Thomas Allen Robertson
In religion, the great mass of the people subscribe to the sentiment that it makes no difference what one believes, just so long as he is honestly and sincerely convinced that he is doing right. One might as well contend that it makes no difference what one eats, just so long as he thinks it is good for him. It is not the fact of eating that sustains life (not the mere physical act of chewing and swallowing), but it is the thing eaten. One cannot get the same effect from chewing and swallowing poison that one can get from chewing and swallowing wholesome food. So it is not believing that saves the soul, but it is what one believes.
This truth is easily seen in any other field save religion. Suppose one went into a butcher shop and ordered a pound of round steak, and the butcher picked up a piece, wrapped it, and handed it over the counter, saying, “15 dollars, please.” Would one accept it? Of course not. The customer would ask, “Since you did not weigh the steak, how do you know it is a pound?” If the butcher should reply, “I know I gave you full measure because I feel it right here,” and pat himself in the region of his abdominal cavity, the customer would say, “Put the meat on the scales, please!”
Intelligent men demand a standard, whether ordering a pound of steak, a yard of material at the dry-goods store, or five gallons of gas at a filling station. None of us want to trust the clerk’s feelings that he is giving a pound, or measuring of thirty-six inches, or five gallons. No matter how much the clerk might feel like he was right, the buyer knows that feelings can’t be accurate. He wants an authoritative standard of measurement. Yet in matters of religion this same buyer is likely to say, “It doesn’t make any difference what one believes, just so he thinks he is right!”
Such doctrine paves the way for every kind of unscriptural practice. If it is true, then the only authority in the realm of religion is the honest feelings of the individual; and Christianity is based not on facts but on opinions, fiction, and feeling. But the New Testament teaches emphatically that there is a pattern, a standard; and pronounces condemnation on those who do not conform to it. Paul warned against accepting “any other gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9). John limited all to “the doctrine” of Christ” (2 John 9-11). Jude taught that that faith had been once delivered” (Jude 3). and Peter said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).
The Bible is filled with examples setting forth the principle that a thing is not right merely because people honestly and sincerely believe it to be the case. Through trickery, Jacob deceived Isaac, and Isaac actually believed completely in his heart that Jacob was Esau. Did that make Jacob to be Esau? Years later, Jacob was deceived into believing that his son, Joseph, was dead, and for many years he mourned him as dead. Yet all the time of his sorrow Joseph was not dead, but was living in Egypt. Could Jacob’s sorrow have been any more real or profound if, in truth, Joseph had been dead? If the feelings are convinced that a lie is the truth, then the emotional result is precisely the same as it would be if the thing believed were truth.
Saul of Tarsus said, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1) Yet during that time that he lived “in good conscience” he had laid waste the church, persecuted the saints of God, and breathed out threatening and slaughter against the Way. He had thought he was doing right. His conscience was clear. But believing it was right did not make it so. One’s conscience may be misinformed or misled. There is a standard of right—and that standard is not the feelings.
Popular Religious Doctrines
Let us apply this matter to the popular religious ideas of our day. Many have taught, for example, that one church is as good as another. The New Testament teaches, however, that Christ built one church, not churches (Matt. 16:18). There was one church set up on Pentecost, not churches, and people were added to that one church (Acts 2:47). Christ purchased the church, not churches, with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Christians are all one body in Christ (Rom. 12:5). Paul said, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). The one body into which men are baptized is the body of Christ, which is the church (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18). Paul said, “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4). Hence, no matter how deeply one may feel that there are many churches, the Bible plainly teaches that there is one, and only one, church.
Many have been convinced that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and certain of the “canonized” saints can intercede, mediate, and act as intermediaries between God and man. But the New Testament teaches that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Christ (Matt. 28:18). And Paul said, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
It is commonly taught that the alien sinner can “pray the sinners’ prayer”—that one receives faith and is saved by prayer. Many men feel that this is so. But the Bible teaches that some men’s prayers are abominable in the sight of God (Prov. 28:9). It is further stated that the Lord will not hear the prayers of certain ones (Psa. 66:18: Isa. 59:1, 2; John 9:31). No matter how deeply one may feel, or how honestly he may believe that his prayers will save him, he is mistaken. The Bible gives an authoritative, clear-cut plan of redemption. One who does not obey it will be lost, no matter what his feelings are.
Any thinking man can see the folly of the doctrine that anything is acceptable to God if only the individual is sincere and honestly thinks he is right. Such an idea removes all standard and all authority from religion, and turns it over to the confused anarchy of every man’s own inner feelings. As a result of this false idea, all forms of erroneous doctrines are in the land, both Catholic and Protestant. Christianity has lost its appeal to many people because it has been divested of all authority, and has been dishonored by the chaotic ideas advanced by these people.
A thing is not right merely because we believe it to be right. We must study the word of God, believe and practice only that which it sets forth. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” is the warning of Jeremiah (Jer. 10:23). And again, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21). “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).