One of the most important issues anyone can consider is how to be cleansed of sin and become a Christian. Some people eagerly study and discuss at length topics such as future events that will occur when Jesus returns. But wouldn't it be tragic to study such topics endlessly, but neglect to know what God says about how to be forgiven, so we can be ready for His return?
Most people at some point visit with representatives of the Watchtower Society, who describe themselves as "Jehovah's Witnesses." The purpose of this study is to consider what Jehovah's Witnesses teach about how a person can be cleansed of sin. Then we will consider the teaching of the Bible and see how it compares to Jehovah's Witnesses' teaching.
If you believe Jehovah's Witness' doctrine, please give honest answers to these simple, straightforward questions.
Please consider a person who is lost in sin. He has never received the cleansing or forgiveness of his sins by the blood of Jesus.
1. What do Jehovah's Witnesses teach such a person to do to receive the cleansing power of Jesus' death so he can be forgiven of sins and become a Christian?
What steps must he take or what must he do?
2. As a person does the things he needs to do to be cleansed of sin, specifically at what point does the cleansing of his sins occur?
There must be a point at which the death of Jesus applies to a person so that, previous to that point he was still under condemnation because of his sins, but after that point he no longer stands condemned for those past sins. What point is that?
3. How important is it for a person to understand the proper purpose or intent of these actions?
Must he do the acts for the proper purpose? May he receive cleansing of his sins and a right relationship with God if he just goes through the outward actions without understanding the purpose of the actions?
4. What do Jehovah's Witnesses teach is the purpose of water baptism?
What must be the intent for which a person should be baptized?
5. Specifically, when is a person cleansed of his sins: before water baptism, during baptism, or afterward?
Is water baptism something a person should do in order to receive cleansing of sins, or is he cleansed at some other point, so water baptism has some other purpose?
If you believe Jehovah's Witness doctrine, please give specific answers to these questions before you proceed reading. If a person has really been cleansed of sins, surely they should be able to give clear answers about how to be forgiven. Jehovah's Witnesses talk freely about the 144,000 and the "new heavens and the new earth," so surely they should be able to give clear answers to these simple questions about how to be cleansed of sin and become a Christian.
The following information is quoted from official publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, showing their views about the questions we have asked.
First of all, you must have faith in Jehovah and in his promises ... repent or make changes to bring your life course into harmony with Jehovah's will...
...You should approach God in Jesus' name and tell him in prayer that you want to be his servant, that you want to belong to him. In this way you dedicate yourself to God ... However, you must do more than privately tell Jehovah that you want to belong to him. You need to show before others that you have made a dedication to serve God. How do you do this? By getting baptized in water. - You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 250-252
When love for God moves you so that you want to do his will, then it is proper that you go to him in prayer through Jesus Christ and express your desire to be one of his servants ... In this way you dedicate yourself to God. - The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, p. 182.
So the Watchtower says that one who wants to become Jesus' disciple must believe in God, repent, and change his life. Then he must dedicate himself to God by means of prayer. After he has dedicated himself to God, he should be baptized in water to show others that he has made this dedication.
Consider further specific quotes.
First of all, the creature must exercise faith ... in the shed blood of Christ. This he shows by dedicating himself to God through Christ. Christ Jesus then acts as an advocate, covering the sins of such dedicated one by the merit of his sacrifice. The dedicated one is now in position to be justified or declared righteous by God, and thus he has access to God through Jesus Christ. - "Let God Be True," p. 299.
So, because we repent of sin and turn around and dedicate ourselves, Jehovah applies the cleansing blood of Christ's atoning sacrifice to us, thereby relieving us of the condemnation of sin and giving us a good conscience toward Him. - "Baptism a Christian Requirement," The Watchtower, 5/1/79, p. 14.
So, the Watchtower teaches that the blood of Jesus covers a person's sins when he dedicates himself to God. Jesus "then acts as an advocate" and covers the sins so the person has access to God. Remember, earlier quotations show that they teach a person to dedicate himself to God by praying to Him. And baptism happens after all this to show others that he has been dedicated.
