It is quite common to hear people say things like, “It doesn’t matter what one believes or practices in religion, as long as he or she is sincere.” Sincerity is a must in our service to God. Jesus taught the importance of being sincere on many occasions when dealing with the Pharisees of His day. But is being sincere all that matters? Let us examine the scriptures and see what they teach concerning this question.
As we turn to the New Testament we have recorded at the close of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) the crucifixion of Christ. The Jews crucified by the hands of the Roman government. Of course, many that crucified Christ knew that the claims he made were true, but could there have been some who were sincere in what they were doing? I believe that there were some sincere people there.
In Acts 2, we read of the day of Pentecost which was just a short time after the resurrection of Christ. We read, “And there dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). These Jews were “devout men”. They were doing what they thought they should be doing to please God. It is obvious that many of these Jews gathered were some the very ones that were crying out to Pilate to crucify Christ. Peter begins to preach to this crowd gathered at Jerusalem. He tells them of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Joel and David. He then concludes by saying “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter identifies these Jews as being guilty of crucifying the Lord. But what about those that were ignorant or sincere in what they were doing? Peter did not tell them “Well you were sincere and that is what really matters.” Rather, Peter told them they were guilty and that to receive forgiveness of this sin they must “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Sincerity would not help them; they needed to obey the Lord’s command (Mark 16:16).
In Acts 8, we read of another man who had a long journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship God (Acts 8:27-28). As he was returning, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Indeed, this man must have been sincere in what he was doing religiously. He was not among those that called for Christ to be put to death. When Philip joined himself to the chariot and began to preach to this man of Ethiopia concerning Christ, this man recognized that his sincerity was not enough. He asked Philip, “See here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” If he had been misunderstood about his sincerity, surely Philip would have told him that he was sincere and that is all that mattered. Instead, they stopped the chariot and Philip baptized him.
Another example of a sincere man in the Bible is Saul of Tarsus. He was a Jew persecuting the church because of what he believed he ought to do according to the Jewish religion (Acts 26:9). In Damascus, Ananias told him to “Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins calling on the name of them Lord” (Acts 22:16). If sincerity was enough, why did Ananias tell Saul to “be baptized and wash away thy sins.” Because his sincerity did not cover or take away his sins.
Finally, Cornelius is an example of a “devout man, one that feared God with all his house which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway” (Acts 10:2). If there was ever a man of sincerity, a good moral man that lived a good life this must be him. He was not a Jew. In no way could he have been remotely connected to the crucifixion of Christ. He was not a persecutor of the church. This was a good sincere man. In Acts 10, we find that Peter preaches to Cornelius concerning Christ. In verse 48, we read that Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
In each case we have seen people that were religious people. They were sincere in trying to please God, but in each case they were told that they were not acceptable to God in their present condition. The point is that sincerity does not cleanse one of their sins. Only the blood of Christ can do that and the blood is only applied to man when he obeys the commands of God (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 5:9). Sincerity in service to God is a must, but let us understand that the Sciptures do not teach that sincerity is all that matters.