Monday, August 26, 2013

"What DID Jesus say about 'religious diversity'?"

Here are two statements.  Read them and then answer the question that follows:

"Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want."

"God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  - John 3:16

Can both of these statements be true?

How about these two statements:

"There is not one true religion.  As long as people practice their religion sincerely and love others they will experience some kind of eternal life."

"I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me."  - John 14:6

Can both of these statements be true?

"Religious diversity" is a hot topic in many religious circles today.  With all the different religions in the world and all the talk about radical Islam because of terrorism around the world, people seem to be interested in how to help people just get along, to love each other and to live at peace in this world.  In spite of the clear evidence that mankind will never reach the point where we live together in peace, most people continue in a desperate search for "Utopia," a place of love and peace and happiness for all.  Yet, in their blind search for truth, those without the Spirit of the one true God reject the one way that such a world will ever be achieved!

A writer in a local newspaper received this question and comment from a reader:  "Imagine that you are a good Christian, and your neighbor is a good Muslim, and another neighbor is a good Jew.  Are two of the three going to hell?  If that's what you believe, then you're evil!" 

My first question would be, "Why are these three religions mentioned?"  The answer, they are the only three "mono-theistic" religions in the world.  They are the only three religions that claim that there is only one God ... AND they all trace their origin back to one man:  Abraham.  But can they all three be right?  Can two of the three be right?  If one is right, are the other two wrong?  This is where many give up and just let everyone do their own thing and believe what they want.

But that doesn't address the reader's question and comment.  First, the question has a fatal flaw - as many questions about religion do.  When the reader imagines a "good Christian, a good Muslim and a good Jew" he (or she) reveals a mistaken theological concept that many, if not most people are plagued with today:  that all people are basically good and that religion starts at a place where all people are destined for eternal life.  If you start there, then all the religions of the world and their debates and disagreements and fighting are terribly wrong because they are causing unnecessary divisions and hatred among the human race.  We just need to forget our differences and focus on areas where we can agree.  Sounds simple enough!

But true biblical Christianity doesn't begin there.  In fact, neither does true biblical Judaism.  The Old Testament reveals man's sin in the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, and God's judgment and curse upon all of creation.  The 2,000+ years of history of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob reveal God's judgment upon the sins of the nations AND those who rejected Him from among the Jews.  And alongside His judgment, God pointed to the need for a Savior who would pay the penalty for sin and who would reign over God's people.  Both Judaism and Christianity believe that we have sinned against God, but Christianity proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God made in His covenant with Abraham.  When the rich young ruler called Jesus, "Good Teacher ...", Jesus told him that there was none good but God (Luke 18:19).  Indeed, Jesus WAS good, because He is God, but the rich young ruler did not know or believe who Jesus was.

Both Judaism and Islam deny that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, that He suffered and died to pay the penalty for sin and that He rose again, conquering death, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, from where He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Islam arose from a descendant of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and his wife, Sarah's handmaid, Hagar.  It is a religion of works and while claiming to believe that Jesus was a Prophet, such a claim is false because a prophet cannot lie and Jesus claimed to be the promised Messiah.  He claimed that He was going to die for the sins of all who would believe in Him, and He claimed that He would come again to take His throne, ruling over all the nations, and that those who did not believe in Him and serve Him would be cast into everlasting judgment/death/hell (Matthew 24:31-46).

Islam is a false religion.  In the third chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jews, that he must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Then Jesus said, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believers in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  He goes on to say in verse 18:  "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (JESUS)!

Jesus spoke often of the reality of hell and declared that He came to seek and to save those who were LOST!  Mankind starts out LOST, not good.  And to be "lost" means to be under the judgment of God.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  Paul quotes Psalms 14 and 53 when he writes in Romans 3:10-12 that "there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."  And "the wages of sin is death!"  (Romans 6:23).

The reader who says that if I believe two out of three will go to hell I am evil fails to understand that ALL THREE will suffer God's judgment in hell without a Savior!  NONE of them are good.  BUT, God has provided the sacrifice, as He promised that He would.  He sent His own Son.  In the words of John 1:14, "The WORD became flesh."  God provided one way to escape His just judgment against sin and that is by faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Religious diversity sounds appealing to many because they do not want to confess their own sin or appear to be judging others.  Yet, religious diversity leaves people facing the wrath of a holy God.  How is that love?

