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What you must believe to be a Christian
By Richard Gunther
One of the most common objections to Christianity is that “It doesn’t
matter what you believe, because all religions are the same”.
Even a cursory glance at the main religions will reveal this to be
utterly untrue. While it is true that there are some similarities between all
the main religions, there are also some obvious and glaring differences which
are unavoidable. This creates the problem of knowing which differences to
discard and which to keep. Obviously, if one religion says God is a ‘god of
war’ and another says God is a ‘god of love’ we have two opposites which
cannot be reconciled. It is an ‘either-or’ situation.
Put another way, suppose you asked a child what her mother was like.
“She has red hair, and she is very skinny” says the child. Then you ask
another child what this same woman is like. “She has black hair and she is as
round as the moon” says the other child. If both children describe the same
woman in completely different ways, we must have two different women, and as
well as that we cannot tell which description is correct. It is exactly the same
when we examine the different religions – they all describe God in different
terms. It is therefore impossible to fit all the religions together as one
Before we look at the differences between religions, we will look
generally at the similarities.
When we examine the nation of Hebrews, called Israel, in the Old
Testament, we find that they were very much like their neighbours. Their
culture, their society, their commerce and their government system was almost
identical to that of the surrounding nations. The social customs included
weddings, funerals, festivals and public or private ceremonies. Even more
important was Israel’s tabernacle and temple. These two buildings were very
similar to other religious buildings in Egypt, Babylon and Persia. Not only
that, but Israel’s patterns of worship and style of prayers, vestments and
ritual were also similar.
A.H.Sayce, the Assyriologist wrote:
“So far as we are at present acquainted with the peculiarities of the
Assyro-Babylonian temple, it offers many points of similarity to the temple of
Solomon at Jerusalem. Thus there were an outer and an inner court and a shrine,
to which the priests alone had access. In this was an altar approached by steps,
as well as an ark, or coffer, containing two inscribed tablets of stone, such as
were discovered by Mr. Rassam in the temple of Balawat. In the outer court was a
large basin, filled with water, and called a ‘sea’, which was used for
ablutions and religious ceremonies. T the entrance stood colossal figures of
winged bulls, called ‘cherubs’, which were imagined to prevent the ingress
of evil spirits. Similar figures guarded the approach to the royal palace, and
possibly to other houses as well. Some of them may now be seen in the British
Museum . . .”
“As among the Israelites, offerings were of two kinds, sacrifices and
meal offerings. The sacrifice consisted of an animal, more usually a bullock, a
part of whose flesh was burnt upon the altar, while the rest was handed over to
the priests or retained by the offerer . . .
“There are evidences moreover, of a monotheistic school among the
priests, which resolved the manifold deities into forms of Anu and his
counterpart Anat; but the school had few adherents.”
(Assyria, Its Princes and People; The Religious Tract Society. London,
1926, page 92-94)
Thanks to the work of some dedicated archaeologists, we now know that
even in the style of writing religious prose, there was little difference
between Israel’s poets and the poets of other nations. Take, for example, this
hymn written to praise the sun, penned by Pharaoh Iknaton in 1350 BC (that’s
400 years before a Hebrew poet penned Psalm 104) The Pharaoh saw the sun as an
image of the one sole God, creator of everything:
glorious in beauty you are
you appear on the edge of heaven,
thou living Aton, the creator of life!
you rise at dawn over the eastern horizon,
fill the whole earth with your splendour.
benevolent you are, majestic, brilliant,
high over every land.
rays embrace the nations, to the furthest limit
all that you have made . . .”
verses follow with much the same tone. The Pharaoh was not liked, and his idea
that there was one God was soon destroyed by the majority of priests, who
quickly restored the polytheistic status quo as soon as the Pharaoh died.
And from Babylon we have an ancient penitentiary psalm, which was still
in use by the Assyrians in 1000 BC:
Lord is wrath in his heart; may he be appeased again.
