A church acquaintance with whom I grew up in North Alabama nearly a half century ago wrote recently to tell me that I am preaching “another gospel” which is no gospel at all, for which I will be eternally lost, and that he knows that I “know better” than my expressed convictions on a variety of religious issues.
* * *
This unhappy gentleman is representative of a category of people who place their hope in a particular religious organization or in a system of man-made doctrine and whose allegiance naturally follows their hope. Missing is an understanding that Jesus really is our Savior, that he took our place in his own perfect doing and dying to set us right with God, and that our energies now are devoted to responding to God’s grace and not to cobbling together some kind of personal righteousness with which we hope to barter or bargain with the Almighty. In the view of my friend, salvation depends on being in the “right” church and reaching all the “right” conclusions in studying the Bible. Because this understanding of salvation provides no room for error, those who advocate it must pretend that they are now correct on every doctrinal point and persuade themselves of that illusion.
Laboring under this impossible burden, its carriers also feel logically obligated to condemn all who differ with them, who — since they themselves are definitely right — must be absolutely wrong. Wearing these blinders, one might acknowledge that another person generally lives a godly and upright life (as my friend would say of me), yet not hesitate to conclude and to announce to others that the person who differs from himself is willfully twisting God’s Word, knowingly teaching fatal error and consciously misleading others into what he clearly knows to be wrong.
I wrote back to this gentleman and assured him that my theological differences with him resulted from intensive Bible study over many years and are truly spoken in all good faith. I expressed regret that he seemingly trusts in something that can never provide hope or salvation. And I prayed that the God who spoke light out of darkness in the beginning would now shine in this friend’s heart to show him the divine glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). I understand where my friend is in his thinking. I was there once myself — and still would be, but for the grace of God.