Currently, in the assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses, the booklet "Live with Jehovah's Day in Mind" published by the Watchtower Society is being considered in the assembly book studies. When reading through, one statement that at first seems very positive stands out, namely a statement about justification by faith.
On page 25 of the booklet, paragraph 17 says:
"As for ... the righteous, by his faithful faith he will live" (Habakuk 2:4). These words must be of special importance to us because the apostle Paul quoted them in the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
And on page 187, paragraph 20, it says:
"As for ... the righteous, by his faithful faith he will live" (Habakuk 2:4). Memorize it firmly. It is a biblical central doctrine. Paul quotes the text three times in his inspired writings. ... Jesus lights up with healing.
At first, one might think that the governing body would finally like to emphasize justification or justice by grace in faith, as Paul did starting from Romans 1:17 and going to Romans 3:24: "... and are justified in vain by his grace, by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ... For the righteousness of God is revealed therein by faith to faith, as it is written: »But the righteous shall live by faith.«".
The publication did not explain "biblical central doctrine" any further in the aforementioned places. But one could assume that a Bible reader would find out and understand what Paul develops here intellectually: Justification by grace, by undeserved goodness, without merit, without any form of works or work righteousness.
God justifies people who have faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, for whom Christ is Lord. Why doesn't he take charity, zeal, humility, mercy, or some other aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) as his foundation? Because this would again bring into play one's own performance, one's own works, the righteousness of one's work. It would mean: Christ yes, but one must also show works in order to be justified and thus saved. But faith in the fully sufficient sacrifice of Jesus has the basis that man recognizes his own inability and unworthiness to be justified before God. He cannot show anything to God, does not reach "the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) ... that no flesh should boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:29 – see also Ephesians 2:8-9). Justification without any merit, by grace! This is the core of the good news, the gospel of Christ. And Jehovah's Witnesses should also understand this when they investigate this "central doctrine" in the Bible. But will they? The "faithful and understanding slave" has already told them that he disapproves of Bible reading together, independently of him. So they will wait for his interpretation. Are there indications of his interpretation, and does it deviate from the clear biblical statement?
It is interesting to note that the New World translation usually reproduces the word "believe" with "exercise faith". Here the impression is already created that faith is closely connected with works. At this point, however, it is a question of justification. Of course a Christian is encouraged to do good works, but they in no way serve his justification before God. Rather, they are the result of his justification by faith.
A branch blossoms and bears fruit because it is in the vine; it does not only come into the vine because it blossoms diligently by its own power and bears fruit (John 15:4). Under no circumstances can anyone justify himself before God through works of law or other works. Significantly, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation, an English translation of the New Testament published by the Organization, always reproduces the Greek word for "believe" in the interline reading. But the final reading says again "practice faith". Shouldn't one assume here that the thought should be instilled that one must do something to his justification and salvation, contribute something to the sacrifice of Jesus, earn his salvation?
Does that seem too far-fetched, prejudiced? In the publications it publishes, as far as they are considered and discussed, "studied" in their meetings, the organisation uses to pose questions to the respective paragraphs at the foot of the pages that are asked in these considerations. Let us read the question on page 187, paragraph 20, where the biblical central doctrine is spoken of.
The question is:
"What splendid reward can we receive if we exercise faith?"
Here the thoughts of the witnesses are not only directed to the exercising of faith, as already discussed, but it is spoken quite clearly of wage. But what does Paul say about wages? "But to him who does works, the reward is not counted according to grace, but according to guilt. But to him who does not do works, but believes in him who justifies the wicked, his faith is counted as righteousness... (Romans 4:4-5; see also Galatians 2:16).
Hence the conclusion of Paul according to Romans 3:28: "... that man is justified by faith, without works of law", and also without other works. Reward is expected for an accomplishment; if we expect the justification, the righteousness, which is valid before God, from God as reward, then that would be something that God "owes us". Then grace would no longer be grace! But God owes us nothing, none of us! This is the biblical central doctrine! God gives us in Jesus and His sacrifice the righteousness that is before Him, as a gift, as a gift.
But the governing body gives its believers the idea that they receive salvation from merit, as a reward; and this brings us back to the question frequently asked by many witnesses: "Do I also do enough to be saved?" – No, no one could do enough for it; but he does not need it either. But whoever thinks so, whoever is taught so, has the same central doctrine as Paul? Where does Paul ever speak of reward, of merit, in connection with justification by faith?
The question posed in the publication reveals the true world of thought of the "faithful and intelligent slave" and his governing body. The doctrine of justification by faith through the free grace of God is bent; one expects reward! Here again is work righteousness, self-righteousness. Is this still the gospel of the Bible or is it already another gospel? (Galatians 1:6-9). Didn't people really fall out of grace here?