Last month we noted how often the New Testament defines and defends the true gospel and condemns all false gospels. We also saw why this is the case: the battle for souls is between God's truth and Satan's lie. Thus, each person's eternal destiny depends upon what he or she believes. One cannot believe both the Truth and the lie. Even though one believes in God (who is He?) and that Christ is our Savior (what does that mean?), if God's truth has been compromised or perverted, such a gospel does not save but eternally damns those who believe it.
Why is this so? Doesn't such condemnation seem harsh? Why is what one believes so vital? Isn't it enough to be sincere? Yet how can one be sincere and believe Satan's lie instead of God's truth? Surely God has given each of us the capacity to know the difference! Thus, those who reject the Truth condemn themselves.
Second Thessalonians 2:10-12 are among the most solemn and terrible verses in the Bible. There we are told that when the Antichrist controls the earth, to all those who "received not the love of the truth" God will send "a strong delusion that they should believe the lie: that they all might be damned." Can anyone complain if God helps them to believe the very lie which they insisted upon embracing? The damned are caught in the net of their own rebellion and left for eternity with the lie they loved. How horrible! Yet how just! From such a fate Christ died to save us.
Our rebellion against the infinite God requires an infinite penalty that we as finite creatures could never pay. We would be separated from God eternally. He could not simply make a "bookkeeping entry" in heaven and forgive us, for that would violate His justice. God so loved mankind that He came down through the virgin birth and became a member of our race in order to be, on the Cross, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Having paid the penalty in full demanded by His own justice, God can righteously forgive all who admit their guilt and accept the pardon He graciously offers.
When the Philippian jailer cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas gave a simple answer: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts:16:31). Surely that means more than simply believing that someone called Jesus Christ existed. Who was He? Lord means God; Jesus means Savior from sin; Christ means Messiah, the one promised in the Scriptures. His very name indicates that He is God who became a man to die for our sins in fulfillment of what God's prophets foretold.
The Old Testament repeatedly presents God as the only Savior. He offers to save Israel from her enemies, and all men, both Jews and Gentiles, from the judgment sin brings. God declares, for example, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else" (Isa:45:22). Thus, when Christ said that He had come "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Lk 19:10), He was declaring that He was God the Savior—exactly what the New Testament repeatedly calls both Christ and God the Father.
Paul wrote, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved." He went on to explain why they were not saved, though they had "a zeal of God": "For they...[seeking] to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end [goal] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom:10:1-4). Despite their zeal for God, the Jews were lost because they would not come to God on His terms.
Suppose one claims to believe that Christ died for man's sins, but that one must add good deeds, trust Mary to intercede, suffer in purgatory, belong to a certain church or keep certain rules or sacraments to be saved, or that Christ must be sacrificed again in the Mass. Is that man saved? The Bible says no. To believe that anything else is necessary for salvation is to deny that Christ paid the penalty in full, and thus is to reject the gospel. How can those who trust in a church for salvation be trusting only in Christ and His finished work? Or those who agree to accept some church's interpretation of God's Word—how can it be said that they personally know God and are believing Him?
Many who claim to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" have attached their own meaning to the seemingly biblical words they use. Thus are manufactured the many false gospels, which usually include false concepts of "Christ." The Science of Mind cult, for example, teaches, "We do not deny the divinity of Jesus, but rather we affirm the divinity of all people...." They call Jesus a Savior, but add, "Any world teacher [Buddha, Muhammad, Freud, et al.] who helps mankind to be free from material, intellectual, or emotional bondage is a spiritual 'savior.'" Yet Robert Schuller puts a picture of Della Reese, a leader in Science of Mind, on the cover of his Possibilities magazine and features her as a Christian.
Mormonism teaches that "God" (who has another "God" over him and so on endlessly) was once a sinful man redeemed by a "Christ" on another planet. The "Christ" of our planet (Satan's half-brother in a pre-earth spirit world) was conceived when "the God of this world" came to earth in his physical body and had sex with Mary. Mormonism's "Christ" was not God who became man, but a spirit entity who came to earth to get a physical body so he could become a "God," a metamorphosis which is the ambition of every Mormon male (females become goddesses). To a Mormon, eternal life is not a free gift of God's grace, but must be earned and culminates in becoming a "God," who manufactures another world with another Adam and Eve, another Satan, another fall, another Jesus and so on, ad infinitum absurdum.
Yet Robert Schuller has Jack Anderson, a leading Mormon, as a guest on his "Hour of Power" and passes him off as a Christian—and our four living ex-presidents and President Bush, all professing Christians, along with Billy Graham and other leaders, praise Schuller for his "Hour of Power." Earl Paulk likewise calls Mormons Christians. The Church Council of Greater Seattle apologized to American Indians for Christianity's opposition to traditional Native American spiritual practices (i.e., their pagan religion). The "formal apology" was read to a group of Indians by Episcopalian Bishop Robert Cochrane. Pope John Paul II has likewise endorsed the same paganism. Ecumenism is both appealing and appalling.
