Regarding Baptism

 What happened to Jesus at his baptism?

On June 18, 2012, we received the following inquiry:    

“As you read in Matthew 3 verse 16, Jesus was the first to be born again of the spirit. can you explain what happened when the spirit came upon him?”    

To the author, we thank you for posting your question.   The scripture you refer to states:

“After being baptized Jesus immediately came up from the water; and, look! the heavens were opened up, and he saw descending like a dove God’s spirit coming upon him.” – Matthew 3:16

As you can imagine, Jesus’ baptism was not like any other.  So we will need to start with some background.    

Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, had been preaching in Palestine to all of Jewry to “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matthew 3:2) At this time, the Jews were engaged in serious and solemn self-examination and their sense of racial solidarity was very profound. They not only believed that the sins of the father might afflict his children (Exodus 20:5), but they firmly believed that the sin of one individual might curse the nation.     

Accordingly, not all who submitted to John’s baptism regarded themselves as being guilty of the specific sins which John denounced.  Many devout souls were baptized by John for the good of Israel.  They feared that some sin of ignorance on their part might delay the coming of the Messiah. They felt themselves to belong to a guilty and sin-cursed nation, and they presented themselves for baptism that they might by so doing manifest fruits of race penitence.  It is therefore evident that Jesus in no sense received John's baptism as a rite of repentance or for the remission of sins.  In accepting baptism at the hands of John, Jesus was only following the example of many pious Jews.      

 When Jesus went down into the Jordan to be baptized, he was a mortal of the realm who had attained the pinnacle of human ascension in all matters related to the conquest of mind and harmony with the indwelling spirit.  He stood in the Jordan that day as a perfected son of man.    

We understand that if any mortal achieves the level of personality perfection as did Jesus, that person would immediately be transformed “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52) and be taken into the heavens.  But when Jesus was baptized and the ‘heavens opened up’ to him, he chose not to be thus transformed.  It was at that time that the spirit indwelling Jesus of Nazareth left, and the spirit of the Son of God, Creator of our universe (Colossians 1:15-16), descended ‘in the likeness of a dove’ upon the man standing in the water.  And then: 

“Look! Also, there was a voice from the heavens that said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.”– Matthew 3:17 

At that time, Jesus became fully conscious of his pre-human existence as Son of God.  He knew he had completed his commission as respects his own training – he was approved.  And he knew that when he discarded his fleshly abode, he would return to that position and be given “the name that is above every other name.”  (Philippians 2:9).      

In the meantime, Jesus elected to remain on earth for the purpose of revealing his God to mankind as a loving merciful Father of all, and to begin a ministry that would spread over the entire globe with the goal of uplifting the spiritual state of the entire planet.  Thus, immediately thereafter, Jesus went away alone to the Perean Hills to formulate the plans and determine upon the technique of proclaiming the kingdom of God to the men of his day.  It was during that 40-day period of isolation that it is recorded that the Devil tried to tempt Jesus from doing that work. (Matthew 4:1-11)  But Jesus emerged from the mountain with the glory of spiritual victory, moral achievement, and a plan.    

We hope this answers your question. 

 Is water baptism symbolic or is it the actual joining to Christ?

On July 28, 2012, we received the following comment regarding baptism:     

“As I understand the New Testament, it is by baptism one is joined to Christ and the brotherhood, provided faith is present. The New Testament never says that baptism is a public demonstration of what has already happened. I can do no better than to refer to Acts 22:16 and Gal. 3:26,27. “As I understand matters, the JWs and the Bible Students have never had a proper understanding of water baptism. Even Russell belittled baptism, and that is why Elder White took him to task in the Russell-White debate in 1908. I have a copy of the entire debate as published.”    

To the author, we responded:     

Baptism is a rite, a symbol. We immerse ourselves in water to symbolize our dying as to sin, and the coming up out of the water as symbolic of our being raised as new creatures. (Romans 6:4)  But both underlying acts are spiritual consecrations that can exist and be valid even if we live in a barren dessert or are phobic of water.  Surely you must know that such an act is not the same as or equal to a spiritual consecration to the Father.    

