By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Eagle Point, OR Jun.16,1985)
I like to fly. But like every other man, I was not born with the wings that I have to use to break the bonds of earth and soar into the heavens. I did some hang-gliding once and the wings that I used were made to exacting standards and I had to inspect them and take diligent care of them. If they were not made correctly or were defective in some way, I was going to crash.
That is how faith is. Faith makes me soar into the spiritual realm and from that lofty height see great vistas of God's being and purposes. But I have to be diligent to take care of my wings - check them out and make sure they are strong and in good shape.
God made my wings. If I had made them myself, I would not be able to soar and would likely crash. So I rely on God and his design for my faith. To make it strong I have to read God's word and think about it a lot. I have to always make sure my wings are based upon the design God gave - so I check it out. I have to have faith with a sincere heart. I cannot be deluding myself or I will fall out of the sky. What keeps me aloft is not my personality, imagination or will power - it is God's grace and power founded in the reality of truth.
Here is a lesson along those lines.
In Acts 23, we have Paul speaking before the Chief Priests after he was arrested in Jerusalem, and in verse 1 we have an interesting statement about his character.
And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, "Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day."
Paul says that his whole life has been lived with a clear conscience, both as a Christian and as a Pharisee.
I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief, Jesus Christ might show forth all his longsuffering, for an example of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
What Paul did before he became a Christian he did confidently with a clear conscience that what he was doing was right before God. But what he was doing was blaspheming, persecuting Christians and trying to have them executed.
Then Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus where he was going to get more Christians, and commissions him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and drew near to Damascus, about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' And I answered, 'Who art you, Lord?' And he said unto me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.' And they that were with me beheld indeed the light, but they heard not the voice of him that spoke to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said unto me, 'Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told you of all things which are appointed for you to do.'
The point I want to get here, is that even though Paul was sincerely doing these evil things in all good conscience, he was not forgiven until after he repented and stopped what he was doing.
And now why do you tarry? arise, and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'
Even though Jesus had appeared to him - his sins were not washed away until he was immersed. While Paul was sincerely doing something that he thought was right - he was lost and he did not know God.
Men in religion tend to put emphasis on emotions of sincerity, and they will point to the example of the insincere scribes and Pharisees and how Jesus condemned them for their hypocrisy.
And he said to them, "You are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
Since Jesus here condemns hypocrisy and points to the need for sincerity of heart, some people have concluded that sincerity of heart is all that God requires. So when you are trying to teach them or correct them concerning an error their church teaches, they will come back with, "Well, I would rather be sincerely wrong then hypocritically right." or they will ask you if you think God would let the sincerely ignorant and wrong perish? Most people will quickly say, "Of course not." Then the argument progresses and if we conclude all sincere people will be saved, then we have got to include all sincere people. Therefore it becomes, "Whatever you do religiously, do it with all your heart and God will accept it."
Is that true? What is the measure of sincerity?
Let us look at the word.
Three Greek words:
Adolos = Guileless, pure, unadulterated. It is said of the word of God.
...as newborn babes, long for the sincere spiritual milk which is without guile, that you may grow thereby unto salvation;
It was used of how the word was preached.
For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proves our hearts. For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ.
Hagnos = not with pure motives. Again, it is said of how the word was preached.
... the one do it of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel; but the other proclaim Christ of faction, not sincerely, thinking to raise up affliction for me in my bonds.
Eilikrinia = Purity, freedom from falsehood. From sunlight, properly, found pure when exposed to the light, like crystal. [Thayer] It is said of preaching.
For we are not as the many, peddling the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.
For our glorifying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
You could have held Paul up to the brightest light and you would not have found any deceit in him in preaching the gospel. He was pure of heart as God is pure.
This is how Paul wanted Christians to be also.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that you may approve the things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ;
...wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Notice how sincerity is always linked with truth or coupled with the word of God. That is because you cannot find the truth unless you are honest; painfully honest - transparent. Unless you are honest with yourself and honest with God, you will ultimately settle for something less than the truth.
The reason I say that is because the truth is not what I think. The truth is not something you think. The truth is not something that I like and it is not something you like. The sincere heart will seek truth only. It will look at the truth honestly, whatever it is. It will be honest in the study of the word of God. If the word says something opposite from what I believe or what my church teaches, then the honest heart will not rest until he resolves that discrepancy.
The sincere heart will devote itself to do the word of God and only the word of God - not man's. The sincere heart will not cherish any selfish interests in believing something simply because it is pleasant or traditional or comfortable with your lifestyle.
As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they compel you to be circumcised; only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For not even they who receive circumcision do themselves keep the law; but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
When someone says that he is sincere in heart, and therefore it does not matter what he believes; then he is not really sincere. He does not know what sincerity means. You cannot disregard what the scriptures say and be sincerely trying to serve God. If you are sincere, then you will want to do what God says and not man.
God will work with the truly sincere individual - like Paul.
There are promises to the sincere.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
If you are looking for and asking for the truth - you will find it. God is not very far away.
The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself gives to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being;
So, will the sincere person be saved? Yes. Definitely. Because they will transcend the doctrines of men, and only be satisfied with the truth of God.
Someone might say, "But I know some Baptists that are very sincere and actively trying to serve God."
That is well and good. Because if they are sincere, they will study their way out of Baptist doctrine. You cannot hold to Baptist doctrine and also to scriptures that contradict it for very long if you are sincere.