God be appeased again, for I knew not that I had sinned. (See Ps.41:4)
Ishtar, my mother, be appeased again for I knew not that I had sinned.
knoweth that I knew not: may he be appeased.
the heart of my God be appeased . . .”
so on for several more verses)
History shows that, despite the recurrence here and there of monotheism
(just one God), the idea never lasted. All religions except one maintained a
plurality of gods, and goddesses. In fact some religions had thousands of gods.
The only religion which maintained that there was but one God was Israel, and it
did this in the midst of the nations which all believed in many gods. Israel’s
monotheism sprang from the Scriptures, which were held as sacred and kept from
generation to generation. Even though many Israelites adopted the heathen
religions, they never threw away the Scriptures. There was always a godly
remnant, a (comparatively) small number of Israelites who held to the one God
and would not reject Him as the only true God. It was this adherence to certain
statements in Scripture which set these Israelites apart as God’s people.
Taking this a little further, we can see that it was faith in certain
propositional statements which made the godly Israelites different. In most
other ways they were the same as their neighbours, but in a small area of
beliefs they were so different their eternal salvation depended on what they
Returning for a moment to the question asked of the children, let us draw
from the children some statements of similarity.
mother is a woman”
mother has a human body”
mother has had two children”
mother has eyes, ears, mouth, nose and teeth”
We could extend this list of similarities a long way, and in the end one
might wonder if there were any significant differences worth mentioning. When it
comes to religions, we could say that there are so many similarities, any
differences which may exist are not worth mentioning. But the differences are so
important they distinguish Christianity as unique and totally separate from all
other religions. The similarities count for something, in that they are like
echoes, or shadows of the real sound and substance, but they themselves are not
the sound or the substance.
C.S.Lewis often pointed out that all the myths and legends and religions
pointed towards Jesus, in that they all seemed to anticipate His coming. Just as
a shadow betrays something solid, the myths and legends often suggested some
final reality which would meet the shadow and complete it. And having found
Jesus, all who follow their shadows ought to quickly abandon them for the great
Christianity or more correctly Christendom shares many things with
all other religions. It has buildings, and all the entrapments of other
religions such as vestments, cups, pots, pulpits, pews, windows, carvings,
sacred areas, relics, pictures, statues, and so on. It has special prayers,
ceremonies, songs, music, and clerical duties. It has prophets and other
‘ministries’, and it has ‘tongues’ or glossolalia, which is common to
all ecstatic speaking in cults and Satan worship too. It has pilgrimages and
‘holy buildings’ and saints, holy seasons, festivals, charitable works and
the like. The list goes on and on, and one might be excused for thinking that
Christianity is, after all, just one of many similar religions.
Even the ‘Golden Rule’ is not unique to Christianity. (Mat.7:12) It
was not invented by Jesus, but was already in circulation. It is found in the
teachings of Prince Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, who spoke it 500 years
before Jesus. It is also found in the teachings of Confucius and others –
except that it is in a slightly different form. (Rabbi Hillel, 100BC put it this
way : “Do not unto your neighbour what you would not have him do to you.”)
But within Christendom there is a remnant, just as in the Old Testament
days. These true Christians hold to a set of propositional truths which
set these believers apart from all other religions, all cults, and all belief
systems. These propositional truths are so simple they might just slip by some
people without being noticed! They concern one person, the Lord Jesus Christ,
and they MUST be believed, otherwise the seeker cannot be saved.
At this point I would not like to set down some sort of formula. There
are many variations of the propositional truths, which all cover the same
ground. I would suggest that people read the entire gospel of John to gather
everything they need, but having said that there are certain verses stand out as
more specifically aimed at conveying salvation, which I will quote below. All
the following propositions have to do with Jesus, and it is important to note
that in every cult and religion these statements are either denied, or twisted,
Jesus is God. He is God the Son. About 2000 years ago He humbled himself
and, by the miracle of conception, joined with a female human ovum. At that
moment God became flesh and nine months later a son was born to Mary and Joseph.