The scriptures you site are as follows: 

“And now why are you delaying? Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon his name.”– Acts 22:16

“You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”– Galatians 3:26, 27

These verse in Acts indicates that sins are washed away not by baptism, but by calling on Jesus’ name. And the verses in Galatians says that we are sons by faith, not by baptism, and that our baptism is indicative of the fact that “we have put on Christ.”    

We are walking by spirit, brother. “It is the spirit that is life-giving; the flesh is of no use at all.” (John 6:63)  When we are considering the reality and effect of spiritual things, we must examine them spiritually. (2 Corinthians 2:14)  When we fail to discern the spirit in and of Jesus’ teachings, we tend to miss the point and find ourselves “always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)  We are aware of the subject debate, but the answer to the question you raise is found in the spirit of Jesus’ teachings themselves.    

In the final analysis, we can agree that baptism is important and that all followers of Christ should undergo it. Isn’t that really the point?

♦  Is there a scriptural text that says baptism is symbolic?

On July 29, 2012, we received a follow-up comment about whether baptism is symbolic:

“You say that baptism is "a rite, a symbol" but you do not present even one text saying so. It is impossible for me to think it is a symbol, since Scripture never says so but puts much greater emphasis on it. Rom. 6:3 does not say it is a rite and symbol, and Gal. 3:26,27 does not say so either.  Please present a text saying that earlier consecration is symbolized by later water baptism. During all my life as a Christian I have never seen such a text.

“I disagree about Acts 22:16 and Gal. 3:26,27.  Acts 22:16 says "Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name." (ESV)  It was not a question of first calling on his name in consecration and then after that symbolizing it in baptism. The whole thing was to take place in baptism, the washing away of sins and calling on his name.  Gal. 3:26,27 - one of my favorite texts, too- shows that faith is so closely connected with baptism that it is not counted aside of it. People were "sons of God, through faith." Then an important explanation followed: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (ESV)   “Surely, according to this nobody who was not baptized into Christ had put on Christ. It was because believers were baptized into Christ that they were God́s sons through faith. That is the plain meaning of the text.

“Forgiveness and the Spirit was promised to all who repented and were baptized. (Acts 2:38) That baptism saves. (1 Peter 3:20,21)

“Not only "should" followers of Christ undergo baptism. They simply must be baptized, per the express statements in the NT. And so we find that people were baptized immediately on becoming believers. All were baptized, and it is baptism, not an earlier consecration, that is stressed throughout the NT.”

We provide the content of our response for the benefit of our visitors, as follows:

Brother, not every truth is supported by a scriptural text.  Some things are obvious when you take matters in context.  Jesus, himself said that many truths were not spoken, but that the spirit of truth would guide us to all truth, including those unspoken truths. (John 16:12-13) That is the meaning of being led by spirit. (Romans 8:14)

Further, since we are told we must worship with spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), surely you must know that performing a physical act cannot in and of itself “save you.”  If you believe that baptism does not save by itself, but coupled with some spiritual act, then we are in agreement – though we may disagree as to the sequence.

As for baptism being a rite and a symbol, one need only look to the history of baptism.  It has a long history; John the Baptist did not invent it.  And as for John’s baptism, do you believe it had special powers of forgiving sin?  If not, then you must agree that it was symbolic.  If you believe it did have power to forgive sin, then you are undermining an important work of the Christ.

And what about pre-Christian baptisms?  Did they contain special powers?  For example, baptism was the way a Gentile proselyte was accepted to worship in the temple.  Did their baptism magically transform the Gentile into a Jew?  No, they were still Gentiles, and they still had religious restrictions and were forced to worship in a separate courtyard.

When you examine its history, surely you can see that baptism is a symbol and a rite.  Paul even describes it as such in Romans 6:3-4.  You are correct that the scripture does not “say” it is a rite or a symbol, but one need only read the words to see that it is.

You cite 1 Peter 3:20-21 in the ESV which states:

“. . . because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 3:20-21

Even here, Peter says that baptism is an “appeal to God for a good conscience.”  Does not that sound like a spiritual consecration to God?  If you interpret it to mean that the act itself constitutes a receipt of a good conscience, then we think you are reading into that scripture what it does not say and you’re contradicting the apostle Paul’s words.    

