When I were a youngen' most of our family holidays involved a long road trip. We'd pile in the family van and drive all the way from our home in Wagga Wagga in NSW to my grandparent's dairy farm in Jindivick in Victoria. We'd usually go down through Albury Wodonga, maybe stop for lunch at Wangarata and stretch our legs at Euroa, then head into Melbourne (stop at the ice cream factory if we'd been well behaved), then out the other side towards Pakenham, Bunyip and Warragul. Turn left at Drouin and if you get to Neerim South you've gone too far. I don't expect the Australians here to know where any of those places are, much less the rest of you, but it took all day and most of the night.
And I think it's fair to say we kids didn't like the driving very much – we certainly whinged enough about it. We always wanted to go the shortest and fasted possible route. But most of it was pretty boring and it did take us straight through the middle of Melbourne, which is a bit like going through the middle of London. That might be why Mum and Dad always wanted to try a different way – they'd want to take the long way round that went through the mountains, or the really long way that went through the mountains and the rainforest, or the really, really long way that went out to the coast and took days.
We had a problem because there's many different ways to get to from Jindivick to Wagga Wagga. Some ways are better than others .... one way might be the best way – just ask the kids in the back seat – but there's many ways you could go by, and so long as you don't run out of petrol or get lost you'll get there in the end. And if Jindivick and Wagga Wagga were in England you could multiply the number of routes exponentially!
And the point is most people think it's the same when it comes to religion. They think there's many ways to know God; many ways to please God, to make yourself acceptable to God.
Some "ways" to God might be better than others....but it depends how you measure it doesn't it – like the kids wanting the shortest time in the car and the parents wanting to do a little sight seeing.
But that's not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God showed His love for the world by sending His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ as the ONLY WAY to salvation.
And so that gives rise to our question tonight – Christians say you need to believe in Jesus, but 'what about other religions?' Surely you can't say there's only one way to God? There's at least three different ways this question can be asked, three different objections that might lie behind it, so we'll make them our three points tonight.
1. The first question is this: 'What about other religions – aren't they all ultimately THE SAME'?
I'm sure you've all heard this many times - people can't believe that Jesus is the only way to God because they're sure that all religions are basically the same... just different spiritual paths up the same spiritual mountain. Religions are just different ways to get to the same spot. Sure, there may be surface-level distinctions between the various world religions, but when you strip 'em down to their essentials, all faith systems fundamentally teach the same thing.
People who say this might focus on the belief in a higher power as the key to all religions. Or they might point to the moral aspect of religious teaching – different religions just give different tools to gain control over our selves to achieve moral or spiritual excellence. Or people might point to the use of rituals and symbols to provide focus and identity markers. Or the importance of sacred stories that explain the way the world is, and holy books that bring the stories together. Or a focus on particular people – prophets or holy men who show the way and provide a model to copy – and I could go on.
There are any number of ways that the world's religions share ground, especially if we stay off at a distance and don't look too closely at the details.
But this misses the point – because there are drastic and irreconcilable differences between Christianity and other religions that can't be papered over.
C. S. Lewis famously pointed out the most fundamental difference is that Christianity proclaims a gospel of grace and not works. Every other religion is based on people DOING something; one way or another your religion teaches you what you need to do to earn God's favour (or achieve some form of happiness in the case of religions that do away with God, like secular humanism).
It might be spinning a prayer wheel, or going on a pilgrimage or giving to the poor, or eating some foods and avoiding other foods, or performing a certain number of good deeds, or praying at a certain time in a certain position, or enduring endless reincarnations, or any of millions of other religious or spiritual or moral obligations.
Usually it's a whole great list of things. And the point of religion is that it is a DO-IT-YOURSELF deal. Religion says follow this way of life – whatever it is – and God will be happy with you and you'll achieve salvation – whatever that might look like.
So, ironically, there is truth in this objection. We can group religions together and say that they're all ultimately the same. Ultimately Religion is about attempts by people to reach out to God. There are differences and similarities in how they try and do it, but the trying is what they're all about.
But Christianity isn't one of them.
Christianity is about God is reaching out to us. It's not really a matter of Christianity and other religions at all. It's Christianity and religions.
Christianity, unlike religion, alone is based on grace and not works. Christianity, unlike religion, teaches that God reached down to us because we couldn't reach up to Him. As Ephesians 2:8 says 'it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast'.
