Paul worried about the Corinthians being deceived by the devil, just like Eve was (2 Cor. 11:3). Great consequences followed Eve’s deception, and so it would be with the Corinthians. The same is true for us. The devil lies to us and if we are deceived, we will suffer greatly.
Satan has those who have been deceived by him working on spreading that deception. Very often it is disguised as the religion of Christ. If you think about it, it makes sense. Which is harder to detect, Monopoly money or counterfeit money? Which is harder to detect in the moral/religious realm, paganism or a religion mostly like Christ’s?
One of the great lies of our time is that sincerity is enough. Millions are convinced that as long as you are sincere about your faith, you will go to heaven. You do not need to know the exact truth or hardly any truth at all as long as you are “honest” in it. Where else does this work in life?
If a man honestly believed he could jump off the top of a sixty-story building and float gently to the ground (without a parachute or any other contraption), would it be true? Would his sincerity alter the laws of physics?
The Bible gives us a number of examples that illustrate sincerity is not enough.
King Saul thought he should offer a sacrifice when Samuel did not show up when he wanted. He was worried about the battle with the Philistines. Samuel rebuked him for his foolishness, but Saul responded, “I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Sam. 13:12). This did not fly with Samuel or God (1 Sam. 13:13, 14). His sincerity did not change the fact He did not obey God. His disobedience was to seek God’s favor. Saul did not consider it to be a rebellious act. It was a religious act, an act authorized by God, and for the purpose Saul intended. He went wrong by offering it himself instead of waiting on Samuel. A “minor” detail to most folks, but a “major” one to God.
Another Saul, Saul of Tarsus, serves as another example. He acted in accordance with his conscience (Acts 23:1). Saul did what he thought was right. We all know, however, he did what was wrong by persecuting Christians. Remember, Saul acted out of a sense of loyalty to Jehovah. Yet, his sincerity did not excuse his sin. It did not cause God to overlook his wickedness.
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenged to prophets of Baal to a debate. They were to pick a bull, build an altar, and call on Baal to send fire. As they did the latter for some time, Elijah made fun of them saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kgs. 18:27). At this, the false prophets “cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until blood gushed out on them” (1 Kgs. 18:28). To say they were not sincere is to deny the obvious truth. Their sincerity, however, did not alter the fact that there is no god named Baal. It is a figment of man’s imagination, nothing more.
Some will say, “But Baal’s prophets were pagans. Those who sincerely believe in the one, true God will not be condemned as long as they are sincere.” Just how far will this logic stretch? Will the sincere Christ-denying Jew or Muslim go to heaven? If you think so, you need to read 1 John 2:18-23, where such are described as “anti-christ.”
What about those who believe in Jesus? If they sincerely believe, but do not do exactly what He says, will they be lost? Will the Lord overlook their faults because of their sincerity?
Jesus gives us a picture of the judgment in Matthew 7:21-23.
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
The people Jesus describes are sincere believers. They acknowledge Him as Lord and fervently labored in His name. However, their service was done in “lawlessness,” without law. This is the idea of acting outside the boundaries set down in the Law of Christ, the gospel. It is not their belief that is in question, but their practice. They were sincere, but sincerely wrong. Is this no longer applicable?
We must be sincere in our faith and practice. However, sincerity alone is not enough to please God. Our convictions must be based on His word. The things we do in service to Him from day to day must strictly adhere to the gospel. Worship based on anything other than the gospel is vain, no matter how sincere.
Sincerity is not enough, but the devil wants you to think it is. Therefore, we need to sincerely search the Scriptures to see what is so (Acts 17:11). Our honest hearts will cause us to change anything that is not in agreement with God’s will, no matter how right it seems or how good it makes us feel. Sincerity in truth, not error, must be our goal.
— Steven F. Deaton