Who Will Become Approved by Jehovah?
“Keep working out your own salvation . . . ; for God is the one that, for the sake of his good pleasure, is acting within you in order for you both to will and to act.”—PHILIPPIANS 2:12, 13.
1, 2. In what situation did Jesus receive a declaration of divine approval, and why should this interest us?
IT WAS a turning point in history. John the Baptizer had been preaching God’s message and immersing repentant ones in water. Then a man approached whom John knew to be righteous; he was Jesus. He had no sin for which he needed to repent, yet he asked to be baptized ‘to carry out all that was righteous.’—Matthew 3:1-15.
2 After John modestly complied, and Jesus came out of the water, “the heavens were opened up, and he saw descending like a dove God’s spirit.” More than that, “there was a voice from the heavens that said: ‘This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.’” (Matthew 3:16, 17; Mark 1:11) What a pronouncement! All of us enjoy pleasing someone whom we respect. (Acts 6:3-6; 16:1, 2; Philippians 2:19-22; Matthew 25:21) Imagine, then, how you would feel if the almighty God announced, ‘I have approved you!’
3. What should we be concerned about as regards God’s approval?
3 Is it possible for a person to become approved by God today? For example, take a man who ‘has no hope and is without God in the world,’ being “alienated from the life that belongs to God.” (Ephesians 2:12; 4:18) Can he move from that situation to the blessed state of being approved by Jehovah? If so, how? Let us see.
What Did His Words Mean?
4. (a) What is the sense of the Greek word for “approved” in God’s declaration? (b) Why is the usage in this case of special interest?
4 The Gospel records of God’s words “I have approved [Jesus]” employ the Greek verb eu·do·keʹo. (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22) It means “be well pleased, regard favorably, take delight in,” and its noun form has the sense of “good will, good pleasure, favor, wish, desire.” Eu·do·keʹo is not limited to divine approval. For instance, Christians in Macedonia ‘were pleased’ to share financially with others. (Romans 10:1; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:8; 3:1) Still, the approval Jesus received was expressed by God, not by men. This term is used with reference to Jesus only after he was baptized. (Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17) Interestingly, Luke 2:52 uses a different word—khaʹris—in speaking of Jesus as an unbaptized youth who received “favor” from God and men.
5. (a) How is it evident that imperfect humans can be approved by God? (b) Who are “men of goodwill”?
5 Is it possible also for imperfect humans like us to gain God’s approval? Happily, the answer is yes. When Jesus was born, angels announced: “Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men of goodwill [eu·do·kiʹas].” (Luke 2:14) In the literal Greek, the angels were singing of a coming blessing to “men of well thinking” or “men whom God approves.”* Professor Hans Bietenhard writes of this use of en an·throʹpois eu·do·kiʹas: “The phrase refers to the men of God’s good pleasure . . . We are not, therefore, dealing here with the good will of men . . . We are dealing with God’s sovereign and gracious will, which elects for itself a people for salvation.” Thus, as Jehovah’s Witnesses have long explained, Luke 2:14 indicates that through dedication and baptism, it is possible for imperfect humans to become men of goodwill, men approved by God!*
6. What do we still need to learn about God’s approval?
6 You may realize, however, what a difference there is between being ‘enemies of God with minds on the works that are wicked’ and being approved as associates of our just and wise God. (Colossians 1:21; Psalm 15:1-5) Hence, though you may be relieved to hear that humans can become approved, you may want to know what is involved. We can learn much about this from God’s past dealings.
He Welcomed People
7. Exodus 12:38 gives what indication as to God’s attitude?
7 For centuries before the announcement of Luke 2:14, Jehovah welcomed people to come and worship him. Of course, God was dealing exclusively with the nation of Israel, which was dedicated to him. (Exodus 19:5-8; 31:16, 17) Recall, though, that when Israel marched out of Egyptian bondage, “a vast mixed company also went up with them.” (Exodus 12:38) These non-Israelites who may have had dealings with God’s people and witnessed the plagues on Egypt now chose to go with Israel. Some likely became full proselytes.
