Are you a religious person? Do yo pray, read your Bible and go to church, even sing in the choir, congratulate the preacher and volunteer for the hospitality committee? Do you make every effort to help others, give alms and perform other good works? Would others say of you, "He (or she) is a good Christian, and must be laying up many 'treasures in heaven' (Matt. 6:20)?" How can you know for sure that you are among those Christ called that "little flock" of genuine saved believers? Will you be one of those faithful few to whom it is said: "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord?" (Matt. 25:23)? How can you know for sure you are not among those travelling the "wide. . . gate, and broad. . . way, that leadeth to destruction" (Mat 7:13), who are religious but lost?
by Jerry Gentry
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Mat 7:21-23).
The world is full of people who are religious but lost. You say, "How do you know that for sure?" Quite simply. As a church goer yourself, how many confessions or testimonies of personal sin have you heard lately? How many times have you witnessed one like "the publican, [who] standing afar off. . . smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13)?
Genuine conversions to Christ are far less common than many people realize. Many who claim to have come "into the truth" or "into the church," "into the message" or into some other specific Bible teaching, have in reality never "repent[ed], and believe[d] the gospel" (Mark 1:15). They confuse knowledge of Scripture and mental assent with true conversion. They are religious but lost. Unless they "repent. . . and believe the gospel," these churched but unsaved Christians will die and burn in hell forever.
These folks give mental assent to the teachings of Christ. Many will acknowledge Him to be the Son of God. They know He was a great teacher. They know he died on the cross, was resurrected, ascended and now sits at the right hand of the Father. These folks may have grown up in a Christian home, where the Bible was read and prayers were offered. They may have been taught impeccable morals. How can you know for sure you are not among these people who are religious but lost?
Jesus said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Mat 7:13-14).
It is easy enough to identify the wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction. Surely all unchurched worldly people are travelling that road, even though they may be honest and law abiding in a worldly sense. These people often look upon the church as a organization of people who live by a double standard&emdash;religious zealots when sitting in the pew at church, but often dishonest liars and two faced hypocrites in their personal dealings with others. Often unsaved worldly unbelievers correctly identify those in churches who are religious but lost.
To these religious but lost Christians, Jesus challenged: "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). We then see clearly that being churched and believing various truths of the Bible, is no guarantee at all of personal salvation. Knowing and confessing that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind is not evidence of personal salvation. Salvation is not personal until it is personal. Yes, many false conversions take place among people who are churched, baptized, do good works, and even pray, thanking God for the blood of his Son shed on the cross. Such false conversions give mental assent to all the great truths of the Bible. In fact, confessions of these truths prove these people to be religious. But saved? Not on your life, because they have failed to acknowledge one critical issue. They have no eyes to see the enormity of their personal sin. They feel no brokenness of heart for their own personal offenses toward God and fellow man. They lack simple, personal trust in Jesus Christ and His promises. The confessions of their lips betray their false conversions. By their fruits, they say, "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luk 19:14), because they simply do not trust Him.
They have no ears to hear the gospel message. They fail to identify that raging enemy within themselves, which is their own "heart [that] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). Even when they acknowledge making mistakes, these folks fail to see the enormity of their sin, their own total depravity of being.
Any guilt they feel is transferred as blame to others. They fail to confess with the apostle Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7:24-25). In their shallow false sense of security, they lack the depth of conversion to acknowledge personally: "there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Ps. 14:3). By comparison with others, they think they look pretty good. They deny the Psalmist's words: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5). As "wicked [they] estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. 58:3). Their hard, unbelieving hearts are cloaked with layer upon layer of good deeds, smiles and self justification for the sin they cover up. When under pressure of confrontation with personal sin, you can find these folks "measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, [who, like the Pharisee] are not wise" (2Cor. 10:12).
These folks, no matter how churched, remain religious but lost.
