A few months ago, I had a conversation with a woman at church. She had expressed a desire to feel closer to God. Before answering her concern, I decided to concisely share the Gospel. I explained, “Coming to Christ means confessing that you are a sinner. You are not good.” She immediately stopped me, “I am not a sinner. I am a good person. Everyone tells me that I am good, kind, and compassionate. I help people out. I am not a sinner.”
Upon hearing this blatant statement of human sinlessness, I had her read out loud from Romans 3:10-12: “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Having read the universal truth of man’s depravity, I said, “Who is good?” She answered, “No one, but I am good.”
This is an example of “Except Me” theology. I define it as taking a promise or statement of God and inserting “except me” in order to remove yourself from its application. For this woman, Romans 3:10-12 said, “None is righteous [except me], no, not one [except me]; no one does good, not even one [except me].” She twisted the straightforward reading of the text to say the exact opposite.
Another text—which self-righteous individuals manipulate—is Ephesians 2:8-9. Since they are trusting in their good works, they distort the Bible to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith [except me]. And this is not your own doing [except me]; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works [except me], so that no one may boast [except me].” When a person has a proud view of self, he has no need to run to Christ and hang on for dear life. Therefore, salvation to him is faith plus works and not faith alone.
For secularists, they change the Bible to deny a coming death and judgment. Many times, while preaching on campus, I have heard students laugh when I say, “You are going to die someday.” They wrongly assume that they will live forever. I will even quote to them Hebrews 9:27, but they only hear: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once [except me], and after that comes judgment [except me].” They boastfully proclaim that they are the exception to the rule. How many graveyards are filled with people who thought the same thing?
In addition to the previous examples, the convicted, depressed, and downcast can often repeat this error. For example, the man who is burdened with a heavy weight of guilt—like Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress—may not trust in God’s promise. John 3:16 becomes “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [except me] should not perish [except me] but have eternal life [except me].” Out of prideful self-pity, he thinks, “I am outside of God’s reach. He cannot save me. I have sinned too grievously. I am forever doomed to hell.”
For the depressed man, he rejects Matthew 11:28-30 as applying to him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [except me]. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [except me]. 30 For my yoke is easy [except for me], and my burden is light.” The depressed man believes that Jesus can do nothing for him. He may be able to lift the heavy burdens of others, but his miseries are too heavy even for the Lord of Glory.
Finally, the downtrodden Christian is tempted to dismiss God’s sovereignty during trials. Romans 8:28-29 does not apply to him: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good [except me], for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son [except me], in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The downtrodden Christian believes that nothing good can come out of his trial. He goes into a “Woe is me” perpetual cycle. Instead, he should remember God’s sovereign control. Through his unbelief, he also rejects God’s purpose; He “predestined” all Christians “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God uses the trial as a means to shape a believer into Christ-likeness. As a result, all trials are for a Christian’s good since they contribute to his spiritual growth.
What error do all of the people in these examples make? They trust in their feelings and perceptions more than the Bible. In effect, they are calling God a liar. 1 John 5:10 says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar…”. Moreover, it is an attack on God’s omniscience. Those in unbelief think, “God clearly does not understand my situation. The Bible does not and cannot apply to me.” Therefore, God did not have the knowledge of all human situations before composing the text. Consequently, the Bible is not sufficient. It must be supplemented by roller coaster emotions and illogic from finite beings.
Friends, do not make the same mistake. Your situation is not special. Do not pretend that your circumstances deviate from Solomon’s teaching, “there is nothing new under the sun.” You are not the exception. On the contrary, you are the rule.
A person’s beliefs affect their actions. In the same way, we can evaluate an individual’s doctrine based upon their behavior. In the past week, we have witnessed two acts of terror. In Dallas, five police officers were killed while providing security for a Black Lives Matter march. Even though the investigation is ongoing, we know that the killer was responding to the deaths of black men by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. He wanted to kill white police officers as retribution. A week later, France suffered their second terrorist attack in eight months. A Muslim from Tunisia used a white truck as a murder weapon during the celebration of Bastille Day. The earliest reports suggest that this could be related to radical Islam’s campaign to strike Europe.
While the motivations for these two attacks were disparate, they do hold one thing in common: the perpetrators did not have a Biblical view of heaven and hell. Even though we do not have all of the facts, their actions represent the logical outcomes of radical Islam and secularism. By evaluating their behavior, I will explain how their theology only encourages terrorist attacks.
1. Martyrdom through jihad is the only way to be assured of your salvation in Islam.
Islam is a works based religion. The foundation is performing the five pillars: the creed, daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca if you are able financially and physically. In their theology, a person is judged by Allah based on their works. Surah 5:9 says, “To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.” If their good works outweigh the bad, then they are granted everlasting life in heaven. However, if their bad works outweigh the good, then they go to Hell. Before the judgment day, they cannot attain assurance of their salvation. A Muslim is always left wondering if they have done enough to earn eternal life.