Millions in Christendom today have had a water rite performed upon them by priest or pastor. But this will not ensure them against destruction in the baptism of fire at Armageddon. Why not? Because they have not understood and received the true baptism for life... - "New Heavens and New Earth", p. 301. .
..the presiding overseer ... will arrange for meetings to be held with these candidates for baptism ... [to] review with them the eighty questions presented in this chapter. The purpose of this is to help them to be sure that they really understand what the step of dedication and baptism means and includes - Organization for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-Making, p. 18.
So the Watchtower says it is essential for people to understand the meaning of what they do in becoming a Christian. This is so important that they ask candidates for baptism 80 questions to make sure they understand. They say millions in "Christendom" will be destroyed because (among other reasons) they do not understand baptism.
So surely Jehovah's Witnesses consider it vitally important to understand how to be cleansed of sin and the purpose of baptism. If they themselves do not properly understand these things, then neither they nor the people they baptize are right before God. Few issues could be more fundamental than this.
You need to show before others that you have made a dedication to serve God. How do you do this? By getting baptized in water. Such water baptism is a public demonstration that a person has dedicated his life to Jehovah and is presenting himself to do his will. - You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth pp. 250-252
Since Jesus set the pattern, dedicated Christians today also should be baptized ... What, then, does Christian baptism signify? It is not a washing away of one's sins, because cleansing from sin comes only through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7). Rather, it is a public demonstration, testifying that one has made a solemn dedication to Jehovah God and is presenting himself to do his will. - The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, pp. 183,184.
Does this mean that the waters of baptism wash away sins? It would be wrong to draw such a conclusion ... Therefore, our obediently passing through the baptismal water symbolizes our dedication of ourselves to Jehovah God through Jesus Christ - "Baptism a Christian Requirement," The Watchtower, 5/1/79, p. 14.
"Baptism does not cleanse from sins, since [it is] bloodless" - Sermon Outlines, p. 2.
"Are you ready for water baptism as evidence that you are such a disciple?" - True Peace and Security - From What Source? p. 186.
So, according to the Watchtower, water baptism comes after one has dedicated himself to God (in prayer), and therefore after his sins have been covered by Jesus' blood. Baptism does not cleanse one from sin. One is a "Christian" and a "disciple" before he is baptized. Baptism is a public demonstration that one has already dedicated himself to God (and therefore is already cleansed from his sins).
Note: As is often the case with Jehovah's Witnesses, there are confusing issues of terminology with this subject. They do teach that water baptism is essential to salvation. However, they do not teach that the purpose of it is to receive cleansing by Jesus' blood and be freed from the condemnation of sin. Rather, they teach that, after ones sins have been covered by Jesus' blood (at dedication), he must live a lifetime of faithful service to God to ultimately receive His reward. So, they view water baptism as an act of obedience that is essential to live a faithful life as a Christian, but it is not essential in order to become a Christian.
Furthermore, Jehovah's Witnesses believe in other baptisms today in addition to water baptism. They say the 144,000 are baptized with Jehovah's spirit and thus baptized into Christ's body (Romans 6:3,4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:12,13). Those who are not of the 144,000 do not receive these baptisms. However, in addition to water baptism, they receive another baptism being baptized into the "greater Noah" (1 Peter 3:21). So, Jehovah's Witnesses believe in at least three baptisms today. (See "New Heavens and New Earth," pp 308-310.)
Ephesians 4:4-6 - There is one baptism just as there is only one God and Father. But the Watchtower teaches at least three baptisms for today.
Jehovah's Witnesses strongly emphasize that there is one God (we agree, though we disagree with their concept of God). How can they believe in three baptisms today when the same passage that teaches one God and Father also teaches one baptism?
[Note: We agree that Holy Spirit baptism did occur, but it ceased before Ephesians 4 was written. Baptism in fire is for the future at the last day. Today "there is one baptism."]