But, brother, these are trifles over words, especially your distinction between “should” be baptized and “must” be baptized, which serve no beneficial purpose other than to puff one up. The apostle makes a distinction between knowledge “about” something and actually knowing something.  

“Now concerning foods offered to idols: we know we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone thinks he has acquired knowledge of something, he does not yet know [it] just as he ought to know [it].  But if anyone loves God, this one is known by him.”– 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

“Knowing” comes from the experience of that knowledge in your life.  It is the difference between a spirit experience and a mind experience.  A mental exercise about baptism as fine; but the actual experience of baptism tells the tale.  The individual who elects to undergo baptism “knows” that he has made a previous consecration to the Father and now wants to make it public.  Such an individual “knows” that it is his dedication to the Father that saves him.  If you take a moment to think about it, brother, we are sure you “know” that as well.    

We would also like to add that there is a difference between undergoing water baptism and undergoing the baptism into Christ’s death. Perhaps that is were we are differing. Water baptism is symbolic, whereas the continuing baptism of Christ’s death is a living experience.

“Indeed, I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how I am being distressed until it is finished.” – Luke 12:50

“The cup I am drinking you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am being baptized you will be baptized.” – Mark 10:39

“Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life.”– Romans 6:3-4

Overall, even if you disagree with our assessment, we believe we can agree that baptism is an important part of the Christian faith and that doing so identifies one as belonging to Christ.  In the big picture, isn’t that what counts? 

♦  How should I conduct re-baptisms?

On November 20, 2012, we received the following comments and inquiries:

“I am an elder in one of the many JW congregations. We are so glad we found your website! We are most grateful for strengthening our faith and publishing clear and encouraging letters regarding our heavenly hope. My wife and I are anointed Christians and as ambassadors substituting for Christ we are committed to sharing the glorious hope with everyone just as you do.

“What moves us to write was the comment you made regarding getting re-baptized [in your article Comfort for Those Spiritually Grieving]. My wife and I would like to get re-baptized to make sure that we are dedicated to serve and love the Father and the Son and to preach the real Goods News as heirs to the Kingdom.

"[Also] I have been asked to perform private baptisms and I would appreciate your suggestions regarding what to say before and perhaps at the moment of immersion. Should a brief talk explaining the symbolic meaning of the baptism be given? And then should I say "I baptized you in the Father of the Son and the holy Spirit" as I immerse the person in the water? I would appreciate very much any comments you may have regarding my questions and how to perform this new baptism so that it stands as being clearly different from the baptism we had when we became witnesses. Thank you. May our Lord and Savior continue to give you the spirit the truth.”

To the author, we are also pleased that you found our site.  And we are more pleased that you and your wife recognize your sonship with the Father.

Before we answer your questions, we want to express some important points.

(1)     We chose to get re-baptized for our own benefit.  It was not a necessary act, it was a personal decision.  We did not want to disassociate from the organization or establish our own secret society; we just wanted to have a personal dedication experience with the Father, the Christ and the Holy Spirit before we partook of the emblems for the first time;

(2)     We assume you are considering re-baptisms, not original or first baptisms.  As you may well know, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society will not recognize, as ‘active publishers’ in the congregation, any who are not baptized according to their arrangement; and 

(3)     We do not want to become a new ‘governing body’ in the lives of the sons of the Kingdom.  We do not wish to make rules of behavior or establish rituals.  Each individual must make decisions regarding their worship after their own private communion with the Father.  

We write articles that are designed to stir the spirit within each of us so that we can have our perceptive powers trained through use.  (Hebrews 5:14) That means that each of us will have to take responsibility for our own worship and it also means that there will be times that we do not make the best decisions. Yet that is the only way we can ‘train’ our perceptive powers.      

Having said this, we will respond to your questions.    

