By Mike Willis
One of the doctrines taught by denominationalists for years is this: “It makes no difference what you believe, just so long as you are sincere.” Or, again, “Let us not argue about religious matters, for it makes no difference anyway because each is entitled to his own belief.” In early restoration writings, gospel preachers answered this false doctrine frequently. It is surprising to me to see it resurface among brethren in this decade. Yet, it has done just that.
In the recent exchange between Billy Williams and Weldon Warnock which was carried in Truth Magazine, Billy Williams made the following rather significant statement:
To answer his questions: If one deliberately and wilfully disobeys God’s law or does presumptuous sin (presuming to change or act in defiance of God’s laws), he is surely condemned as long as he continues in that sin (Num. 15:22-30; Heb. 10:26ff). But if he, in ignorance, transgresses God’s law while earnestly desiring to serve Him faithfully, I do not find any passage that allows the to condemn him. He is not more a sinner than I am . . . .
Some have turned the Lord’s church into a business or social club to satisfy their own lusts; some seek to be entertained by their instruments of music and know nothing of worshiping God in song; others dethrone the Christ and say He died because He failed. These all stand self-condemned! But there are faithful brethren who honestly believe they can use institutions in the church, worship with instruments, or that Christ will return and reign over an earthly kingdom. Are they condemned because they do not understand these things as I do? I do not presume to do so judge them (“Answer to Warnock (2),” Truth Magazine, Vol. XXIII, No. 19, p. 6).
Brother Williams has in essence taught exactly what the denominationalists have been teaching for years, namely, that it makes no difference what you believe or practice so long as you are honest and sincere. This is the doctrine which I want us to consider in this article today.
Will It Work In Any Other Field Of Study?
I have always thought it strange that principles which are so obviously false with reference -to every other realm are somehow thought to have validity when we turn to religion. Does any scientist think that it matters not what two elements a person mixes and in what proportions he mixes them, just so long as he is honest and sincere he will come up with the exact chemical that he desires? Of course not! Do our astronauts think that it makes no difference what direction their rockets are fired that they will end up where they want them to go, just because the men are honest and sincere? Of course not! We recognize that honesty and sincerity are no guarantees of success in these areas. The pages of history could literally be filled with the names of men who were honest and sincere but mistaken. Many of them lost their lives tragically because they were wrong, although both honest and sincere.
Despite the fact that all will admit that honesty and sincerity are not adequate replacements for the truth in secular matters, some still cling to and teach the idea that it matters not what the truth may be in religion so long as one is honest and sincere. What saith the Scriptures?
Plain Statements In Scripture Reveal That This Is Wrong
There are a number of plain statements in God’s divine revelation which show beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that those who are honestly in error in religion are not thereby saved. Rather, there is an objective standard of truth revealed in God’s word which men are responsible for knowing and obeying. Honest and sincere sin is still sin – sin which will damn a soul in hell. That this is true, please examine the following passages of Scripture:
1. Lev. 5:17. “And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.” The Mosaical law declared that sins committed in ignorance separated a man from God and would cause him to lose his soul.
2. Ezek. 3:17-21. In this significant passage, the Lord appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman to Israel. His obligation was to warn Israel of the sins she was guilty of committing. Jehovah said, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” Notice that the wicked man would die in his iniquity; ignorance did not excuse him. The twentieth verse of the same chapter applies the same principle to the righteous man who departs from his righteousness to the commission of wickedness as it applies to the one who had never been righteous.
3. Matt. 7:21-23. This familiar passage relates that calling on the name of the Lord while doing works of iniquity does not result in salvation, but damnation. There is no indication in these verses that those guilty of these sins were guilty of presumptuous and defiantly rebellious conduct; rather, these men were calling Jesus “Lord,” prophesying in His name, casting out devils in His name, and doing many wonderful works in His name. Yet, because they were guilty of sin, they lost their souls. Apparently these men were not saved just because they were honest and sincere.
