Can One Believe He is Right, but Actually be Wrong?
Sincere but wrong! We all know the dilemma of dealing with this interesting—but utterly crucial—topic! Indeed, this can be a painful and tragic reality that I’ve had to wrestle with all of my life. Surely you have as well.
This is what we mean. A man named John loudly proclaims his good health. He tells his wife, “Honey, I don’t need to eat all of that rabbit food. I feel fit as a fiddle!” But his wife knows better. She may remember the last time her husband was in for a physical exam and the doctor warned him of his high cholesterol, his high blood pressure, and his high pulse. Still, John maintains his “good health” regardless of the warnings. Six months later he suffers a major heart attack and dies before he can reach the emergency room. John believed that he was right, but sadly his wife discovered that he was wrong!
Or consider this. Connie knows that her mother and sister died with colon cancer, but believes that this could never happen to her. She eats well, she sleeps well, and she has “a positive mental attitude.” The slight discomfort that has become chronic is not enough to send her running to her family doctor. Months pass by. Even when the doctor recommends a colonoscopy, Connie declines. “There could never be a problem,” has been her incessant claim. We know the story: Within months, Connie is bent over with pain and discovers (too late) in the emergency room that she has inoperable cancer spreading through her body, beginning in the colon. But Connie never thought that the unthinkable could happen to her!
And then there is James. He has always been a religious person and claims that he loves his wife. However, he met a friendly and interested secretary on the job. They showed an interest in each other, and somehow James convinced himself that God was orchestrating their mutual relationship. In time, he thought that God had actually led him into this new relationship. After all, his first wife showed no interest in the Lord and this new woman had a great amount of interest in prayer and Bible reading! They chose marriage (actually, remarriage), supposedly with God’s blessing!
Tom has been a life-long Jehovah’s Witness (as they call themselves). He attends meetings at the local Kingdom Hall four times a week, he dutifully reads Awake! Magazine as well as The Watchtower Magazine. He knocks on doors every week and has often been commended by his superiors for his extraordinary devotion to and work for the Organization. He is totally convinced that Armageddon is soon approaching and hopes that he will be commended by God for his work and commitment. It never enters his mind that he could be wrong—drastically wrong, according to the Scriptures. He has been deceived and will continue this way, unless he opens his mind to the truth and researches his present believes in light of the Bible. Otherwise, a moment after death, Tom will discover (too late) that he has devoted is life to a false organization.
Mary is a devoted Catholic. She is traditional and tries to attend Mass every morning before work. She daily repeats the Rosary and prays to Mary. She does only what the Magisterium has approved or directed. She avoids everything that this Catholic body forbids. She is radically devoted to the “Pope” and has mementoes scattered around the house, reminding her of the time when she got within 20 feet of the Pontiff. She wouldn’t think of visiting a Protestant Church and tries to share her faith with others. It never enters her mind that the church of her childhood (the Catholic Church) could be wrong and actually be a false religion in the sight of God.
These kinds of incidents, whether physical or marital or religious, show that a person can become convinced that one thing is true when actually it is false. A person may think that something is right when it is false, or he believes that something is false when it is true. As Scripture says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:16; 16:25).
Sincere but Wrong!
Sincere by wrong! We’ve been looking at a number of illustrations to show that people can be wrong—and often are. They can believe one thing but this can be entirely mistaken. The Word of God shows a number of examples of this and we do well to take heed to what we read. Here are some of the Scriptures.
These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.
The Lord Jesus is warning His disciples that, because of Him, they will be thrown out of the synagogue (the center of society and religion to them). They will oppose Jesus to such an extent that they will literally kill some of the disciples—whether apostles or the wider group of followers. How could they do such a thing? Jesus says that the Pharisee (or other religious leader) will do this because he thinks that “he is offering service to God”! Such deception! Such blindness! Instead of embracing Christ and His message, they would rather follow their mistaken conscience and murder the followers of the Messiah!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a sobering warning of spiritual deception to His followers:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
These people confessed Jesus as Lord! They prophesied in the name of Jesus, they cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and they performed miracles (or thought they did) in the name of Jesus! But what was Christ’s response to them on the Day of Judgment? “I never knew you!” Wouldn’t it be true that many religious people you and I know today will have the same confession and the same plea for religious activity, and they will think that they were right with God. But Christ will directly say that He never knew them! A sober message to us!
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Once again, we have Jews who have a “zeal for God” but this devotion is “not in accordance with knowledge.” Just as these Jewish people could be devoted to God but be totally wrong about rejecting the identity of Christ and the means of being right with God, so people today can be mistaken about spiritual matters and reject Jesus and His right ways.
So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Paul here is making his defense before Agrippa. Notice that he “thought” to himself that he was required to treat with hostility those who followed Jesus our Lord. He was totally wrong in his belief. Instead of serving God, he was actually harming Christ and His followers!
1 Timothy 1:12-13
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.
