Is it true that Jehovah will save you if you are sincere, regardless of what you believe? Do you say that “it doesn’t matter what my religion is, if I am honest?” Many people think that they are prepared for heaven if their consciences are clear, if they have done the best they know. Too, many people take this position who accept the Bible as God’s word and as their guide. Hence, such people should be willing to be governed in their attitude on this question by what the Bible says. It is herein affirmed that God requires more than sincerity in religion— that man must not only be sincere, but must also worship and serve God exactly according to the specifications which He has given in His word. Let us see if the Bible so teaches.
As the first Biblical evidence, let us get the picture drawn in 1 Kings 12 and 13, particularly chapter 13. In 1 Kings 12 we have the tragic spectacle of King Jeroboam’s substitutions. Jeroboam had divided the kingdom of Israel, taking about 10 tribes and leaving only two for Rehoboam, the impractical and weakling son of Solomon. Jeroboam’s group formed the Northern kingdom, generally called Israel. Rehoboam’s tribes formed the Southern kingdom, usually known as Judah.
Jeroboam soon became disturbed over a potential danger to his kingdom: as the Israelites in his kingdom returned to the sacred city of Jerusalem to the feasts provided for in the Mosaic law, Jeroboam feared that the very associations thus caused would awaken desires among his people to unite the divided kingdom, under the house of David, resulting in his death (1 Kings 12:27). To avoid this, he instituted four substitutions in the law of God: (1) He changed the object of worship — making two calves of gold as the gods for the people to worship (vs. 28); (2) Jeroboam changed the place of worship, from Jerusalem to Dan and Bethel, where the golden calves were installed (vs. 29); (3) Priests were set apart from all of the tribes, rather than from the tribe of Levi and family of Aaron, according to the law (vs. 31); (4) He changed the feast of tabernacles, which God’s law set for the 7th month and 15th day (Lev. 23:33-34), to be celebrated on the 8th month and 15th day (vs. 32).
Now, in chapter 13 of 1 Kings we read a story that grows out of the above facts. King Jeroboam was at Bethel on the 8th month and 15th day, to burn incense, and God sent a man of God out of Judah to the altar and ceremonies of the day. This prophet of God pronounced a curse against the altar and the priests that officiated upon it. Why? Because Jeroboam had transgressed God’s law in the previously mentioned substitutions, whereas the law specifically forbade additions or subtractions (Deut. 4:2), and this altar symbolized the worship of substitutions so impiously devised by Jeroboam. Substitution in worship is still contrary to God’a law (2 Jno. 9).
When God’s prophet pronounced this curse, the king took his hand from the altar, obviously pointed at the prophet, and ordered his arrest. Immediately his hand became paralyzed, and he could not draw it to him. The altar then was miraculously rent, and the ashes poured out. Jeroboam then begged the prophet to ask God to heal his arm, which was done. The king then, instead of repenting of his substitutions at this demonstration of God’s wrath, merely invited the prophet home with him and promised him a reward. The prophet declined, however, saying that God had instructed him not to eat or drink there, neither to return by the way that he came. With that the prophet of God left for Judah.
An old prophet, who dwelt at Bethel, heard from his sons of what happened, found out what route the prophet of God took, set out after him, and overtook him. The old prophet urged the prophet of God to return to his house, but met with the same reply that Jeroboam received. Now, note this: the old prophet “said unto him, I also am a prophet as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of Jehovah, saying, Bring him back with thee into thy house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he Lied unto him. So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water” (vs. 18-19).
While they were eating, God put words into the mouth of the old, lying prophet, predicting that the prophet of God would not be buried at home, because of his disobedience. The prophet of God left for home, but was killed on the way by a lion. The old prophet, hearing of it, took the body and buried it in his own sepulchre.
Now, why is this most unusual story recorded in the Old Testament? Evidently, by Rom. 15:4, this was “written for our learning.” But from it what are we to learn? Well, here we have a prophet of God who had his orders and was carrying them out, until the old false prophet came and led him astray. How so? By telling him a lie. The old prophet claimed that God had given him orders to convey to the prophet of God that were later than and different from the original orders. God’s prophet then changed his course to conform to what were supposed to be later orders from God. Question: Was the prophet of God honest and sincere? Did he really believe that God had spoken to the old prophet? Certainly, for there is nothing in the story to indicate otherwise, and we are to believe men innocent until they are proved guilty.
Why was God so severe on the prophet of God, especially when it was simply an honest mistake, and his conscience was clear? Simply because he was responsible for being not only sincere, but also right. He should have consulted God when an outsider came claiming a different teaching. Though he was sincere and honest, that did not excuse him. He believed a lie, and lost his life.
Such things are on record as an example to us (1 Cor. 10:11). God wants us to understand, then, that we are to be sincere and also know the truth. We will not get by with him just because we are sincere. This outstanding Old Testament story is an unanswerable example of a New Testament text, teaching that it is possible for men to believe a lie and be damned (2 Thess. 2:11-12; Kings James Version).
