One of the most deceptive reasonss that I often hear from advocates of the “New Perspective on Paul” and “Federal Vision” theology, when they are challenged as to the importance of justificaiton by faith alone, is ‘Didn’t Jesus die for bad doctrine?’ There are several things that trouble me about this matter. First, the question is usually set as a trap to those who say you must believe in justification by faith alone, apart from any personal works, in order to be saved. The FV men usually come back and say, “Believing in justification by faith alone doesn’t save you, believing in Jesus does.” Now this is kind of stating the obvious. But the question that then needs to be asked is, “Which Jesus do you mean? The One that saves us apart from anything that we do? The Jesus that justifies us by faith apart from works of the law?” You cannot, according to the apostle Paul, believe another Gospel, or in another Jesus, and still end up in heaven based on the real objective work of Christ. If Christ died for someone (and the Reformed churches have taught that the Bible teaches us that Jesus died save particular people) then He will reveal the truth about Himself to them.
Of course we would have to say that Jesus died for bad doctrine as well as for every other sin that we commit, but the weakness of this question is the context to which it is attached. This is also deceptive because it detaches the truth of the Gospel from the Person and work of Christ. Ultimately this makes sincerity, not Jesus, the determining factor in our salvation. We would certainly want to affirm that Jesus will save some who attend churches that teach in justification by faith plus works (beecause we know that God’s grace crosses denominational boundries even despite what is the prevalent teaching there) but this is not the same as saying Jesus died for bad doctrine in relation to the Gospel. Let me explain what I mean, if there is a man or woman in the Roman Catholic Church who believes in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, are not trusting in their confession, mass, or the priest for salvation then I have no doubt that this man or woman will one day be with Christ in glory. This is not, however, the same as my saying that I have no doubt that a Priest, Cardinal, or Pope in the Roman Catholic Church who teaches against justification by faith alone, teaches the absolute necessity of confession, partaking of the mass, and going on pilgrimages, will one day be with Christ in glory. Paul said, if anyone preaches another Gospel let him be anathema. Now, if that lay person, Priest, Cardinal, Pope, or any other repents of this sin and turns to Christ alone for salvation he will find forgiveness and righteousness in his Savior.
Someone may raise the question, “Well don’t we all have inconsistencies in our beliefs?” This is not a question that can be easily dismissed because it is true that we are sinful creatures who will never be perfectly consistent with our belief and practice in this life. But the question that needs to be addressed is, “Can someone believe another Gospel and go to heaven unrepentant of their pervesion of the true Gospel because Jesus died for bad doctrine. I think the answer to this is twofold. First, we need to see to ourselves that we are repenting of our sins and longing to be more and more pure in our doctrine and lives. Just because there will be inconsistencies in our lives this does not mean that we ignore or dismiss what they might be. The other answer lies in the fact that there are essentials and non-essentials in theology. It is not eschatology that is essential to our salvation. These must be carefully defined but the whole point of the Reformation was that justification by faith alone was the most fundamentally essential doctrine to our salvation. It seems to me that if this is so (i.e. that justification is, in the words of Luther, the doctrine on which the church stands or falls) then we cannot say it doesn’t matter what you believe on this point because Jesus died for bad doctrine. I know that more could be written on this subject so I would invite any comments, corrections, or additions you would like to add to these thoughts.