The Bible teaches the opposite. If we are in Christ, then we can be assured that we will be saved. Since it is not based upon works, we rest in the work of Christ. Romans 10:13 says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (ESV). Through faith in Jesus Christ, a person can rest in knowing that they have peace with God.
In contrast, there is only one hope for assurance in Islam. Surah 9:111 explains that a Muslim who fights in jihad on the side of Allah and dies will receive the reward of heaven. They will not have to be anxious and trembling on the judgment day. Everyone else will be fearfully waiting for the verdict of heaven or hell. Yet, death through jihad is the golden ticket to heaven.
Radial Muslim terrorists have taken this teaching as a battle cry. By becoming a soldier for the cause of Allah, a terrorist will lose their life in order to gain heaven. They do not fear death, because it is the doorway to everlasting pleasure. Death keeps them from facing justice on earth by the governing authorities, but it removes Allah’s wrath and justice in the afterlife.
If a Muslim embraces this theology, then what would stop him from carrying out an attack? This is the logical application of the terrorists on 9/11, Paris 2015, and probably the attack in Nice.
2. The secular worldview requires justice to be administered in this life time.
While the Islamic martyr looks forward to avoiding justice, a secularist senses the urgency of having justice mediated now. The shooter in Dallas was outraged over black men being killed by white police officers. While I do not know his religious background, I am arguing that his actions were consistent with a practicing secularist.
Why? Since there is no afterlife to judge people, then justice must be given now. Death is the escape clause that allows a person to avoid the penalties for their crime. Without a Hell, there is no opportunity for every act of racism to be punished. Therefore, a person must act swiftly so that justice can be executed.
From a Christian perspective, we can rest assured that any crime that was not punished on earth will be punished in heaven. If a man gets away with murder, he will have to give an account on the judgment day. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (ESV). While we should pursue justice through the legal system, we can wait upon the Lord if a person gets away with the crime. If the person is not in Christ, then they will pay for their sins in Hell. If they have repented and believed in Jesus, then justice was delivered on the cross through Jesus’ sacrifice.
A secular worldview can lead to terrorism in three ways.
First, since God does not exist, then a person is not commanded to obey the government. Romans 13 explains that God has ordained the government with the sword. It is their responsibility to bring about justice. However, the shooter in Dallas did not want to wait for the legal system. Since justice must happen now, he was not obligated in his mind to follow God’s command to submit to the government.
Second, if God does not exist, the human heart's cry for justice to be served cannot be left with God. Instead, the terrorist sees himself as the god who mediates justice. Secular terrorism leads to justice that is not just. The five police officers in Dallas did not have any involvement in the cases in Minnesota or Louisiana. Besides that, they had not killed any black men in the past. This did not matter to the shooter. His outrage against police officers whom he perceived as breaking the law led him to punish innocent officers for crimes that they did not commit. Instead of delivering justice, he compounded the injustice. This is why the Bible says in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ (ESV). By trusting in God’s judgments, we are assured that true justice will be done.
Third, just as Islamic terrorists do not fear death, a secular terrorist does not fear the afterlife. Instead of receiving eternal life, an atheist believes that you cease to exist. A person will not have pleasure or pain. Their understanding of justice motives action now without the fear of Hell upon death. This is why a practicing secularist can do acts of terror without fearing God’s wrath.
Fourth, a secularist has no foundation for arguing that human life matters. According to their understanding, we are beings who have evolved from apes. We do not have more value than an ant, catfish, robin, or giraffe. Humans are not made in the image of God. Therefore, we do not have intrinsic value. Interestingly the Dallas terrorist only applied this logic towards the white police officers. They did not have value and did not deserve to live. However, the black men who were killed by cops did have value. The result of this logic is a hierarchal view of humanity based upon your own perceived identity as being the most valuable.
Some people use the terrorist attacks by Muslims as proof that religion is the source of conflict. They push a secular agenda which promises to bring peace. However, this is a false promise. While the number of practicing secular terrorists is small, they do not have a theology to stop terrorism. Without the fear of God’s judgment, an atheist has the same freedom to perform terrorist attacks as radical Muslims.
The answer is not the removal of religion. Instead, it is to preach the truth of the Bible. By proclaiming the Gospel, may the Lord convince people that they will have to give an account for every action. May the Lord show that we are sinners who can do nothing good to merit salvation and can only throw ourselves at the mercy seat of Jesus Christ. If we want to stop terrorism, then we must pray for the Holy Spirit to bring about conversions, so that society will embrace a Biblical understanding of heaven and hell.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.