Not What My Hands Have Done – Reflections from a Conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness

Yesterday afternoon my wonderful girlfriend and I were walking into a Blockbuster that was going out of business when we were greeted by a man wearing tweed. I’m one of those guys who loves tweed and happily returned his greeting. My curiosity was quickly settled when I realized the reason for the greeting. The ever so kind man’s wife brought me two publications from the Watchtower. I always love to take the opportunity to talk to a Jehovah’s Witness. I used to have a spirit of pride in desire to win debates. But the Lord has been gracious in sanctifying me to care for the spiritual state of people like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I’ve had several rather in-depth theological discussions with JW’s before concerning the person of Christ, the Trinity, predestination, the fall, the eternal state, torment, and lots of other subjects. This conversation was certainly theological, but, it was different. The man, Zebedee, was telling me how to have happiness. (I’m one of those guys who quotes the 1st question of the WCF and has read A LOT of Piper.) I loved his proposition. I’m quite convinced that God does desire for us to be happy and to have true joy in this life. How did Zebedee tell me I could find happiness? In keeping the commands of God. Fair enough. It doesn’t sound so bad on the surface to say that I can be happy by doing what God commands of me, in fact he commands me to have delight and joy in this life. Yet there was a greater problem, the commands were and end unto themselves. My obedience was all that was needed. Not the obedience of another, but my obedience.

The gospel of Jesus isn’t what I can do, but what he has done. Zebedee and his wife had some serious misunderstanding not just about the deity of Christ, but about his obedience. Evidently I’ll pay for my original sin in my death, and if I try hard enough God will say ‘well done my good and faithful servant.’ If that were the case Christ need not have died and rose again. But there remained another deep issue in their understanding of obedience. The obedience they claimed we needed to have was only visual obedience. The words of Jesus that I shouldn’t look at a woman with lust didn’t seem to hold water for them. Only if I actually commit the act of adultery am I an adulterer. But our heart is the issue. The sin of covetousness would only be a sin according to Zebedee and his wife Lee if I acted upon it in thievery, murder, or adultery. My deceitfully wicked heart evidently isn’t so wicked.

Their good news is bad news. If I’ve broken one part of the commandment, I’ve broken it all. I’m not good enough. I never will be.

My good news is the best of news. My God loved me enough to send his son to live the life I couldn’t live. He sent Jesus to be what Adam failed to be. He sent him to die on my behalf and give to me his perfect obedience and righteousness. God knows my heart and its wickedness and yet still he still loves me. Not dismissing my sin because I’ve tried. He casts my sin away because his Son died for my obedience. Jesus fulfilled the commands of God when I could not. He saved me. He is sanctifying me. He’s giving me grace present and grace for the future that through Him I might learn and live to love the Lord my God with all that I am and to love my neighbor as myself. This is good news. This news is rooted in God, not me.

He is my righteousness. He is my joy. He is my God.

Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers,
And sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.

 Thy work alone, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin
Thy blood alone O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy love to me O God,
Not mine, O Lord, to Thee
Can rid me of
This dark unrest,
And set my spirit free!

Thy grace alone, O God,
To me can pardon speak;
Thy power alone O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save Thine,
No other blood will do,
No strength save that,
Which is divine,
Can bear me safely through.

 I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart,
I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt,
I bury in His tomb
My unbelief,
And all my fear,
Each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace,
I trust His truth and might
He calls me His, I call Him mine,
My God, my joy, my light
’Tis He Who saveth me,
And freely pardon gives
I love because
He loveth me,
I live because He lives!

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