First, we direct you to Question and Response dated July 28, 2012, and Question and Response dated July 29, 2012 for a general discussion of the meaning of water baptism.  Water baptism is a symbol of a dedication already made to God to accept the baptism into Christ death – the life of service to mankind. Water baptism is a way of making that decision known to others.      

We wonder if you and your wife have already partaken.  If so, you have already made a public declaration of your hope.  There are no doubt dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of brothers and sisters who know that you recognize your sonship with the Father and are undergoing the baptism into Christ. Under those circumstances, we wonder what re-baptism would do for you.      

If you and your wife have not yet partaken, and you wish to get re-baptized for your own conscience sake, we offer some thoughts for your consideration that could apply to any others who have asked you to re-baptize them.      

The Father is looking for those to worship Him with spirit and truth.  (John 4:22-24) That means that He wants us to be motivated by our indwelling spirit and a desire to be true to what we know is right. There are no rules that dictate spiritual and true worship.  The desire for a clean conscience before God is sufficient incentive to moral and upright behavior.      

 When we were re-baptized, three of us were in a pool at a local hotel.  We each said a private prayer to the Father and when we were ready, one of the others took us under and brought us up.  We don’t recall any specific words stated by the baptizer, although one might have said something like ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ It was a true act of heartfelt worship. That was what was important to us.    

We think the baptizer is a sharer with the person being baptized and therefore what is said, if anything, is what the person being baptized wants or needs to hear.  Therefore, silence could be just as effective as a verbal statement.  You might want to read the article What Prevents Me? It discusses the baptisms of others, mostly non-Witnesses, who accepted their sonship and wanted to get baptized into the Jesus brotherhood. Their baptisms were simple, sincere, heartfelt experiences.                 

If you are privileged to share the re-baptism experience with several other people, we suspect you are in for a joyous occasion.  Our advice is it to let the spirit lead you in this regard.    

We are also excited about your 2013 Memorial celebration.  We wonder if all whom you re-baptize will be together that night supporting one another as they make their public declaration before their congregations. You and your wife are blessed, truly blessed.    

We know our response is not as specific as you may have desired, but it is what we believe is the correct response.  Nevertheless, if you have any follow up questions, please do not hesitate to write us again.  

Should we discourage young ones from getting baptized until they reach an age of maturity?

On March 4, 2014, we received the following inquiry:

“Dear Brothers, I noticed in the past District Conventions, younger ones, as early as the age of 9 years old, getting baptized. In our congregation, a close friend of my son with the age of 10 years old became an unbaptized publisher last year. After reading The Golden Age June 6, 1934 p.571 from the article "What is Real Baptism?" and Luke Chapter 2, it was clear Christ was not baptized as a babe nor a child. He was around 12 years old when found in the temple reasoning out with the teachers of the Law. He got baptized when he reached the age of 30, the legal majority age then observed by the Jews. It was also the perfect time for dedicating his time and effort to fulfill the prophecy for His Father.

“Given these Scriptures, while we are not to follow strictly Jewish customs with reference to age, would it not be more Christian to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect to the baptismal age? This means that the Society should not allow infants, as well as children under the majority age of today, to be baptized. More than the age is the spiritual maturity which I think should be way past teenage years, e.g. 20-25 years old and above. Looking forward to your comments. Thanks.”

To the author, thank you for your email. To directly answer your question, no, we do not think it is necessary for young ones to wait until they are 20 or 30 years old to make a personal dedication to doing the Father’s will and getting baptized into Christ.  One does not have to reach 30 in order to know whether he wants to worship God and follow the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Think about it.  Children as young as 5 years old make decisions about who they will imitate. Some choose ‘superheroes.’ Some choose entertainers or athletes.  Some choose their parents or other close family or friends.  Why should they not be able to decide that they want to imitate Jesus?

