“It makes no difference what a man believes, so long as he is honest.” But a man’s sincerity does not make a wrong thing right when he believes it. No one thinks that a doctor, though honestly mistaken, will do his patient as much good treating him for pneumonia when the patient has acute appendicitis. No one thinks a man can open his safe with the wrong combination, though he honestly thinks he has the right one.
Nearly everyone has found by experience that being honestly mistaken about the way to a certain place will not make a wrong way right. One must find his error, recognize it, get on the right way, and follow it.
But in religion, men think differently. We often hear, “It makes no difference what a man believes, if he is honest.” Why do people believe this in religion, but not in other things?
God will not excuse ignorance, even though it is honest ignorance. “The times of this ignorance, God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). He demands that people study and learn, and He promises that, “if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).
Before his conversion, the apostle Paul consented to Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1), and made havoc of the church (Acts 8:3), and persecuted Jesus (Acts 9:4-5). And all the time, Paul was ignorant of his mistake, and just as honestly mistaken as anyone ever was (1 Tim. 1:13). Even during that time, he maintained a good conscience, void of offense (Acts 23:1), and in all good conscience, he opposed the truth, the church of Christ.
It is the doctrine of demons that says honesty alone will save a man, and that sincerity will compensate for errors in belief. Many Jews are honestly mistaken about faith in Christ. They just don’t believe in Him. But Jesus said, “Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Every disbeliever will be damned, whether honestly mistaken or otherwise. Jesus said, “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16)
Some good people have been led to honestly believe that they were saved before, and without, baptism, and that baptism had nothing to do with their salvation. They are made to believe that baptism is not for the remission of sins, and they are honestly confident that one can enter into the kingdom of God without birth of water and Spirit. But Jesus plainly said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Though sincerely mistaken, if a man is not born of water and the Spirit, the law prohibiting his entrance into the kingdom of God still stands. Peter said, “…be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and sincerity and honesty cannot set aside that law.
Before his conversion, Paul was wrong about the church and thought he should do many things to oppose it. For this honest mistake, he branded himself “the chiefest of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:13-15).
Remember this: The honesty of a person does not mitigate the baleful effects of a false belief when it is acted upon. A loaded gun will shoot just as hard, and kill just as surely whether one believes it is loaded or not. As in everything else, ignorance and stupidity can never be so safe as intelligent investigation and accurate information. And hell will be populated with many people who thought they were right, but failed to investigate while they could.
It is significantly stated for all to know that the Bereans were “more noble than those in Thessalonica” because, “they searched the scriptures daily whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Investigate for yourself. Don’t take our word, or any man’s in religious matters, unless those words can be proven by the Scriptures.
Your soul’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance. “Honesty” is not God’s standard. You can be honest, but honestly mistaken. Make sure you’re on the right road by searching the Scriptures.