“SINCERE BELIEF, BUT NOT SAVING FAITH”
First Corinthians 15.2, 14
1. There are two verses that will serve as our Scriptural anchors this morning. The first is First Corinthians 15.2. Please stand, and we will read First Corinthians 15.1-2: “1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”
2. Please, also, look down to First Corinthians 15.14: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Thank you. You may be seated.
3. Notice the last phrase in First Corinthians 15.2, where Paul writes, “unless ye have believed in vain.” What does it mean to “believe in vain?” The Greek word is an adverb, pronounced eikh, “in vain,” and means “at random.” What Paul is referring to is a faith that leads nowhere, that brings you nothing, that does not result in conversion.
4. Now look down to First Corinthians 15.14, where Paul ends his sentence with the phrase, “your faith is also vain.” Here Paul is declaring that one’s faith is empty, the Greek word here is kenos, if what has been preached, that Jesus has risen from the dead, is not factually and historically true.
5. Thus, it is entirely possible for a person to be sincere in his faith, and yet be all the while mistaken and not truly born again.
6. Allow me to relate to you some illustrations of sincerely held error:
1A. First, THERE IS THE ONE CALLED BUDDHA, THE FOUNDER OF BUDDHISM
2B. In that part of the world and at that time spousal and child abandonment apparently passed for virtuous acts and praiseworthy deeds, because these were the first steps taken toward what was ultimately pronounced to be Buddha’s enlightenment.
3B. Listen to what this fellow taught people: “I am emancipated, rebirth is extinct, the religious walk is accomplished, what had to be done is done, and there is no need for the present existence. I have overcome all foes; I am all-wise; I am free from stains in every way; I have left everything and have obtained emancipation by the destruction of desire. Myself having gained knowledge, whom should I call my Master? I have no teacher; no one is equal to me. I am the holy one in this world; I am the highest teacher. I alone am the absolute omniscient one. I have gained coolness by the extinction of all passion and have obtained Nirvana. . . I will beat the drum of immortality in the darkness of this world.”
4B. “Buddha told his disciples not to enquire into the origin of the world, into the existence and nature of God. He said to them that such investigations were practically useless and likely to distract their minds.”
5B. Who in his right mind would deny that this fellow was delusional? His arrogance is almost unmatched. And he urged his disciples to not seek God, thus showing himself to be an obstacle to the pursuit of truth, not an advocate of the pursuit of truth.
6B. Was this fellow really all wise? Was he really the highest teacher? Was he alone the omniscient one, which means he thought of himself as being all-knowing? How could he be free from stains in every way, having abandoned his wife and child? What justifiable reasons could there be for some clown abandoning his wife and child and then somehow claiming to be holy?
7B. Rational and thinking people would agree that while Buddha may have been sincere, he was sincerely wrong. He advocated a salvation by works mentality in which the goal was not heaven, but Nirvana. And he was arrogant in the extreme, thinking that a sinful man, any sinful man, is capable of discovering life’s truths by means of personal investigation. Sincere? Perhaps. But sincerely wrong. As well, even the most sincere Buddhist, though he be sincere, is wrong.
2A. Next, THERE IS ONE NAMED MOHAMMED, THE FOUNDER OF ISLAM
1B. I would urge you to get a copy of the book I co-authored, Demons In The Smoke Of The World Trade Center, where you will find a wealth of information about the moslem religion and about the man who was used by Satan to found that religion, Mohammed.
2B. To refresh the memories of those who have read the book, and to whet the appetites of you who have not read the book, let me review some facts about Mohammed, a man who we will stipulate to have been sincere:
#1 He denied that God has a Son.
#2 He denied that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross.
#3 He denied that Jesus was gloriously raised from the dead.
3B. But that is not all Mohammed was wrong about. In addition to being completely off the mark with regard to the Lord Jesus Christ, here are some other interesting factoids about Mohammed:
#1 He believed that a man’s prayers could be neutralized by a dog, by a donkey, and by a woman who might walk in front of a man while he is praying.
#2 Contrary to what the Bible teaches, he also believed that the world is flat.
#3 He also believed that lightning and thunder were two angels, just like the angel Gabriel.
4B. So, Mohammed was wrong. He may have been sincere, but sincerity is no substitute for truth and accuracy. As well, even the most devoted moslem, regardless of how sincerely held are his beliefs, is wrong.
3A. Third, THERE WAS A MAN NAMED CHARLES DARWIN
1B. Charles Darwin did not originate the theory of evolution. He did, however, popularize the notion with the publication of his book, whose short title is The Origin of Species, which went on sale in England on November 22, 1859.
2B. Let us presume that Charles Darwin was sincere in his publicly stated belief that different species arise over vast periods of time by a process Darwin called “natural selection.” What his “sincere” actions did was advance an ancient system of belief that had its origins in pagan Greece.
