Saved, Not by Works Alone, But by Undeserved Kindness

“You have been saved through faith . . . It is not owing to works, in order that no man should have ground for boasting.”​—EPHESIANS 2:8, 9.

1. How do Christians differ from people in general as regards personal accomplishments, and why?

PEOPLE today take great pride in personal accomplishments, and they are often quick to boast about them. Christians are different. They refrain from overemphasizing their own accomplishments, even those having to do with true worship. While they rejoice over what Jehovah’s people accomplish as a whole, they keep their individual contribution in the background. They realize that in Jehovah’s service, right motives are more important than personal accomplishments. Anyone who is eventually given the gift of eternal life will have gained it, not by personal accomplishments, but through faith and by God’s undeserved kindness.​—Luke 17:10; John 3:16.

2, 3. Of what did Paul boast, and why?

2 The apostle Paul was well-aware of this fact. After having prayed three times for relief from “a thorn in the flesh,” he received Jehovah’s reply: “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you; for my power is being made perfect in weakness.” Humbly accepting Jehovah’s decision, Paul said: “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather boast as respects my weaknesses, that the power of the Christ may  like a tent remain over me.” Paul’s humble attitude is one that we should want to imitate.​—2 Corinthians 12:7-9.

3 Even though Paul was outstanding in performing Christian works, he recognized that his achievements were not owing to any particular abilities of his own. With modesty, he noted: “To me, a man less than the least of all holy ones, this undeserved kindness was given, that I should declare to the nations the good news about the unfathomable riches of the Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8) No boastful attitude here nor holier-than-thou haughtiness. “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) Do we follow Paul’s example, humbly considering ourselves to be less than the least of our brothers?

“Considering That the Others Are Superior”

4. Why may we sometimes find it difficult to consider others to be superior to us?

4 The apostle Paul counseled Christians: “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) This may be a challenge, especially if we happen to be in a position of responsibility. Perhaps the difficulty arises because we have been influenced, to a certain extent, by the spirit of competition so prevalent in the world today. Possibly, as children we were taught to compete, either with our siblings at home or with our classmates at school. We were perhaps constantly urged to reach out for the honor of being the school’s star athlete or its top student. Of course, giving our best in any proper undertaking is commendable. However, Christians do so, not to call undue attention to themselves, but to benefit fully from the activity and perhaps to benefit others as well. However, aspiring always to be praised as number one can be dangerous. How so?

5. If left unchecked, to what can a competitive spirit lead?

5 If left unchecked, a competitive or egotistical spirit can cause a person to become disrespectful and arrogant. He may become envious of the abilities and privileges of others. Proverbs 28:22 says: “A man of envious eye is bestirring himself after valuable things, but he does not know that want itself will come upon him.” He might even presumptuously reach out for positions to which he is not entitled. To justify his actions, he may start to murmur and become critical of others​—tendencies that Christians should shun. (James 3:14-16) At any rate, he is running the risk of developing a me-first attitude.

6. How does the Bible warn against a competitive spirit?

6 The Bible, therefore, urges Christians: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one  another.” (Galatians 5:26) The apostle John spoke of a fellow Christian who evidently fell victim to this kind of spirit. “I wrote something to the congregation,” said John, “but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words.” What a sad situation for a Christian to fall into!​—3 John 9, 10.

7. What will a Christian want to avoid in today’s competitive workplace?

7 Of course, it is unrealistic to think that a Christian can completely avoid all competitive pursuits. His secular work, for example, may involve economic competition with other individuals or businesses producing similar products or offering similar services. Even in such instances, however, a Christian will want to carry on his business in a spirit of respect, love, and consideration. He will rule out illegal or unchristian practices and avoid becoming a person known primarily for a competitive, dog-eat-dog attitude. He will not feel that being number one​—in whatever pursuit—​is the most important thing in life. If that is true of secular pursuits, how much more it is true in the realm of worship!

“Not in Comparison With the Other Person”

8, 9. (a) Why do Christian elders have no reason to compete with one another? (b) Why does 1 Peter 4:10 apply to all of God’s servants?

8 The attitude Christians should have in their worship is set out in these inspired words: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” (Galatians 6:4) Elders in the congregation, knowing that they are not in competition with one another, cooperate and work closely together as a body. They rejoice in the contribution each one can make to the overall welfare of the congregation. They thus ward off disruptive competition and set a fine example in unity for the rest of the congregation.

9 Because of age, experience, or natural abilities, some elders may be more efficient than others, or they may be endowed with greater insight. As a result, elders have different responsibilities in Jehovah’s organization. Instead of making comparisons, they bear in mind the counsel: “In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.” (1 Peter 4:10) In reality, this text applies to all of Jehovah’s servants, for to some extent all have received the  gift of accurate knowledge and all enjoy the privilege of sharing in the Christian ministry.

