By Ron Halbrook
Apology should never be made for error of any kind. Rather, truth should be searched out, embraced, obeyed, and taught posthaste! Error should be left to its own fate and truth defended at all costs. To continue practicing sin without remorse or repentance is to separate oneself from God and His grace (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 Jn. 3:9). Every kind of error that causes us to violate God’s law condemns. That necessarily follows. Christ came to set us free from condemnation (separation from God); He alone gives the truth which sets men free from the error and sin which condemn (Jn. 8:32). “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).
But it is a valid question whether all wrong views condemn. It is certain that a man’s thinking his error does not condemn will not save him from condemnation (Isa. 5:20-21; 8:20; Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23). One who loves sinful error more than truth will enjoy his ignorant bliss by the power of “strong delusion” unto condemnation “that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:10-12). So the question is not whether a man’s apparent “piety” in sinful error can keep him from condemnation. The question is whether every wrong view causes a man to sin, for sin alone separates man from God.
Though we can never recognize any inherent religious authority in men, we can recognize that some man has said a thing better than we can. J.W. McGarvey states the truth on this present question better than I can in his sermon on “Believing A Lie” (Sermons, pp. 315-339). After telling the story of the young prophet from Judah who was destroyed because of believing a lie (1 Kgs. 13), McGarvey said,
You can now see very plainly that this incident happened for a type, as Paul said of many other Old Testament incidents, and that it was written for our admonition. It was written to warn us against the belief of a lie. The fate of the young prophet cries out like the blast of a trumpet to startle us from our fancied security, and makes us look around to see if we, too, are in any such peril. Perhaps you are ready to say that the sin of the old prophet in this case was greater than that of the young one; and you think it strange that the less guilty was the one who perished. Well, there was an abundance of texts and incidents to show the sin of lying, and the vile consequences which must follow it; and nobody, either then or now, needed any particular instruction about the sin of the old prophet; but the world needed a lesson on the subject of believing a lie; so the young prophet was slain to teach this lesson, while the old man was left to God’s ordinary method of dealing with liars . . . .
Shall we think, then, that every man who believes a lie in regard to God’s will shall perish? I think not. If blind man is guided by another blind man along a smooth road, here there is no ditch, I don’t think either of them will fall into a ditch. It is only when there is a ditch in the way that they will fall into it. So, if this young prophet had been told to do almost any thing else than what he was told to do, we have no reason to think it would have been fatal. If, for example, the old prophet had said, An angel sent me to tell you to get from under this tree and run for your life, and not to stop until you get home, the young man would have been scared, and would have run himself out of breath; but the lion would not have killed him. In like manner, I can imagine a man believing some lies in religion, which, though they may injure him some, and I suppose there are very few that would not, might yet fall far short of proving fatal to him. I think that the doctrine of election as taught in the old creeds is false in the extreme; but I think that many a man has believed it all his life, and then gone to heaven when he died. What, then, is the distinction? It is to be traced out by remembering that there is only one thing that can keep men out of heaven, or keep them estranged from God in this life. That one thing is sin. Nothing else does or can stand between God and any man. If the belief of a lie, then, leads a man to commit sin, it will prove fatal unless that sin shall be forgiven (emphasis added, RH). It was thus with the young prophet. The lie which he believed led him to disobey God. His disobedience was the immediate cause, while the belief of a lie was only the remote cause of his death.
McGarvey asks, “How shall we be sure that we are not believing lies; that we are not being led by blind guides?” “I answer, there is one set of men, and only one, whom we can trust implicitly. We know that they are not blind; I mean the Lord Jesus and his apostles. We have their written instructions of the way of life, and they are not so voluminous or so obscure as to be unintelligible in regard to what is sinful. We may be in doubt, as we study them, over many questions of history and of exegesis, but rarely can we be in the least suspense, if we have a willing heart, as to what is sinful. Having found this, we ought to be able, and we shall be, to prevent any man from leading us into such error as shall cause us to commit sin – sin of omission or sin of commission.”
