Are All Religions the Same? Grace Elevates Evangelical Christianity Above All Others

Do all religions lead to the same place? Are all religions are of the same essence that just differ in the peripheries? Moral relativism has wreaked havoc on our ability to know truth, but there is a law we can use to explore the different truth claims in religions. The Law of Non-Contradiction says that if something is true then its opposite cannot be. Something cannot be “A” and “non A” at the same time and two opposing truth claims cannot both be true in the same way. The Law of Non-Contradiction is a first principle of logic that is endemic to the nature of reality behind which there is nothing else. By this law we can say, for example, that a woman is pregnant or not pregnant and allows us to discern truth from error, good from evil. We use it every day to distinguish difference.

Through this law we distinguish Christianity from all other world religions in one central tenet: grace. Works, on the other hand, cooperate with man’s natural proclivity to control his eternal future, and performance in procuring one’s own eternal destiny characterizes every world religion or cult except evangelical Christianity. Twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Spencer W. Kimball made a statement that predictably singles out and assaults evangelical Christianity: “…one of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief alone in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.” Is that true? We will see that works based religions are all essentially the same and that evangelical Christianity is set apart from the rest.

The standard that is set by God, and through which all other world religions corrupt in their counterfeit forms, is found in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” The absence of works is also found in Romans 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Evangelical Christianity is the only religion where one cannot work his way to eternal favor with God, which other religions cannot claim. Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus all pride themselves on how good they become in finding favor with some metaphysical reality and provide collective evidence of man’s flight from God, not man’s search for God. Let’s take a look at the works of several religions and cults.

Mormonism

We shouldn’t be deceived by the title of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because Mormons do not worship the same God as Christians. One reason is that the concept of God’s grace in Mormonism makes it possible to attain godhood, but it doesn’t guarantee it. Grace is twisted in Mormonism where the Father and the Son are the models of obedience to the laws and ordinances in attaining godhood, and then we follow suit to enact them. In other words, Jesus was one god among many who just happened to come before us, found the right formula and now reveals it to us. Under the principle of personal exaltation, Mormons are fond of the saying, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” Not unlike New Age, Mormons say we can become gods. But Christianity is more realistic where we become godly in a moral sense; never do we become gods.

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles member Bruce McConkie comments that “it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do.” Similar to Catholicism, God’s grace in Mormonism makes it possible to attain godhood as in the model and laws God provides, but we still do it in our efforts and by our merits. The particulars in terms of works for salvation in Mormonism are repentance, baptism, church membership, countless good deeds, observing the Word of Wisdom (a health code about the right foods to eat or substances to avoid such as coffee, tea and alcohol), prayers for the dead, marriage, and a host of other observances as mandatory. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is anathema to Mormons as man’s eternal destiny is essentially based on what he does.

Catholicism

St. Augustine once said: “grace is the only thing that delivers human beings from evil; without it, they do absolutely nothing good.” This true statement is the Augustinian common core that Catholics and Protestants both tap into. The problem is the Catholic church, in the centuries to follow, grafted in the traditions of man through the teaching magisterium of the church and placed it on the same level with Scripture. This allowed the traditions to be consulted when convenient so man could manipulate his standing with God or control subjects within the church. Such a high place for tradition in Catholicism runs eerily similar to the “traditions of the elders” in Pharasaic thought that Jesus came down on. In Mark 7:13, Jesus contrasts the Word with tradition: “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” Some Catholics will minimize the contrast by replying that the Word was the beginning of the long line of tradition. But the effect is that the elevation of tradition dilutes God’s glory in the salvation process.

When the printing press allowed for the dissemination of the Scriptures, the deviation between what was practiced in the church and what the Scriptures actually said was discovered on a broad level. Thus the tenets of the Protestant Reformation became sola Scriptura, sola gratia and sola fide. That is, in returning to Scripture alone (sola Scriptura), man is saved by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide).  By rediscovering what God’s Word actually said, not only was grace understood but the Scriptures were elevated as preeminent. Since man is dead in his trespasses and separated from God (Col. 2:13), there is nothing a man can do to get out of his hole of depravity in relating to a holy God. Catholics say grace is a necessary condition of salvation, but not a sufficient condition. In other words, the works a man does for salvation are prompted by grace, but we “co-operate” with grace and do something as a “pre-condition” for grace such as “meritorious works,” to use the terms of a Catholic scholar. Works are prompted by grace but we perform them which then become meritorious in claiming a supernatural reward. Early church father Tertullian’s misguided statement is sometimes used to support this rationale: “the man who performs good works is said to make God his debtor.”

There are seven sacraments in Catholic theology one must perform for salvation: baptism, confirmation, marriage, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, and extreme unction, all needing to be performed with strict guidelines for their piece by piece approach of salvation to work. One key difference between Catholics and Protestants going back to the Reformation is that Catholics say we are “infused” with righteousness to the extent we take the sacraments, which seems to be less in accord with everyday reality. Evangelicals say we are “declared” righteous in a forensic or legal sense based on the work of Christ alone, as Romans 3:20 relays: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”  The Catholic bottom line is that grace plus works are necessary for salvation. To be sure, Catholics have the correct object of the their faith and for this many are saved, but not for the reasons they may think.