4. Acts 17:29-30. Paul told the Athenians that God does not wink at ignorance but commands all men everywhere to repent. These very religious people in Athens who were ignorantly worshiping God were found to be in sin and in need of salvation. Ignorance was inexcusable even when proceeding from an honest and sincere heart.
5. Matt. 15:13-14. Jesus is recorded to have said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Both the blind leader and the blind follower will be destroyed. Honesty and sincerity would not save a person in these circumstances.
All of these passages reveal that honesty and sincerity are no guarantee of salvation. Rather, the Lord expects obedience. This leads us to the following divine truth: when God gives a man a revelation, that man is responsible for learning and obeying, that revelation. In connection with this, consider 2 chess. 2:10-12. Paul wrote of the coming of the Wicked One
. . . whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Arid for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Notice that this passage plainly stated that those who believe a lie shall be damned! I do not know how the Lord could have stated the matter more plainly. These people (a) ceased to have the love of the truth, (b) received a strong delusion, (c) believed a lie, (d) had pleasure in unrighteousness, and (e) eventually will perish or be damned.
Learning From Divine Examples
Even as we can learn the truth of God through express revelation, we can also learn God’s divine will through the inspired examples recorded in the Bible. The following examples of conduct recorded in the Bible demonstrate that God will condemn those who, despite their honesty and sincerity, disobey the Lord. Consider them with me:
(1) The young prophet (1 Kgs. 13). After Jeroboam had led the rebellion against Rehoboam which resulted in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel and left only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah loyal to the Davidic dynasty he established an apostate system of worship in Bethel and Dan. He removed the worship from Jerusalem which was God’s holy hill, appointed priests from men of every tribe, erected images contrary to the Ten Commandments, and established unauthorized holy days. Because of these apostasies, God sent an unnamed young prophet to prophesy against this apostate worship. When He sent him, He instructed him, “Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.” The young prophet went to Bethel and spoke the message of the Lord. Then, he began his return journey to Jerusalem. An old prophet residing in Bethel heard of what had happened and quickly saddled his ass in order to catch up with the young prophet and talk with him. When he caught up with him, he invited the young prophet to eat with him. The young prophet related how God had forbidden him to eat in that place: Nevertheless, the older prophet related, “I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spoke unto me by the word of the Lord saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” Then, the historian adds, “But he lied unto him. ” The young prophet believed the lie and went home with the older prophet for dinner. While there, the word of the Lord did actually come on the older prophet; the older prophet spoke God’s condemnation for the younger prophet’s disobedience of God’s commandments, despite the fact that the disobedience was done in ignorance from an honest and sincere heart. Consequently, on his journey home, the young prophet was slain by a lion because he had disobeyed the Lord. This young man’s death is proof that an honest and sincere heart is not accepted by God in the place of obedience.
2. Saul of Tarsus. Who among us is not familiar with the conversion and life of Saul of Tarsus? Though Paul was guilty of blasphemy, and was an injurious and violent man (1 Tim. 1:13) during the time that he was persecuting Christians, he did it ignorantly in unbelief. Yet, during that time, he was considered the very chiefest of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Despite the fact that he testified to have sincerity of his conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16), Paul recognized that he would have gone to hell had he died in the condition of believing a lie.
We could add to these examples many other occasions when men believed a lie and disobeyed God, such as the belief of the Israelites under Joshua of the Gibeonites’ lie (Josh. 9:1-27) and the Jewish disbelief in the Christ (Rom. 10:1-3; 11:20). Despite the fact that these persons were honest and sincere, they were believing what was false, obeying what was false, and damned to suffer the consequences of their error.
Men and brethren, let no one deceive you! The doctrine that one can be saved while practicing sin so long as he has a good, honest, sincere heart is one of the biggest lies that the Devil ever invented. There be some who clothe themselves as ministers of light who go about this land circulating that lie. Do not believe it and preach it! You will delude others and cause both of you to be damned thereby. Rather, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). Realize that the truth and it alone can make you free from sin (John 8:32). A lie, though sincerely believed, can never do for a man what the truth can!
Truth Magazine XXIII: 37, pp. 595-597
September 20, 1979