Misconceptions of God can be costly, because they can be very defeating. For example, it’s agonizing to me how many people think “Cleanliness is next to godliness” comes from the pages of Scripture. If this is indeed a word from God, then homemakers have every right to feel guilty that their house is not always tidy. In fact, depending on how far you carry it, people soon become more concerned about their furniture than they do their family. And what about “God helps those who help themselves”? I’ve seen this used as a basis for many people thinking they can work their way to heaven. They therefore miss the Biblical teaching that eternal life is free (Romans 6:23).
Here are five other misconceptions of God’s Word you’d be wise to spend a Sunday addressing. In fact, I think you’d be wiser to give one Sunday to each of these. I assure you, they are so rampant that you could easily spend a 30-minute message discussing each one. Most unfortunately of all, every single one of them in some way adversely affects our outreach to non-Christians.
1. If you don’t know the date you were saved, then you are not saved.
Unfortunately, evangelists have been the worst at propagating this first misconception. The fact is, there is a split-second when a person goes from darkness into light. After recognizing you’re a sinner and that Christ died for you and rose again, you place your trust in Him alone as your only way to heaven.
However, just because you don’t know when that particular split-second was doesn’t mean you aren’t saved. When Scripture gives assurance of salvation, it doesn’t go back to a date or a moment; it goes back to a fact. Who are you trusting right now? If you’re trusting Christ alone as your only way to heaven, you are saved, regardless of when you crossed the line. After all, John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and whoever believes in Him and knows the date should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This idea is critical, because if a person buys into this misconception, it’s a tremendous hindrance to their outreach for Christ. How can I talk to someone else about their salvation if I’m not entirely certain of my own?
True, some people come to Christ from a very sudden and dramatic experience, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39; he could have easily given you the date. And there’s no doubt the same thing was true of Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:1-22, 26-28; I’m sure he not only could have given the date, but he could have testified of the specific hour he trusted the Savior. But there are those whose conversion is not as dramatic. They may have been raised in a Christian environment, where Christ was spoken about frequently. Certainly at some point of time they came to clearly understand their sinful condition and trust Christ, but they may not know exactly when the moment occurred.
Minister deeply to your people and free them by telling them that as long as they’re trusting Christ alone, they are saved, regardless of when they crossed the line.
2. If you want to be saved, just invite Jesus into your heart.
Well-meaning people often use the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart.” They often base this on Revelation 3:20 where we’re told, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” With the phrase “stand at the door and knock” in mind, many picture the heart as a door where Jesus stands begging us to let Him in. Therefore, the lost are exhorted to “invite Jesus into their heart.”
However, that verse is addressed to Christians, not non-Christians. Verse 19 reads, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Chasten means “to discipline” and is used of believers, not unbelievers (Hebrews 12:5-6). The passage addresses the church of Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3. Their wealth at the time had lulled the church into spiritual sleep; Jesus Christ described this distasteful condition as “lukewarm” and invites them to repent of their condition and make Him the center of their love and worship.
Additionally, in Revelation 3:20, the Greek translation of in to means “toward.” In a figurative language, Jesus is saying to Christians He will enter the Church and come “toward” the believer for fellowship. The word dine referred to the main meal of the day to which you invite an honored guest. It was a meal given to hospitality and conversation. Again, the issue is fellowship, not salvation.
Why is this phrase so dangerous to use in evangelism? There are those who “invited Jesus into their heart” and sincerely meant they were trusting Him as their personal Savior, and they are forever His. However, there are some people who think that by simply saying a prayer in which they “invite Jesus into their heart,” they’re saved. In this case, their trust is in a prayer, not in a Savior who died on a cross.
Ninety-eight times in the Gospel of John, the one book whose purpose was to tell us how to receive eternal life (John 20:31), we’re told to believe. It means “to trust in Christ alone as our only way to heaven.” There’s nothing wrong with someone praying to tell God they’re trusting Christ alone, but he/she must be aware that saying a prayer doesn’t save; it’s trusting Christ that saves.
Teach your people to use the right terminology. They should ask lost people to do what the New Testament asks them to do—believe—and this means to trust in Christ alone to save them.
3. When you miss an opportunity to share Christ with someone, it’s your fault if that person goes to hell.
Many believers don’t enjoy evangelism. When they do practice it, they often do it out of guilt, not grace. One reason people feel guilty is because they’ve been told that if they’re given an opportunity to share Christ but they don’t take it, they are forever responsible if that person goes to hell.
This false teaching is often based on the misuse of Ezekiel 3:18-19. There we read, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”
This passage has nothing to say about evangelism. God appointed Ezekiel a watchman (Ezekiel 3:17). His job was to warn of impending danger. The nation was doomed, and only through heeding their watchman could they survive. Chapters 4-24 of Ezekiel contain his cry of alarm, which gave those outside the walls opportunity to seek protection. It also gave the people time to secure the gates and man the defenses. The death spoken of in Ezekiel 3:18-19 is physical, not spiritual. The context is the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem that Ezekiel predicted.