Islam

Islam is a severely based works religion where a man never knows how Allah will receive him until death. There is no certainty apart from moment by moment performance in contrast to what the apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Though some surahs in the Qu’ran say God is merciful and gracious, his grace is only seen in the possibility of salvation, depending on performance, with no guarantees. This draws parallels to Catholicism where the grace of salvation is contingent upon one’s performance and “one must await final justification at death to know whether one has eternal life and will not see God’s condemnation.” In knowing the history of the development of Islam, it is not hard to see the possible effects of cross-fertilization with Catholicism. Apart from the claims of a Jihadic suicidalism, Muslims never know until death whether they have done enough good works or penance to be in paradise or whether God will be merciful, the guilt and despair a harsh way to live.

There are five duties of the faith a Muslim must keep until the end to have any hope of salvation: saying the Shahada with a sincere heart (“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the prophet of God,” which doesn’t save a person but does put him on the road to salvation), praying 5 times a day, fasting, almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca (if at all possible). The performance basis in Islam (as promoted in these five duties) is evidenced in the Qu’ran such as surah 2:227: “Verily, those who believe, and act righteously, and are steadfast in prayer, and give alms, theirs is their hire with their Lord; there is no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.”

The difference may seem subtle in contradistinction to Christianity, but the effects are great. In Islam, one performs for salvation. In Christianity, one serves God out of salvation and his position in Christ. Serving God out of the abundance of love instead of for love leads to different results. It is not that works are unimportant in Christianity as the apostle Paul implores Titus to do “good deeds” (Titus 3:8). But Christians do them as acts of obedience for Christ post-salvation to maintain fellowship with God and not experience unnecessary damage in terms of rewards. Without Christ man’s works are as filthy rags to a Holy God in earning divine favor, the gap of which can only be covered by the holy and perfect sacrifice of His son. It’s not about trying hard, but in replacing the heart. What one theologian said might be shocking to a Muslim, “there is enough sin in the best prayer ever prayed to warrant God not hearing it.” There exists a dynamic that effects results more than human effort. We appeal to God through the righteousness of Christ, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus Himself said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John. 15:5).

Hinduism

One school of Hinduism, called the “way of works,” says it all about a works based system and incorporates the impersonal law of cause and effect called karma. In karma, a person gets exactly what his actions merit and impacts his next life. If the rules are broken in this life, a man may return as a far lower being in the next life and there is absolutely no way of knowing what will happen. The problem with karma is that it is a guilt induced speculation that has no basis in empirical evidence, in contrast to the Christian view of reality which was launched by the most empirically validated event from antiquity, the resurrection of Christ. Building off the cosmic guilt that characterizes all men, karma is a perversion of the judgment of a personal God. The western notion of karma, exported on the back of New Age religion, is often used in a joking manner, “if I mess up in this life, I’ll just get another stab at it in the next life.” But karma in Hinduism is a terrifying concept, no laughing matter and is not often mentioned.

Another branch of Hinduism with performance written all over it is called the “way of devotion.” Here a Hindu chooses one god to pray to and ask protection from. Though there are over 330 million gods in Hinduism, the way of devotion is usually practiced towards one of the three most popular gods Vishnu, Ganesha or Krishna. In Bhakti Hinduism, for example, total devotion to one god is the path to salvation. The Hare Krishna movement is one offshoot of Bhakti and since Krishna is one of the most popular gods, salvation can be obtained by chanting the mantra “Hare-Krishna” a thousand times a day. Hare-Krishnas must also perform by abstaining from meat, sweets, caffeine, and sex for pleasure.

Buddhism

If Hinduism is complicated, Buddhism may even be more so with its many strains, schools and emphases. But one thing they have in common is that salvation is procured by attaining Nirvana or becoming one with the “nothingness.” By ridding attachment to things in this world through a rigid life of concentrated self-effort, a person can be one with the nothingness. On the surface, Buddhism seems to have parallels to Christianity as in temperance or denying things in world. But Buddhism mistakes the real cause of evil, the nature of mankind and denies the core doctrines of Christianity (one sovereign personal God who exists in three persons, the legal necessity of an atonement of blood for sin, and a bodily resurrection). In Buddhism desire is evil whereas in Christianity desire is good but has been distorted. Though Buddhism has many complicated branches, they all adhere to performing the “Noble Eightfold Path” to enlightenment. Here, one must have the:

1.) The right view
2.) The right intention
3.) The right speech
4.) The Right Action
5.) The Right Livelihood
6.) The Right Effort
7.) The Right Mindfulness
8.) The Right Concentration

In Therevada Buddhism, the restrictions are greater where salvation is only provided for the monks or bikkus who vow to follow the 10 Precepts:

