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Deadly Mistakes

Two errors that keep people from experiencing “life”


Would you want to be sent to war as a soldier in a foreign country, only to find out when you get there that your weapon is loaded with dud ammunition, and no good munitions are available?  No one would choose to enter into that situation if it were possible to avoid it!  Yet, every day, that is precisely what happens to thousands of people, spiritually speaking.  Their personal “weapons,” to protect them from death, have bad ammunition.  


I am not referring to the danger of physical death, but rather, two other enemies every person faces: eternal death (separation from God in eternity) and virtual death (failure to be assured of, enjoy and move forward in one’s relationship with God in this life).  Continuing the analogy, a person’s “weapon” against either type of death is their belief system.  Their beliefs about how to establish a relationship with God and about the possibility of life after death, will either protect them or leave them vulnerable.  “Ammunition” represents the object of their faith and trust.  Ammunition can either be good (potent) or bad (impotent).  Everyone has a weapon and ammunition, whether they realize it or not.  Even the atheist has a type of faith (weapon)—which is his system of beliefs concerning God and death.  The object of his faith (the “ammunition” in his weapon) is his erroneous assertion, that there is no God, nor afterlife.


Who are the individuals with “bad ammunition” in Christian circles?  What have they believed?  While there are different types of people who carry duds, I call two of the most common ones, “Misled Fred” and “Defeated Dan.”  Fred and Dan may live in your neighborhood or home.  They may attend your church, your school, or place of employment.  They are young and old, male and female, educated and not.  And, the really sad thing is that the Christians who know them, who have good ammunition in their weapons, regularly assume that these friends and loved ones are equipped to fight death, without ever inquiring about the quality of their ammunition.


Besides having engaged in conversations about spiritual issues with hundreds of individuals who fit the characteristics of Fred and Dan, I find a Biblical example of their existence in Luke chapter 18, verses 9-14.  Their Biblical names are  “the Pharisee” and “the tax collector.”  The Pharisee (alias “Misled Fred”) is self-deceived.  He lacks some critical information about himself and about God.  The tax collector (alias “Defeated Dan”) is an honest man.  He knows who he is, but he lacks some critical information about God.  Allow me to introduce you to Fred and Dan.

Misled Fred

Misled Fred is pretty sure that his relationship with God is in good standing, and believes he IS going to heaven, even though this is incorrect.  (His weapon against eternal death has dud ammunition.)  If you asked him to rate himself regarding how sure he is that he would go to heaven when he dies, he would rate himself somewhere around 70% to 100% sure.  He has done what he believes he is supposed to do and is trusting in that, combined with a general faith in God.  In Luke 18:11, the Pharisee puts it this way, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

The modern-day “Pharisee” also believes he or she is “okay” or “safe,” but has never actually understood how to obtain an eternal relationship with God through trust in Christ alone for eternal life.  Rather, he or she has been misled (by self or others) to trust in the wrong thing. 


Such people may have done certain religious acts such as: being baptized, forsaking some sin, giving money to the church or charity, or attending church.  Therefore, they are at least partially trusting in themselves, and something they have done or can do, to earn eternal life, instead of placing 100% of their trust in the perfect righteousness of Jesus and His substitutionary death for sin on their behalf. Other, even more subtle, religious deeds such as praying a certain prayer, attending the right church, wearing the right kind of religious clothes, walking down the aisle of the church during an “invitation,” or publically deciding to “follow Jesus,” etcetera, can form an unstable foundation of a person’s trust.


Misled Fred may be a regular church attender.  He may be teaching kids in “Sunday School.”  Or, He may be a good guy, who helps others but rarely attends church.  Regardless of the background, he is trusting in his religious deeds or a religious formula of some kind to keep him safe.  He is misled into a false assurance of eternal salvation because he thinks he’s “pretty good,” and God’s “pretty impressed.”  Neither of which is true.  His “weapon” (belief system and trust foundation), intended to protect him from experiencing eternal death, has faulty ammunition.


Seth was a Misled Fred. 1.  Some time ago, Seth indicated that he wanted to be baptized and set up an appointment to talk about it with my husband and me.  Before discussing this important event in the life of a believer, we first sought to investigate Seth’s understanding concerning the way to obtain eternal life.  Seth said he was about 70% assured of possessing eternal life.  When we inquired about his reasons for believing that he would be given entrance to Heaven when he dies, he said he was “trying to do what he was supposed to do as a Christian,” such as go to church, not sin, be baptized, be nice to people, etc.”  


Seth’s faulty formula was: Eternal salvation = believing certain things about Jesus (that He is God, He died on a cross to pay for sins, He rose from the dead, and He provides eternal life to all who believe in Him) + doing the right religious things.  Naturally, since it was impossible for Seth to know if he was doing all (or enough) of the right religious things, he wasn’t able to feel 100% assured of possessing eternal life.  Thankfully, by the end of our time with Seth, he was able to transfer his partial trust in his own efforts, to trusting 100% in the person and work of Christ, alone for eternal life.


