Religious - But Wrong (No. 1)
There is a theory that is common in the world today that all who are sincere in what they believe in their religion will be acceptable to God. In other words, if a man is really religious, as the term is used, he will be eternally saved. It is our purpose to examine some events that are related in the New Testament in order that we may determine whether this theory is true.
First of all, let us go to the seventh chapter of the book of Acts and note what is happening. There we find a man by the name of Stephen preaching to a group of people known as the Council of the Jewish people. In his speech Stephen reviewed the history of the Jews, and pointed out how they had resisted the Holy Spirit of God in the past. Furthermore, he accused the people who were listening to him of doing the same thing. These people became so angry they stoned Stephen to death because of the sermon he preached. The statement is made that the false witnesses who had testified against Stephen "laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul." It is this young man we want to consider now.
In the beginning of the next chapter we read that Saul consented to the death of Stephen. We also read of a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem that caused all of the church except the apostles to be scattered abroad. It seems that this young man Saul was one of the "ring-leaders" in the persecution of the Lord's church. This is the statement of Acts 8:3-4: "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church entering into every house, and haling men and women and committed them to prison. Therefore, they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word."
As we read on in this story, we see that Saul was not satisfied with persecution of the church at Jerusalem, but when his persecution caused the dispersion of the church into other parts, Saul began to seek a way whereby he could reach them elsewhere. Chapter nine of Acts starts out like this: "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem."
Perhaps some are now ready to make some terrible accusations against this man Saul of Tarsus, and indeed he was one who was doing a terrible thing when he persecuted the church of Christ. Surely all can see that he was not living in the approval of God and Christ. He was lost! But now, let us read some things found elsewhere in the New Testament concerning this young man.
In, Philippians 3:5-6 this same man, after being converted to the cause of Christ and now much older, says this of his youth: "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Here, then, is a man now being guided by the Holy Spirit who makes the claim that he was so zealous in his religion that he persecuted those who were opposed to what he believed. Surely if sincerity and zeal in religion are enough then Saul stood blameless in God's sight. All know this is not true. This man also said he was blameless under the law. He did not say he was sinless, but that he lived in accordance with the law of Moses, and made proper sacrifice for his sins according to the law. Yes, he was an honest, sincere and zealous young Jew who was doing that which he thought was the will of God.
There are other passages that bring out the sincerity, zeal, and determination of this man when he was walking in direct conflict with God's will. Some of these are Gal. 1:13-14; Acts 22:1-3; I Tim. 1:12-16; and Acts 23:1. Notice especially this last one: "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." He had made many mistakes during his life, but they had been honest ones. Is there one who advances the theory we are noticing, or one who reads this article, who could go beyond this claim for sincerity; or who could even go this far in complete honesty? Here is a man who exceeds all of our claims, for sincerity of religious conviction. According to the theory under consideration Saul was acceptable to God as he stood in the religion of the Jews!
Space will not permit us to go into a detailed account of the conversion of this man Saul. However, we do wish to point out that as he was on his way to Damascus to bind Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for persecution, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a great light, and asked him why he persecuted Christ and His way. When Saul determined who it was that was speaking to him, he asked Jesus what He would have him do. Jesus told him to go into the city of Damascus and there he would be told what he must do.
There is no greater example in all of the New Testament of a believing, penitent man than the fasting and praying Saul as he waited in the city of Damascus to be told what he must do. There are three accounts given in Acts of Saul's conversion, and in Acts 22:16 we read where Ananias, who was sent by the Lord to tell him what he must do, said; "And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Was this honest, sincere, and zealous young man who had believed and repented acceptable because of his honesty, sincerity, and zeal? Had faith already saved him? Paul himself says he had some sins of which he needed to be cleansed, and that baptism was the commandment given unto him that he must do to complete his obedience for remission of past sins.
We have noted that the religion Paul was embracing as a youth was one that had been taught to him by his ancestors. When one's parents teach him that a certain thing is right, it is, often very difficult to convince him that it is wrong, even if it is really wrong. Not only had his ancestors been steeped in this religion, but Gamaliel, one of the most learned men of the day, had been his teacher. If our parents tell us something is right, and then some brilliant man backs up that doctrine, it makes it almost impossible for us to be convinced of anything else. This was the case with Paul. It may be true of you.
Notice though that Paul's religion as a youth was not just a man-made religion, but rather was something that had come from God. In addition to having the sanction of such men as Gamaliel, and his own relatives, Paul could point to God as the originator of the plan he was trying to follow. What he had not learned was that God had made a new agreement with men through His Son Jesus, thereby making the old one obsolete. Therefore, even though he was very religious; earnest, zealous, and sincere in that religion; he had to change before he could stand approved by the Lord Jesus. There was still something he must do.
Even though YOU may be very religious, and earnest and sincere and zealous in that religion, there is still a very great possibility that you may be wrong. All of these churches that we see in our midst today cannot be right when they teach different doctrines of salvation for the souls of men. The Lord is the builder of only one church-there is but one body, which is the church. I Cor. 12:20 and Eph. 1:22-23. You may be able to point to the teaching of your mother and father, your grandparents, and great-grandparents; even to the "great doctors of religion" such as Gamaliel was, but this does not assure you that your religion is right. Remember, Paul could even point to the origin of his religion as being with God! He was still wrong.
If you are a member of a church that cannot be read about in the New Testament, one that was established by men hundreds of years after the New Testament was completed, even though you are highly zealous and sincere in that religion, it is still not the body of which the Lord would, have you be a member. Will you not consider the authority for your religion, as well as, the fervor and zeal you have for it? Remember, Paul had to change his. Perhaps you need to change something about yours also.
Truth Magazine I:10, pp. 5, 13