In Catholicism, everyone, no matter of what religion, is somehow "saved" through some mystical association with the Roman Catholic Church. Summarizing this doctrine in a popular Catholic newspaper, Fr. Benjamin Luther writes, "The Catholic Church has not and cannot change its teaching that it is itself necessary for salvation...." This priest then goes on to explain how Catholics can, nevertheless, deny that Rome teaches that outside of her there is no salvation. One need not be a member but can be saved through "some form of participation in the life of the Church. Pope Pius XII spoke of 'hidden bonds' joining nonmembers [with the Church]. So, the Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and even those following the great pagan religions, such as the Hindus and Buddhists, can share in the supernatural life...and the grace found solely within the visible boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, through the Church alone they [all] can gain salvation." (Catholic Twin Circle, Jan. 8, 1969, p 15). Amazing! While opposing God's truth and persisting in their pagan practices, all religions can be united under the Vatican! What a perfect set-up for the apostate world religion under Antichrist!
St. Olaf's (a Lutheran college) in Northfield, MN, features courses in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism. Anantanand Rambachan, a Hindu scholar who has taught at St. Olaf for five years, argues that "the biggest barrier to creating understanding among the great religions is the Christian claim that there is only one way to be saved." In agreement, Lutheran pastor Clark Morphew declares that "Worldwide religious harmony [is] hampered by 'one way' dogma." Christ's claim that "no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (Jn:14:6) is brushed aside by professing Christians in the interest of "religious harmony." Tolerance for Satan's lie has become the one virtue! How prophetic were Gorbachev's words: "Tolerance is the alpha and omega of the new world order." Truth is not a factor!
With the growing apostasy and popularity of New Age ideas, of ecumenism and disdain of doctrine even among evangelicals, the distinctions between the Truth and the lie are being ignored as if what one believes makes no difference after all. Standing for truth is considered to be "negative," while letting those who believe false gospels go to hell without telling them the truth is an act of "love." After all, that's what Mother Teresa, the ultimate exemplar of loving one's neighbor, has been doing for decades. Rather than giving the gospel to recipients of her charity, she has encouraged Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, et al. to draw closer to their gods—and has been praised by evangelical leaders for launching those in her care from a clean bed into hell!
Souls are being lost eternally! It has never been more important than now to be ready and able "always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Pt 3:15). Why a reason? Because "faith" is not blind; it is not a "leap into the dark," but is based upon solid evidence. Why must there be evidence? Isn't it enough simply to "believe"? Believe what? One would be a perverse fool to believe anything and everything. Then what and in whom is one to believe? Obviously, there must be a sound reason for believing "x" and not believing "y."
The gospel is the "good news." We have great news to rejoice in, to be excited and happy about and to share gladly with others. But we must know how to explain it so that the issues are made crystal clear. We owe it to those around us to present the gospel so clearly that they have every fact necessary for making the right choice. And that includes soundly refuting Satan's lies. As Paul exhorted Titus, "In all your teaching show the strictest regard for truth, and [for]...the seriousness of the matters you are dealing with. Your speech should be [so] logical...that your opponent may feel ashamed..." (Titus:2:7-8, Phillips).
One of the greatest needs in the church today is for training in sound apologetics, not only to counter atheism (which is the real "faith" of very few) but false religions, which have ensnared so many more. Why do young people so often "lose their faith" or get caught up in cults when they go off to college or university? Those who "lose" it never had genuine faith—didn't know why and in whom they believed—or it would have stood every test.
Parents often worry that their children will be persuaded by their peers to abandon their "faith" and to indulge in evil. Peer pressure in school, however, can only destroy a faith that was itself the product of peer pressure in church or family and lacked sound reason. It may have been pressure from parents, spouse or friends to "believe" in order to gain their approval. Or pressure from pastor or preacher to "go forward" in order to be accepted into the group and enjoy the benefits of belonging. Or it could have been the call to "come to Jesus" for the wrong reasons: perhaps for healing and prosperity instead of cleansing from sin.
Many Christians who reject the false gospel and know the truth are yet afraid to have their faith challenged by non-Christians at work, or at school. We dishonor God if we fear that our faith will not survive the battle that comes from witnessing boldly for Him. As a young man at UCLA I read everything I could find written against the Bible by atheists, agnostics or skeptics. It strengthened my faith to see what pitiful arguments they had in comparison to God's truth! We must put what we believe to the test, especially in daily life, living triumphantly for Him rather than for self.
It is not how intelligent we are that counts, but whether what we believe is the truth. Our Lord promised, "if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (Jn:8:31-32). It is a freedom from the fear that others may embarrass us if we proclaim the gospel, and freedom from the power of sin to deceive and attract us. What we really believe not only determines our eternal destiny but our conduct here and now. Thus, God's truth guards us from evil.
As an 18- to 20-year-old in the armed services during World War II, I saw those around me indulge in every sin imaginable, and they tried to persuade me to join them. Yet I was never tempted even in the slightest to conform. Is that to my credit? No, for according to what I believed about the eternal consequences of such behavior I would have been a fool to join in. What you and your children will do depends upon what each one really believes.
An entire generation is being lost because a false psychological gospel of self-esteem, and a lack of sound doctrinal teaching that explains why God's way is best is robbing them of Truth that is worth living and dying for. Let us be "lovers of truth" and effective witnesses with our lips and lives for our wonderful Savior. Be enthusiastic and bold! What good news of freedom in Christ we have to proclaim to those who are enslaved by Satan's lies! TBC