In my last post, I wrote about the dangers of religious hypocrites and how easily highly religious people can be deceived into thinking they are close to God when, in truth, they might be as far from Him as the devil.
I mentioned a prayer that I often pray, knowing that I am in danger of religious hypocrisy myself: “Lord, where am I deceived at this moment in my faith?”
If you believe yourself to be a Christian, let me ask you whether or not you have ever prayed a similar prayer? Hopefully, you are enough of a developed soul to understand that you, a zealous, bible believing, Scripture quoting, moral minded man or woman, can be as deceived as the Devil.
I speak the truth. And if you are one of those unfortunate believers in God that have deceived yourselves to such an extent that you believe yourself immune to deception because of your strong faith and close walk with the Lord, then you are a person utterly deceived in some place in your faith.
Strongly held beliefs are a two-edged sword. On one hand, such rock solid beliefs are necessary to stand the innumerable times of testings that come to each believer. But on the other hand, strong and rigid beliefs can blind us to truth that we may never consider.
At one time in my Christian walk, and in particular in my early to mid twenties, I was what some might describe as an “on fire Christian.” I devoured the Bible, reading and studying it for hours during the day. I prayed, fasted and regularly attended an evangelical, mainline southern Baptist church.
If you and I were talking and you brought up a verse in the Bible, I could finish it before you finished the quote and probably give you the exact book, chapter and verse you were referring to.
I was zealous for sharing this faith to anybody that would listen. I started and led a large Bible study with many young people my age, even leading worship in this group. It was a glorious time of my life and, even today, decades later, I look back upon these times with fondness and am grateful to the Lord for Him allowing me the experience.
Was my faith perfect? No; I had my struggles, but I believe, with all that is in my heart, that my faith was genuine and sincere; I had a true, living relationship with Jesus.
Back then, I did not think I was deceived or capable of it. I felt that my evangelical faith was based on sound biblical principles and was never guilty of straying into any bizarre unorthodoxy, like handling live, poisonous snakes and believing if they bit me that I would not die.
In my thirties, I began to seriously question some of my strongly held and cherished beliefs. These doubts increased in my forties and it was around this time that I began to first pray that prayer about being deceived.
And it was this Scripture that I believe the Lord used to open up my eyes that there was some areas in this strong faith that needed some reflection and serious adjustment:
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” (Matthew 9:139(a) NASB)
Highly religious people who posses strong faith can be particularly susceptible to the sin of pride; we can, astonishingly, be proud of our great faith in the Lord, as paradoxical as this seems. Strong faith can lead people who posses that faith to have hard hearts and be harsh towards others who they perceive as weak in the faith. Mercy is often lacking in such people.
This lack of mercy extends to our belief in the character of God, and now I will get to the crux of this post: I began to seriously doubt my long held belief in the concept of an eternal, never ending, burning hell that most people get tossed into when they die and from which they never have a chance to escape.
Please let me pause here and point out that I realize the significance of what I just wrote. I am questioning one of the foundational doctrinal beliefs of evangelical Christianity and reexamining a strongly held belief that I adhered to and believed in unquestionably for decades of my faith.
My doubt of the typical belief in hell will brand me as a heretic to the vast majority of evangelical Christianity in America and throughout the Western world.
I will continue this in my next post.