3B. Darwin is rightly understood to be wrong because his views do not agree with God’s Word. For Darwin to be right the first two chapters of the Bible that describe creation in six literal days would have to be wrong. There would also have to be another explanation for death than sin, since Darwin’s theory would require the existence of death before there was anyone like Adam and Eve to disobey God and fall.
4B. Some people, however, think that there is no harm in having misguided beliefs, so long as they are sincere held. But those who have followed Buddha have followed him to the destruction of their eternal souls. And those who have followed Mohammed into the moslem religion have done so to their damnation.
5B. If you think such is not the case with Darwin, think again. Listen to these words from the eulogy Friedrich Engels delivered at the funeral of Karl Marx: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.” My friends, once Darwin popularized the theory of the survival of the fittest species Marx developed the theory of the survival of the fittest class. As well, Adolph Hitler devised his National Socialism and its virulent racism on the pretext of the survival of the fittest race.
6B. Thus, Nazism, with its theory of the evolution of the races, and communism, with its theory of the evolution of the classes, are responsible for the deaths in the Soviet Union, in communist China, in World War 2, in Cambodia’s killing fields, and in the starvation of Ethiopia under the communist dictator Colonel Mengistu, of roughly 100 million people during the 20th century.
7B. Charles Darwin was sincere, I suppose, but he was sincerely wrong. And those who follow along after him are also wrong, regardless of how sincere they happen to be.
1. My friends, think of the damage that is done to the human race by those who naively evaluate truth and error by such a thing as sincerity. By what kind of perverse logic is the rightness or the wrongness of one’s belief determined by his sincerity?
2. No matter how strongly held is a child’s belief that he can fly, he will fall to the ground and injure himself if he steps off of a second story balcony. Sincerity will not counter the law of gravity to keep him aloft.
3. More than 2000 years ago a man abandoned his wife and child because he was sincere. Did his sincerity assuage their loss of husband and father? No. Did his sincerity alter the eternal destinies of hundreds of millions who have stepped off into eternity with the firm conviction that Buddhism was the right path? No.
4. How about the demon possessed pedophile named Mohammed? He initially thought a demon was communicating with him. But his first wife persuaded him that it was Allah and not a demon. As a result he became sincerely convinced that he was the final prophet and that his was the true religion.
5. But he was wrong. . . about many things. He thought that Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, was the sister of Moses and Aaron, which she could only be if she lived for 1,500 years! Haman, the evil anti-Semite in the book of Esther, was said by Mohammed to have been Pharaoh’s prime minister during the lifetime of Moses, though the book of Esther records events 1,000 years later than the lifetime of Moses!
6. No matter how sincere you happen to be, if you take a nine year old wife, if you think lightning and thunder are intelligent creatures, if you are completely at odds with the Bible on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and if you are guilty of Bible chronology errors on the order of 1,000 years, then it doesn’t matter how sincere you are!
7. More than one billion people follow this Mohammed and his demon-inspired religion of Islam! Many are very sincere. But they are sincerely wrong.
8. So, what are we to surmise from our considerations this morning? We are to realize that sincerity is not a valid measure of truth. I have seen Buddhist monks douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves on fire for their sincerely held beliefs. But they were wrong. Innumerable communists and Nazis died to uphold their sincerely held beliefs, and required the lives of even more who did not believe as they believed. But they were wrong. And evolutionists shake their fist at God in the hopes that there is no Creator Who will judge them for their sins. But they are wrong.
9. My friend, it takes something more than sincerely held belief. And we will find out what that something more is after brother Isenberger comes to lead us before this morning’s sermon.
1. I hope that you are convinced that sincerity, the strength of one’s convictions, the strength of a person’s faith, by whatever terminology you want to label it, accomplishes nothing.
2. I am reminded of a newspaper article I read several years ago concerning a group of retirees who had been bussed to Reno, Nevada, to gamble and who had plunged into a ravine on their way back home.
3. Upside down at the bottom of that ravine and waiting for some passerby to discover the accident, one of the women said something like, “We knew we would all be okay if we just believed.”
4. Young people, imagine Spider-Man falling to what seems his death, when all of a sudden he shoots his web. What happens if Spider-Man shoots his web and doesn’t hit anything with it? What is his web good for if there isn’t anything to grab hold of?
5. That’s what faith is good for all by itself. Faith of the kind that is useful for the salvation of a sinful soul is only as good as what it grabs hold of. To be a bit more theologically correct, faith is only as good as its object.
6. Sincerity, strongly held belief, is good for absolutely nothing if what is attached to is wrong, or if what is attached to is weak, or if what is attached to is unable to save.
7. Earlier, during my exposition, I am quite sure that most of you readily agreed with me when I asserted that Buddha was sincere, but sincerely wrong, . . . and when I asserted that Mohammed was sincere, but sincerely wrong, . . . and when I asserted that Charles Darwin may have been sincere, but was wrong nonetheless.
8. But do you realize that there are some sitting here this morning who are just as sincere, but sincerely wrong, as Buddha, or Mohammed, or Charles Darwin? You are not a sincere Buddhist, or a sincere moslem, or a sincere evolutionist, but you are a sincere Christian. Do you realize that it is possible to be a sincere Christian and to still be wrong and not be truly converted?