Jesus grew up a sinless child and at about 30 years of age began his ministry as
the Messiah. He healed all the sick who came to him, he raised the dead, and he
taught and preached as he travelled about. Finally he surrendered his life on a
cross and died. For three complete days he lay in a tomb, then he rose from the
dead and spent many weeks confirming his resurrection with his followers. He
then ascended back to the Throne of heaven and sat down beside his Father. One
day he will return as King of kings and Lord of lords, to raise the dead,
restore the whole of Creation, and inaugurate His everlasting kingdom. All who
have believed in Him will be given a place in that kingdom, to rule and reign
with Him for eternity.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes
in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God sent not His Son into
the world to condemn (judge) the world but that the world through Him might have
means ‘to obey’.
the Bible uses the expression ‘God’s Son’ or ‘Son of God’ it does not
mean it in the sense that humans do. To be the Son of God is the same as saying
‘God the Son’ – full equality form God in every way and sense.
the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.”
is the only adequate Saviour of the world. Only the sinless Son of God could
atone of sinful Mankind.
verily, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of
God.” “Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again.”
again’ means, literally, ‘born from above’. This is something only the
Holy Spirit can do. No human can do this with the flesh, or by good works. Only
God can give birth to His own children.
many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on His Name.”
here comes from the Greek ‘exousia’ meaning ‘authority’. This means
Christians can declare by faith that, having received Jesus, they are, by the
authority of God’s Word, God’s children.
that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that believes not shall
not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.”
shows that people who make an intelligent decision to reject Jesus fall, by
default, into judgment.
verily, I say to you, He that hears My word, and believes on Him who sent me,
has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but IS passed from
death into life.”
here claims equality with the Father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father, and
One small note. When the Bible uses the word “believe” it
often comes from a Greek word which means “be subject too”. This
means that just ‘believing’, in the intellectual sense, is not enough. One
might also say that one “believes” in the queen, or the prime minister. What
Jesus expects of His followers is OBEDIENCE. We show God that we love Him by
obeying Him. It is therefore highly likely that people who say they are
Christians but who do not obey Jesus, are not in fact Christians, but rather
worldy people who have deceived themselves.
To conclude I would like to look at eight ways by which we CANNOT
be saved. These eight ways are so common you may have tried one of them
yourself, and, though it is not very pleasant to contemplate it, ‘your
church’ if you attend one, may practice one or more of these ways as well. It
happens, that as churches abandon the only way of salvation, they adopt
All religions and also the cults talk of inner experiences. They like to
refer to an ‘inner warmth’ to verify or confirm the reliability of a text
(i.e. the Mormons), or some transcendent experience (as in TM and other mystical
branches). Dreams, visions, strange physical experiences, visitation by angels
or weird visual effects . . . ghosts, apparitions of saints, or of ‘Mary’,
feelings of power, bright lights . . . all these experiences are common to
believers in all the different religions. They may be partly imagination, partly
demonic, partly self-deception, or they may be from God – whatever the case,
they do not mean that the one who experiences them is saved.
is no disputing the fact that it is good to do good works. Acts of charity are
always highly valued and those who give the most are often the most admired.
Charity is common to all religions, and should not be neglected, but it can
never earn a person salvation. For the Christian, charity comes as a result of
being saved. For all others, charity comes as a way of earning something, be it
self-respect, promotion, atonement for sin, or the hope that some deity might
look with compassion instead of anger.
is a good example of earning a place in heaven through ritual. The ‘Five
pillars’ are: “belief in Allah, worship, alms-giving, pilgrimage and
fasting.” Rituals are not a stepping stone path to heaven, but to hell. They
may be useful as a structure to help with various activities, but they are
worthless as a way to earn salvation. God, the true God, is not swayed by the
amount of prayers we offer, or the length of time we kneel, or the degree to
which we go hungry.