On the basis of this point alone, Christianity stands apart from any other religion in the world. No other system, ideology, or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who've done nothing to deserve it and in fact deserve judgement instead.
John MacArthur says, "There are only two religions the world has ever known or will ever know – the religion of divine accomplishment, which is biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all other kinds of religion."
To put it another way, religion says "DO": religion sets out what you must DO to even hope to earn salvation. But Christianity says "DONE" – Jesus Christ has DONE all we needed for us by dying in our place at Calvary. When Jesus breathed his last he cried out three "IT IS FINISHED!" In his death and resurrection love's redeeming work was DONE!
And the message of "DO" religions is fundamentally incompatible with the message of "DONE" religion. Both can't be true at the same time. It's not a case of both and, or a bit of this and a bit of that. It's an either or scenario. In fact the two couldn't come from the same GOD. Lee Strobel puts it this way,
"It would be unlikely that a God who embodies love and TRUTH would go to one side of the planet and say, 'PSST! Let me tell you how you can become reconciled with Me.' and then go to another spot on the globe and describe a completely contradictory way for humans to understand and worship Him, and tell yet a third population something totally new."
It makes much more sense that God would act according to His nature as the author of all truth and provide ONE path for us to follow. And in fact this is what HE did when He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to enter human history.
So, contrary to this popular myth, all religions are NOT the same. Or more precisely Christianity is distinct from all religion. Religions may be different paths up the same mountain; but God isn't waiting to be found at the top of a mountain. God is far, far higher above us than the top of a mountain. The only solution is an airlift, mountaineering will never get us up to God. And God has provided an airlift in Jesus. So: what about other religions – aren't all religions the same? Other religions may be similar, but Christianity is not like them at all
2. The second objection goes like this: 'What about other religions, surly it doesn't matter what you BELIEVE as long as you're SINCERE'?
Again I'm sure you've heard this many times. People might admit that Christianity is different from other faith systems but really it's just one valid philosophy among many. This is the "You have your truth...I have mine." idea. We live in a pluralistic society – we're supposed to tolerate all beliefs. The great virtue that drive all our ethics is 'diversity and equality', no one's allowed to criticise what any one else believes.
And the irony is this is a Christian virtue twisted against us. The bible is very clear that we should tolerate people who are different to us.
Jesus said 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15 "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with GENTLENESS and RESPECT."
Tolerance is a good thing....a biblical thing. And we live in a free country, more or less.
But people these days seem to think that showing respect, being tolerant of differences means all ideas, all philosophies are equally true. How many times have you listened to talk back radio after a match and the host is adamant that say, David Beckham shouldn't be in the England squad to go to South Africa. Then someone rings in and argues the exact opposite – and the host says 'well that's a valid opinion'. There's a logic flaw here – you're allowed to believe whatever you want, and so am I – but we can't believe opposite things and both be right. Either David Beckham should be in the squad or he shouldn't, he can't be both. And more importantly, if religious beliefs present opposing ideas then by definition they can not both be true.
The various religions of the world all make different truth claims about the way the world is and about what God is like and about history and where we're going. At their heart, religious claims are contradictory and mutually exclusive. They can all be wrong, or one can be right and the others wrong. But they can't all be right.
Ultimately this objection seems to rest on the assumption that religious belief is somehow outside of the realms of reality – they can't be critiqued because they have no basis in facts, they're all ultimately based on speculation about things that we can't know for sure. Really we're saying your guess is as good as mine. And since we can't know for sure, the thing to do is to latch on to one and do it as well as you can – and hope that God will be satisfied that you've done the best you can.
Sincerely believing something doesn't make it true....as anyone who watches X-factor can tell you. No matter how much they want it, and no matter how hard they try, and no matter how firmly they believe in themselves – most of the contestants (ehem… Jedward… ehemm) are simply not good enough, they lack the fundamental ingredient – they can't sing.
Faith...no matter how sincere it is....is only as valid as the object you trust in. Believing something doesn't make it any more true than failing to believe something that's true makes it false. Gravity just is, whether we believe in it or not – Facts are facts, regardless of what we think about them.
And that begs the questions – what are the facts when it comes to the object of the Christian faith? What is the truth when it comes to Jesus Christ who claimed to be the only path to God? And the reality is that Jesus Christ has unique credentials that make His claims uniquely credible.
