One of these things is not like the others



There are so many misunderstandings concerning Christianity out there, so many myths that have gained credibility through constant repetition, that it is very difficult to cut through the fog and see the facts. Some of these mythunderstandings have been discussed in previous articles, but one which is passed off as fact states that “All religions are the same. You just have to pick the one that suits you best, or create your own combination of “the best”, buffet-style pick and choose from the options available.

The problem with this lies in the assumption that all religions are the same, equally valid, or equally mythological, depending on your point of view. This, like all other assumptions about religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is based on a fundamental ignorance of what the various religions teach, believe, set forth as their basic rationale. A relatively quick and easy look will make this clear.

Many of the world’s religions have believed in multiple gods, from the Greeks and Romans, to Hinduism and even Mormonism. Rather than a Supreme Being, these religions often set forth a universe populated by deities that appear far more human than divine, squabbling among themselves, or simply being a local deity: the god of a particular region or function. Devotees of these kind of entities generally spend their lives sacrificing to their gods, attempting to keep on their good side so as to avoid punishment or loss.

This approach is the basis of much modern superstitions, from horoscopes to more serious involvement in the occult. There is a constant fear of failure, of not making the right sacrifices, saying the right words, or of a last-minute mistake that will put you in danger of disaster, perhaps eternally. When Paul arrived in Athens, a city renowned for its religious diversity, he found, along with statues and shrines to every known god of the time, an altar set up as a failsafe, one to cover all eventualities.

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” [Acts 17.22-23]

What Paul proclaimed that day was: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands”. This was revolutionary in its way: not only that there is but one God, a truly Supreme Being, but that God can be known. Here is one way in which Christianity differs from those other religions: it declares that God can be known. And the reason why he can be known is that he has revealed himself to us. More on that later.

But, aside from these multiple gods religions, there are the monotheistic religions, those who preach one God only. These are Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Judaism was the predecessor of Christianity, which accepts the Jewish Old Testament as showing the historical and spiritual background to the coming of Christ, the Messiah. Islam came after Christianity, when the Prophet announced that he had received the final revelation of God, and that Jesus was simply one of God’s Prophets, not the Son.

These three may seem to have a lot in common, but they differ radically and fundamentally on one issue in particular. Judaism believes that Jesus was crucified and died, but did not rise. Islam has great reference for Jesus and accepts his miracles, his virgin birth, and much else that agrees with Christian teaching. But Islam denies that Jesus died on the cross. Christianity believes that Jesus both died and was risen, both the Cross and the Resurrection. All three positions cannot be held simultaneously.

Is this an important distinction? Put it like this, as Paul did: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” [1 Corinthians 15.17-19]

But he goes on: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Of the monotheistic religions, Christianity is alone in basing itself on an historical event: that Jesus died for our sins, and was proven genuine when he rose from the dead. The historicity and evidence for Christian belief has been dealt with in previous articles. But here, I make one important, vital point about the unique position of Christianity, which is sometimes mistakenly thought to be like a lifelong test, a university course. You enter the course through some form of qualification (entrance exam, baptism, etc.), and then you work through the course, trying to measure up to the demands of your various teachers. Then, at the end, you sit an exam to see if you have made it, if you will be granted your degree or certificate. You must earn it, it is a matter of merit.

Christianity, on the other hand, says that you have already been found acceptable by entering in the first place. Because your entry is not based on your own merit, but on the finished work of Jesus. The “course” is a time of learning, growing, inquiring, and deepening. Your “final exam” actually took place when you first entered, there is no longer judgment on you, because your entire acceptance is based on the merits of Jesus, not you. Once you accept that fact, you have already “graduated” and your place is secure. No room for pride or boasting, because you didn’t earn it. As Paul says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Romans 8.8]

No other religion teaches anything like this. One of these things is not like the others.


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