How Chosen and Led by God
“IT IS only logical that there would be one true religion. This is in harmony with the fact that the true God is a God, ‘not of disorder, but of peace.’ (1 Corinthians 14:33) The Bible says that actually there is only ‘one faith.’ (Ephesians 4:5) Who, then, are the ones who form the body of true worshipers today? We do not hesitate to say that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” declares the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth.*
‘How can you be so sure that you have the true religion?’ some may ask. ‘You do not have supernatural evidence—such as miraculous gifts. And through the years have you not had to make adjustments in your views and teachings? How, then, can you be so confident that you are being led by God?’
To answer those questions, it is helpful to consider first how Jehovah chose and led his people in ancient times.
God’s Choosing in Bible Times
In the 16th century B.C.E., Jehovah gathered the Israelites at Mount Sinai and invited them to become his chosen people. First, though, Jehovah informed them that there were specific requirements that they would have to meet. He told them: “If you will strictly obey my voice . . . , then you will certainly become my special property.” (Ex. 19:5) Through Moses, Jehovah clearly set out the requirements, after which the people responded: “All the words that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” Jehovah then concluded a covenant with Israel and gave them his Law.—Ex. 24:3-8, 12.
Chosen by God—what an awesome privilege! But that privilege brought upon Israel the responsibility to strictly obey God’s Law. Failure to do so would result in their rejection as a nation. To instill in them a wholesome fear so that they would obey him, Jehovah caused spectacular supernatural signs—“thunders and lightnings began occurring,” and “the whole mountain was trembling very much.” (Ex. 19:9, 16-18; 20:18, 20) For about the next 1,500 years, the Israelites were in a unique position—they were God’s chosen people.
In the first century C.E., however, the situation changed drastically. Israel lost its privileged status, being cast off by Jehovah because of rejecting his Son. (Matt. 21:43; 23:37, 38; Acts 4:24-28) Jehovah then brought forth the early Christian congregation, founded on Christ. At Pentecost 33 C.E., Jehovah poured out his holy spirit on Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem, constituting them “a chosen race, . . . a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (1 Pet. 2:9; Acts 2:1-4; Eph. 2:19, 20) They became “God’s chosen ones.”—Col. 3:12.
Membership in that chosen nation was conditional. Jehovah set strict moral and spiritual requirements that had to be met. (Gal. 5:19-24) Those who conformed to the requirements put themselves in line to be chosen by him. Once chosen by God, however, it was vital that they remain obedient to his laws. Only “those obeying him as ruler” would continue to receive his holy spirit. (Acts 5:32) Those who failed to obey him were in danger of being put out of the congregation and of losing their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.—1 Cor. 5:11-13; 6:9, 10.
But how would others know for sure that God had chosen that early Christian congregation to replace Israel as “the congregation of God”? (Acts 20:28) God’s choice was evident. Following Jesus’ death, He bestowed miraculous gifts on members of the early Christian congregation to show that they were now God’s chosen ones.—Heb. 2:3, 4.
Were supernatural signs, or miracles, always necessary to identify those who were chosen and led by God in Bible times? No, not at all. Miraculous works were not a common occurrence throughout Bible history. Most persons living in Bible times never witnessed a miracle. The majority of the miracles recorded in the Bible took place during the days of Moses and Joshua (16th and 15th centuries B.C.E.), Elijah and Elisha (10th and 9th centuries B.C.E.), and Jesus and his apostles (1st century C.E.). Other faithful persons chosen by God for specific purposes, such as Abraham and David, observed or experienced demonstrations of God’s power, but there is no evidence that they performed miracles themselves. (Gen. 18:14; 19:27-29; 21:1-3; compare 2 Samuel 6:21; Nehemiah 9:7.) As to the miraculous gifts present in the first century, the Bible foretold that these would “be done away with.” (1 Cor. 13:8) And this occurred with the passing of the last of the 12 apostles and those who had received the miraculous gifts through them.—Compare Acts 8:14-20.
What About God’s Choosing Today?
After the first century, the foretold apostasy developed unrestrained. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thess. 2:7-12) For many centuries the lamp of true Christianity burned very low. (Compare Matthew 5:14-16.) Yet, in an illustration Jesus indicated that at the ‘conclusion of the system of things,’ there would be a clear distinction between “the wheat” (true Christians) and “the weeds” (imitation Christians). The wheat, or “chosen ones,” would be gathered into one true Christian congregation, as in the first century. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; 24:31) Jesus also described the anointed members of that congregation as “the faithful and discreet slave” and indicated that in the time of the end, they would be dispensing spiritual food. (Matt. 24:3, 45-47) That faithful slave would be joined by “a great crowd” of true worshipers out of all nations.—Rev. 7:9, 10; compare Micah 4:1-4.
