. Are other people getting a physical or noticeable feeling? As I have not. I try and be a good human to all. I try just to be someone who is a pleasure to be around. I try and show the fruitage of the spirit. But I have to be honest. I have not felt any noticeable external force on me.
I know that’s a personal question and if you don’t want to answer I totally understand, and I apologise if I come across rude. But it has weighed heavily on my mind. I worry that if I’m not feeling Holy Spirit and others are, I must be doing something wrong, and I’d like to fix that.”
(I’ve added the bold face for emphasis.) Perhaps this brother’s question is the understandable result of the misguided belief that to be anointed, you must receive some unique personal sign from God just meant for you. Witnesses cherry-pick a single verse of Romans to support this belief:
“The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16 NWT)
According to the 2016 January Watchtower on page 19, anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses have received a “special token” or a “special invitation” through the holy spirit. The Bible does not speak of a special token or special invitation as if there are many tokens and many invitations, but some are “special”.
Watch Tower publications have created this idea of a special token, because the Governing Body wants the JW flock to accept the idea that there are two distinct salvation hopes for Christians, but the Bible only speaks of one:
“One body there is, and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NWT)
Oops! One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and one hope of your calling.
It’s so clear, isn’t it? But we were taught to overlook that obvious truth and to instead accept the interpretation of men that the phrase from Romans 8:16, “the spirit itself bears witness,” refers to some special awareness that is implanted into “specially selected” Jehovah’s Witnesses telling them they no longer have an earthly hope, but will be going to heaven. However, as we ponder that verse there is nothing in the context to support such an interpretation. Indeed, just reading the surrounding verses in Romans chapter 8 leaves the reader with no doubt that there are only two options for a Christian: Either you are living by the flesh or you are living by the spirit. Paul explains this:
“. . .for if you live according to the flesh, you are sure to die; but if you put the practices of the body to death by the spirit, you will live.” (Romans 8:13 NWT)
There you have it! If you live according to the flesh you will die, if you live according to the spirit you will live. You cannot live by the spirit and not have the spirit, can you? That is the point. Christians are led by God’s spirit. If you are not led by the spirit, then you are not a Christian. The name, Christian, is from the Greek christos which means “Anointed One.”
And what is the consequence for you if you are indeed being led by the holy spirit and not by the sinful flesh?
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14, 15 World English Bible)
We do not receive from God a spirit of bondage, of slavery, so that we live in fear, but a spirit of adoption, the holy spirit by which we are adopted as God’s children. So we have just cause to rejoice crying “Abba! Father!”
There are no special tokens or special invitations as if there were two: an ordinary token and a special one; an ordinary invitation and a special one. Here is what God actually says, not what the publications of the Organization say:
“So while we are in this tent [our fleshly, sinful body], we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life. And God has prepared us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a pledge of what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 5:4,5 BSB)
“And in Him, having heard and believed the word of truth—the gospel of your salvation—you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession, to the praise of His glory.”” (Ephesians 1:13,14 BSB)
“Now it is God who establishes both us and you in Christ. He anointed us, placed His seal on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21,22 BSB)
It is important for us to understand why we receive the spirit and how that spirit brings us to righteousness as true Christians. The spirit is not something we possess or command but when we are led by it, it unifies us with our Heavenly Father, Christ Jesus and the other children of God. The spirit brings us to life as these scriptures point out, it is the guarantee of our inheritance of everlasting life.
According to Romans chapter 8, if you are anointed with the spirit, then you get life. So, sadly, when Jehovah’s Witnesses claim not to be anointed with holy spirit, they are in essence denying they are Christians. If you are not spirit anointed, you are dead in God’s eyes, that means unrighteous (did you know that the word unrighteous and wicked are used interchangeably in the Greek?)
“Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life…” (Romans 8:5,6 BSB)
This is serious business. You can see the polarity. The only way to get life is to receive the holy spirit, otherwise, you die in the flesh. Which brings us back to the question I was asked by e-mail. How do we know we have received holy spirit?
Recently, a friend of mine—a former Jehovah’s Witness—told me that he’d received the holy spirit, he’d felt its presence. It was for him a life altering experience. It was unique and undeniable and he told me that until I experienced something similar, I couldn’t claim to have been touched by holy spirit.
This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard people speak about this. In fact, often when someone asks you if you’ve been born again, they are referring to some such transcendental experience which to them is what it means to be born again.
Here’s the problem I have with such talk: It cannot be supported in Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible telling Christians to expect some singular spiritual experience so as to know they are born of God. What we do have instead is this warning:
“Now the [holy] Spirit expressly states that in later times some will abandon the faith to follow deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars…” (1 Timothy 4:1,2 BLB)
Elsewhere we are told to put such experiences to the test, specifically, we are told to “test the spirits to see if they originate from God,” meaning that there are spirits sent to influence us which are not from God.