I might add, that Misled Fred has another problem, which can turn him into Twice-Misled Fred.  What happens if he “burns out” on doing good, religious things, and stops doing them?  Naturally, he would no longer be 100% (or, even 75%) assured that he has eternal life since he would no longer be applying the “formula” for success in which he had trusted.  Thus, unless someone helps him to understand he can be “saved by grace” (Ephesians 2:8, grace = undeserved favor), he would believe he has either lost his eternal life or, never had it in the first place.  The latter is true, but not for the reason he assumes.  Thus, he is unable to fix the problem.  


Acquaintances (and even pastors and family members) have contributed to solidifying his insecurities by expressing doubts that he was really “sincere” when he became a Christian.  They also believe an errant, more complicated formula: Salvation = believing in Jesus + being “sincere” about purposing to do the right religious things + evidence (actually doing those things).  Isn’t it true that loving parents don’t base acceptance of their children on their children’s behavior?  There may be consequences for negative behavior, yes. But, unconditional love, acceptance, and commitment to family members is a given.  So, why would our acceptance in God’s family be less secure than acceptance by loving, earthly parents?  Thankfully, just the opposite is true!  Almighty God is even more loving, more merciful, and more committed to His children than any earthly parents are to theirs, including the best ones.


Twice-Misled Fred does not possess eternal life any more than Once-Misled Fred does.  In both situations, he believes that salvation is at least partially dependent upon himself and his own actions.  He thinks he must practice the right religious good deeds, either at one point in time (such as, making a decision to “follow Jesus,” or “turn from his sins,” etc.), or continuously (i.e. having enough of the right deeds to make him at least look like he is trying to “follow Jesus”), rather than simply believing the right things and then placing all of his trust in the person of Jesus, and Jesus’ finished work of paying for sins.  


No matter how sincere a person is in desiring to please God with his or her actions, or how long he or she attempts to do so, they will never be saved by those actions or denied by their absence.  Neither sincerely wanting something, nor sincerely trying to do something, nor sincerely trusting in the wrong information is going to enable a person to obtain eternal life.  Just as sincerely wanting to reach the shore, or paddling hard to get there, is of no use if you are in the wrong boat, which is headed for the middle of the ocean.  You would have to change “boats” to the one where Jesus is driving.  He both knows the way and supplies the power in Himself to reach the shore.

Defeated Dan

Dan, on the other hand, IS in the right boat, and the boat has landed!  It landed, not because he paddled hard, but because once he stepped into the right boat, Jesus instantly transported him safely to shore.  But, he has blinders over his eyes and headphones over his ears, feeding him the wrong information.  So, he is unaware of his current location!  He is “defeated” from living an abundant, joy-filled, meaningful life in Christ because he fears he is NOT going to heaven.  It is too hard, or too confusing to figure out how to get there or, to do what he thinks is required.  His “weapon” (belief system) against virtual death has dud “ammunition.”


Defeated Dan does believe in Jesus.  He believes Jesus is God in the flesh, who came to earth, died to pay for sins, resurrected, and offers eternal life.  Just like the tax collector in Luke 18, Dan knows he is a sinner, in need of mercy from Almighty God.  At some point in time (whether he remembers the exact day, or not) he personally put his faith in Jesus alone.  But now, he is continually tripped up by this world’s “standard-of-performance” orientation.  He thinks Jesus’ promises of eternal life are only true for the believers who are doing a great job of following Him.  


If you asked him to rate himself regarding how sure he is that he would go to heaven when he dies, he would likely rate himself as between 0 and 50% sure.  This is because Dan knows he doesn’t deserve to go to Heaven.  He is absolutely correct, of course, because no one does!  Such truthfulness with himself is a good thing!  Unfortunately, performance-oriented, well-meaning teachers and friends have told him that there are certain conditions required for salvation to have really occurred.  They may also describe what the life of a true disciple of Jesus should look like and then state or imply that he is lacking this exterior “proof” of authenticity.  These people confuse the conditions for being a good disciple of Christ (which are hard and costly—Luke 9:23-26; Luke 14:25-27) with the conditions for becoming a child of God (which are easy and free—John 1:12-13, 6:28-29; Revelation 22:17).  Defeated Dan has continually failed at doing perfectly what he has been told he should do, to show prove his belief in Christ.  Hence, to claim that he possesses the free gift of eternal life seems hypocritical, and “too good to be true.”


Because of this, Defeated Dan believes he probably isn’t one of the lucky ones who is going to heaven, even though he would like to be.  If he had assurance of his salvation at one point in his life, this comfort has long faded.  Ironically, like Misled Fred, Defeated Dan also has people in his life telling him that perhaps he was never saved in the first place because he “wasn’t sincere enough” about “deciding to turn from his sins and follow Christ” at the time of his “supposed” conversion.  Of course, those are prerequisites for becoming a committed disciple, but not for receiving the free gift of eternal life.  Unfortunately, Dan doesn’t know this and feels that they should be prerequisites.