Paul (formerly “Saul”) could do all kinds of acts of persecution because he was deceived. He said that he was shown mercy, “because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul was ignorant of the Scriptures regarding Jesus as the Messiah, and he was in unbelief about His identity as God’s Son and His work as sin-bearer. Like so many in our day, he was spiritually deceived and utterly failed to accept Jesus as God’s Son. He was blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:2-4).
Warnings about Deception!
These people were sincere—but wrong. They thought one way but the truth was another way. They did one thing, but they should have done another thing.
This accounts for the fact that many warnings are issued through the new covenant writings so that the readers will not be deceived.
- The Lord Jesus warned His disciples about the dreadful conditions that were to be found in the future until the destruction of Jerusalem. He declared:
“See to it that you are not misled” (Luke 21:8a).
- Paul the apostle shows the danger of deceiving oneself, a danger that is just as real as deception that comes through another person:
“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that we may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:17-18).
- Paul stresses the utter danger to the Corinthians and urged His readers avoid sin. In doing this, he writes:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived” (1 Corinthians 6:9).
- The apostle also warned the Corinthians about having fellowship with people who would lead them astray:
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (15:33).
- Paul also warned the Galatians that we must face the consequences of our beliefs and lifestyle:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
- James also shows the danger of not recognizing the disastrous effects and consequences of sin:
“. . . Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:15-16).
- John warns his readers also of the deceptive nature of living in sin rather than righteousness:
“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
These kinds of warnings show that Christians—true children of God—may be misled, deceived, and led astray. Thus, the constant warnings in Scripture about the very real danger of spiritual deception.
To repeat the point of our discussion here, people can think they are right when they are wrong. And they can even think they are wrong when they are right. Our thoughts can lead us astray so that reality is different from what we think it is!
The Danger of Believing Wrongly
Sincere–but Wrong! We’ve given illustrations of deception in our everyday world, scriptures dealing with those who have been deceived or warnings about being deceived, and scattered references to Scripture that we might not be deceived ourselves.
But does all of these warnings have a direct bearing on our personal lives? Does it have relevance to vast millions—even billions—of people in this world who think they are right but actually are wrong? Yes, Scripture does show how applicable the teachings of Scripture are to nearly everyone on earth!
For example, think of the devoted Hindu who punishes his body and gives sacrifice to his false gods. He bows down to these graven images and considers the cow to be sacred, believing that a dog or a cockroach could be his grandmother! We know that such a belief and such a religion is false and utterly vain, but the devotee is willing to spend his life with this false religion then he dies. Hundreds of millions of Hindus will live and die with this vain hope. But Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am He [God’s Son], you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). He also said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved [in the gospel] shall be condemned.” In other words, there is no hope for the idolater and pagan to have eternal life. How deceived—and how hopeless!
Think of another example. The Muslim is taught and comes to believe that Allah is the true way and that Muhammad is his prophet. This devoted religionist memorizes the entire Qur’an, prays five times a day toward Mecca, abstains from tobacco and intoxicants, and even takes a pilgrimage to Mecca, the sacred place of Islam. Some, of course, go so far as to commit suicide and murder for what they consider to be holy jihad for Islam. From the outside, we can see that this devotion is utterly devoid of truth and reality and is the epitome of deception. But 1.2 to 1.4 billion Muslims believe this and prove their belief with their life. The Muslim dies and what will happen? As in the case of the Hindu, the Muslim will one day face the fact that he has rejected the only hope that he could have had of eternal life. He has not believed that Jesus is the Son of God, has not believed in the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the fact that He is the only possible way to God! Jesus plainly said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). John the apostle said that he wrote his gospel “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of god; and that believing your may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Another example would be in the realm of Christendom. We may think of a monk living out his days in a monastery or a nun living her years in a convent. Each of them spends multiple hours in prayer and devotion each day (and night), repeats the Rosary each day, deprives himself or herself of food and water through fasting, is completely submissive to the religious authorities, partakes of the elements in the Mass each day, reads Catholic devotional literature, and is committed without reservation to the “Pope” of Rome. But, again, outsiders can see how utterly useless this sort of belief and lifestyle is. Rather than assuring that he or she will be received by God in the end, this Catholic devotion will seal one’s doom by keeping the devotee from the manifold teachings of Scripture that would warn against this kind of religious devotion. To use the words of the apostle Paul, “they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2).
