The Christian gospel states that people are not made acceptable to God by their moral leadership or their wisdom or their piety. None of these things will earn you the right to God’s acceptance. The Bible says that the wisdom of humankind is foolishness compared to God’s standards (1 Corinthians 3:19). Similarly, our piety can never be enough to earn us a ticket into God’s kingdom. These sorts of things simply amount to us trying to make God “controllable” and accessible by our own efforts.
In the end, we must come to God on God’s terms not our own. Whilst some faiths believe that God requires moral, wise or pious acts to reach him, Christianity does not. It declares that it would be cruel and deceptive to require the standards of morality and piety necessary to reach God, because they are impossible to attain. Humankind is therefore in a dreadful dilemma. We can never reach God by our own efforts.
In the end, only God could solve the dilemma. What we could not do, God did. God came to us in person to rescue us. He suffered judgement in our place for our sins that would otherwise disqualify us from his presence. God died on a cross for us. It only remains for us to put out faith in Jesus, asking him to forgive our sins and be the leader of our lives.
Whilst some faiths believe that God requires moral, wise or pious acts to reach him, Christianity does not.
But this raises the question: How can Christians respect other “good” religions without trashing the need for Christ to die for our sins so we could be with God?
There are three possible answers.
The first is “pluralism”. Pluralists believe that all good and sincerely held religions get you to God. This, of course, raises the question: Who is it that decides if a religion is good or not? In reality, pluralism reduces Christianity to moralism. It removes everything that is diagnostic about Christianity, e.g. Christ’s saving action on the cross and his resurrection. This “cut down” pluralist god lacks identity and hides behind the mask of a thousand different religions.
Many who embrace pluralism do so because it helps them pursue an overarching ideology such as eco-justice, feminism or social justice. In other words, people try to recruit God, or domesticate him, to serve their ideological cause.
The second position is “exclusivism”. This is the belief that only right believing Christians can be saved. As such, those who have not heard and responded to the Christian gospel cannot be with God in his kingdom.
This belief is very harsh and contradicts God’s express will that everyone should be saved (1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Peter 3:9). It also seems to contradict what the Bible consistently says about God – that he is the perfect definition of love and justice (1 Jn 4:7-10; Psalm 89:14).
The third option is “inclusivism”, but with a twist. Inclusivists believe that Jesus is unique and essential, but that God is also revealing himself through other religious traditions as well.
This position seems reasonable but it is dangerous, for it seems to suggest that Jesus death and resurrection may not be of crucial importance. However the inclusivist position can be tweaked to make it acceptable. “Modified inclusivism” can allow that there is some undeniable truth and beauty in other religions. However, these truths do not add anything new to the essentials of salvation spoken of in the Bible. It is not that people can be saved through other religions, so much as they, by God’s grace, may have access to Christ’s saving action from their own sincerely held faith position. The German Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner calls these people ‘anonymous Christians’.
So, what can we say in conclusion?
The Bible makes it clear that God is fair in that he takes into account what people know in his dealings with us (Luke 12:47-48; 1 Timothy 1:13). It also teaches that God will judge us according to how we have responded to Jesus (John 3:36; Hebrews 10:29), and to the ethical laws we instinctively know to be right (Romans 2:14-16; Revelation 20:12).
The great advantage of becoming a Christian now is that you can be certain of your future with God, and you can begin a loving relationship with God right now…
…which is what I invite you to do.
Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.
Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.
He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net
Nick told his life story to Eternity here: Deadly storms, heroin addicts, cancer and my faith.