10. In what way only will our sacred service be acceptable to Jehovah?

10 Our sacred service is pleasing to Jehovah only when it is rendered out of love and devotion, not for the sake of elevating ourselves over others. It is therefore vital to have a balanced view of our activity in support of true worship. While no one can accurately judge another’s motives, Jehovah “is making an estimate of hearts.” (Proverbs 24:12; 1 Samuel 16:7) Thus, we do well to ask ourselves from time to time, ‘What is my motive for performing works of faith?’​—Psalm 24:3, 4; Matthew 5:8.

Proper View of Our Work

11. What questions about our activity in the ministry can reasonably be considered?

11 If motive is all-important in gaining Jehovah’s approval, then to what extent should we be concerned about our works of faith? As long as we perform our ministry with the right motive, is it really necessary to keep account of what we do or how much? These are reasonable questions, since we do not want to put numbers ahead of acts of faith or let having a good report become a major concern regarding our Christian activity.

12, 13. (a) What are some reasons why we keep a record of our field service? (b) What reasons do we have for joy when viewing the overall report of our preaching activity?

12 Notice what the book Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will says: “Early followers of Jesus Christ took an interest in reports of progress in the preaching work. (Mark 6:30) The Bible book of Acts tells us that there were about 120 persons present when holy spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost. Soon the number of disciples grew to 3,000 and then to 5,000. . . . (Acts 1:15; 2:5-11, 41, 47; 4:4; 6:7) What fine encouragement the news of these increases must have brought to the disciples!” For the same reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses today endeavor to keep accurate records of what is accomplished worldwide in fulfillment of Jesus’ words: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a  witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Such reports provide a realistic picture of what is done in the world field. They show where help is needed and which kind of literature and how much of it is required to advance the preaching work.

13 Thus, reporting our preaching activity enables us to carry out our commission to preach the Kingdom good news more effectively. Besides, are we not encouraged when we hear about the work that our brothers are doing in other parts of the world? News of growth and expansion earth wide fills us with joy, moves us to greater activity, and assures us of Jehovah’s blessing. And how gratifying to know that our personal report is included in that worldwide report! Ours is small in comparison with the grand total, but it does not go unnoticed by Jehovah. (Mark 12:42, 43) Remember, without your report, the overall report would be incomplete.

14. Besides preaching and teaching, what is included in our worship of Jehovah?

14 Of course, much of what every Witness does in fulfilling his responsibility as a dedicated servant of Jehovah does not appear on his report. For instance, the report does not include regular personal Bible study, attendance and participation at Christian meetings, congregational duties, assistance to fellow believers as needed, financial support of the worldwide Kingdom work, and so on. Thus, while our field service report plays its part, helping us to maintain our zeal in preaching and to avoid slacking off, we must keep it in proper perspective. It is not to be viewed as a spiritual license or passport, determining our eligibility for everlasting life.

“Zealous for Fine Works”

15. Though works alone cannot save us, why are they necessary?

15 Clearly, even though works alone cannot save us, they are necessary. That is why Christians are called “a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works” and why they are encouraged to “consider one another to incite to love and fine works.” (Titus 2:14; Hebrews 10:24) More to the point, another Bible writer, James, simply says: “As the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”​—James 2:26.

16. What is even more important than works, but of what should we beware?

16 Important though the good works themselves may be, the motives for doing them are even more important. It is therefore wise for us to check our motives from time to time. Since no human can accurately know the motives of others, however, we must beware of judging others. “Who are you to judge the house servant of another?” we are asked, with the obvious answer: “To his own master he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4) Jehovah, the Master of all, and his appointed Judge, Christ Jesus, will judge us,  not on the basis of our works alone but also on the basis of our motives, our opportunities, our love, and our devotion. Only Jehovah and Christ Jesus can accurately judge whether we have done what Christians are admonished to do, in the words of the apostle Paul: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.”​—2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 1:10; 3:14.

17. While striving to do our utmost, why should we keep James 3:17 in mind?

17 Jehovah is reasonable in what he expects of us. According to James 3:17, “the wisdom from above is,” among other things, “reasonable.” Would it not be the course of wisdom, as well as a true accomplishment, for us to imitate Jehovah in this regard? Thus, we should not try to set unreasonable and unreachable expectations for ourselves or for our brothers.

18. What can we look forward to when we have a balanced view of our works and Jehovah’s undeserved kindness?

18 As long as we keep a balanced view of our works of faith and Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, we will maintain the joy that is a distinguishing mark of true servants of Jehovah. (Isaiah 65:13, 14) We can rejoice in the blessings that Jehovah is pouring out on his people as a whole, regardless of how much we personally may be able to do. Continuing in “prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving,” we will petition God to help us do our utmost. Then, beyond all doubt, “the peace of God that excels all thought will guard [our] hearts and [our] mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7) Yes, we can draw comfort and encouragement from knowing that we can be saved, not by works alone, but by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness!

Can You Explain Why Christians

• refrain from boasting about personal accomplishments?

• avoid showing a competitive spirit?

• report their Christian activity in the field ministry?

• avoid judging fellow Christians?

[Study Questions]

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“My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you”

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Elders rejoice in the contribution each one can make to the welfare of the congregation

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Without your report, the overall report would be incomplete