Peter taught that all sinners must repent and be baptized "for the remission of sins." So, forgiveness or cleansing of sins is the result of baptism, it does not come before it. The context shows that Peter was talking to people who did not have remission of sins but needed to receive it (vv 36,37). (Why else would he tell them to "repent"?)
Furthermore, the purpose of baptism is to receive remission. It is not just an outward expression that one has already received it. And this is true for "every one," as many as God calls to Him (vv 38,39). [Note that the Watchtower agrees that the baptism of Acts 2:38 is water baptism. See "New Heavens and A New Earth," p. 306.]
Compare Matthew 26:28 as a parallel. Jesus shed His blood for many "for the remission sins." Did Jesus die just an outward expression that people already had remission, or was His death necessary so people could receive remission? Just as Jesus died for remission of our sins, so we must be baptized for remission of our sins.
Saul of Tarsus was told to be baptized and wash away his sins. This is how one "calls on the name of the Lord." So sins are not cleansed before baptism. They are cleansed in baptism, and that is the purpose of it.
The Watchtower teaches that people's sins are cleansed by Jesus' blood when they pray a prayer to dedicate themselves to God before baptism, and baptism is an outward expression that one has already dedicated himself (and already been cleansed of sin). What passages teach this?
Can Witnesses find even one passage where an unbaptized person was ever told to pray for forgiveness? Saul had been praying for three days before his baptism (Acts 9:9,11), but his sins were not washed away till he was baptized (22:16).
Can Witnesses produce even one passage that speaks of any sinner (after Jesus' death and resurrection) being cleansed of his sins before baptism? They claim it, but can they prove it?
The Watchtower does not teach that baptism is to receive the remission of sins. So, they misunderstand the purpose of baptism just like "Christendom" does.
The Watchtower says only the 144,000 will be baptized into Christ's death and into Him (into His body) as taught in Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:26,27; 1 Corinthians 12:13. They believe that Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians and have been cleansed of sin, but most of them will never receive the baptism of Romans 6:3,4, etc. Consider the consequences of this belief.
These passages teach that "all" who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death, raised to walk in a new life, and are sons or children of God. Since most Jehovah's Witnesses have not been baptized into Christ, then they are not in Christ, do not have newness of life, and are not children of God! What is their condition then?
Romans 6:6,7 says those baptized into Christ and into His death (vv 3,4) have the body of sin done away and are justified from sin. Most Witnesses are not baptized into Christ, so how could they be justified and have their sins done away?
Romans 6:17,18 says those who obey the doctrine delivered (including vv 3,4) are made free from sin and become servants of righteousness. Most Witnesses have not obeyed vv 3,4, so how can they be freed from sin and servants of righteousness. The only choice left is to be servants of sin (vv 16,17).
Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:11,12 - Eternal life is in the Son. When people have not been baptized into the Son, how can they have eternal life? Notice that the only other alternative is death.
Remember, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that most of them have not received the baptism that puts them in Christ.
** Romans 8:1 - There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. When people have not been baptized into Christ, how can they be free from condemnation?
** Ephesians 1:7 - Redemption and forgiveness of sins are in Christ. When people have not been baptized into Christ, how can they be redeemed or forgiven?
** Colossians 2:12,13 - Those who have been buried with Jesus in baptism and made alive with him are forgiven of their trespasses. When people have not been buried with Jesus in baptism, how can they be forgiven of their trespasses? [Cf. Ephesians 2:1-6]
** 2 Timothy 2:1; Galatians 5:4 - God's grace is in Jesus Christ. Those who are severed from Christ are fallen from grace. When people have not been baptized into Christ, how can they have God's grace?
** 2 Timothy 2:10; Acts 4:12 - Salvation is in Christ and there is salvation in none other. When people have not been baptized into Christ, how can they have salvation?
** 1 John 4:13; 3:24; Romans 8:9 - If we abide in Jesus we have God's Spirit. If we do not have His Spirit we are none of His. When people have not been baptized into Jesus, how can they have His Spirit and belong to Him?
