Counterfeits are everywhere. For every truth stated by God Satan substitutes error. Sometimes the error is blatant, sometimes subtle. But the more accurately the error mirrors the truth, the more difficult it is to discover and the more dangerous the threat it poses. Because of the primary importance of salvation, Satan seems to focus his devious activity on that foundational doctrine. And we must be wary of his deceit because even a seemingly slight variation from the truth of the gospel as presented in the Word will lead a sinner down the path to eternal damnation. We will take brief note of three damnable heresies promoted by Satan, erroneous beliefs that have destroyed many lives for eternity.
Serving. Many people have fallen prey to the false belief that some demonstrable service purportedly for God or in His name saves or is the evidence of salvation. Some rendition of this idea forms the cornerstone of the doctrine of salvation for many churches. But the Lord Himself gave the lie to this false notion. Toward the close of “The Sermon on the Mount,” He warned His auditors that “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?’” (Matt. 7:22). These individuals believed they had served God in three ways: they professed to have spoken inspired truth in God’s name, to have defeated Satan’s demons, and to have performed miracles. The Lord does not dispute their claims. Instead, He declares them to be eternally lost: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (v. 23). Whatever the nature of their deeds, not only were they not honoring God in their performance, but they were not even saved. Apparently, they had placed their confidence for salvation in the belief that their perceived service for God was the means or proof of their salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Obedience. Another device of Satan is to conflate external conformity to the obedience of saving faith. The Apostle Paul thanked God that the believers at Rome “became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which . . . [they] were committed,” and thus they were “freed from sin” (Rom 6:17, 18). His statement contains an essential prepositional phrase: “from the heart.” That critical phrase makes clear that not all obedience is of equal value. Paul exposes the truth from God that mere external obedience, something that looks good to the casual observer and may even pass muster with many careful observers, is neither the means nor the equivalent of salvation. Obedience that pleases God has its source in a believing and submissive heart. Like the little child who was ordered to sit down by his father and did so but said, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside,” the person who exercises mere external conformity without a yielding of his will is not obedient at all. He is performing futile works. Looking like a Christian and behaving like a Christian so far as an observer can tell is by no means the same as being a Christian.
Faith. Most shocking of all is that many are on the road to hell having believed on Jesus. John reports this stark truth in this fashion: “Now when He [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men” (John 2:23, 24). The point is not that the Lord fails to save some who believe but that some who believe fail to exercise genuine saving faith. To state a profound truth succinctly, many have an intellectual faith that recognizes and assents to the truth regarding the Person and saving work of Christ, genuinely believing the claims of the gospel. But they fail to have a trusting faith that appropriates that truth and personally rests in it. In short, the Lord Himself makes it clear that “many” who believe on Jesus are utterly lost. A faith that assents and agrees without personally appropriating or a faith that fails to acknowledge the hopeless, lost state of the sinner is a false faith, powerless to save.
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