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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 homogenous whole.


   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:


“How glorious in beauty you are

When you appear on the edge of heaven,

O thou living Aton, the creator of life!

When you rise at dawn over the eastern horizon,

You fill the whole earth with your splendour.

How benevolent you are, majestic, brilliant,

Standing high over every land.

Your rays embrace the nations, to the furthest limit

Of all that you have made . . .”


Several 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:


“My Lord is wrath in his heart; may he be appeased again.

May God be appeased again, for I knew not that I had sinned. (See Ps.41:4)

May Ishtar, my mother, be appeased again for I knew not that I had sinned.

God knoweth that I knew not: may he be appeased.

May the heart of my God be appeased . . .”

(and 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 believed.


   Returning for a moment to the question asked of the children, let us draw from the children some statements of similarity.

“My mother is a woman”

“My mother has a human body”

“My mother has had two children”

“My 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 reality.


   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, or ignored.


   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.



John 3:16,17

“For 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 life”

“believes” means ‘to obey’.

When 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.



John 1:29

“Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus is the only adequate Saviour of the world. Only the sinless Son of God could atone of sinful Mankind.




“Verily, 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.”

‘Born 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.



John 1:12

“As many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name.”

‘power’ 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.



John 3:36

“He 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.”

This shows that people who make an intelligent decision to reject Jesus fall, by default, into judgment.



John 5:24

“Verily, 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.”

Jesus here claims equality with the Father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father, and vice versa.


   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 substitutes.


Method 1

Subjective experiences.

   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.


Method 2

Objective action.

There 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.


Method 3


Islam 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.


Method 4

Family relationship.

In 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.


Method 5

Racial origin.

Jesus 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.


Method 6

Obedience to a priesthood.

There 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.


Method 7


Many 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.


Method 8

Personal sacrifice.

See 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.”

There 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.


The 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 with. 


   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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