This is not a tough decision to make either.  Jesus said his “yoke is kindly and his load is light.” (Matthew 11:30) And he counseled his apostles to stop preventing the children from coming to him because they, too, are heirs to the heavenly kingdom:

“Then young children were brought to him for him to place his hands on them and offer prayer, but the disciples reprimanded them. Jesus, however, said: “Let the young children alone, and do not try to stop them from coming to me, for the Kingdom of the heavens belongs to such ones.’” Matthew 19:13-14

The only reason one might think it is necessary for a person to reach an age of maturity before getting baptized is when man has burdened the concept of baptism with their own rules and laws.  For example, getting baptized with the Watchtower organization is more than just a simple dedication to the Father and public acknowledgment that one has chosen to live a Christ-like life.  It is also a kind of contract.  The individual is not only subjecting him or herself to the will of the Father, but they are subjecting themselves to an organization and the rules of men. As part of the Watchtower baptism, one of the questions is: “Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah's Witnesses in association with God's spirit-directed organization?” This is far beyond what the Father and Christ Jesus require!    

We think young ones are wholly incapable of understanding the ramifications of such a statement and contractual relationship.  For that reason, our opinion is that baptism with the Watchtower organization should be held off until a person reaches the age of maturity, at least 18 or 21 years, and is fully aware of the potential negative impact.    

This is an issue that has been raised by many people over the years, but more so in recent years as the Governing Body asserts its grip of authority more aggressively over the congregations.  Once a person has been baptized in connection with the Watchtower organization, that person cannot voluntarily leave without suffering severe repercussions.  If the reason for leaving is a disagreement with the teachings, such a person will be disfellowshipped as an apostate.  If the reason for leaving is a decision not to follow the rules, they will be disfellowshipped as a gross sinner.  In either case, the entire congregation is commanded to shun all disfellowshipped persons. And not just the congregation, even intimate family members are obligated to do so. And if those family and friends do not strictly shun the person who has been disfellowshipped, the friends and family may also be disfellowshipped and shunned! It is estimated that the fear of being shunned is what is keeping about a third of Jehovah’s Witnesses from leaving the organization.    

When one makes a dedication to the Father and is baptized into Christ Jesus, there are no penalties associated with it.  The gift of freewill allows a person to decide to worship God and then later to decide not to worship God.  Freewill is free.  It has no strings attached. Though everyone, young and old, will always be subject to the basic law of reaping what one has sown (Galatians 6:7) that is quite a different matter than being punished for exercising free will.     

We can illustrate it this way: If a person drives a car recklessly, he may get into an accident. If he does, he is reaping what he has sown.  But if the reckless driver also gets a ticket and has to pay a fine, that is a punishment for driving recklessly.  Accordingly, when a person decides they no longer want to associate with the Watchtower organization, they will no longer be viewed as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is reaping what one has sown.  But the Watchtower Society goes further. They punish those who no longer want to be Jehovah’s Witnesses by demanding that even their family members shun them, not even saying a greeting to one’s own flesh and blood! This is a punishment that far exceeds the “crime” of exercising freedom of religion.     

This is why baptism of very young people becomes problematic.  A 9-year-old child is not sufficiently equipped, mentally or emotionally, to make an informed decision on whether to subject themselves to these ramifications.  Their innocence and inexperience prevents them from discerning the potential harm and isolation that will result from a decision to leave the Watchtower organization.     

Many secular governments recognize the incapacity of young ones to enter into contracts that have detrimental consequences. While they allow minors to enter into such contracts, the law does not hold the minor accountable if they decide they no longer want to be bound by the contract terms.  In fact, if a minor enters into a contract, years later when they are adults they can void the contract because they were minors when they agreed to the terms.  If the Watchtower Society honored the innocence and inexperience of the young ones in their midst, and only applied their disfellowshipping procedures to those who were baptized (and contracted with the Watchtower organization) as adults, a great deal of sorrow and misery would be avoided.  And so would the question of whether it is wise for young ones to get baptized.    

The way we see it, the Governing Body encourages young ones to be baptized so that the number of active Jehovah’s Witnesses will increase.  And a threat of disfellowshipping will keep them from leaving in the future.  However, if a 9-year-old, or even an adult, wanted to be baptized so that they could be with Christ in heaven, we strongly doubt that the overseers would allow it without aggressively seeking to change their minds.  The official opinion is that those who want to be with Christ in heaven are probably “mentally or emotionally unbalanced.” (August 15, 2011 Watchtower, page 22)  Only if they change their hope will their baptism be approved!    

