Will all sincere religious people be eternally saved? Will God save everyone who sincerely believes? Will God save those who intended to obey the gospel but never got the chance? All good questions but all have one answer: No!
In the book of Acts we find a man by the name of Stephen preaching to a group of people known as the Council of the Jewish people. In his speech Stephen reviewed the history of the Jews, and pointed out how they had resisted the Holy Spirit of God in the past. Furthermore, he accused the people who were listening to him of doing the same thing. These people became so angry they stoned Stephen to death because of the sermon he preached. The statement is made that the false witnesses who had testified against Stephen “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” It is this young man we want to consider now.
In the beginning of the next chapter we read that Saul consented to the death of Stephen. We also read of a great persecution against the church of which Saul was one of the “ring-leaders”. “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church entering into every house, and haling men and women and committed them to prison. Therefore, they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:3-4:)
Saul was not satisfied with persecution of the church at Jerusalem, but when his persecution caused the dispersion of the church into other parts, Saul began to seek a way whereby he could reach them elsewhere. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem (Acts 9:1,2) ”
Surely all can see that he was not living in the approval of God and Christ. Let’s face it, he was lost! In, Philippians 3:5-6 this same man, after being converted to the cause of Christ and now much older, says this of his youth: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Here, then, is a man now being guided by the Holy Spirit who makes the claim that he was so zealous in his religion that he persecuted those who were opposed to what he believed. Surely if sincerity and zeal in religion are enough then Saul stood blameless in God’s sight. All know this is not true. This man also said he was blameless under the law. He did not say he was sinless, but that he lived in accordance with the law of Moses, and made proper sacrifice for his sins according to the law. Yes, he was an honest, sincere and zealous young Jew who was doing that which he thought was the will of God.
As he was on his way to Damascus to bind Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for persecution, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a great light, and asked him why he persecuted Christ and His way. When Saul determined who it was that was speaking to him, he asked Jesus what He would have him do. Jesus told him to go into the city of Damascus and there he would be told what he must do.
There is no greater example in all of the New Testament of a believing, penitent man than the fasting and praying Saul as he waited in the city of Damascus to be told what he must do. There are three accounts given in Acts of Saul’s conversion, and in Acts 22:16 we read where Ananias, who was sent by the Lord to tell him what he must do, said; “And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Was this honest, sincere, and zealous young man who had believed and repented acceptable because of his honesty, sincerity, and zeal? Had faith already saved him? Paul himself says he had some sins of which he needed to be cleansed, and that baptism was the commandment given unto him that he must do to complete his obedience for remission of past sins.
Notice though that Paul’s religion as a youth was not just a man-made religion, but rather was something that had come from God. In addition to having the sanction of such men as Gamaliel, and his own relatives, Paul could point to God as the originator of the plan he was trying to follow. What he had not learned was that God had made a new agreement with men through His Son Jesus, thereby making the old one obsolete. Therefore, even though he was very religious; earnest, zealous, and sincere in that religion; he had to change before he could stand approved by the Lord Jesus. There was still something he must do.
Even though you may be very religious, and earnest and sincere and zealous in that religion, there is still a very great possibility that you may be wrong. All of these churches that we see in our midst today cannot be right when they teach different doctrines of salvation for the souls of men. The Lord is the builder of only one church. I Cor. 12:20 f;Eph. 1:22-23. You may be able to point to the teaching of your mother and father, your grandparents, and great-grandparents; even to the “great doctors of religion” such as Gamaliel was, but this does not assure you that your religion is right. Remember, Paul could even point to the origin of his religion as being with God! Yet, he was still wrong.
If you are a member of a church that cannot be read about in the New Testament, one that was established by men hundreds of years after the New Testament was completed, even though you are highly zealous and sincere in that religion, it is still not the body of which the Lord would have you be a member. Will you not consider the authority for your religion, as well as, the fervor and zeal you have for it? Remember, Paul had to change his in order to be saved. If you are not a member of the body, the church of Christ, you need to make the same change. Sincere or not, you are lost. Be saved today by your obedience to the gospel of Christ!