1.) Not to take any life
2.) Not to steal
3.) Not commit sexual immorality
4.) Not to lie
5.) Not to take intoxicating drinks
6.) Not to eat in excess and not to eat after noon
7.) Not to attend any entertainment (singing, drama, dancing)
8.) Not to decorate oneself or use cosmetics
9.) Not to sleep in high or wide beds
10.) Not to touch any gold or silver

Here we see that from the simple Eightfold Path to Therevada Buddhism, the rules become increasingly negative as there exists in man an emptiness that can drive him towards asceticism and a harsher treatment of the body for salvation. To be sure, discipline is advocated in Christianity as Paul said he “buffets his body and makes it his slave,” lest he “himself should be disqualified” (I Cor. 9:27). But the motivation and the power source are totally different. Without Christ, such man made religious rules are called legalism and do nothing to contribute to one’s eternal condition. As Paul reveals, “”Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!….Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:22,23). The sensual experience of activity doesn’t necessarily guarantee metaphysical security.

Soka Gakkai Buddhism attempts to lighten the load by broadening the possibility of enlightenment to more people than the bikkus. Here one’s state of mind at death determines his karma and there are 10 states to progress through. Advancement comes in chanting the “daimoku” which is inscribed on a piece of paper and can be object of worship itself. As such, the practitioner can be vaulted into to a state of Buddhahood and perfect bliss by dying in this state. However, it is not difficult to see the anxiety this can cause as one must be always performing and not miss his moment. Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

Though it sounds good to have the right action, effort and speech in the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment, the problem is they are drenched in relativism. Who determines what is “right” as the contents can vary? The fact that a “right” anything is reasoned to by the mind of natural man indicates there is a moral law and a moral law giver. And that moral law giver is most accurately passed down in the human tradition through God’s revelation in the Judeo/Christian Scriptures. The prophet Isaiah, who was closer to the action in terms of an original design, wrote in 740 B.C., “I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right.” God truly defines reality.

Conclusion

In evangelical Christianity, grace means “unmerited favor.” Since grace and works are mutually exclusive according to the Law of Non-Contradiction, meritorious works cannot contribute to salvation. Works make effort a condition of eternal life, but heaven is really a gift given on our behalf performed exclusively by the work of Christ Himself. If justification is a gift, then a gift is not merited as Romans 11:6 makes clear: “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”

There is another law of philosophy called the Law of Singularity. Simply put, in life there often exists one option that is superior to all the choices, such as there is only one number one ranked tennis player in the world at a time or a spark plug fires one way to start an engine. As this law relates to our analysis of religions, Christianity is distinct because all other religions employ works into the salvation equation (we shouldn’t get lost in the particular works of each religion and miss the bigger principle). Judeo/Christian monotheism is the most accurate assessment of the metaphysical realm and all other religious deviations show man’s retreat from God and an original design. Christianity, with its emphasis on God’s grace alone, realigns man’s corrupted attempts at transcendence and reveals a hope through one option. There may be many pathways to Christ, but there is only one way to God through the God/man Jesus Christ.

All religions are not the same. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone elevates Christianity into a category all of its own. Perhaps that is why Christianity is so assaulted and the persecution of all religions is natural man’s attempt to rid the conviction that God exists, even if residually detected in false worships systems. Endemic in the Christian message is that man is a weightless enemy of God whose depravity cannot be exonerated by self-effort and who is worthy of judgment in his own works. The curse placed on this world and the depravity of man is by far the best explanation as to why we have problems in the world today. There is an embedded ideal in man that he is built for another world which all religions try to bridge. But only in Christ through the blood of a holy, transcendent and personal savior to cover his sin can man span the gap to the ideal. Without the real God man tries to save himself through the illusion of controlling his eternal destiny, which fosters a deadly blend of overweening pride and devastating guilt or condemnation. Hebrews 9:14 describes an interesting phenomenon where works, as the best natural man can do, actually increase our guilt and deaden our consciences. However, the antidote of  “….the blood of Christ….[purifies] our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

If everything is by Him and for Him, He is the most trusted power broker of control as the “pioneer of salvation” (Heb. 2:10). If salvation is by grace alone, God is in control and gets all the credit which can be anathema to the natural mind. There is the criticism that something such as a free gift of salvation could lead to complacency, the abuse of grace or a contempt for God. But in the long run it is irresistible grace that keeps man coming back when he messes up, and not if he messes up. Contrary to our impulses, it is grace that “teaches our hearts to fear” and not harsh religious legalism which is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:23). Submission is better procured by the love of a sovereign rather than by a list of works from an imaginary deity. It is comforting to know that though we are prone to stumble, in Christ we can get back up and not fear that we have lost God’s love. If there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor (except to respond, which is not credit worthy), then there is nothing we can do to lose it. Eternal security breeds internal security which Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Mormonism cannot effect.

Copyright by Scott Chandler. All Rights Reserved Unless Contacted for Permission.

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About Scott Chandler

As a trained academician, Scott speaks to the issues of our culture with an emphasis on apologetics.
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