Jesus claimed to be God and proved that claim by living a perfect life, by embodying the attributes of God, and by fulfilling numerous prophecies of the way God would save his people; prophecies made hundreds of years before He was born.
You know everyone has a unique fingerprint. God's salvation and the explicit details of how it would happen was foretold in 60 specific prophecies of the OT. When you put them together they make a "fingerprint" that was designed to enable us to identify the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled all those prophecies – He had the Messiah's finger print!
And as we come up to Christmas we remember those prophecies. We remember that the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be born of a virgin; the prophet Micah pinpointed the exact place of His birth: Bethlehem; Jeremiah specified His ancestry: He would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the tribe of Judah, the house of David. JESUS WAS ALL OF THESE!
And the list goes on… The Psalms predicted His betrayal, His accusation by false witnesses, even the manner of His death: The Messiah would be pierced in the hands and feet…all these things were written long before crucifixion was even invented! But most important of all, Psalm 16:10 predicted His resurrection.
In His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection, Jesus fulfilled the specific prophecies of the coming Messiah. He is a perfect match in the same way that your finger perfectly matches the fingerprints you've left on the surfaces you touched on the way in here.
Now if you're wondering if that could happen by chance, you're in luck (do you see what I did there?) because someone has actually calculated the odds, and the answer is the odds against any one person fulfilling all of these prophecies are astronomical. I'm told statisticians have calculated the probability of one person fulfilling just 8 of these prophecies as one in one hundred million billion (I think that 1 to the power of 18 for the stats geeks out there). And just in case you find that number a little hard to get your head around, the same statisticians explain that one hundred million billion pound coins would cover Texas up to a depth of two feet.
So the odds that Jesus just happened to fulfil even 8 of the OT Prophecies are as good as the odds that a blindfolded man could pick a luck pound coin out of a pile of coins that would cover Texas two feet deep. That's stupid odds, that's beyond lucky.
Jesus' claim to divinity rests on his extraordinary fulfilment of OT prophecy.
But there's more. Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus authenticated who He was by performing miracles in broad daylight in plain view of His sceptics. He demonstrated His power over sickness and death and nature itself. In the most spectacular demonstration of all, Jesus demonstrated the power to defeat death personally. He rose from the dead, a miracle attested by more than 500 witnesses. By the same power He sparked a spiritual revolution that has been unparalleled in the history of the world.
Christianity isn't just another religion or philosophy. It's emphatically not a collection of unverifiable ideas that don't have a place in the real world. Christianity is reality. Christianity, it rests on historical events that can not be denied. Jesus didn't just claim that He was the one and only Son of God. He validated that claim with convincing evidence.
Our belief that Jesus is the only way to God is well-founded. While other religious leaders can offer wise sayings and helpful advice and insights, only JESUS, the perfect Son of God, is qualified to offer Himself as payment for our wrong-doing. No other religious leader can even pretend to be able to do that.
Theologian R. C. Sproul puts it like this, "Moses could mediate on the law, Mohammed could brandish a sword, Buddha could give personal counsel, Confucius could offer wise sayings. But none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world." As the only Son of God, Jesus alone qualified. So it DOES matter which route you take in your spiritual journey. The Bible clearly teaches that all other routes ultimately are dead ends. Only Jesus Christ is THE WAY that leads to God. Only He is the TRUTH....Only He is the LIFE.
If religion is man's fumbling attempts to find our way to God in the darkness. Then Jesus is the piercing spot light of revelation that shows God to us so that there is no longer any need to fumble about. So if the question is: What about other religions, surely it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you're sincere? The answer is 'Your guess may be as good as mine, but Christianity isn't a guess, God has spoken truth into our world'. Sincerity is a red herring, only the truth can open the way to God.
So that leaves only the one final objection to deal with:
3. The third objection can be put like this: 'What about other religions – isn't it's unloving to suggest that they're wrong?'
How can Christians you be so unkind to all those devout believers in other religions? You're boasting, you're full of yourselves, you're mean.
That would be dead right if there really were many roads to God and we were saying that our road was the best.
But that's not what Christianity says. The Bible is very clear that there IS only one truth---not many. And the truth is that all of us have sinned and if we are going to get to Heaven, Someone has to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing. And Jesus, because he never sinned and because he was no less than God, is the only One qualified to do it. This is the truth. These are the facts. There is only one way to God.