When man comes to God, what justification could he possibly give for disregarding God's word and changing the structure and mission of the church; for changing its requirements for membership; for ignoring God's word and teaching a doctrine that cannot be found on the pages of the New Testament scriptures? That is not honest. That is not pure in heart.
The truth of God answers to the heart of man. They are compatible. If the heart is impure and insincere it will not accept the truth. But if the heart is pure and honest it will accept the truth. Like in the parable of the sower.
And that in the good ground, these are such as in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, hold it fast, and bring forth fruit with patience.
The truth is tailor made for the sincere heart - it answers man's every need.
What are the things the sincere heart will believe?
Must believe in God
And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.
If you do not believe in God, it does not matter whether you say you are sincere or not. It is impossible to please God unless you believe he exits. There are a lot of truth-seeking scientists out there like the late Carl Sagan, who seemed so sincere, who would laugh at the idea of the existence of God. It does not matter how sincere you say you are, if you do not believe in God you will not make it.
Must believe the gospel
If you have not believed and obeyed the gospel, then you simply are not a Christian. If you think you are sincere in believing in God, but will not accept Jesus Christ as your savior - then you have rejected God and called him a liar. No sincere seeker of truth will reject the truth of the gospel. The sincere heart will find Christ.
"I am the good shepherd; and I know my own, and my own know me,..."
"But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
The sincere heart will hear Christ's call and follow him.
- We need to hear his word and believe that he died for our sins. (Jno.3:16)
- We need to repent of our sins and turn our lives toward God. (Lk.13:3)
- We need to have courage to confess our faith before men. (Rom.10:10)
- And we need to be immersed into Christ for the remission of sins. (Gal.3:27)
If you have obeyed this form of doctrine then you are a Christian.
But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were servants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of doctrine unto which you were delivered; and being made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness.
What doctrine? The doctrine about freedom from sin - the gospel. The doctrine or teaching of Christ is everything that Jesus taught, both publicly and through his apostles, and therefore obviously includes the good news of the kingdom; the glad tidings of God's grace; the gospel of our salvation.
Now, once we have become Christians, then we hold a relationship to Christ. We are in Christ. And being in Christ we must remain (or abide) in the teaching of Christ. If we do not remain faithful to his word, then we have denied him.
Whoever goes onward and remains not in the teaching of Christ, has not God: he that remains in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes unto you, and brings not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that gives him greeting partakes in his evil works.
When I accepted Christ, I accepted all his teaching, whether I know what it is at present or not, whether I understand it or not. If Christ's word says it, then I believe it and I'll practice it. This is abiding in the doctrine of Christ. I may not understand it all, or I may even misunderstand portions of it - but I've got this relationship with Christ, I'm in Christ, and I accepted it all and I'm pursuing a course to understand it better and teach it as best I can.
Does 2Jno.9 mean we have to be 100% right on every doctrine we believe or teach in order to be right with God? I think if a person has any kind of personal reflection and honesty, he would have to admit that he has been wrong on a lot of things in the past that he sincerely believed were right - but were misunderstood and taught in error.
I know several preachers who have told me that they have sermons they preached years ago, that they could not preach now. When I asked why, they said it was because they do not believe them anymore.
Does that mean that at that time they "had not God"? What does John mean my "going beyond" and "not abiding"? If I go on, i.e. go outside of the teaching of Christ and believe and teach something foreign to the N.T. scriptures, then I am not remaining in the doctrine of Christ.
If I diligently search and study the apostles doctrine and yet get it wrong in a particular point - that is one thing, but if I go somewhere else outside the Bible to get my truth or disregard what the Bible says, that is something else. That is not abiding in the doctrine of Christ. The person who is gone on has left the authority of the truth. He does not care about any scriptures you can quote him. He does not care about what Jesus or the apostles said; he has his own ideas.
After we have found the truth, then how am I to treat other people who differ with me?
First of all, if we are not loving these people, then we really have not found the truth. If our attitude is not to care about what happens to these people and to do everything you can to save these people, then we do not know the truth.
Now, if you do not understand what I understand in the doctrine of Christ, and you are not practicing what I practice, then what am I to think? Am I to assume that you are apostate, if you hold a different view than I?
No. I'm to assume that your heart is right and proceed to instruct you concerning the difference. I'm to open up the truth to you, loving you and assuming that you were wholly ignorant concerning this doctrine or you simply misunderstood it, and then give you time to study it.
And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that put themselves in opposition; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will.
In other words if you come together with this person and you have the attitude that this guy is a "good for nothin'" false teacher and everything he says is going to be a lie - then you are not going to be able to teach him anything.
Stand for the truth - Yes. Defend the doctrine of Christ - Yes. But do not presume to judge another man's heart, something only God can do.
But what if this man adamantly and obdurately refuses what the scriptures plainly say?
If any man teaches a different doctrine, and consents not to healthy words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he has been puffed up, knowing nothing, but has an unhealthy interest about questionings and disputes of words, whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil suspicions, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and deprived of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain.
For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power therefore. From these also turn away.
So I am to turn away. I'm to withdraw myself. And if he starts contentions and divisions in the church, we are to watch out for him and avoid him.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which you learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.
Conclusion: You cannot be sincere and not care about the truth. God's truth is one thing and does not change no matter what we believe. If we think we can disregard God's word because we think we are sincere, then we do not know what sincere means.
The sincere heart will come to God, believe and obey the gospel and remain in that doctrine of Christ.
Do you have a good and honest heart?
~ Invitation ~