Volume 8, Issue 4: Doctrine 101
Have you ever heard anyone say, "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere"? It's a statement that's not uncommon to my experience as a Christian, and I don't doubt that many other Christians have heard it used also. But, before going too far, let's acknowledge that sincerity is important, very important, in what we believe.Without it, we are nothing more than hypocrites, and deserve to be condemned by Jesus along with the unbelieving Pharisees (Matt. 23). However, is sincerity really all that matters in respect to salvation?
I have a friend Bill who has two daughters, one five and the other three years old. One day while his wife was out shopping, Bill made lunch for his daughters. Bill then opened the refrigerator and asked the girls what they wanted to drink. He gave them a choice of water, milk, iced tea or cold apple cider. The decision was immediate, enthusiastic, and unanimous: cold apple cider!
After the oldest took her first drink, she immediately put down her glass and complained to her father that she wanted iced tea. Bill, mindful of the fickleness of little children, told her that she had asked for the cider and she would have to drink it before she was given anything else to drink. At this edict, the oldest girl began to cry, and Bill got upset. Then the youngest took a sip of her cider and started to cry also.
Bill concluded that his two daughters were only being rebellious, so before taking them to their bedroom to administer some fatherly discipline, he took a quick sip of cider. To his surprise, he almost gagged. The cider was absolutely wretched!
Bill immediately opened the refrigerator to verify what he knew was cold apple cider. There on the middle of the shelf was the clear glass, one-gallon jar of golden cider with a big red apple on the front label. The jug even said "Apple Cider" across the top of it. But, down on the bottom of the label, Bill became aware for the first time of another word, . . . "Vinegar."
Bill had not intended to serve his daughters vinegar to drink for lunch. No loving father would. Bill had sincerely believed that what he had served his daughters was, in fact, apple cider. Bill had been wrong, . . . sincerely wrong.
This simple little story illustrates that it is philosophically possible to be sincere, yet at the same time, to be sincerely wrong. If this is so with something as temporal and benign as what a father serves his daughters to drink for lunch, then how about our eternal security? Are any of us really willing to believe anything, no matter how bizarre or horrendously absurd, and yet proclaim with assurance on our deathbeds, "Hey, it's okay. I'm sincere!" Doesn't the truth have anything to do with our right standing before God?
The Scriptures tell us that God is true (Rom 3:4). Jesus claims to be the truth (John 14:6). God's word is truth (Psa. 119:142, John 17:7). One of the Holy Spirit's purposes is to lead believers into all truth (John 16:13). And, as believers, one of the things required of us is to abide faithfully in God's word and to know the truth (John 8:31,32). In fact, only in the truth do we find true freedom in Christ. We are to hear Christ's truthful voice (His word as found in Scripture) and follow Him (John 10:27). In other words, we are to be "truth-seekers."
That is not to say that we are to be like some modern day Diogenes in search of the truth, but never able to find it (2 Tim. 3:6,7). In reality, most people who act this way don't really want to find the truth since then they would be morally obligated to submit to it. And besides, searching for the truth sounds more "noble" than dogmatically claiming to have found it. Then again, neither are we to be like Pontius Pilate who implied that the truth is unknowable (John 18:38). Since the Bible is our objective standard, we can objectively and confidently know the truth, and we must (2 Tim 2:15).
But, someone may argue, a lot of people in the Church have correct doctrine, but dead hearts. Yes, we must sadly agree. But then again, we must also acknowledge that truth, in and of itself, does not save; God does. However, does God, Who cannot lie, save through the preaching of falsehood or through the preaching of the truth? We may all know someone who became a Christian after they joined some cult, but their coming to salvation was in spite of their belief in heresy, not because of it. The gospel is what we are to proclaim, not error (Gal. 1:8,9).
So, we see that it's possible to be sincere and yet be sincerely wrong, even as members of Christ's Church (Matt 7:21-23). Whereas it's important to be sincere, it's best to be truly sincere in believing what's sincerely true.