It occured to me the other day that it has been quite some time since I took a definitive stance on a theological matter. This comes as a direct result (I believe) of my inclination to entertain any/most notions and offer respect for their protagonists. While this is good and well, and has lead to many a good discussion, I feel it is high time I venture forth and make a declaration of my own.
Assuredly, many will disagree with what I have to say here. Almost certainly, this statement will draw the ire some, subjecting it to "flaming". None the less, I feel it would be of value to state this. I will (futily) proclaim at the head of this, here and now, that this is simply my belief. That is all. If you disagree, that is fine. I would request like respect for the forthcoming statement, but I know better than that.
Thusly, here it is. I have frequently said "Christianity has become a generic label". Well, I have said that enough that now I feel compelled to state what I believe Christianity is (or should be), and what my views hold to be unique about Christianity (i.e. why this is my belief) I hope the following is of value to someone.
It is often said, in today’s pluralistic culture, that all religions are basically the same and that we can learn from all of them. Sometimes the claim is also made that unless we understand all religions that we cannot understand our own as fully as we might. I would suggest that while it is helpful to understand the tenants of all faiths, that different faiths also have different and conflicting beliefs.
Fundamentally, it cannot be true to say that if conflicting beliefs exist that both can be true. In order to come to that conclusion, it is necessary first to say that nothing is absolutely true! My well-worn Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, defines truth this way:
“1. The quality or state of being true; specif., a) orig., loyalty; trustworthyness b) sincerity; genuineness; honesty c) the quality of being in accordance with experience, facts, or reality; conformity with facts d) reality; actual existence e) agreement with a standard, rule, etc.; correctness; accuracy 2. that which is true; statement, etc. that accords with fact or reality 3. an established or verified fact, principle, etc…”
In other words, in order for something to actually, really be true; it must be true for all people of all times whether or not anyone believes it! To assume that conflicting claims can both be true is to deny truth itself.
It is this understanding of truth that sets Christianity apart as a unique religion in the world. Its claims are quite exclusive, not inclusive:
Either Jesus Christ is the virgin born, divine/human Son of God or He is not.
Either the suffering and death of our Lord is adequate payment for humanity’s sins, or it is not.
Either Jesus is the sole remedy appointed for the redemption of the world, or He is not.
Either the Holy Scriptures are the true revelation of God to men, or they are not.
To say that all religions teach the same things is foolish and untrue. Hinduism – along with its descendent Buddhism – clearly teaches that life is nothing but suffering and that “salvation” is finally to become sufficiently enlightened is to escape this repetitive suffering and cease to exist. This is accomplished by doing good works and having the right attitudes and so acquire “good Karma”, and to avoid doing bad things and bad thoughts thus avoiding “bad Karma.”
Islam teaches that God is so holy and removed from man that he cannot be personally known and can only be appeased through the keeping of the five pillars of Islam which is a list of good works that must be accomplished by each and every Muslim if he is to avoid hell.
Judaism teaches that it is through the keeping of God’s law that redemption and forgiveness can be found. As with other religions, there exist factions from “Ultra Orthodox” to “Reform Judaism”, but all are based on good works as the end of the faith.
Christianity, by contrast, abandons all hope of acquiring “good Karma”, doing enough good works, or thinking enough good thoughts. Christianity teaches that all men are conceived and born sinful and can never - no matter how hard one tries - do enough good things or think enough good thoughts to ever merit God’s forgiveness for our sin. Rather, God’s love and compassion are seen in that He sent His one and only Son into the world to assume human flesh, to keep the Law perfectly, and to suffer and die for the sins of all people. Therefore, Jesus the Christ of God, is our substitute for our failure to keep the Law, for our complete inability to obtain the forgiveness of sins, and is the One who overcame the curse of sin – which is death – by rising to life from Good Friday’s tomb.
Therefore, salvation and heaven are not gained by good works, but by faith (complete trust), in what our Lord Jesus Christ has done on our behalf! We completely depend on the good works (righteousness) of Christ! We completely depend on the sacrificial suffering and death of our Lord as full and complete payment for all our sins! Therefore, we rejoice because there is no longer any outstanding debt of sin which remains against us! We are forgiven completely!
This does NOT mean that Christians do not do good works, but our motivation for doing them is entirely different from all other religions in the world. We do good works precisely because we are thankful to God for the redemption He has given us through faith in Christ Jesus. We are not attempting to curry favor with God by doing good things, rather Christ moves us and enables us to live a life pleasing in His sight so that His glory might be seen in our lives.
This is salvation by faith, through grace as revealed in the Bible or the Holy Scripture. It is a faith that has its hope solely in the love and actions of God, and not in vain attempts by sinful humanity to, “Get right with God.”
Now, either Christianity is right in this faith or it is not. If it is right, then no amount of good works or good thoughts will ever be acceptable in the sight of God since He has already sacrificed His Son to accomplish the salvation of mankind. Indeed, any such humanly based act is an incredible insult to God attempting to render payment for that which has already been perfectly accomplished by Jesus Christ.
If one’s hope is in human accomplishments and works, then those with such a hope will never know if they have done enough, become enlightened enough, or thought enough good things and will always be left in doubt and fear as a result. But in the Christian faith, it is not our perfection but Christ’s on which we depend. It is not our Law-keeping, but Christ’s on which we depend. It is not our efforts, but God’s perfect efforts to redeem His people which is our sure and certain hope!
So there is a very big difference between faiths, and not all of them can be true since they offer diametrically opposed solutions for man’s problem with sin and evil.
In the Bible there are no less than 224 references to truth. In the Gospel of John alone 52 times the subject of the truth is brought up with almost all of them being Jesus saying: “I tell you the truth…” Perhaps it is necessary to understand that when Christ speaks, He can only speak the truth, as when He says:
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)