If they ever expressed tears over sin, it was while blaming someone else, as Esau, who "found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" (Hebr. 12:17). We know from the story of Esau that his tears were motivated from personal blame and selfish bitterness toward his brother Jacob, who had tricked him. Since Esau found no forgiveness, he died in his sins, unforgiven, and will burn in hell forever. He refused to believe the promises of the Bible.
Only that little flock, that small remnant, has done personal business with the greatest trickster of all, that is, that "desperately wicked" human heart in every one of us, through genuine repentance.
"Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing" (2Cor. 7:9).
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (v. 10).
Any sorrow these religious but lost folks ever feel is "the sorrow of the world [that] worketh death." Have you sorrowed? Then did your sorrow work repentance or is it working death in you right now? How you ultimately answer that question will determine where you will spend eternity, friend.
It is little wonder that so few people of the Christian world are genuinely converted and saved. Whole churches embrace systems of theology which do not produce genuine faith unto salvation. These systems and all their teachers and zealous subscribers, will ultimately burn in hell, along with the dead works they produced. There are many churches in this world who teach that you are unsaved unless you subscribe to their do's and don'ts.
Historically, the most widespread unsaved system of theology of all is found in the Roman Catholic Church, because of her false doctrines of salvation. The Roman church taught (and continues to teach) that sins are washed away in the baptismal font. This is called "baptismal regeneration." Sins after baptism are supposedly atoned for through penance. These false doctrines have held millions of would be believers unsaved and outside of Christ for untold centuries. Many Roman doctrines were passed unreformed into the Anglican and later Episcopal churches in America. Various other false doctrines&emdash;sacramentarianism (reliance upon the sacraments for salvation); relic worship (false gods); formalism "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (2Tim. 3:5); penance (substituting "auricular confession" and restitution in place of faith in "Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received [past tense] the atonement" (Rom 5:11); purgatory (refusing to confess, "now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2Cor. 6:2); Mother Mary worship (another false god); etc.
All these false doctrines came together and formed a giant wall of exclusion between potential believers and genuine personal salvation by faith. Even so, there were literally millions of genuine believers during the Middle Ages, usually found among those called heretics by the Roman church authorities. They were known by various names&emdash;Paulicians, Albigenses, Picards, Waldenses, etc. There were protestant reformers, revivalists, from Ambrose of Milan (late fourthth century), Vigilantius (fifth century), Bishop Claude of Turin (ninth Century), Peter Waldo (twelfth century), and others all the way down to the Protestant Reformation. All these great Christians had at least one thing in common. They taught salvation by faith alone, just as did the apostles taught before them.
But we must not stop with the Roman Church. There are many other churches whose faithful membership, if they believe what their churches teach, are unconverted and unsaved. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) espouse great religious zeal. Yet as a body, they are unbelievers, unsaved, religious but lost. They have added a man's book (Book of Mormon) to God's book (Holy Bible). As a religious body, they do not believe the inerrant Word of God. They, along with the Jehovah's Witnesses, believe that through good works Jesus became God, and so can you. Both groups reject the triune God&emdash;Father, Son and Holy Spirit&emdash;taught in the Bible. You can add the former Worldwide Church of God to that group as well. These systems of false religion and their faithful adherents will be cast into hell. This is not to say that, within the ranks of these churches, there are not some genuine saved believers, who have made peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
But we must not stop there. There are vestiges of religious but lost teachings among every unreformed religious body in existence today, especially among those who teach that the reward of the saved is to be found exclusively by those of their own particular church. The Church of Christ is one such "protestant" church whose system of theology concerning salvation will burn in hell, along with all who espouse it. This author grew up in the Church of Christ, followed the steps to "salvation" and was baptized in water at age 12. He remained unsaved for another 41 years, though he had diligently followed the teachings of the church of his birth when he was baptized. "Hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized. . . and thou shalt be saved," he was taught. Note that salvation in the Church of Christ, as in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopal and their offshoots is always future tense, never present tense. These churches do not hold to the Biblical doctrine of eternal security, meaning that once a person comes to genuine faith in Jesus Christ, that he will persevere to the end and never be lost again.