9. Oh, yes. We have sprinkled throughout our auditorium this morning quite a number of people who were sincere “Christians,” but who were not Christians at all; who were sincere in their faith, but who had what Paul described in First Corinthians 15.2 and First Corinthians 15.14.
10. They believed. They had strong and sincere belief. But they were like Spider-Man shooting his web and not sticking to anything that could bear his weight.
11. Do I have your interest yet? I mention Buddha and Mohammed and Charles Darwin and Spider-Man only so I can get your attention fixed to the realization that sincere belief is not enough to become a Christian, is not enough to get your sins forgiven, is not enough to get saved.
1A. YOU MOST CERTAINLY DO HAVE TO HAVE FAITH
1B. Without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11.6. Without faith it is impossible to get saved, Ephesians 2.8-9. Without faith it is not possible to be justified, Romans 5.1.
2B. Faith is so important that an entire chapter about faith is written in two different and very important books of the New Testament. All of Romans chapter 4 is devoted to the subject of faith, as is the entire 11th chapter of Hebrews.
3B. I know it’s a poor illustration, but I think it’s one that you kids will remember for the rest of your lives, but faith to the sinner is like the web that Spider-Man has while he is falling. It is the only means given you to somehow keep from falling to your destruction.
4B. Abraham got saved by faith. Jacob got saved by faith. Rahab got saved by faith. David got saved by faith. Saul got saved by faith. Lydia got saved by faith. The jailor got saved by faith. The only way to get saved is by faith. To put it another way, the only way to get saved is a sincerely held belief.
5B. If you have no faith you will not get saved. If you have no sincerely held belief you will not get saved. Just as Spider-Man with no web will fall to the ground or will fall into the water, so the sinner who has no faith will plunge into Hellfire someday.
2A. BUT AS I ESTABLISHED IN MY EXPOSITION, SINCERITY, SINCERELY HELD BELIEF, FAITH NO MATTER HOW STRONG IT IS, IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO SAVE YOU
1B. Spider-Man can have all the web juice there is, and he can shoot that web as far as he wants to, but his web is only as good as the strength of whatever it attaches to. If Spider-Man’s web grabs hold of a steel bridge, then he will not fall to his death. But if his web reaches out and sticks to nothing, or attaches to something weak, then it does him no good and he continues to fall to his destruction.
2B. Some of you have faith, but you have not recognized that faith’s only strength is the strength of its object. Faith’s only power to save is the power of its object to save. So, though you may have strong faith, sincerely held belief, the question that you need to ask yourself is, What is the Object of my faith?
3B. When I listen to sinners I am really only interested in two things: First, does this person have a sincerely held belief? Does this person have what seems to be faith? And, second, what is the object of this person’s faith? That is, what is this person trusting and what is this person trusting for?
4B. Some people think they are Christians, but when they are carefully questioned they reveal that they are trusting their own goodness to save them. Their belief is sincere. Their faith is strong. But they are leaning on a weak reed, indeed, if they are leaning on their own goodness to save them. Amen?
5B. Others think they are Christians, but they are trusting in their belief in or adherence to correct doctrine to save them. Like the man who once said that he knew he was saved because he believed that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again from the dead on the third day. That man was trusting doctrinal truth to save him. But truths never saved any sinner from his sins. Many independent Baptists think themselves saved because they have strong faith in historical truth. But this is what one fellow properly labeled doctrinal regeneration, and it is not how sinners are truly saved.
6B. If you want to go to heaven when you die, and if you want sweet communion with God until you die, then you have to have two components that constitute saving faith: You have to have real faith, and you have to have the proper Object of real faith. The only proper Object of saving faith is Jesus Christ. Not truths about Jesus, mind you, but Jesus. And not sincerely held beliefs about things related to Jesus, but faith in Jesus Christ.
1. Are you a Christian? Do you have sincerely held beliefs? Do you have faith? That’s good. But your faith will never be any better than the Object of your faith.
2. If your faith is fixed on anyone or anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will fall to your doom. Even if your faith is firmly attached to wonderful truths surrounding the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will fall to your doom.
3. Do you say to yourself, “I believe in one God”? Then you will perish, because the devils also believe in one God, yet they will not be delivered from the fiery torments of Hell.
4. It is possible to have sincere belief while still being unsaved. What you need is saving faith . . . in Jesus Christ. Do you have that? Are you sure? Make sure.
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), page 629.
 R. L. Hymers, Jr. and John S. Waldrip, Demons In The Smoke Of The World Trade Center, (Oklahoma City: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 2002)
 Obid., pages 132-133.
 Obid., page 134.
 Obid., pages 125-126.
 Obid., page 117.
 Romans 5.12; 6.23
 Hymers and Waldrip, pages 117-118.
 Obid., page 118.
 Obid., page 99.
 James 2.19