Evangelical Christians are supposedly united in their belief that only those who believe the gospel—that Jesus Christ died on the cross for humanity’s sins and rose from the dead three days later—will be saved. But not all who identify as evangelicals even believe this about God.
According to a September 2016 study by LifeWay Research, Americans don’t know much about theology. While most Americans identify as Christians, they seem confused about the details of their faith.
“Contradictory and incompatible beliefs are OK for most people,” explained Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Even those who identify as evangelicals often fell into some of the worst theological errors.
Here are 12 lies about God, morality and salvation that Christians in the study believed, and why they are wrong.
1. Personal salvation depends on good works.
Three quarters of Americans (77 percent) agreed that people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation, according to the survey. A full half (52 percent) said good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven.
At the same time, 60 percent said Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of their sin. This is much closer to the biblical position: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast,” St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9.
While James 2 declares that “faith without deeds is dead,” that does not mean that good deeds are what earns salvation. Romans 10:9 promises “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is faith, not works, that earns salvation.
2. Everyone goes to heaven.
The study found that almost two thirds of evangelicals (64 percent), and nearly as many Americans (60 percent) described heaven as a place where “all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones.” Overall, just over half of Americans (54 percent) agreed with the biblical view that only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone receive eternal salvation.
Americans seem unable to grasp the contradiction: Either everyone goes to heaven or only those who believe in Jesus Christ will go to heaven.
At least a vast majority of evangelicals (84 percent) held the biblical view that hell is a place of eternal judgment, where God sends all people who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ. Even so, this means that 16 percent of evangelicals either disagreed or were unsure. Only 40 percent of all Americans believed this.