Certainly such great reformers as Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Knox, the Wesleys, and others before and after then, taught that personal salvation was by faith alone, in contrast with the teachings of the great false church of their day, which taught salvation was based not on faith, but on various works, ie., water baptism, penance, allegiance to the Pope, etc. All such theological systems which depend on various human works for salvation will burn in hell, along with their adherents. God is no respecter of persons. Yes, many, if not all, Popes will burn in hell! All Priests and ministers who teach less than salvation by faith alone, though they do great works in Jesus name, will hear the words "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23).
The purpose here is not so much to expose the error of churches as to expose their false systems of salvation which produce members who are religious but lost. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebr. 10:31).
There have been great men who laid down their lives, even gave their bodies to be burned, who were religious but lost. One noteworthy example of such a religious but lost martyr was Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormanism. He was a false prophet who led his followers astray, because he rejected the Holy Bible as his complete, inerrant and final authority. Joseph Smith and all who followed him are judged by God's Word, unsaved, religious but lost, and will burn in hell, unless they "repent. . . and believe the gospel."
We could make a list. Alexander Campbell, all (or most of) the Popes and their Cardinals, many early Christian writers who believed in justification by works&emdash;all these will find their works and themselves burning in hell because they rejected the simplicity of the gospel, if they failed to come to personal trust in the Savior. These failed to "repent. . . and believe the gospel." You say, how can you be so sure?
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11). God has offered his grace freely to all. We must choose to receive or reject it. Unfortunately, the religious but lost have chosen to reject that free grace, in favor of their own good works and self justification. What a pity! They will then get what they deserve. Moreover, they will get what they want. Because by their fruits, they show they do not want salvation freely given. They would rather feel self justified. After all, their sins are not so very bad, compared with others, they think. Have you ever heard one of these people talk? It makes you want to cry. Ministers preach their hearts out in an effort to reach these religious but lost people. What will it take for some of them to simply trust Jesus?
Early on, when Martin Luther looked to penance and self inflicted bodily discomforts, for salvation, he found no peace with God. That system of theology failed him. Later, he personally came to trust the promises. Only then did he find peace with God and assurance of personal salvation. The Word of God is the seed that produces faith in the believer. That same Word tells us: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). The only means of covering sin is by faith in Christ's atoning blood. All those outside of genuine faith live in their sin, which exposes them to the wrath of God. All that stands between them and the burning flames of hell is simple trust. Yet they refuse, either willfully, or through the irresponsibile act of neglect.
"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him" (Hebr. 2:3). Did you ever wonder how it is fair of God to take one guilty of living in sin for only about 70 years, and cast him or her into hell for all eternity? Yes, God is fair. Because Jesus already paid the price hanging over every sinner's head, and all that the sinner must do is believe. Pure and simple.
Religious but lost people are much like the ancient Pharisee, who "stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican" (Luke 18:11).
"I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess" (v. 12).
In contrast to this religious but lost Pharisee, the publican confessed personal sin, demonstrated his truly contrite heart of repentance and received justification by faith alone:
"And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (v. 13). He trusted the Lord.
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (v. 14).
The great physician beckons sinners today, even as he did of old:
"When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mark 2:17).
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Mat 25:31)
"And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (v. 32).
"And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left" (v. 33).
"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (v. 34).
"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (v. 41).
"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (v. 46).
Religious but lost. Or, saved by faith. Which will it be, Christian? Is the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart now? Are you being drawn to Jesus Christ today? Then "grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13).
"For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10).
Christian, by the grace of God, and by faith in your heart you pass from death unto life, and are saved.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).
And if you have genuine trust in your heart, you will for sure confess your personal faith to others with your mouth. Be warned: Salvation is not personal until it is personal. Therefore, believe the gospel today, and remove from among the hell bound pseudo Christians, who are religious but lost.