8. What two types of aliens resided in Israel, and why was there a difference in how Israelites dealt with them?
8 The Law covenant acknowledged the situation of non-Israelites in relation to God and his people. Some aliens were settlers who simply resided in the land of Israel, where they had to obey fundamental laws, such as those against murder and requiring observance of the Sabbath. (Nehemiah 13:16-21) Rather than embracing these settlers as brothers, an Israelite exercised reasonable caution when speaking or dealing with them, for they were not yet part of God’s nation. For example, while an Israelite was not allowed to buy and eat the unbled carcass of an animal that had died of itself, such aliens who were not proselytes might do so. (Deuteronomy 14:21; Ezekiel 4:14) In time some of these alien settlers might follow the course of other aliens who became circumcised proselytes. Only then were they treated as brothers in true worship, accountable to keep the entire Law. (Leviticus 16:29; 17:10; 19:33, 34; 24:22) Ruth, the Moabitess, and Naaman, the Syrian leper, were non-Israelites whom God accepted.—Matthew 1:5; Luke 4:27.
9. How did Solomon confirm God’s attitude toward foreigners?
9 In the days of King Solomon, we also see God’s welcoming attitude toward non-Israelites. When inaugurating the temple, Solomon prayed: “To the foreigner, who is no part of your people Israel and who actually comes from a distant land by reason of your name . . . and prays toward this house, may you yourself listen from the heavens, . . . in order that all the peoples of the earth may get to know your name so as to fear you the same as your people Israel do.” (1 Kings 8:41-43) Yes, Jehovah welcomed the prayers of sincere foreigners who searched for him. Perhaps these too would learn his laws, submit to the act of circumcision, and become accepted members of his blessed people.
10. How would the Jews have dealt with the Ethiopian eunuch, and why did circumcision benefit him?
10 One man who did this in later times was the treasurer for Queen Candace in distant Ethiopia. Likely, when he first heard of the Jews and their worship, his life-style or religious ways were unacceptable to Jehovah. So the Jews would have had to show a measure of tolerance while this foreign man among them was studying the Law to learn God’s requirements. He evidently progressed and made the needed changes to qualify for circumcision. Acts 8:27 tells us that “he had gone to Jerusalem to worship.” (Exodus 12:48, 49) This would indicate that he was then a full proselyte. He thus was in position to accept the Messiah and become his baptized disciple, thereby coming in line with God’s progressive will.
Unbelievers and the Christian Congregation
11, 12. (a) What further change occurred when the Ethiopian got baptized? (b) How was this in accord with Philippians 2:12, 13?
11 Jesus told his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) The Ethiopian proselyte just mentioned already had knowledge of Jehovah and of the holy spirit. So once Philip helped him to understand and accept Jesus as the messianic Son of God, he could be baptized. He would thus become an approved member of Jehovah’s people who were following Christ. Naturally, he would be accountable to God, required ‘to observe all the things commanded’ for Christians. But with this accountability came a marvelous prospect: salvation!
12 Later, Paul wrote that all Christians need to ‘keep working out their own salvation with fear and trembling.’ Yet, it was possible to do that, “for God is the one that, for the sake of his good pleasure [eu·do·kiʹas], is acting within you in order for you both to will and to act.”—Philippians 2:12, 13.
13. How would Christians have dealt with those who were not as quick to get baptized as the Ethiopian eunuch?
13 Not all who came in contact with true Christians were as ready and qualified as that Ethiopian to move quickly to baptism. Some, not being Jews or proselytes, had little or no knowledge of Jehovah and his ways; nor were their morals guided by his standards. How would they be dealt with? Christians were to follow Jesus’ example. He certainly did not encourage or even condone sin. (John 5:14) Still, he was tolerant toward sinners who were drawn to him and who desired to bring their ways into line with those of God.—Luke 15:1-7.
14, 15. Aside from anointed Christians, what types of persons attended meetings in Corinth, and how might they have varied as to spiritual progress?
14 That Christians dealt tolerantly with those who were learning about God is clear from Paul’s comments about meetings in Corinth. In discussing the use of miraculous gifts of the spirit that initially marked Christianity as having God’s blessing, Paul mentioned “believers” and “unbelievers.” (1 Corinthians 14:22) “Believers” were those who accepted Christ and were baptized. (Acts 8:13; 16:31-34) “Many of the Corinthians that heard began to believe and be baptized.”—Acts 18:8.
15 According to 1 Corinthians 14:24, ‘unbelievers or ordinary people’ also came to the meetings in Corinth and were welcomed there.* Likely, they varied as to their progress in studying and applying God’s Word. Some might still have been committing sin. Others might have gained a measure of faith, already made some changes in their lives, and, even before baptism, have begun telling others what they had learned.
16. How could such persons benefit from being among Christians at congregation meetings?
16 Of course, none of such unbaptized ones were “in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) If their past involved serious moral and spiritual faults, it understandably could have taken them time to conform to God’s standards. Meanwhile, as long as they did not maliciously try to subvert the faith and cleanness of the congregation, they were welcome. What they saw and heard at the meetings could ‘reprove them’ as the ‘secrets of their hearts became manifest.’—1 Corinthians 14:23-25; 2 Corinthians 6:14.