Because of the seriousness of getting baptized with the Watchtower organization, we would strongly discourage any children from getting baptized with them.  Instead, we would encourage private baptisms in the presence of those who love them and who are looking out for their best interests.  We would encourage them to undergo what we call “free agent baptism” that allows them freedom of worship without the encumbrances of the rules and laws of men.  Their baptisms can be small private events with close family and friends.  They can be performed practically anywhere there is a body of water – a pool, a lake, an ocean, etc.  They do not need to be sanctioned by men or priests.  Doing it in the presence of the Father and Christ Jesus is all that is required.  See the article, What Prevents Me? for examples of how these types of baptisms have been performed.   

Practically every Christians religion, other than Jehovah’s Witnesses, acknowledges “free agent baptisms.”  When you arrive at a church and tell them you have already been baptized into Christ, they accept that and welcome you as a member of their church.  Only Jehovah’s Witnesses (as far as we know) require re-baptisms so that the newly baptized one would be subject to the Watchtower rules of conduct and discipline and would be beholding to the oversight of the Governing Body.  To them, it is not just a baptism; it is a contract of allegiance to men.    

So, in summary, we would never discourage a young one from being baptized into the Christ.  But we would surely discourage a young one from being baptized into any organization, the Watchtower organization or any other one.  An organization is not your mediator, not your true leader, not your redeemer, cannot transfer you from death to life, and is not the judge over your eternal existence, your destiny or your hope.  Children simply are not capable of making an informed decision to dedicate their lives to such fallible organizations and men.  But they are absolutely safe and secure if their baptism only subjects them to the Father and Christ Jesus.     

We hope that answers your question.

♦  How are people or a person baptized with the Holy Spirit?

On May 12, 2015, we received the following inquiry:

"How are people or a person baptized with the Holy Spirit?"

To the author, thank you for your email. We are responding publicly because we believe others may have the same question.

Jesus made baptism by spirit possible when he poured out his spirit – the Spirit of Truth – at Pentecost shortly after his resurrection. Being baptized with that holy spirit is merely the conscious reception of the Spirit of Truth in our life and a personal acknowledgment of this new spirit power actuating our mind and heart. All one needs to do in order to be ‘baptized’ in the spirit is to pray for it and make a consecration to follow its leading. It’s really that simple.

Spirit baptism signifies our rebirth, or being born again, and being delivered from bondage to the flesh and its desires. The spirit’s leading does not require us to exercise self-denial. The spirit’s leading is always positive in nature. It will move us to spontaneously exhibit the fruits of the spirit which is the highest form of self-control. A spirit born person views their consecration, not as a duty, but as a privilege to clear one’s minds and body from evil thoughts and deeds. And it creates a sublime peace with the Father and an assurance of salvation and personality survival after the death of the mortal body. It is the ultimate destroyer of doubt. Thus, a spirit born person does not need a written law. The law of God is written in our hearts, meaning ‘God’s will is our will.’

Since the Spirit of Truth is, in essence, the spirit of Jesus, following the leading of the spirit will always lead you down a path that imitates Jesus, that honors the Father, and that serves our brothers and our neighbors. A person who is baptized with holy spirit follows Jesus exclusively. He or she is not a follower of men. Additionally, those baptized with the Spirit of Truth are lovers of truth.  They will not accept error for the sake of peace, comfort, fear or ease. Like the Apostle Peter, one who is baptized with holy spirit will ‘obey God as ruler rather than men’ at all costs. Being baptized with spirit is the first step toward spiritual understanding and the only ticket into the deeper things of God and the heavenly kingdom.
One knows he has been baptized by the spirit by the way he thinks and behaves. He will attempt the ultimate goal of becoming ‘perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.’ Not perfection according to man’s standards which are fraught with so much minutia and controlling restrictions. But being perfect according to the Father’s standard – the fulfillment of the two greatest commandments – to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself.

 In QR 5/12/15, are we promising freedom without moral restraint?