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1 NIV)
How can we test a spirit that claims to be from God? Jesus himself gives us the answer to that question:
“However, when that one (the Spirit of Truth) arrives, it’ll lead you to all truth… And it won’t be speaking for itself; it’ll tell you what he hears and then it’ll announce the things that will be coming. That one will also glorify me, because it’ll receive things from me and then announce them to you. For everything that the Father has is now mine, and that’s why I say that it’ll receive things from me and then announce them to you!” (John 16:13-15 2001Translation.org)
There are two elements in those words for us to focus on. 1) the spirit will lead us to truth, and 2) the spirit will glorify Jesus.
Keeping this in mind, my former JW friend began to associate with a group that believes and promotes the false teaching of the trinity. People can say anything, teach anything, believe anything, but it is what they do that reveals the truth about what they say. The spirit of truth, the holy spirit from our loving Father, would not lead a person into believing a lie.
As for the second element we just discussed, the holy spirit glorifies Jesus by imparting to us the things Jesus gives it to impart. That is more than knowledge. Indeed, the holy spirit imparts tangible fruits which others can see in us, fruits that set us apart, make us light bearers, cause us to become reflections of Jesus’ glory as we are fashioned after his image.
“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29 Christian Standard Bible)
To that end, the holy spirit produces a fruitage in the Christian. These are the fruits that mark a person to the outside observer as having received the holy spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, 23 Berean Standard Bible)
The first and foremost of these is love. Indeed, the other eight fruits are all aspects of love. About love, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)
Why were the Corinthians getting this message? Probably because there were some there who were boasting about their gifts. These were the ones Paul called the “super-apostles.” (2 Corinthians 11:5 NIV) To protect the congregation against such self-promoters, Paul had to speak of his own credentials, because who, of all the apostles, had suffered more? Who had been given more visions and revelations? Yet Paul never spoke of them. The information had to be dragged out of him by circumstances such as those that now threatened the health of the Corinthian congregation and even then, he protested having to boast that way, saying:
Again I say, don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little. Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool. And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too. After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that!
But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. (2 Corinthians 11:16-23 NIV)
He goes on, but we get the idea. So, rather than looking for some special sensation or subjective feeling or colorful revelation to convince others that we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit, why not continually pray for it and exert ourselves to manifest its fruitage? As we see those fruits manifest in our life, we will have the evidence that it is God’s Holy Spirit that is transforming us into the image of his son because we cannot accomplish that on our own, through the sheer force of our imperfect human will. Sure, many attempt to do so, but all they accomplish is to create a facade of godliness which the slightest test will reveal to be nothing more than a paper mask.
Those insisting that to be born again or to be anointed by God involves receiving some experiential revelation from the holy spirit, or some special token or special invitation are trying to incite others to envy.
Paul told the Colossians: Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, (Colossians 2:18 NLT)
“Worship of angels”? You might counter, “But no one is trying to get us to worship angels these days, so those words don’t really apply, do they?” Not so fast. Remember that the word translated here as “worship” is proskuneó in Greek which means ‘to bow down before, to submit utterly to the will of another.’ And the word for “angel” in Greek literally means messenger, because the angels where spirits that carried messages from God to humans. So if someone claims to be a messenger (Greek: angelos) from God, that is, someone through whom God communicates with his people today, his—how can I put this—oh, yes, “God’s channel of communication,” then they are acting in the role of angels, messengers from God. Further, if they expect you to obey the messages they relay, then they are demanding total submission, proskuneó, worship. These men will condemn you if you do not obey them as God’s messengers. So, we do have today the “worship of angels.” Big time! But don’t let them have their way with you. As Paul says, “Their sinful minds have made them proud”. Ignore them.
If a person claims to have had some ineffable experience, some revelation that he or she has been touched by holy spirit, and that you need to do the same, you need to seek out the spirit to feel its presence, first look at the person’s works. Has the spirit they claim to have received led them to truth? Have they been remade in the image of Jesus, manifesting the fruits of the spirit?
Rather than looking for a one-time occurrence, what we find as we are filled with the holy spirit is a renewed joy in life, a growing love for our brothers and sisters and our neighbors, a patience with others, a level of faith that continues to grow with the assurance that nothing can do us harm. That is the experience we should be seeking.
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death.” (1 John 3:14 NASB)
Sure, God could give each of us a very special manifestation that would remove any doubt that He approves of us, but then where would faith be? Where would hope be? You see, once we have the reality, we no longer need faith nor hope.
One day we will have the reality, but we will only get there if we keep our faith and focus on our hope and ignore all the distractions that false brothers and sisters, and deceptive spirits, and demanding “angels” put in our way.
I hope this consideration has been of benefit. Thank you for listening. And thank you for your support.