An Excerpt from Seeking and Finding God
Without taking time to explain the many disagreements, it is undeniable that there are such great basic differences between the world's religions that it seems irrational to suggest that they are essentially in agreement and all lead to the same place. Nevertheless, in spite of these differences, there is evidence that those who follow world religions will indeed all end up in the same place—but not where they promise to take their followers.
All religions have in common a universal opposition to the God of the Bible and His gospel concerning salvation by grace and faith alone through Christ Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross. This commonality places them all on one side—and Christianity on the other.
Indeed, so wide is the chasm between Christianity and all the world's religions that it seems equally clear that Christians will definitely arrive at a different eternal destiny from everyone else. Yes, the various religions differ in the details relevant to the appeasement of their particular god or gods and the methods of attaining to nirvana, moksha, or whatever paradise they may offer. However, they all have in common the belief that their religious goals can somehow be achieved through their own good efforts and/or faithful participation in rituals and sacraments. Whether by yoga or paying off bad karma for the Hindu, or by good deeds for the Muslim (or dying in jihad [holy war] or on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca), or through appeasing the spirits in African tribal religions and Shintoism, or by meditation techniques to escape desire and return to the void for the Buddhist, or by the sacraments of a supposed Christian church—it is all a matter of self-effort, which the God of the Bible firmly tells us He will not accept as even partial payment for having broken His laws.
The Bible clearly states: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans:4:5). Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mark:2:17). Paul emphasized that point: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy:1:15). The world's religions, along with the false Christianity that trusts in works and sacramentalism, attempt to make a person righteous enough for heaven. In contrast, the Bible says that everyone, by very nature, sins, must confess it, and must believe the gospel to receive forgiveness of sins and thereby be admitted eternally into the true God's presence.
Biblical salvation is by faith, and faith necessarily involves that which is unseen. It is not faith to believe in that which is present in visible form. Faith reaches out to the unseen world of the spirit and the eternal. And right here we encounter a major problem with ritual and sacraments: they attempt a moral rescue of the unseen and nonphysical spirit and soul of man with physical and visible ceremony. That won't work.
This grave error of sacramentalism persists even among a majority of those who call themselves Christians. They imagine that through participation in the visible, and thus temporal, sacrament, they receive invisible and eternal spiritual benefits. Clearly, this is impossible. The Bible declares, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews:11:1). Salvation, because it necessarily involves the eternal and invisible, not that which is seen and is therefore temporal, must be by faith, not by physical works or ritual.
Furthermore, ritual and sacraments have nothing to do with either justice or punishment and therefore cannot possibly pay for sin. One might as well imagine that some ritual could satisfy a court of law in paying the penalty prescribed for a major crime as imagine that God would accept sacraments in payment of the infinite penalty He has prescribed for breaking His law.
The Bible gives two sacraments for the Christian: baptism and communion (also called the Lord's supper). Both are symbolic reminders of a spiritual and eternal transaction that has already taken place: Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and our identification with Him by faith in His full payment of the penalty for our sins.
Neither baptism nor communion is efficacious. To imagine that they are--and therefore to rely upon either or both of them to effect, even partially, one's salvation--is to reject the salvation God offers in grace to those who believe His promise.
In none of the world's religions is there any concept of God's perfect justice having to be satisfied for the sinner to be forgiven. Instead, works and rituals and mystical experiences are offered to appease God and/or to earn one's salvation. The Bible, however, finds all the world guilty of rebellion against God and insists that human guilt can be forgiven only on a righteous basis. The penalty that God decreed must be paid in full.
No one can pay for his own sins, either by sacrifice (even of himself in death) or by good works. Only Christ, who is God and man in one person and who lived without any sin, could pay for the sins of the world. Nor can we merit, earn, or purchase from God—who is perfectly holy and just—the benefit of Christ's sacrifice in forgiveness of our sins. If we are to receive the pardon that Christ has earned, we must receive it by faith as those unworthy of it—the gift of God's grace.