** Ephesians 2:12,13 - We are either in Christ or we are strangers from the covenant, having no hope and without God. When people have not been baptized into Christ, how can they have hope and have God?
** Ephesians 5:23,25 - Jesus is the Savior of the body and gave Himself up for it (cf. Acts 20:28). When people have not been baptized into the body of Christ, how can they be saved?
** John 15:6 - Those who do not abide in Christ will be cast forth and burned. When people have not been baptized into Christ, what will happen to them?
Remember, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that most of them have not received baptism that makes them children of God.
** 1 Peter 1:22,23 - When we obey the truth our souls are purified and we are born again (children of God). So when people were not baptized to become children of God, how can their souls have been purified?
** 1 John 4:7 - All who love are born of God (children of God). When people have not been baptized to become children of God, how can they love God?
** 1 John 3:7,8,10 - Children of God are distinguished from children of the devil in that children of God do righteousness and children of the devil do not. But if people have not been baptized to become children of God, how can they be right and who are they children of?
Most Witnesses respond to this information by denying its importance. They claim it is a small matter and "splitting hairs." They say they believe baptism is important, so there is not much difference between what they believe and what we have presented from the Bible.
However, the fact remains that they do not teach the proper purpose of baptism. Consider the significance of this matter:
** When the Watchtower tries to prove other groups wrong, no issue seems too small. They say other people are in error if they celebrate their birthdays or are mistaken about the shape of Jesus' cross! If the Watchtower had the truth on this issue, you can be sure they would consider it important. But when they cannot prove they are right, they say it is a small matter. "With what judgment you judge, you will be judged" (Matthew 7:2).
** The Watchtower rebukes others for baptizing babies or practicing sprinkling or pouring. So, they agree the outward action of baptism is important, so why should the inner meaning of the act be unimportant?
** We already quoted where their writings claim that the meaning of baptism is important. They criticize "Christendom" regarding this subject and go to great lengths to make sure their candidates for baptism "understand." So why should the errors in their own teaching be viewed as unimportant?
** The Bible says the purpose of baptism does matter because we must obey "from the heart" to be made free from sin (Romans 6:17,18). In other acts of service, like the Lord's Supper, He also demands that we understand the meaning of what we do (1 Corinthians 14:15; 11:26-29). To teach a different purpose for baptism is to change the gospel, follow man-made doctrines, and fail to abide in the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 15:9,13; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11; Colossians 3:17; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6; Revelation 22:18,19).
** This is an issue of obedience to God. Witnesses say that obeying God is of utmost importance, and rightly so. So why do they disregard it when shown that they are disobeying God? See Matthew 7:21-27; 22:36-39; John 14:15,21-24; Acts 10:34,35; Romans 2:6-10; 6:17,18; Hebrews 5:9; 10:39; 11:8,30; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:22,23; 1 John 5:3; 2:3-6.
** And the area we are discussing concerns how a person receives the cleansing of sin by Jesus' blood. If baptism is for the purpose of being cleansed by Jesus' blood, but we do not realize it is for that purpose, then what is our condition?
Note that we are discussing here, not random errors of a few uninformed members, but official teachings of the Watchtower society. The whole organization has missed the truth in these matters. The result is that all who believe and obey what they teach end up in error.
The truth is that the Watchtower has accepted the teaching of Protestant "Christendom" that people are saved before baptism. All who seek to please God need to seriously consider the New Testament teaching about the proper purpose of baptism.
Copyright 2012, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority
Jehovah's Witnesses: Watchtower Society and Bible Authority
Is Baptism Essential to Salvation?
Things that Are Essential to Salvation
How Can You Be Sure of Forgiveness?
Have You Been "Born Again"?
"Faith Only" vs. Obedient Faith
Why Must We Be "In Christ"?
Photo credit: Sergio Herrera distributed under Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons
Free audio Bible
Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.