If Defeated Dan could see himself from God’s perspective, and the encouragement of 1 John 5:11-13, as well as other passages, he would learn that actually, he IS indeed “saved” from eternal judgment.  He has been completely forgiven of all his sins.  Even the ones in his future, which he has not yet committed.  His “eternal life” has already begun because he has already believed in Christ (John 5:24)!  The freedom of resting in such knowledge could be the springboard that propels Dan forward in his Christian life.  He could be experiencing deep joy and gratitude to Christ for His forgiveness and acceptance.  Instead, his lack of assurance of salvation negatively affects his fellowship with God, attempts at victory over sin, and prayer life.  Although he is “alive in Christ,” (Colossians 2:13) he is living as though he is “dead.”  His “weapon” (his belief system) against eternal death, has the right ammunition.  But, his weapon against virtual death, does not.


Returning to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, we learn that Jesus says the tax collector is granted forgiveness and eternal life, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified before God.” (Luke 18:14a)  This gift is a result of the tax collector’s humble attitude and faith, as expressed in his simple prayer: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).  But, I wonder if the tax collector ever knows he is forgiven!  The Bible doesn’t tell us.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he is like Defeated Dan his whole life.  He doesn’t know for sure he is forgiven (because he knows he doesn’t deserve it), so he doesn’t have the perspective he needs, to live the kind of life he knows he should.  Thus, he experiences “virtual death.”


One person we know, Jerry, who used to be like Defeated Dan, put it this way.  “I had given up on trying to save myself.  (Then,) I realized that God’s love (and forgiveness) was a gift and not a reward for good deeds.  Since then, I have received hope and a new energy to live life.  I believe that I am loved and have a purpose now.” 2.

Live Ammunition 

Both Misled Fred and Defeated Dan are casualties of inadequate theology.  What they know of, or believe about spiritual truth and Christianity is inadequate at best and deadly at worst.  Doing certain actions, even when combined with partial faith in Christ, will never give a person the right to become a child of God (Misled Fred’s error), any more than failing to do them would forbid a person from gaining God’s grace and forgiveness, or cause them to lose that standing (Defeated Dan’s error).  God does not save us based on a standard of performance, or even based on our believing combined with our performance.  He saves us because we believe.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 emphases mine.)


Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Could anyone ever really do enough on his or her own, to deserve to go to Heaven—a place with no sin, and enjoy fellowship with a perfect and righteous God?  If not, how can we make ourselves fit for Heaven?  We can’t.  Only Jesus can make us fit.  He does this by paying for our sins (already done—on the cross), removing our sins, and giving us His righteousness (when we trust in Christ alone as our Savior).  1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous (that’s Jesus) for the unrighteous (that’s us), to bring you to God.”  We must “shoot” our pride!  It doesn’t look very good on us, anyway.  We can do nothing to accomplish (or even contribute toward) our own salvation. 


Once pride is out of the way, we are able to understand our own desperate condition and the significance of Jesus’ death in our place, enabling us to be rescued from the penalty of our sin. A person experiencing this kind of humility will never be a Misled Fred again!  Even better yet, when brought face to face with physical death, he or she will be protected from eternal death.  Their “weapon” (what they are trusting in) has the kind of “ammunition” (faith in the shed blood of Christ to save them) to be effective.  No more is he or she a victim of self-glorification.  It’s obvious Jesus deserves all the praise.


Because of Jesus, God is able to offer us pardon and acceptance into His family.  God loves us.  God loves all people, and He knows our condition is hopeless if He doesn’t rescue us. That’s why he sent Jesus!  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23) The moment we believe this, and place our trust in Jesus, we are permanently adopted into His family—through our faith (alone) in the Savior.  “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” (Jesus, in John 10:28-30).  Say “Goodbye” to Defeated Dan! 


Misled Fred thinks he IS right with God now, and WILL go to heaven when he dies.  In reality, he really ISN’T and WON’T.  Defeated Dan thinks he CAN’T get right with God now, and WON’T go to heaven when he dies.  But, in reality, he already IS and WILL!  What irony!!  What a sad situation!  One will experience (eternal) death later—separation from God for all eternity.  The other is experiencing (virtual) death now—failure to be assured of, enjoy, and grow in his relationship with God.  These are not irreparable conditions.


Do you know someone who is “misled” or “defeated”?  Are you willing to help that person change out their ammunition?  It’s very simple.  Tell them to trust in Jesus alone for eternal salvation.  Believe the amazing news of what God’s Word says: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:40).  Salvation from eternal death and earthly uncertainty is freely available in Christ.  Get rid of the “dead ammunition” of dishonesty and misinformation!  Instead, put some “live ammunition” in your weapon, and “shoot” those enemies.  Life is much better than death!


1. “Seth”— (Not his real name) 11.21.12 Pineville, NC.

2. “Jerry”— (Not his real name) 10.8.06 Morgantown, WV.






© 2013 gratefulsue