How would true worshipers living in the time of the end be identified? Would they always be right, would their judgment be infallible? Jesus’ apostles were not above the need for correction. (Luke 22:24-27; Gal. 2:11-14) Like the apostles, true followers of Christ in our day must be humble, willing to accept discipline and, when necessary, make adjustments, in order to bring their thinking into ever closer harmony with God’s.—1 Pet. 5:5, 6.
When the world entered the last days in 1914, what group proved to be the one true Christian organization? Christendom abounded with churches that claimed to represent Christ. But the question is: Which, if any, among them was meeting the Scriptural requirements?
The one true Christian congregation would have to be an organization that holds to the Bible as its foremost authority, not one that quotes scattered verses but rejects the rest when these do not conform to its contemporary theology. (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17) It would have to be an organization whose members—not some but all—are truly no part of the world, in imitation of Christ. So how could they involve themselves in politics, as the churches of Christendom have done repeatedly? (John 15:19; 17:16) The true Christian organization would have to bear witness to the divine name, Jehovah, and do the work that Jesus commanded—the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom. Like the first-century congregation, not just a few but all its members would be whole-souled evangelizers. (Isa. 43:10-12; Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20; Col. 3:23) True worshipers would also be known by their self-sacrificing love for one another, a love that would transcend racial and national barriers and unite them into a worldwide brotherhood. Such love would have to be manifested not merely in isolated cases but in a way that would truly set them apart as an organization.—John 13:34, 35.
Clearly, when the time of the end began in 1914, none of the churches of Christendom were measuring up to these Bible standards for the one true Christian congregation. What, though, about the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known?
A Fruitful Quest for Truth
As a young man, C. T. Russell came to the conclusion that the Bible had been grossly misrepresented by Christendom. He also believed that it was time for God’s Word to be understood and that those who would sincerely study the Bible and apply it in their lives would get understanding.
A biography of Russell, published shortly after his death, explained: “He was not the founder of a new religion, and never made such claim. He revived the great truths taught by Jesus and the Apostles, and turned the light of the twentieth century upon these. He made no claim of a special revelation from God, but held that it was God’s due time for the Bible to be understood; and that, being fully consecrated to the Lord and to His service, he was permitted to understand it. Because he devoted himself to the development of the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Lord was fulfilled in him: ‘For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’—2 Peter 1:5-8.”—The Watch Tower, December 1, 1916, p. 356.
The quest for Scriptural understanding by C. T. Russell and his associates was fruitful. As lovers of truth, they believed that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) They rejected the evolutionary ideas of Darwin and the faith-destroying views of higher critics of the Bible. Accepting the Scriptures as supreme authority, they also rejected as unscriptural the teachings of the Trinity, immortality of the soul, and eternal torment—doctrines with pagan religious roots. Among the “great truths” that they accepted were that Jehovah is the Creator of all things, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who gave his life as a ransom for others, and that at his return Jesus would be invisibly present as a spirit creature. (Matt. 20:28; John 3:16; 14:19; Rev. 4:11) They also understood clearly that man is a mortal soul.—Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 18:20.
It is not that the Bible Students associated with Russell uncovered all these truths; many had been understood earlier by sincere persons professing to be Christians, some of whom even took a stand when such beliefs were not popular. But did such persons conform to all the Scriptural requisites for true worship? For example, were they truly no part of the world, as Jesus said his true followers would be?
In addition to their view of the Bible, in what other ways did the early Bible Students associated with Russell stand out as different? Certainly in the zeal that they manifested in sharing their beliefs with others, with special emphasis on proclaiming God’s name and Kingdom. Though they were relatively few in number, they quickly reached out into scores of lands with the good news. Were they also truly no part of the world, as followers of Christ? In some respects, yes. But their awareness of the responsibility involved in this has grown since World War I, until now it has become an outstanding characteristic of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It should not be overlooked that when other religious groups were hailing the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations, Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaimed God’s Kingdom—not any man-made organization—as mankind’s only hope.
But have not some of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses undergone adjustments over the years? If they were truly chosen and led by God and if their teachings were backed by Scriptural authority to begin with, why would such changes be necessary?