N.B. Hardeman preached almost exactly the same sermon under the identical title, “Believing A Lie” (The Bible Searchlight, pp. 123-136). Some of his expressions and examples differ enough to make it worthwhile to notice what he said on the point we are examining. Before anyone faults him overmuch for borrowing from McGarvey, let that critic be sure he has never learned precious truths of the Bible through study with someone else and then repeated those truths in almost (if not altogether) identical terms! After telling of the young prophet, Hardeman continued,
I want to ask this just now: Is every lie that a man believes detrimental? Does damnation follow the belief of all lies? If so, my friends, we are upon exceedingly dangerous ground, for deception and delusion are abroad on every hand. I am frank to say to you, because I firmly believe it, that there are lies which a man may believe and not be condemned. I can think just here if that old prophet had told this young man sitting under the oak almost anything else, it might not have resulted in the young man’s death. Suppose the old gentleman had come to him while he was sitting under the oak and said, `Sir, a cyclone is coming, the storm is raging. This tree will be uprooted. Flee for your life, and stop not until you reach your home at last.’ O, the young man might have been scared wonderfully; he might have run until he was almost out of breath; but the chances are that he would not have met a lion on the way; and while that would have been a lie, it was not of the type the belief of which brought damnation unto the soul.
To make the matter short and without extending the lesson tonight, let me suggest to you this, which I think is in harmony with God’s word and teaching in general: Any kind of a lie on earth which would cause me to sin or to fall short of doing God’s will or to go beyond that which God demands is the type of a lie that will condemn the soul and rob it of a blissful crown.
There are certain things religiously that I can believe, which may be a lie and yet not subject me to condemnation. There are many problems and questions about matters pertaining to Christian duty and things in general about which there are conflicting beliefs. Some think the Holy Spirit in person dwells in the heart of a Christian; others think that the Spirit is in the Christian only through his teaching and his word. One or the other of these theories is a lie, but I think that the belief of either of these theories would not damn a man. Why not? Because neither would cause him to sin; neither would hinder his obedience to the will of God. There is but one thing, my friends, that will keep you and me outside of heaven’s splendid mansions, and that one thing is sin. Whatever might cause me to commit sin, either in thought or in deed, if not forgiven, will result in my condemnation rather than my salvation (emphasis added, RH).”
Our safety is in following only Christ and His apostles. “Hence, I bid you listen to no man per se, nor to accept anything from any uninspired man which you cannot turn to the book of God and read for yourself.” Hardeman suggests the young prophet should have answered the old one, “You claim to be of like profession with me. You say that an angel has come and told you to bring me back; but I have direct authority and commandment from God, and I will allow neither prophets of earth nor angels in heaven to countermand God’s order; and if the Lord wants me to come back, he must tell me himself.”
Sometimes, a wrong view immediately causes sin. For instance, one who believes he that believeth shall be saved and then can get baptized later, is hindered from entering God’s family at all. Or, a Christian who thinks that in baptism a man is “dipped, dried, and done,” and so forsakes patient continuance in well doing, condemns his soul thereby. On the other hand, sometimes it depends on what one does with a wrong view as to whether or not he will be involved in sin. If one accepts the Calvinistic idea of election, he may become consistent with what it implies and therefore not waste any time trying to convert others – he sins! Or, he may think “God has a time for me to die” and similar ideas, but not be consistent with the implications of so-called election (personal predestination). If a saint claims the personal actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but looks only to God’s revealed Word for faith and conduct, how can he sin so acting? But, he may begin to search his own heart for “divine light” and “divine guidance,” and be lead into sin (Jer. 10:23); or, he may compromise his attitude toward modern so-called Pentecostalism and its myriad of false teachers, seek some mystical “unity in the Spirit” with them, and begin to have fellowship with those who go beyond apostolic doctrine in their faith and practice (Acts 2:42; 2 Jn. 9-10).
Paul said in Romans 14 to receive the brother who thinks he cannot eat meat; while seeking peace with him and helping him keep his conscience clear, brethren were also to edify him. Yet, on the other hand, if such a one were to make his scrupples a matter of faith and practice, if he were to preach and teach his idea as part of the gospel, if he were to bind it on others and divide saints over it, he was to be especially noticed or singled out and avoided (Rom. 16:17-18).
As we seek one another’s edification in various issues that arise, let us remember that one thing and one thing alone separates from God: sin! When wrong views lead to compromise with sinful error, a false plea for peace and unity with error admitted to be in the realm of sin, or apology and defense of sinful error and errorists of any variety, then those views have led us into the danger zone. Every disagreement need not lead to broken fellowship, but compromise and participation with sin requires it because sin is the very thing that separates from God. Let us exercise patience wherever possible, think the best of our brethren as long as possible, and do all in our power to help each other reach heaven.
The answer to our question is, then, “No, all wrong views do not separate from God.” To borrow McGarvey’s comment on the young prophet, “His disobedience was the immediate cause, while the belief of a lie was only the remote cause of his death.” Or, as inspired men have worded it, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God,” and, “The wages of sin is death” (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 6:23).
Truth Magazine XXIII: 38, pp. 617-618
September 27, 1979