I keep it in the den drawer – my little black book. It reminds me of what I once was. I know what you’re thinking – it’s not that kind of little black book. This one is much blacker, much darker. This book once belonged to a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s a record of the house calls made, the pamphlets handed out, and the spiel to be performed along the broad way to servitude. No, I was never a Jehovah’s Witness, but at one time, I thought like them – we all did. Before Christ puts His Name on us in Holy Baptism, we were all slaves to sin and believed with all our heart that the way to salvation was through our good works.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that in order to be saved “you must become 1) knowledgeable about the Father, 2) obey God’s laws, 3) be associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 4) be loyal in spreading the kingdom news of God” (reference). If you ask them, they’ll certainly say they’re saved by grace, but here’s their grace:
JEHOVAH GOD has shown his love for us in countless ways. Without question, though, the greatest proof of Jehovah’s love is the provision of the ransom sacrifice. His love for mankind is so immense that he even sent his beloved Son here to earth to die in our behalf. (John 3:16) Jehovah did this because he wants us to live forever, and he also wants us to benefit from his love forever!
Can we assume, however, that Jehovah will automatically keep us in his love no matter what we choose to do? No. For at Jude verse 21, we read this exhortation: “Keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view.” The expression “keep yourselves in God’s love” implies that some action is required on our part. What, then, do we need to do in order to remain in God’s love?
How Can We Remain in God’s Love?
We find the answer to that question in Jesus’ own words, spoken on the final night of his life here on earth. He said: “If you observe my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father and remain in his love.” (John 15:10) Clearly, Jesus felt that observing Jehovah’s commandments was essential to keeping a good standing with his Father. Now, if that was true of the perfect Son of God, would it not be true of us also?
…Jehovah wants us to remain in his love forever. But all of us individually need to make sure that we do our very best to remain in God’s love. This we can do by following Jesus’ example and proving our love for Jehovah by obeying His commands. If we do so, we can be certain that nothing “will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:38, 39. [all emphases in original] (reference)
Their form of grace is conditional; “some action is required on our part.” We can only be certain of our salvation if we prove our love for Jehovah by obeying His commands. Have you obeyed enough? Theirs is a very uncertain certainty.
Like the terrified jailer before Paul and Silas, we should tremble with fear before a Holy God, a God whose wrath we could never placate. So what must we do to be saved?
And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. Acts 16:29-34 ESV
Like the jailer and his family, we have been released from the death sentence of our own sin. Every day, we’re unconditionally released from the threat of the Law through our Baptism. When I open my drawer and see that little dog-eared black book lying there, it reminds me of the slavery from which I have been freed. I rejoice that sin, death, and the devil have no hold on me. I rejoice that God’s promise to me, and to you, is unconditional. “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:11). In Christ’s Epiphany, we can sing with the hymn writer,
Manifest in making whole
Palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight,
Quelling all the devil’s might;
Manifest in gracious will,
Ever bringing good from ill;
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.
(LSB 394, st. 3)
For a closer look at what servitude looks like, click on the photos.