God so loved the world that He gave His Son!  At some point in the history of the nations over the past 4,000+ years the nations have rejected the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fulfillment of God's plan to gather a people for Himself, He poured out His Spirit on the disciples and sent them out to proclaim the name of Jesus to the world.  The book of Acts records the growth of the early Church.  The first believers were Jews who accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, the son of Abraham, the son of David.  They then took the Gospel, the one message that carries with it the power of God to open the eyes of the spiritually blind and to raise the dead spirits of those who hear to life, to the world, knowing that most would reject it, but that those whom God had chosen from every people, tribe, nation and tongue would respond as the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts.  They preached the message of salvation, in spite of persecution and the threat of death.  Many gave their lives in order to offer forgiveness and life to others.

The early Church did not believe in religious diversity.  If they had, they would have been content to believe what they believed and to leave others to themselves.  But they were compelled to preach the Gospel wherever they went because they knew the truth that those who did not believe in Jesus were destined, yes, to suffer the wrath of God in hell - forever.  God shows His grace and patience by offering individuals and peoples a way to be saved.  Even those who have never heard are guilty before God because they make up their own gods rather than worshiping the Creator of all things.  They are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).  Having begun in a position of guilt before God, they continue in it as they worship idols, or nothing at all.

Some who claim to be Christians have done and continue to do sinful, hateful, horrible things.  Muslims bring up the crusades of the Middle Ages.  The Crusades were wrong; they were contrary to God's Word and to His Spirit.  Just as many Muslims denounce radical terrorism, Christians denounce hateful actions of any kind, whether in word or deed, toward others.  The truth remains, however, that Islam offers no remedy, no cure for the sinful state in which we find ourselves.  Like every other religion in the world it offers only a list of religious duties and activities that promise to produce an eternal state of bliss.

We can agree that we must love those around us.  If "religious diversity" meant only to love those around you and do good, then we can agree that doing so would be better than the hate so often displayed by some of the followers of every religion, including Christianity.  But those who have truly been born again by the Spirit of God and who know Jesus as the eternal Son of God and "the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), cannot accept a "religious diversity" that says that every religion and any religion is as good as the other or as true as the other.  There is ONE true religion, and that is biblical Christianity.

The Bible teaches that only those who confess the name of Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:13-17; I John 5:10-13, etc.).  If you believe in Jesus, believing that the Bible is the very Word of God, then we must say that those who do not come to know Jesus as their Savior and who do not confess Him as Lord will face God's judgment in an eternal hell.  That is GOD's judgment.  And because that is true, Christians must be motivated to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us.  Increasingly, we will face opposition from the beginning because before people will hear the good news they must first hear the bad news - that they are sinners in need of saving.  The love of Christ compels us to warn people of the coming judgment and to offer them God's gift of life.

The promotion of religious diversity is the latest trick of Satan to continue to deceive those who are perishing because they do not love the truth.  But let us not shrink back in the face of opposition.  Let it not be said that those of us who by God's grace have received the gift of life through faith in Jesus did not care enough about the eternal welfare of those around us to tell them about our Savior.  The door remains open until Jesus returns to gather His Church.  Times will get harder; persecution will increase, but those whose hope is in Jesus Christ must endure and stand firm to the end.  There is ONE way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Apart from fellowship with God through His Spirit by faith, all will perish in their sin.

May God awaken a passion to proclaim the Gospel among His people, among those who believe in Jesus Christ, and may many yet be brought out of darkness into His marvelous light - for HIS glory!!

1 comment:

  1. Religious diversity is the "latest trick" of Satan, but by no means a new trick. It is amazing how simple an enemy Satan is... the problem remains, though, that we as humans are simpler yet and continue to fall for Satan's very limited bag of tricks. "Religious diversity" was attempted in the old testament in the form of golden calves, etc. Later "religious diversity" surfaced in what Paul found in Athens. Now it has come again, but in a slightly more deceptive way; via those in the visible church and the religious establishment.

    "Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want."

    "There is not one true religion. As long as people practice their religion sincerely and love others they will experience some kind of eternal life."

    Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:5) We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:19-20)

    "Religious diversity"= sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16c)