A person refusing to heed God’s warning from Ezekiel could expect physical death. Ezekiel was to warn the righteous, not just the wicked. If Ezekiel refused to speak God’s message to people who came to his house, he’d be guilty of murder. This is the meaning of “…but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” By giving a warning, Ezekiel delivered himself from the responsibility of the coming judgment. Those who ignored his warning could only blame themselves. One can see the danger when this idea is applied to evangelism; all of a sudden, we become responsible for someone’s eternal destiny.
But bringing people to Christ is a God-sized job. It’s our job to bring Christ to the lost; only God can bring the lost to Christ. John 6:44 reminds us, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Evangelism now becomes exciting. I do it recognizing that God is not holding me responsible for the results.
4. If you come to Me, I want either all of your life or none of it.
This one is said in different ways, but the meaning is the same. There are those who exhort, “You can’t meet God halfway. If you want to come to Christ, you must completely surrender to Him. God will only do business with you if you mean business with Him. He’s going to get all of your life, or He doesn’t want any of it.” What’s the problem here?
Look at the language in John 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:25, 6:47, 11:25-26, and 20:31. All of them make it clear that salvation is based on one thing: believing and trusting in Christ alone as our only way to heaven. The moment we trust Him this way, we are as certain of heaven as though we’re already there.
This misconception is, again, often based on a wrong handling of Scripture. To support it, verses are cited that speak of discipleship, not salvation. Every Christian should be a disciple, but unfortunately, not every Christian is. In fact, Christ warned people about the cost of discipleship before encouraging them to sign up (Luke 14: 26-27). Salvation is free, but discipleship involves a cost.
Here’s where the misconception becomes so defeating: Who of us at any given moment would say every single aspect of our life belongs to Christ? All of us have those aspects we hold back, and even if we do give them to Him, there are moments we take them back. If indeed He has to have control of my entire life, how can I speak to someone else about their salvation? This misconception presents new Christians with conditions that, as unsaved people, they’re not even remotely prepared to meet.
Encourage your congregation, when they speak to the lost about Christ, to explain that salvation is instantaneous, but discipleship is a process. Once they decide to trust and believe in Christ for salvation, wholehearted surrender and Christ-likeness become a goal to achieve with the help of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of believers.
5. If you’re not willing to confess Christ publicly, you cannot be saved.
This misconception comes in different colors, and there are those who carry it to different extremes. Some are simply talking about admitting personally and publicly that you’re a Christian. Some go so far as to say one must walk forward in a church through what is commonly called the “altar call.” Either way, the understanding is given that if you don’t, you can’t be saved.
When addressing this misconception in a message, approach it positively, not negatively. Stress the importance of unashamedly telling people that you are a Christian. After all, if He was not ashamed of you, why be ashamed of Him? Such a confession plays a part in receiving eternal reward. A good passage to support this is Matthew 10:32-33, where Christ declares, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” The context clearly explains that the issue is not eternal life; the issue is discipleship.
Then show your people that confession is not an issue of salvation by pointing out three things. The first is John 12:37-43. The miracles of Christ were designed to wave a flag before the Jewish people proclaiming Christ as God. Many refused to believe. John tells us, “…but although He had done so many signs before them they did not believe in Him.” Some, though, did believe. John 12: 42-43 says, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” In the book of John, the words believe in are used consistently for saving faith. Jewish rulers had trusted in Christ the Messiah, who could save them from their sins. But confessing Him in public would have resulted in their excommunication.
You can also show them the many verses that condition salvation upon faith alone, apart from any public confession. For example, John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
You might also point your audience to the thief on the cross. The thieves on the cross were divided in their view of Christ. One extended the condition, “…if you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). The other placed his faith in Christ, asking, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vs. 42). Christ’s response was the best news a dying man can hear. “Surely I say unto you, today you’ll be with me in paradise” (vs. 43). There was no way this dying thief could have told others of his salvation. He was saved by recognizing Christ as who He said He was—the only One who could save him from his sin.
Romans 10:9-10 is many times used to support the misconception that if you don’t confess Christ publicly, you can’t be saved. We read “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Above all else, it’s worth noting that the word righteousness in Romans 10:10 is a noun form of the verb translated “justify.” Romans 5:1 reads, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justified here means “to be declared righteous.” Therefore, the meaning of the first part of Romans 10:10 is, “…with the heart man believes and is justified before God.” But confession in Romans 10:9-10 is a part of what’s necessary to live a victorious Christian life. The context is arguing that one has to be willing to confess Him publicly in order to triumph over sin. For further explanation of this passage, I would direct you to my book, Free and Clear, which has a chapter entitled, “If I Don’t Confess Him, Do I Possess Him?”
Regardless, the passage itself clearly says that believing is what justifies a person before God. A public confession of Christ is very important, but the importance is not related to our eternal salvation. Upon trusting Christ, we receive His gift of eternal life. By confessing Christ consistently and unashamedly, we experience victory over sin and gain eternal reward when we see the Savior face-to-face.
Misconceptions can be damaging and defeating. The above five can be a particular hindrance in our outreach to non-Christians. The result is a confusion of the message, the questioning of our own salvation, and even a lack of boldness in speaking to others about the Lord. Consider giving a series of messages addressing the above five things God never said. You may free people up to evangelize—and encourage them to do it out of grace, not guilt.