the Old Testament some Israelites thought they were safe because they were
members of Jacob’s line. Possibly Samuel’s sons thought the same thing
because they were his children. Today there are children who feel safe simply
because their parents are Christians. The fact is, God has no grandchildren. We
are either His children through the new birth, or we are not His children.
and John the Baptist commanded repentance, and John told the Jews that God could
raise up children from stones if He so chose – so being the descendants of
Abraham made no difference to God. Some of the Jews thought that being called a
“Jew” ensured them a place in God’s kingdom, but Jesus and Paul corrected
them on this point (Mat.3:9, Phil.3:4-9). We have a similar sort of thing today
when some people label themselves as ‘Christian’ simply because they are
‘New Zealanders’ – as if belonging to the ‘Christian West’ is
sufficient to make one a Christian.
to a priesthood.
are many in Christendom and also in other religions who think that by obeying
the spiritual leadership they are pleasing to God. This is an easy trap to fall
into. I have met people who have spoken of ‘having to obey the pastor’ even
when the pastor is leading them in the wrong direction. Blind obedience,
servility and refusal to take personal responsibility for one’s own decisions
is not the way to salvation. God expects us to make up our own minds what we
believe, not rely on someone else. There is an event (one of several) in which a
man called Korah (Num.16) led many people to their doom. God did not destroy
just the leaders, sparing their followers, saying that the followers were
blinded and therefore not to blame no, God held the followers accountable too.
Christians think that God is somehow pleased with them if they deny themselves
certain (harmless and non-sinful) things. Austerity is still seen as a great
effect of being a devoted Christian. In the past the admired people were those
who sat on top of poles, or who lived in caves for years, or who wore sackcloth,
or who lived as monks, hermits, flagellants and the like. (This is not to say
that Christians ought to indulge in everything they want, or be gluttonous!)
Some Christians, through misplaced obedience to God, deny themselves meat, or
makeup, or jewellery, or movies, or wine, or some other thing. If their motives
are right there is no harm in this, but if they think they can earn some sort of
pleasure from God by these denials, they are completely mistaken.
Micah 6:6,7. As John Ashcroft, US Attorney General said “Islam is a religion
in which Allah demands you send you son to die for him; Christianity is the
faith in which God sent His Son to die for you.”
is nothing wrong with Christians making sacrifices, in fact it is usually part
of the Christian life, but we must never think for a moment that God is
impressed or swayed in judgment by anything we might give. We have never been
allowed that option. Logically, if God could be swayed by our sacrifices, then
those who made the biggest could gain more favour from God than those who
didn’t. This would make God corrupt.
topic of this article was “What must you believe to be a Christian?” and
although I may have taken a long path, I think the areas I have touched on are
all important. Sometimes we need to check out the things that we must stay away
from, in order to see more clearly the areas which we are encouraged to remain
Salvation is, when all has been said, so breathtakingly simple and
so easy to understand it is a wonder that so few find it. It is also unique to
Christianity. No other religion or cult has the Christian way of salvation.
Read Romans 10:9,10 and 1John 5:9,10 and notice how clear it is. All God
requires of us is that we believe the witness of the Bible when it tells us who
Jesus is. Salvation is incredibly accessible. There is no wall of priests, no
barrier of ritual, no stumbling block of self-sacrifice, no ceremony, no temple
or mosque to attend. We must simply believe in Jesus and obey him and we are
saved. I cannot say what happens to those who begin well and then fall away.
That is not the subject of this article. All I know is that TODAY Jesus wants
you to believe in Him, and then tomorrow as well, and the day after that, right
up to the last day you live.
This is the fundamental and unique thing which makes Christianity different from all other religions. The difference is a Person, and the matter of salvation depends on our accepting and believing certain things about that person. Having made that step of faith we may have many wonderful feelings and experiences, but the cornerstone of Christianity is Jesus.
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