On May 16, 2015, we received the following comment:

[Regarding Question and Response 5/12/15] “Your answer made a lot of good points, except where you say: "The spirit's leading does not require us to exercise self-denial." Notice the "words of Jesus", as you are so fond of saying: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself." -- Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23 (NIV and many others) Based on Jesus' own words, therefore, 'exercising self-denial" is absolutely essential for entrance into, and maintaining Christian discipleship and sonship through Spirit baptism. This is confirmed by Rom 7:21-25 and 1 Cor 9:24-27. Surely you're not "promising them freedom" without moral restraint are you? (2 Pt 2:19 NAS) Agape.”  

To the author, thank you for your email and for closely examining the information we publish.  We see your point. Perhaps we should have stated our position another way to avoid confusion.

When we wrote that the spirit’s leading does not require us to exercise self-denial, we were referring to self-denial in the sense that Jesus was at Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23.  Jesus said we would need to ‘disown ourselves.’ That means that we would let go of self-importance and pride, and humble ourselves to the teachings and ministry of the Christ instead of following our own counsel or the counsel of others on how to gain life.

We do not believe he was encouraging us to withhold bodily pleasures by doing things such as fasting, physically beating ourselves, or purposely living a life of poverty thinking those acts are pleasing or required. Even Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 do not carry that meaning, although there are many people who believe he was, in fact, encouraging Jesus’ followers to inflict some type of bodily harm to themselves in order to be found faithful. There are whole religious orders who practice self-harm thinking it is the way to life. That is not what Jesus or Paul were saying, nor what we were saying.

What we were trying to explain is that we do not need to constantly deprive ourselves in order to please God.  We are to rejoice, eat the fruits of our labor, and be shining examples of the kindly and light load. So rather than focusing on what we cannot or should not do, we encourage our brothers and sisters to focus on what they should do, specifically that we should display the fruits of the spirit which we said is was the highest form of self-control.  Self-control continues to be important, but the method is proactive, positive and giving, rather than reactive, negative and withholding.

We in no way want to ‘promise freedom without moral restraint.’ We are just explaining that moral restraint should not be our goal.  The goal is to do something positive – like producing the fruits of the spirit.  When you are positive and proactive, you automatically avoid the works of the flesh. It is similar to our view that the congregations should not focus on sin, but rather on good works and positive actions, and thereby there is no room for sin to take hold.

If some read our response to Question and Response 5/12/15 and concluded that we were encouraging moral abandonment, we apologize and hope this response clears up our message

Doesn’t the baptism of Jehovah’s Witnesses really make them witnesses of the organization not of God?

On December 1, 2015, we received the following inquiry (translated from French):     

“Here's a little thought I had. I always thought that Christians (like the Israelites) belonged to God and were His possession.  But look in your book in English "Organized to do the will of Jehovah" in 2015, the question of baptisms.  There is a transfer of ownership, and therefore those who accept baptism are no longer Jehovah's Witnesses but "Jehovah's Witnesses' Witnesses."  Why is there such a diversion of the sheep of God?”     

To the author, thank you for your email. You raise an interesting point and we would have to agree with you. Those baptized in the Watchtower organization are really witnesses of the organization, not witnesses of God. That fact is made even more clearer when you look at what it takes to remain in good standing in the Watchtower organization.      

Following the teachings in the Bible is not what keeps one in good standing.  What keeps one in good standing in the organization is following the teachings of the Governing Body. Many of our brothers and sisters are disfellowshipped and viewed as apostates, not because they turned away from God or the teachings in the Bible, but because they no longer follow the teachings of the Governing Body. So the fact that turning away from the Governing Body gets one disfellowshipped from the organization is proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses are really witnesses of the Watchtower organization, or as you wrote, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Witnesses.    

This is one of the reasons why we chose to get re-baptized solely in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in a private session apart from the organization before we partook of the Memorial emblems for the first time. And we are hearing that many others have chosen to do the same.   

Of course, whether one chooses to get re-baptized is a personal decision.  Baptism in water is merely symbolic of a greater spiritual consecration. The important baptism is the baptism in spirit that occurs individually irrespective of where one was baptized in water. 

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