One of Christianity’s most important claims is also one of its most controversial: Jesus is the only way to God (Acts 4:11-12, John 8:24). A common objection follows: “It does not matter if you believe in Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammed, as long as your belief is sincere. What more could God want than a sincere heart?” Indeed, the annoyed objector may even point to the fact that adherents of other religions are oftentimes more sincere than the very Christians who criticize their sincerity.
Of course, Christians ought not needlessly offend people, but we do need to ask if sincerity should be our most important concern when it comes to religious belief, as this objection assumes. Two responses will help bring clarity to the issue.
First, notice that no one accepts sincerity alone in any other area of life besides religion. Why? Because sincerity may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. For example, if you decide to go skydiving, are you more concerned about having sincere beliefs or true beliefs? When you are coasting in a plane at 10,000 feet in the air, preparing to jump into the wild blue yonder and then plummet towards the earth at mind-numbing speeds, do you merely want a sincere belief there is actually a working parachute in your backpack? Of course not. You want a true belief that your parachute is in full working order. If you sincerely believe that your parachute works but you are sincerely wrong, you’ll look quite different once you land.
We do not choose our doctors, our babysitters, or our accountants on the basis of their sincerity because we know that sincerity is not enough. In the same way, sincerity is not sufficient for salvation. All religions make general claims about reality and particular claims about salvation. Our primary concern should be the truth or falsity of those claims. God either exists or he doesn’t, we are either reincarnated or we are not, but the sincerity of our beliefs does nothing to change the fact of the matter. If we come to discover that our religious beliefs are false, then we ought to let go of those beliefs.
Secondly, if sincerity is the deciding factor for salvation then man’s efforts become meritorious. God’s gracious gift of salvation is moved under the shadow of man’s sincerity. However, our sincerity can never remove our sin just as it cannot remove a disease from our physical bodies. In the case of disease, we need a physician who knows the truth about our illness and its cure and is capable of bringing healing to our body. Likewise, humankind is infected by sin and we need the true Physician to bring healing to our souls. The free gift of salvation God offers through Christ alone is both necessary and sufficient to save us from that sin. Indeed, it is the only medicine that will heal.