Staying Approved by God for Salvation
17. Luke 2:14 had what fulfillment in the first century?
17 Through the public preaching by baptized Christians in the first century, thousands heard the good news. They put faith in what they heard, repented of their past course, and were baptized, making “public declaration for salvation.” (Romans 10:10-15; Acts 2:41-44; 5:14; Colossians 1:23) There was no doubt that baptized ones back then had Jehovah’s approval, for he anointed them with holy spirit, adopting them as spiritual sons. The apostle Paul wrote: “He foreordained us to the adoption through Jesus Christ as sons to himself, according to the good pleasure [eu·do·kiʹan] of his will.” (Ephesians 1:5) Thus, within that century what was predicted by the angels at Jesus’ birth began to prove true: “Peace among men of goodwill [or, men having God’s approval].”—Luke 2:14.
18. Why could anointed Christians not take for granted their approved standing with God?
18 To maintain that peace, it was necessary for those “men of goodwill” to “keep working out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) That was not easy, for they were still imperfect humans. They would face temptations and pressures to do wrong. If they gave in to wrongdoing, they would lose God’s approval. Thus, Jehovah lovingly arranged for spiritual shepherds who would both help and protect the congregations.—1 Peter 5:2, 3.
19, 20. What provisions did God make so that baptized Christians could continue to be his approved servants?
19 Such congregation elders would take to heart Paul’s advice: “Even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) As we can understand, a person who took the important step of baptism would have greater accountability, even as was true of an alien who became a circumcised proselyte in Israel. Nonetheless, if a baptized Christian erred, he could find loving help within the congregation.
20 A group of elders in the congregation could offer help to one who fell into serious wrongdoing. Jude wrote: “Continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire. But continue showing mercy to others, doing so with fear, while you hate even the inner garment that has been stained by the flesh.” (Jude 22, 23) A baptized member of the congregation who was helped in this way could continue to enjoy Jehovah’s approval and the peace of which the angels had spoken at Jesus’ birth.
21, 22. What would result if someone became an unrepentant sinner, and how would loyal members of the congregation react?
21 Though uncommon, there were some instances where the wrongdoer was not repentant. Then the elders would have to expel him to protect the clean congregation from contamination. That occurred with a baptized man in Corinth who persisted in an immoral relationship. Paul advised the congregation: “Quit mixing in company with fornicators, not meaning entirely with the fornicators of this world or the greedy persons and extortioners or idolaters. Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world. But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.”—1 Corinthians 5:9-11.
22 Since the Corinthian man had taken the important step of baptism, becoming approved by God and a member of the congregation, his being expelled was a serious matter. Paul indicated that Christians were not to keep company with him, for he had rejected his approved standing with God. (Compare 2 John 10, 11.) Peter wrote of such expelled ones: “It would have been better for them not to have accurately known the path of righteousness than after knowing it accurately to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. The saying of the true proverb has happened to them: ‘The dog has returned to its own vomit.’”—2 Peter 2:21, 22.
23. In the first century, what was the general situation among Christians as to retaining God’s approval?
23 Jehovah obviously could no longer view such individuals as approved, for they had been expelled for being unrepentant wrongdoers. (Hebrews 10:38; compare 1 Corinthians 10:5.) Evidently, only a minority was disfellowshipped. Most who gained “undeserved kindness and peace from God” and were ‘adopted as sons according to the good pleasure of his will’ stayed faithful.—Ephesians 1:2, 5, 8-10.
24. What aspect of this subject merits our further attention?
24 That is basically so in our time too. Let us consider, though, how ‘unbelievers or ordinary people’ can be helped to become approved by God today and what can be done to help them if they err along the way. The following article will deal with these matters.
Compare “men-whom-he-approves,” New Testament, by George Swann; “men with whom he is pleased,” The Revised Standard Version.
“The ἄπιστος (apistos, ‘unbeliever’) and ιδιώτης (idiōtēs, ‘one without understanding,’ the ‘inquirer’) are both in the unbeliever class in contrast to the saved of the Christian church.”—The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10, page 275.
Do You Recall?
□ According to the Scriptures, since when and in what way can humans be approved by God?
□ What was God’s view of foreigners among his people, but why did the Israelites need to balance caution with tolerance?
□ What can we conclude from the fact that “unbelievers” came to Christian meetings in Corinth?
□ How has God made provision to help baptized Christians remain his approved servants?