Will Graham: Religiosity’s Deception

A little 'vaccine' for sin won't do

Will Graham: Religiosity’s Deception

A little 'vaccine' for sin won't do

Vaccinations have been a thoroughly discussed topic over the past year. The whole world waited anxiously for the coronavirus vaccine to become available. Multiple pharmaceutical companies raced to be the first to release the serum. In the mire of a worldwide pandemic, the idea of a vaccine permeated our conversations and our consciousness. 

How does a vaccine work? To oversimplify, you receive just enough of the virus for your immune system to adjust to fight it, developing an immunity that will protect you from the full impact. That’s why vaccines, like the flu shot for example, can make you feel sick for a day or two, but are effective in the long run.

A vaccine is typically a good thing, but what if rather than saving you, it cost you everything? 

It occurred to me recently that many people today have a spiritual inoculation; a deceptive spiritual vaccine. They once said a prayer and think that simple act of mouthing some words saved them. Perhaps they heard that there were two options—Heaven or hell—and they chose the better one.

But reciting those words didn’t change their spirit. Making a multiple choice decision to pick Heaven over hell didn’t transform their heart. They call themselves Christians, but perhaps haven’t opened a Bible or spent significant time in prayer—let alone in church—in years. They get their morality from the world rather than the Word, because they don’t know any better. 

They “got religion” but missed the voice of God. In short, they received just enough of the faith to think they’re safe, without allowing it to transform their soul, change their life and alter their eternity. 

There are two problems with this spiritual vaccine.

First, it leaves the soul in dangerous peril. 

Consider a patient who thought they had received a vaccine, but had only been given a vitamin shot. They think they’re healthy and protected, immune from the virus and free to do whatever they please. However, because they didn’t get the true vaccine, they are instead exposing themselves to danger.

The same is true for those who identify as Christians but are not Christ-followers. They don’t sense the need for anything deeper, because they think they are already saved. How do you convince a sick man he needs medicine if he truly believes he’s already healthy? When you try to share the love of Christ with someone like this, they shut you down. In reality, they are deceived. Their souls are far from God, and they are walking through a terrible valley with eternal consequences. It’s been said that the most deceptive lie is the one that’s closest to the truth.

Now, this first problem is inward-focused, and it affects the individual person’s own soul. The second problem with the spiritual vaccine is outward-focused, and it affects society and the world around us: Those that claim the label of Christian but live far from God are apt to corrupt the truth of God’s Word because they are ignorant of—or intentionally misrepresent—its teaching. They proclaim their own version of morality, which is far removed from the Holy Scripture. They shout that God loves, endorses and takes pride in the sins of fallen men and women. They cherry-pick a verse about the love of God that fits their narrative, while ignoring the hundreds (in both the Old Testament and New Testament) that call believers to righteousness. They talk vaguely about the crucifixion of Jesus, while celebrating the sin that drove Him to the cross and demanded His sacrifice.

The inherent thought process, in short, is this: If I am a Christian, and I hold this belief, then that must be a Christian belief. After all, A plus B has to equal C, right? Tragically, this heresy, which, frankly, existed even in Biblical times, continues to sow deception and lead millions into eternal death. It’s an easy religion—made in man’s own image—that promises salvation without a Savior.

What is the answer to this problem? Well, it begins with you and me.

First, we must examine our own hearts to ensure that we aren’t falling into the same trap. Second Peter 2:1 says, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (ESV). 

We must discern the influences in our lives. Is your morality derived from your family, politics, job or wealth? Is your faith being guided by a “religious leader” who teaches from outside of the Bible? Can you consult the full complement of Scripture—not just one or two verses that make you feel better—to support your beliefs? 

In John 8:47, as Jesus debated the Pharisees, He made a very poignant statement: “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (NKJV). We need to be hearers, believers and doers of God’s Word. If not, we must consider whether we are truly His followers.

Second, once we’ve searched our own hearts and confirmed that we are focused on Christ and Him alone, we need to carry His light daily in our lives. We should spend so much time in the Bible that we can distinguish the truth from a lie. The closer we walk with Jesus in a transformative, Christ-focused manner, the clearer the discrepancy is going to be to those around us. They may see our righteousness, compassion, hope and purpose, and recognize what they are missing. 

Third, we must stand on the Word of God. What is the antidote to darkness? Light. What is the antidote to deception? Truth. In our churches and families, we need to actively lift up God’s inerrant Scripture, leaving no room for false teaching and no question about what it means to be a child of God. Bad theology, or no theology, begins with being lazy and lax in Biblical study.

Finally, we must pray. I know many people who call themselves Christians but who are far from God, and it breaks my heart. It seems impossible to reach them. They have this spiritual vaccine and are seemingly impervious to Gospel appeals. The Holy Spirit is more than able to reach them, however, and we’re called to pray—intentionally, passionately and tearfully—for their souls.

The Scripture quotation marked ESV is taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The quotation marked NKJV is taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.

Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2021 BGEA

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