In Prov. 14:12 it is said: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” There is the picture of a man who is doing the thing that seems right to him, only to be told that such a way leads to death. In Jno. 4:24 Christ said: “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Since He also said, in Jno. 17:17, “thy word is truth,” it is here taught that all worship must be according to the directions of the truth as revealed in God’s word. Does that sound like it doesn’t make any difference how you worship, just so you are honest? If your worship doesn’t square with what His word says, surely He will not accept it, if Christ’s words here mean anything.
Some think that mere honest calling in prayer will obtain salvation because Rom. 10:13 says: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But they overlook the restriction of that by Christ in Matt. 7:21: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The “whosoever” of Rom. 10:13 must thus be identified as the one who calls as the Father directs. According to Christ, then, some could call in all sincerity, but still fail to enter the kingdom of heaven simply because of not serving specifically as His will directs.
In Rom. 10:1-2 Paul said: “My heart’s desire and supplication to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge.” The context shows that he was discussing the Jews who had thus far rejected the Christ. They were lost in unbelief, because Christ Himself said: “He that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” (Mk. 16:16) Yet, they were, said Paul, zealous for God. Just as honest and sincere as we are. There is a clear-cut case of zeal for God in a lost condition. Why? “But not according to knowledge.” If more than sincerity is required in their case, so in our case today. He would certainly not save us in zealous but mistaken religion, and destroy the zealous but mistaken Israelites.
Consider another case on record. The apostle Paul, before he became converted to Christ, was an honest, consecrated Jew, serving God under the old Mosaic law that was abolished on the cross. (Col. 2:14) They therefore worshipped in rebellion to Christ’s law. Too, Paul persecuted the church, even to death. Dare anyone think he would have been saved in such a condition? Yet, he said that he had always served God with a “good conscience” (Acts 23:1). He said, “I thought I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus” (Acts 26:9). That is an outstanding case of a man serving God sincerely, but in the wrong way, and being lost while in that mistaken service.
In Jno. 8:32 Jesus said this: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus does not say that “you are free as long as you are sincere,” but that “the truth shall make you free.” If one is to believe Christ’s word, you must believe, then, that one may be entirely honest and sincere, yet be in bondage. Another instance of that is found in the case of Cornelius, in Acts 10. As the story opens, he was not a Christian, for he did not know the truth of Christ. In spite of his not being a Christian he is described as “a devout man, and one that teared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” (vs. 2) Peter was sent of the Lord to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his friends. Peter later tells the story, (in Acts 11) when he was ordered by the angel of God to “send to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, whose surname is Peter, who shall speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved . . .” (vs. 13-14). That statement proves that up till then he was not saved, and we know that anyway, as he was not in Christ. (Jno. 14:6) So, here is a devout, God-fearing, praying, benevolent, sincere man, who was nevertheless lost. Why? Because up till then he did not know the truth. Cornelius had to be more than sincere — he had to know, believe, and obey the truth.
The Lord Jesus Christ in Matt. 15:9 declared: “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.” If it is true, as men teach today, that men will be saved just so they are honest in religion, then there would be no such thing as vain worship. All worship would be acceptable to God. But the Christ said that there is such a thing as vain worship. He told us that the doctrines of men make worship vain. Consequently, men may worship God in all sincerity, but still believing and following human doctrines instead of God’s teachings. If Christ meant what He said and said what He meant, such worship would be useless. Thus, not only sincerity would be required, but the percepts or doctrine of the Lord.
Please consider another example. “See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount.” (Heb. 8:5) By reading the paragraph you see that he is quoting what God told Moses in Exodus 25, when He instructed Moses to build a tabernacle. Now, it is plain that the Holy Spirit in Heb. 8:5 is not telling us to make a tabernacle, but the point is this: as Moses made the tabernacle according to the pattern that God gave, so are we in religion to worship and serve God exactly as the New Testament pattern specifies.
If a workman on the Mosaic tabernacle had said that “It makes no difference how we make this, just so we do what we think is right,” he would have been told very quickly that it was his business to go by the pattern. That is the lesson that Christ wants us to see. If we say that “one way is as good as another, just so we are sincere,” Christ has recorded Heb. 8:5 to show us that we must not only be sincere, but that we must also go exactly by the pattern.
Then, in Eph. 4:5 the Holy Spirit has Paul to say: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” The average man today believes that “one faith is as good as another.” God says: “One faith.” Who is correct — God or man? Will you argue against God? Satan throws up a smoke screen and tries to make you believe that “we can’t all see alike.” Well, can’t we all see “one faith” in Eph. 4:5? If God says “One,” how can you say “anyone, just so I am sincere”?
Friend, after reading these plain statements from God’s holy word, as well as others of like nature there to be found, you cannot believe that it makes no difference what a man believes and how he worships just so he is honest. God shows that He expects men to be not only honest, but also to worship Him as He directs. So look to the gospel of grace, under which we are (Rom. 6:14); read there of God’s church and how to enter it (Mk. lff: 15-16; Acts 2:3ff-47); hold to the one gospel that produces the one faith (Phil. 1:27- Eph. 4:5); be governed only by what the oracles of God plainly say, (1 Pet. 4:11) knowing that therein is the only right way, because it is God’s way. God requires that you be not only sincere, but that you also believe and practice the truth.