We might also think of the devoted (and deceived) “Jehovah’s Witness.” Such a person is convinced that he is a “witness” of Jehovah, a member of His “organization” on earth (the Watchtower Witness organization), that he dutifully knocks on countless doors, and seeks to share the message of the Witnesses to anyone who is willing to hear him go through his practiced presentation (taught by Witness authorities). He attends at least four meetings each week, gives money to the organization, attends the yearly convention, and obediently reads the Awake! Magazine and the Watchtower Magazine! Yet those from the outside who know their Bibles, are aware that the Witness denies that Jesus is God (John 1:1; 20:28), denies that the Holy Spirit is personal (Acts 2:38; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15), denies that basic translations of God’s Word are accurate (choosing rather to accept a defective translation, The New World Translation), and insists on utter devotion to a false, counterfeit organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Those who know their Bible, can see that this massive false teaching will lead them down a pathway that brings eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
Lastly, we might comment on the deceived and materialistic disciple of one of the popular “Word of Faith” or “Health and Wealth” or “Name it and Claim it” preachers. Such a devotee is willing to sacrifice money for such a televangelist, is willing to pray daily for his healing and earthly reward, makes the preacher the final judge of right and wrong, and is unwilling to give up his “positive thinking” message in favor of Christ’s teaching on self-denial and suffering (Mark 8:34-38). He closes his eyes, ears and heart to the many warnings against preachers who exploit others in greed (2 Peter 2:1-3, 15; 3:17; Romans 16:17-18; Jude 4). Try to reach these greedy, close-minded, worldly people, and they will entirely reject your pleas. They can’t seem to understand the Lord’s teaching on self-sacrifice and cross-bearing, choosing to cater to their materialistic lusts rather than submit to the suffering Savior.
Hopefully by now, we can see that people can be “sincere” but “wrong”! We may doubt just how sincere they may be, for surely God will not leave a sincere, unhypocritical, honest soul in their sin and deception. If the person is open to God’s Word and sincerely seeks to know God’s will, we believe that God will lead that person to further aspects of truth. As Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). God will bring the honest-hearted person to the good news of Christ and further aspects of truth and righteousness!
Let’s be Willing to See Truth and Follow it!
Sincere–but Wrong! If religious false ways are so rampant in the world, how should we look at this theme we have been pursuing? First, we should acknowledge the facts we have seen. We should be willing to see that the vast majority of earth’s population are deceived, regardless of how sincere they seem to be. We must never fall into the humanistic and pluralistic idea that everyone has his own way to God and that will be okay. Some have said that heaven is like the top of a mountain and everyone has different pathways to reach this destination. No, Jesus is the only way and His truth is the only truth that can save for all eternity!
Second, we should take a long and honest look at ourselves, acknowledging that we also may be deceived. As Paul wrote, “Let no man deceive himself” (1 Corinthians 3:18a). We must not think that only “the other person” may be lost, but we also may be deceived. We may think we are forgiven, saved, born again, and have a relationship with God—but we could be totally confused and dark in our understanding!
Third, we need to remember that if 90 percent, 95 percent, or even 99.9 percent of earth’s population are wrong when they think they are right, we also could be under the same delusion! I must confess that I grew up in a devoted religious home and thought I was on my way to heaven. I only later came to see that I was lost and on my way to an eternity without God. Years later, I came to the same conclusion, and could see that I was lost even though I had made some profession of faith and commitment. I had been deceived again! Later yet, I continued my studies, research, and reflection, and came to the awareness that I still had not come to know God in the forgiveness of my sins. At that time, I finally did surrender to the Lord and expressed my heartfelt faith in God through the Lord Jesus Christ! Deception gave way to truth!
What about You?
Reader, if I could be wrong, if whole religions can be wrong, and if the vast majority of people in the world can be wrong, what about you? If you are a genuine follow of Christ and have come to the Lord Jesus as He has directed, then we need not raise a doubt about your status before the Lord. But, on the other hand, if you are like most other people who think they are saved and on their way to heaven, but are utterly deceived and mistaken, then we would encourage you to examine yourself to see where you are before the Lord.
Scripture says, “Examine everything carefully; hold fact to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Have you examined your beliefs and convictions? More pointedly, Paul urges us: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Have you tested yourself? Have you examined yourself, your heart, your beliefs, and your lifestyle? Have you “passed” the test—or “failed” the test?
If millions of people would have the honesty and passion for the truth that God wants, surely many of them would be willing to surrender their life to God and turn to Him through Christ for His forgiveness. We do know that there will be “many” who will profess to know Jesus on the Last Day but who will be surprised to be rejected. As the Lord said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21-23).
This is similar to what Jesus said at Luke 13:24: “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” As in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says that “many” will want to enter God’s kingdom but will be forbidden. We do know that when Christ returns, only some will be prepared, whereas others will not be ready (Matthew 25:1-13). There may have been millions of people on earth at the time of Noah, but only eight (8) people were prepared and thus were rescued from the destruction at the time of the worldwide flood (cf. 1 Peter 3:20; Genesis 6-9). Will you be ready—and will I?
I ask you: could you be sincere—but wrong? Do you believe that you are right—but actually be wrong? Like most of the people around you in the world, could it be that you think you are prepared for the hereafter, but you will be shocked to find out that you are unprepared?
Don’t rely on your devotion, your religious zeal or sincerity, your traditional ways, your church affiliation, your commitment to a set of standards or your churchly rituals. Most of those who do this are not right with God and unprepared to meet Christ Jesus in judgment. Examine yourself to determine if you are in Christ and prepared to meet the Lord! Observe your life, your belief, your worldview, your lifestyle, and your relationship with God. Prepare now, while you may!
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