Will Honest and Sincere People Be Lost?

Donnie V. Rader

The preaching of the gospel gets varied reactions. One of those is amazement that anyone could believe that honest and sincere people could be lost. Several months ago a young man visited where I was preaching in a meeting. The lesson he heard was about the New Testament church. After the sermon he came to me and said that if what he heard me preach was right, then he must conclude that there would be some who are honest and sincere in their religion who would be lost — including him!

This reaction is quite pragmatical. That is, it screens a doctrine or position upon the basis of whether or not we like the consequences. If the consequences are undesirable, then someone concludes it must not be so.

Can Those Who Are Sincere Be Wrong?

Honesty and sincerity do not guarantee that our positions and actions are right. We recognize that principle in other areas of life. Why not grabble with it in religion? We all know that it is possible for one to take the wrong medication, while believing it to be correct, and then suffer the consequences. If a person drank a glass of poison, thinking it to be water, would it not have an adverse affect upon him?

All through the Bible there are examples of those who were sincere and still in sin. To illustrate, consider the case of Abimelech who took Sara from Abraham. He said, “In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this” (Gen. 20:5). Yet, it was still wrong for him to take her. God told Abimelech, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife” (v. 3). As a consequence, God “closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife” (v. 18).

Do you remember the old prophet who lied to the younger one about God telling him to come back with him (1 Kings 13)? The younger prophet had been specifically warned by God who said, “You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the same way you came” (v. 9). The older prophet “lied” to him and convinced the younger prophet that the Lord told him to bring the younger prophet home with him. So, he did what he was told. The text says the Lord allowed a lion to slay him because of his disobedience. Sincere? Yes. Honest? Absolutely. Wrong? No doubt!

More specifically, there are cases of people who were sincere and yet they were still wrong and in need of salvation. Saul of Tarsus is a case in point. Before his conversion he persecuted the church making havoc of it (Acts 8:1-3). He assisted in putting Christians in prison and voiced his opinion about some being put to death. In fact, he was so bad that he described himself as the “chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Yet, during that time, he lived with a clear conscience (Acts 23:1). The whole time he was doing what he thought to be right. He was wrong, though sincere. He still needed to be baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).

Another case is that of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert (Acts 10). He was a good man (vv. 2, 22). He feared God, gave alms, and prayed regularly. Yet, he still had to hear the gospel by which he could be saved (Acts 10:6; 11:14). Was this notable leader sincere? No one would question that. Was he still lost and in need of salvation? He certainly was.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that there would be some who would be surprised at the judgment day. He said,

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23)!

Their reaction shows their honesty and sincerity. Yet, these would be cast off because they work lawlessness (doing that which is not lawful).

Some Consequences
While we do not determine what is right and wrong by whether we like the consequences, we can see something is wrong with a conclusion if its consequences contradict plain and simple passages. If we cannot conceive of sincere people being lost, then we must conclude that any who are honest and sincere cannot be lost. Who could affirm that? That would mean that sincerity is all that is essential. It wouldn’t matter what you believe, practice, or teach in religion as long as you are sincere. This would mean that any Jew or Muslim who denies that Jesus is the Son of God would not be lost (even though he doesn’t believe in Christ) since he is sincere. Thus, any passage demanding faith would have to be wrong! Furthermore, even an atheist would not be lost if he is honest and sincere in their conclusions. Who can accept these consequences?

Obedience is Necessary
Just a casual reading of the Scriptures will reveal that God expects obedience to his will. Consider a few simple texts.

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven (Matt. 7:21).

But why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do the things which I say (Luke 6:46)?

Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).

Those who heard the gospel in the first century were told to “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19) even though the sin they committed was done “in ignorance” (v. 17).

We must conclude that there will be honest and sincere people who will be lost. If such is the case, it behooves us to carefully study God’s word and live accordingly.