If one of the Church’s primary purposes is to fulfill God’s plan by leading a fallen world into right relationship with Him, then any doctrine that undermines that objective poses a danger to not only the Church’s mission but also to the world that so desperately needs God’s love. And while any Church teaching that contravenes Scripture is both deceitful and heresy, the most dangerous are those that send adherents down a path that leads to eternal suffering and separation from God.
Applying that standard, the most dangerous doctrine taught by many churches is that of ‘Easy Believism’. It offers all the benefits of salvation without requiring any of the costs of discipleship, asserting that eternal salvation is available to anyone who recites a handful of words proclaiming Jesus as Lord and imploring God’s forgiveness. Especially popular in evangelical churches and referred to as ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ in other circles, this teaching insists that when individuals make a verbal profession of faith they immediately guarantee their place in heaven and nothing can ever compromise that eternal destination.
While that teaching enjoys broad appeal and a significant following among those who claim Christianity as their religion, it has no foundation in Scripture. On the contrary, it disregards the explicit truths Jesus frequently proclaimed about eternal life. Whereas Jesus taught that the path leading to eternal life is difficult (see Matthew 7:14), that only those who persevere enjoy salvation (Matthew 24:13), and that following Him has a considerable cost (Luke 9:57-62), ‘Easy Believism’ teaches the exact opposite. It insists that embracing Jesus as Lord need not disrupt our lives, does not demand we endure, and imposes no cost.
Before going any further, we ought to examine closely what Jesus taught about eternal life and His expectations for those who proclaim Him Lord. After all, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, His word is final on the matter. What we learn from careful study is that Jesus often described faith in terms of discipleship (following Him) and was unequivocal as to what that involved.
To His disciples and a crowd of potential followers, Jesus said: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34b, NKJV). To follow Christ is to deny ourselves. We set aside our hopes, plans, interests, and goals, and replace them with Jesus’. That may sound extreme, as if Christ were calling us to give up our very lives for Him. And in fact He is. In the very next verse Jesus says as much. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35, NKJV).
While losing our life for Jesus does not necessarily mean physically dying for Him (though sometimes it might), it does mean putting to death ‘self’ and all it represents: our greed, arrogance, selfishness, debauchery, materialism, and idolatry. That expectation causes many would-be followers to bristle. They want to proclaim Jesus their Lord but retain the rights to their lives, careers, pursuits, passions, and resources. In other words, they want to limit Jesus’ lordship to a verbal profession rather than make it a substantive, exhaustive, and ongoing commitment.
Jesus anticipated many of us trying to have it both ways – wanting to declare Him Lord without actually evidencing it in our decisions, our priorities, our time, our relationships, and our lives. That is why He advises potential followers to count the cost first (see Luke 14:25-32), because the cost of discipleship is high and ought not be entered into lightly or without knowledge of His expectations. He summarizes those expectations in very succinct and unambiguous terms: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).
Forsaking all sounds comprehensive because it is. Like all of Jesus’ teachings about discipleship it requires sacrifice, which Jesus modeled for us in His life and in His death. Sacrifice was why the widow’s tiny tithe was heralded as the most generous – because she gave all. Similarly, the merchant in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven gave all to secure the pearl of great price (see Matthew 13:45).
Genuine faith compels us to put God first and adopt His agenda as our own, not carve out and dedicate parts of our lives for His use and glory while retaining other parts for ourselves. Jesus addressed that duplicitous approach to faith and warned that those who embrace it have no faith at all. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). Nor can you serve ‘self’ and Christ. All who try reveal that their true loyalty lies with the flesh and with the world.
‘Easy Believism’ also damages the souls of men and women by suggesting that no ongoing faithfulness to Jesus is required for salvation – that He does not demand we endure to the end. That could not be further from the truth.
When Jesus sent the twelve out He warned them of the trials and challenges they would face, explaining that they would be hated and persecuted for His sake. As an encouragement He reminded them: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22b, NKJV). Years later, as he described the end times, he repeated these words to His disciples (see Matthew 24:13). In addition, He gave that message to each of the seven churches He counseled in Revelation – those who endure and overcome will eat from the tree of life and not be hurt by the second death.
The parable of the sower communicated a similar message (see Mark 4:13-20). Of those who hear the good news about Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice, few receive it and then bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Most wither in their faith and do not endure. They are unfruitful. That may seem an insignificant detail except that Jesus later tells us that everyone who abides in Him bears much fruit and those who do not bear fruit are not His and are cast out and burned in the fire (see John 15:1-6).
Despite the clarity of Jesus’ teachings about faith and His expectations for those who would call Him Lord (and there are many more Bible passages that reinforce the verses above), many refuse to accept His truths. They insist that the call of Christ imposes no demands on them, does not require they remain faithful, and that they can decide what areas to consecrate to Him and which ones they can keep for themselves.
Sadly, many pastors, deacons, and church leaders reject Jesus’ message for fear it will chase people from their congregations and result in people forsaking their faith. What they fail to understand, though, is that those who practice ‘Easy Believism’ have no genuine faith to forsake – they follow a faux-faith created out of whole cloth by spiritual wolves. Churches teaching that salvation and discipleship are unrelated are leading parishioners astray because Jesus never made such a distinction. For Him, discipleship and salvation were intrinsically linked.
Why, then, do millions of people fall for such deceit? Why do so many discard the clear word of God and embrace a false gospel instead? Because ‘Easy Believism’ tickles our ears and tells us what we want to hear. It appeals to our flesh, which refuses to be inconvenienced or removed from its throne in our hearts. We want it to be true and refuse to study Scripture to learn if it actually is.
