Let me answer that question in the first sentence: anyone who thinks all major religions are essentially the same doesn’t understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now that I’ve possibly ticked you off, let me explain….
The common denominator many people see among Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism is a good set of morals, and that by living according to those morals as well as you can you will please a supreme spiritual being and have a good chance of a pleasant afterlife. But that completely misses the point of Christianity. The critical aspects of Christianity that are missed in the above statement are:
- Trying your best isn’t good enough for God. He is completely holy and blameless, and requires the same from everyone that will live with Him forever:
- Lev 19:1-2: “The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the whole congregation of the Israelites and tell them, ‘You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
- Romans 3:9-23: “What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one…. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law…. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.“
- Revelation 22:14-15: talking about heaven, Jesus says “Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
- Therefore, we are all doomed, except…
- God sacrificed His only Son as the perfect sacrifice that could pay for people’s sin and thus make them holy and blameless before Him. The way to take hold of that gift is through belief and obedience (which are inseparable if you think about it).
- I Peter 3:18 “Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God….”
- I Cor 5:21 “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”
- Rom 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.”
- Rom 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….”
- I Peter 2:22-24 “He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness.”
This is very different than try to be as good as you can and hope for the best! Sadly, even many Christians miss this point. They are just trying their best to follow the rules in the Bible and hoping that will be good enough for God. But this is a losing proposition. Every time.
Alarmingly, even Pope Francis seems to imply in a recent video that all religions are essentially the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6FfTxwTX34 . Although he doesn’t come right out and say that all religions lead to the same God, the message seems clear. Consider these quotes from his video: “Many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways.”, and “In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty we have for all: we are all children of God.” I hope he doesn’t mean what everyone is assuming he does.
This is the same line of thinking that leads many people say that Jesus was just a great moral teacher, pointing to his first recorded teaching, the sermon on the mount (Mt 5-7), to support that statement. It is true that Jesus teaches some great morals in that sermon, but most people overlook some of the other statements Jesus made in that sermon:
- Mt 5:22: not only shouldn’t you murder, but “whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell”.
- Mt 5:27-29: don’t commit adultery, but if you look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery in your heart, and Jesus follows this with: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.”
- Mt 5:20: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This would have been a shocking statement to the Jews at that time because the Pharisees had dedicated their lives to fulfilling every single commandment of the Old Testament law, and in fact had developed a whole set of additional rules for themselves so they wouldn’t even come close to breaking any of the OT laws.
- Jesus ends the 1st section of the sermon with “So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) Uh-oh!
This is not a set of high standards to shoot for, but it’s ok if you miss the mark. This is the difference between heaven and hell.
Before despairing, there is another section in the sermon that also isn’t talked about much: Mt 5:17-18: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.” Being Jesus’ 1st major teaching to the Jews, Jesus was introducing the new era: God previously proved to them that following the Law doesn’t work to change and save people, so God had a better plan: He’ll sacrifice His son for our sins, and fill us with His spirit to make us new. I like God’s new plan, in fact i love God’s new plan, because it is the only hope for any of us!