And since that's the case saying it is the only loving thing to do. To say there is only one way – to try and help people to go that way and not another way – that's not boasting, that's helping. We'd be doing people no good at all if we pretended any belief would do, if we pretended sincerity was enough, or all religions did lead to God eventually. That would only leave people without the chance to find out the truth.
Let me illustrate that for you.
In Australia we have two things you lack over here – we have vast stretches of uninhabited beaches where the waves roll in all year round and the water is warm enough to swim in and the sun shines on your back. And we have sharks and jelly fish crocodiles and dangerous rips and undertows that make some of those beaches incredibly dangerous.
Last year Zoe and I went home to visit during the Australian winter – but so we didn't miss out on summer altogether we visited some of those beaches in the tropical North of Australia. Everywhere we went we saw massive signs telling us to swim in the stinger nets because there are box jelly fish in the water and they are the most venomous animals on earth. When we walked on the beach there were big signs warning us that there could be crocodiles in the creeks and water holes near the ocean shore.
And for a while we thought the signs were just the usual nanny state, health and safety, local councils going over the top to make sure no one could sue them if they ran into anything dangerous. But then we started talking with a local and he told us of all the times he'd run into crocodiles and sharks in the very spots we'd been walking. Tell stories…
Do you think the council was unloving to put those signs up? Would they have done us a favour if they'd let us swim anywhere we wanted? It would certainly have been much easier for us to get a decent swim in. But it would have seriously increased our chances of getting eaten, or stung and that would really have spoiled our holiday. If my behaviour puts me at serious risk, it's not loving to let me get on with it because I seem to be enjoying myself, especially if I'm ignorant and don't even know the danger I'm in – please tell me, don't wait for me to be eaten by a crocodile!
And the fact is every human being on this planet is doing worse than swimming with sharks, crocodiles and box jelly fish. Living in sin is deadly. Without rescue from God no one gets out alive. The reason followers of Jesus cling to Him so tightly is because He is the only way to escape.
We might well be having a very nice time indeed. Or we might be terrified and desperate for rescue. Whether we know our danger or not, the only loving thing to do is to point to the only one who can save us. If that looks like scare mongering or spoiling people's fun, well that can't be helped – the danger is too great, the need for rescue is too real for us to stay quiet and let people get on with believing what ever they want to.
So, what about other religions – isn't it unloving to suggest that they're wrong? No, since Jesus is the only way, the loving thing to do is to warn people to turn to Jesus. Salvation is found in Jesus and Jesus alone.
Let's wrap up. Contrary to popular myths, all religions are not the same. Sincere belief in something is not enough. And people need to be warned or they will never turn to Jesus. Only Jesus is worthy of our trust, he is the only way to God, and it's not unloving to tell people about him.
So what about other religions? If you're not a Christian don't be fooled into thinking there are lots of religious options and one option is as good as another. Check out the claims of Jesus for yourself – Christianity Explored is a great place to start – or you could pick up one of these 'why Jesus?' booklets or a copy of Mark's gospel. One thing that is fundamental to the whole thing is the historical basis of the Christian faith – so we've put copies of two sermons from earlier in the year, one that addresses the historical basis for believing in the resurrection, and the other the historical basis for Luke's gospel. All those resources are free from the resources table at the back, so grab 'em tonight and give Jesus a chance to convince you.
If you're a Christian then I think you already know what I'm going to say. First we have a brilliant gospel – God has done for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. Remember that Christianity is about what God has done, not what we do – and thank God for that. In the face of scepticism about the truth of the claims Jesus makes about himself we need to keep learning about and reminding ourselves of the facts – so keep working hard to understand and learn what the Bible is saying. And take confidence that it does stand up to scrutiny, it is does rest on solid foundations – don't let anyone tell you it's just one way among many, don't let anyone take away your confidence in Jesus and what he's done for you.
And finally we do need to stand firm and speak up for the truth. Specifically in relation to this issue of other religions we need to act in love and warn people that religion isn't enough, there is no other way to come to God except through Jesus. You may sound arrogant and offensive in a world that values equality and diversity – but love acts for others good even when they don't appreciate it! So can I encourage you to keep repeating the news that Jesus is the way to God, and to keep saying to our friends – religious or otherwise – you should come to my church – because week by week we explain the gospel point people to Jesus, and there is no other way they can be saved.