“Silence” is a movie that was released at the end of last year. I don’t even know how to describe the reaction I’ve had after looking into the story. It’s a weird mixture of being inspired, sad, and burdened. The story is about two Portuguese priests who travel straight into the middle of Christian persecution in Japan to look for their missing mentor. It’s incredibly moving as you see the two priests face intense persecution yet continue to risk their lives for the spiritually-desperate people in the Japanese villages.
The movie is supposed to leave you in awe of the two men of faith, but I’m left with a terrible pit in my stomach. Despite their courageous acts of faith in Japanese territory, they had misplaced faith. The message they brought to each village did not help the people but actually left them condemned. They were teaching an unbiblical means of salvation so despite their amazing perseverance through agonizing persecution, the religion they were fighting for was in vain.
This is why I can’t get the story out of my mind. To see the extent that people are willing to suffer in the name of religion is moving and admirable, but to know that all of it is in vain hits on a whole different level. The scene in Matthew 7:21-23 produces the same pit-in-your-stomach feeling as many who lived commendable lives in the name of religion are turned away from heaven to face an eternity of more suffering in hell.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me…”
It’s unpleasant thinking about the horrific shock that will be experienced as so many who are confident in their spiritual work are rejected by the One they claimed to be living for. Paul knew about this sobering reality, and I believe he had it heavy on his mind as he wrote Romans 10:1-3:
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Why would Paul be asking for the people who have a zeal for God to be saved? Aren’t they the ones that are all set? What better sign that someone is saved than a zeal for God, right?
The answer is that though a zeal for God may be a sign of salvation, it is definitely not an assurance of salvation. This includes Mormons on mission, deacons in a Baptist church, parents who love Sundays, and their kids who enjoy Bible stories. Even missionaries who passionately dedicated their life to go over seas and serve God are in the same category as everyone else on the planet. No matter how eager people are for spiritual things, no one is saved apart from the righteousness of Christ.
This is a plea for you to forget about your lifestyle. If you are not clinging to the righteousness of Christ, you are deemed unrighteousness and deserving of God’s wrath.
This reality should hopefully create a sense of desperation to know and understand Scripture. Pointing to different areas of your life won’t cut it. If you can’t point to Scripture, using God’s own words to build the case for why you are accepted by God in Jesus Christ, then you have no confidence that you won’t be like the rest of the religious population who will one day be turned away from heaven.
I realize this is not an upbeat post, but I share in Paul’s desire and prayer. I hope these realities evoke a sense of fear that can only be driven out by a Scripture-based confidence that you really are in Christ. But also, I hope this creates a deep thankfulness for Christ, who has provided the only way for us to be saved!
If you don’t have this confidence, grab someone to walk through Scripture with you to figure out if you really will be found in Christ on that day. And if you share this burden, pass this on for others to take a serious look at their standing with Christ.
In Paul’s word, “to write the same things to you is no problem to me but is safe for you” (Php. 3:1).