The purpose of the Ten Commandments was not to offer salvation to those who could keep them (no one has ever done so except Christ), but to show us our guilt so that we would accept Christ's payment that satisfied God's justice on our behalf:
Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians:3:24)
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin...that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.... For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans:3:19-20; 11:32; 6:23)
The attempt to offer works or rituals in payment for salvation is true even of some groups who claim to be Christian but who set up their own rules for gaining heaven in opposition to the biblical gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone without works. The Bible clearly says, "...that whosoever believeth in him [Christ] should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "For by grace are ye saved through faith...not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians:2:8-9); "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us...that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus:3:5-7). Any attempt to make even a partial payment for God's gift by His grace is a rejection of that gift.
That good deeds cannot pay for sins is not only biblical but logical. Even a traffic ticket cannot be paid on that basis. It will not avail to ask the judge to dismiss the charge for speeding because the guilty party has driven more often within the speed limit than he has exceeding it. Nor would the judge waive the payment of any crime in response to the defendant's promise never, ever to break the law again. The judge would simply say, "If you never break the law again you are only doing what the law requires. You receive no extra credit by which to pay for having broken the law in the past. That penalty is a separate issue and must be paid as prescribed."
The Bible further asserts that God's justice is infinite and that man, being finite, could never pay the infinite penalty it demands. We would be separated from God forever if we tried to work off the debt owed to His justice. God, being infinite, could pay that infinite penalty, but it wouldn't be just, because He is not one of us. Therefore, God became a man through the virgin birth in order to take upon Himself, in our place, the judgment we deserve. And it is only on the basis of that penalty having been paid in full that God can justly offer forgiveness.
How amazing that religions that rely upon good works and rituals are considered to be "faiths." Faith can only engage the unseen and eternal and, therefore, does not mix with works and ritual. In search of a valid faith, it is folly to look at that which is visible. Even to look to a visible cross or crucifix is of no merit. What occurred on the cross for our salvation was invisible and must be accepted by faith.
The visible torture men inflicted upon Christ, the scourging, mocking, and nailing to the cross, is not the basis of our salvation—though that was the message of the popular film The Passion of the Christ. There is no virtue in making the "sign of the cross" or waving a cross or crucifix to ward off Satan or evil. It was the judgment Christ endured at the hands of God in payment of the penalty for our sins that makes it possible for God to offer salvation. That suffering, endured by Christ, was totally invisible to man and must ever be. It is by faith alone that we believe Christ paid the penalty and by which we receive the eternal salvation He offers.
The Bible speaks of "the faith which was once [for all time] delivered unto the saints" and declares that we must "earnestly contend" for this unchangeable truth because there are false teachers even inside the church who will seek through subterfuge to oppose it (Jude 3-4). Jude is not referring to faith in the sense of believing that a prayer will be answered or an event will occur. "The faith" is the body of truth that must be believed for one to be a Christian.
The Bible allows for no compromise, no discussion, no dialogue with the world's religions (remember, Christianity is not a religion but distinct from all of them) in search for common ground. There is no common ground as far as God, Jesus Christ, and salvation are concerned. The very suggestion that dialogue may be appropriate denies that "the faith" has unique doctrinal content as a definitive body of truth for which we must earnestly contend, and opens the door to compromise in the interest of public relations.
Jesus didn't say, "Go into all the world and dialogue about faith." He said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel" (Mark:16:15). Paul didn't dialogue with the rabbis and philosophers and pagan priests. He "disputed in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily" (Acts:17:17). Was it because he was angry and argumentative? No, it was because the eternal destiny of his hearers depended upon whether they believed or rejected the gospel.
A reasonable and genuine faith must take very seriously what Jesus said—not what somebody says about what Jesus said, but His very words as recorded in the Bible. And we must face this truth for ourselves, not look to someone else to interpret it for us, no matter what credentials that person or church or institution might claim qualifies them to think for us. We must arrive at this serious faith personally, for true faith is between each individual and God.