It may seem odd to say that a man can be religious, and at the same time in deadly error; yet it is true. Paul set out to prove this very principle to the Athenians. “And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, and said, Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are very religious…” (Acts 17:22). He then explained to them why they were wrong, though religious. Paul did not question their honesty, but he did question the authenticity of their religion. He did not charge them with being irreligious, but he did charge them with being religiously wrong. If this was true in Paul’s day, (and it was) then certainly it is reasonable to say that it might be true of some men and women today.
There is a difference between questioning a man’s religious activities and questioning his honesty. He can be honest in what he believes, and yet be honestly wrong. Many good people today feel that if they are religious and are honest in it, they are saved. Apparently the only qualifying factor with them is honesty. One must be honest in his religion, of course; but at the same time he must be honestly right. The only way one can be right religiously is by making certain that the things he believes and accepts are authorized by the Book, the Bible. One’s honesty in religion need never be questioned until he has been taught the truth and has had opportunity of accepting it. If he then continues in error, he becomes dishonest religiously.
Religious People Warned
The fact that one can be religious, and at the same time wrong, is easily proven by studying a few cases of conversion as we find them recorded in the Bible. In nearly every case of conversion, we are impressed with the fact that those converted were religious people, but religiously wrong. When men and women accept the truth, they have to leave the religion under which they had been living, and accept the system of religion authorized in the New Testament. Merely being religious and honest were not enough. They had to have truth as well as religion and sincerity.
When John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, he found multitudes of religious people coming out to hear him preach. They were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. John sternly reproved them for their attitude, and warned them that their religion was not adequate; it was not enough. “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). No one questions that these Jewish people were religious. In fact, religion was perhaps the dominant activity of their lives. The trouble with them was not that they were religious—but religiously wrong. If they were ever to be saved, they would have to give up the religion to which they were wedded so closely, and accept the religion authorized by Christ. The “kingdom of heaven” was at hand; no other religion would suffice.
The Lord leaves no doubt about the matter of religion when he says,
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye workers of iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23).
These people were religious enough, all right; but they were religiously wrong.
Nearly all the preaching of the apostles was done to people who were religious, but religiously wrong. Those to whom Peter preached on the day of Pentecost were religious people—“…devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)—but they were wrong. When Philip went down to Samaria to preach, he found a people who were intensely religious, but they were in error. They were religious, but wrong (Acts 8:5-12). When he preached to the Ethiopian eunuch, he was teaching a man who had come perhaps a thousand miles to worship, a man who was reading the Bible, and who was completely honest and completely sincere—but who was religiously wrong (Acts 8:26-39). He was doing “the best he knew”, but that was not enough; he had to obey the gospel. Lydia and her household were truly devout and God-fearing people; but they were religiously wrong (Acts 16:13-15).
Paul was surely a religious man during those years when he persecuted the church. He says he was “living in all good conscience” before God. He was religious, devout; zealous, conscientious, sincere, and truly thought he was serving God. But he was wrong. No one will even try to argue that he was right (Acts 9, 22, 26). Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, converted under Paul’s preaching, was a man who was religious, but he was wrong (Acts 18:8). He had to follow Paul’s example and become not only religious, but religiously right.
When Paul went down into Ephesus, he found twelve people there who had been baptized with John’s baptism. They were religious, certainly, but religiously wrong. Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:1-5). Many people seem to think that when they have been baptized, they are absolutely right religiously. It seems of little consequence to them to know why, or for what, or with what design they were baptized. They have the feeling that because they have been put underneath the water, that is all God requires. But those twelve to whom Paul came did not argue that because they had been baptized they were all right. When they heard Paul’s preaching, they submitted to the gospel and were baptized “in the name of Christ.”
We must all have the same willingness and readiness to act in compliance with inspired truth if we ever hope to gain heaven. It is not enough for us to be religious, honest, and sincere; we must also be certain that we are living in obedience to the express commands of God. If we are doing anything not authorized by the Book, we must stop it at once, and take a stand for that which is written.
We had better be right now if we want to be right then—when we stand before the Lord in the great judgment.