How Jehovah Leads His People
Those who make up the one true Christian organization today do not have angelic revelations or divine inspiration. But they do have the inspired Holy Scriptures, which contain revelations of God’s thinking and will. As an organization and individually, they must accept the Bible as divine truth, study it carefully, and let it work in them. (1 Thess. 2:13) But how do they arrive at the correct understanding of God’s Word?
The Bible itself says: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Gen. 40:8) If in their study of the Scriptures a certain passage is difficult to understand, they must search to find other inspired passages that shed light on the subject. Thus they let the Bible interpret itself, and from this they endeavor to understand “the pattern” of truth set forth in God’s Word. (2 Tim. 1:13) Jehovah leads or guides them to such understanding by means of his holy spirit. But to get the guidance of that spirit, they must cultivate its fruitage, not grieve or work against it, and keep responsive to its proddings. (Gal. 5:22, 23, 25; Eph. 4:30) Moreover, by zealously applying what they learn, they keep building up their faith, as a basis for gaining clearer and clearer understanding of how they must do God’s will in the world of which they are no part.—Luke 17:5; Phil. 1:9, 10.
Jehovah has always led his people to clearer understanding of his will. (Ps. 43:3) Just how he has guided them may be illustrated this way: If a person has been in a dark room for a long period of time, is it not best if he is exposed to light gradually? Jehovah has exposed his people to the light of truth in a similar manner; he has enlightened them progressively. (Compare John 16:12, 13.) It has been as the proverb says: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.”—Prov. 4:18.
Jehovah’s dealings with his chosen servants in Bible times confirm that clear understanding of his will and purposes often comes gradually. Thus, Abraham did not fully understand how Jehovah’s purpose in connection with the “seed” would work out. (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15:2-4; compare Hebrews 11:8.) Daniel did not grasp the final outcome of the prophecies he recorded. (Dan. 12:8, 9) Jesus, when on earth, admitted that he did not know the day and hour that the present system of things would end. (Matt. 24:36) The apostles did not at first understand that Jesus’ Kingdom would be heavenly, that it was not to be established in the first century, and that even Gentiles may inherit it.—Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6, 7; 10:9-16, 34, 35; 2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 5:9, 10.
It should not surprise us that in modern times too, Jehovah has often led his people as a progressive organization, gradually enlightening them as to Bible truths. It is not the truths themselves that change. Truth remains truth. Jehovah’s will and purpose, as outlined in the Bible, remain fixed. (Isa. 46:10) But their understanding of these truths gets progressively clearer “at the proper time,” Jehovah’s due time. (Matt. 24:45; compare Daniel 12:4, 9.) At times, because of human error or misguided zeal, their viewpoint may need to be adjusted.
For example, at various times in the modern-day history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their zeal and enthusiasm for the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty have led to premature expectations as to when the end of Satan’s wicked system of things would come. (Ezek. 38:21-23) But Jehovah has not revealed in advance the exact time. (Acts 1:7) Hence, Jehovah’s people have had to adjust their views in this matter.
Such adjustments in viewpoint do not mean that God’s purpose has changed. Nor do they suggest that the end of this system is necessarily a long way off. On the contrary, the fulfillment of Bible prophecies concerning “the conclusion of the system of things” confirms the nearness of the end. (Matt. 24:3) Well, does the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses have had some premature expectations mean that they are not being led by God? Not any more than the disciples’ question about the imminence of the Kingdom in their day meant that they were not chosen and led by God!—Acts 1:6; compare Acts 2:47; 6:7.
Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses so sure that they have the true religion? Because they believe and accept what the Bible says as to the identifying marks of true worshipers. Their modern-day history, as discussed in earlier chapters of this publication, shows that, not just as individuals but as an organization, they meet the requisites: They loyally advocate the Bible as God’s sacred Word of truth (John 17:17); they keep completely separate from worldly affairs (Jas. 1:27; 4:4); they bear witness to the divine name, Jehovah, and proclaim God’s Kingdom as mankind’s only hope (Matt. 6:9; 24:14; John 17:26); and they genuinely love one another.—John 13:34, 35.
Why is love an outstanding identifying mark of worshipers of the true God? What sort of love is it that identifies true Christians?
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Once chosen by God, it was vital that they remain obedient to his laws
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How would true worshipers living in the time of the end be identified?
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“He made no claim of a special revelation from God”
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They let the Bible interpret itself
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Jehovah has led his people as a progressive organization, gradually enlightening them as to Bible truths