Do you desire to make Jesus your Lord and receive His forgiveness? If so, search the Scriptures to understand what He expects of you as His disciple. Start with the verses above and then read through each of the four gospel accounts found in the New Testament. You may find that what Jesus taught about faith, discipleship, and eternal life is different than what your pastor, priest, or shepherd teaches. And eternity is too long, heaven too exciting, and Jesus’ presence too awe-inspiring for you to leave your faith in the hands of someone who may be more motivated by church attendance and donations than your eternal soul.
Make it a priority this week to get right with God, commit your life fully to Him, and begin building that intimate relationship with Jesus that costs everything but yields an eternity of joy, peace, and love with the Maker of heaven and earth.
16 thoughts on “The Church’s Most Dangerous Doctrine.”
Right next to “Easy Believism” is the currently popular “Grace Walking.” You can’t live up to it, so don’t bother trying. Go about your business and let God worry about it. Very similar.
Good point, Rob.
Thanks for the comment.
Good stuff Roderick.
The way you describe above is a way of misery. I have tried it again and again and have always failed, falling back into sin, hating myself, and ultimately rejecting God, Jesus and the Bible. It had driven me into what I consider to be a form of mental illness, where I believed the promise of everlasting life was only open to those who lived lives of deprivation and despair, unsustainable for someone as weak as I.
Then, when I had exhausted every other way, doing my best to avoid the God idea at any cost, I was driven to other broken sould who showed me the way of grace. Did I learn to sacrifice? Yes, in the way that a lover sacrifices his time and his thoughts to his beloved. Your words paint an awful picture of misery for those who might otherwise be attracted to God’s glory and love. I pray that some day you see that this message of yours cannot bring a single person to the love and grace that awaits them. In your world, it would seem, sacrifice only counts if it is pain. God, in your system, gives no credit to goodness unless it sucks for the person doing good. I confessed to my mentor that this is how I used to think. He replied, “You would have made a good Puritan.”
Thanks for sharing your story, Brian. Glad to hear how God is at work in your life.
You are right that it not longer feels like a sacrifice when our love for Jesus is the basis for our decisions. And it ought never feel like a burden or duty (or lead to misery) when God calls us to surrender – if we understand the place from which we come and His love and grace.
But keep in mind that the foundation of this message is not my opinion, they are Jesus’ words and teachings (which is why I provide all the references to Scripture). Too often, I think, we want to ignore anything Jesus said if it does not align with the desires of our flesh.
Reblogged this on thinkGOSPEL blog and commented:
Well written – this is what I was dealing with in the blog on fundamentalism’s greatest dangers…this danger, of course is seem beyond fundamentalism, Bonhoeffer wrote about it in his “The Cost of Discipleship”; https://thinkgospel.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/the-dangers-of-the-fundamentalism-mentality/
Good to hear from you, Aaron.
Thanks for the comment and reblog.
Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
Hi. I just wanted to say that I agree with you in that we have watered down the gospel to a very dangerous level in many ways. It has become an a la carte menu of faith for many of us. We pick and choose what we want and leave the rest – especially the whole Jesus as King of our lives bit, who wants that?
I do say that I disagree with your thoughts on enduring, though. I want to ask, before I just assume, if you meant it to come across as a works based faith? I’m probably missing what your point is, but it seems like a very works oriented salvation. We can never be 100% sure and so we have to keep striving to “do enough good” and “follow him in just the right way” to make it to heaven. Is that what you meant?
If we are to believe what most of Scripture in the New Testament states on salvation, it is a free gift (Romans 5:8; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, etc.) that is given through faith that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead.
If I am misunderstanding you, please let me know. The Scriptures you referenced need to have the context looked at. Each one that you mentioned, and any I can think of (I do admit to a limited memory) when it comes to endurance deal specifically with persecution and the evil “age”. When Christ or Paul or any other tell believers to endure, it is as an encouragement. It’s their pep talk saying “hold on! Times are tough and it may not look like the pain will ever end, but your salvation is on the way! Your rescuer is coming!” Does that make sense?
To say that we have to endure to “earn” salvation (again, if I misunderstood, please let me know) goes against the Scriptures I mentioned above (The Romans and Ephesians passages) as well as many others. One in particular is 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15 where it talks about the works of believers being tested. Verse 15 is especially appropriate for the discussion, because it mentions that all the works done that weren’t true to the gospel would be burned up and lost, but the believer himself would still be saved.
There is a cost to being a disciple. We do have to endure. But it isn’t to maintain or earn our salvation, it is to hold on through persecution and this “evil age” until our King returns and brings restoration to all of creation.
Thank you for the thought provoking discussion!
Thanks for the comments and questions, Russell. And apologies for not responding sooner; I’ve been traveling.
You are correct that salvation is the product of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness alone. Nothing we do contributes to our receiving God’s gift. That said, I think many of us fail to understand the connection between salvation and discipleship. That while our works and endurance do not earn us eternal life, they do demonstrate the authenticity of our faith and commitment to God. You may enjoy today’s blog on that subject entitled, ‘Salvation & Discipleship: Two Halves to a Whole Faith.’
That’s a good point. We often, including myself, forget that. I appreciate it.
Truth be told, there are two sorts of people who turn grace into lasciviousness: the unrighteous who betray it and the self-righteous who deride it.
Thanks for sharing, John.