From a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, most American Christians seem to equate finding God with “Where’s Waldo?” God, and eternal life, can be found in many religions, not just Christianity. In fact, a significant minority even believes that atheism can lead to eternal life. Any belief is a good belief, they say. And it is wrong for Christianity to claim exclusivity, they say. Underlying the results of this survey is a few issues. The first glaringly obvious problem with the results of the survey is that it is internally inconsistent with the teachings of Christ Himself. He said:
Joh 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If we equate eternal life with being with God the Father as is common, then this is very clear. Jesus is the only true way to eternal life. He also said:
Mat 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Here Jesus tells us that we cannot even know God without Him, and if we read the first few verses of John 1, that we cannot know of God without the Word become flesh. Jesus continues to tell us that He is God (John 8:58), and that He forgives sins (Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20; 7:48), all exclusive claims. The only way to be an internally consistent Christian is to believe the exclusive claims of Jesus, or else one cannot rightfully be called a Christian. There are many beliefs that are non-critical to salvation, but this is not negotiable, this is part of God’s moral law to not serve other gods. Surely most people who call themselves Christian have heard those words before, or read it themselves in the Bible. So what would lead people to believe that those words don’t mean what they say? Al Mohler commented that it was part of a cultural construct, that in an age of “tolerance” it was considered inappropriate to make claims of exclusivity, and most uncomfortable to tell people that they may end up in hell without Christ. I agree that it is a part of the problem, but that it isn’t the whole picture.
Can the majority of Christians be so shallow in their beliefs, and so utterly ignorant of Christ’s teachings that they will allow cultural influences to change one of the core beliefs of Christianity? It may play a role, but I think there is an additional sub-chapter. Can it be that most American Christians are convinced of a works-based salvation? That would explain the semi-hidden assumption from that majority of respondents that good people go to heaven, even if they are atheists. It would also explain them being comfortable with misunderstanding the words of Jesus, and considering other religions as equally valid. It is indeed a monumental shift in belief, moving the burden of salvation onto man, and making God the adjudicator of deeds, not the one who saves. And even if it is not explcitly taught this way, can we conclude that the results of word-faith teaching of earthly blessings through claiming it from God may lead to the shifting of power from God to man, even to the point of claiming salvation?
Losing sight of the gift of grace can certainly convince people that it does not matter which God they pray to, since the important part is their own actions and motives. Once again, it is inconsistent with Biblical teaching, where man is described as being dead in sin, and the only way to come to life is by the grace of the Christian God working in the souls of people regenerated by the Spirit. That is not a message heard much any more. Grace is mostly mentioned as an afterthought, the result of man claiming it from God, much like he claims other blessings. Since we are speaking to Christians here, who seem to have assigned man the responsibility for his own salvation and are therefore comfortable saying that all or many beliefs can lead to eternal life, it is equally as important to point out the principle of grace than it is to point out the exclusive claims of Jesus. It is not something we can ever earn, or deserve, or work towards or claim.
Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, Eph 2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is truly a gift, given by God to those whom He chooses to. Clearly one cannot ask for a gift, or then it becomes a favor, and is something we need to earn or pay back. And that is not what Christianity teaches, in opposition to every other major faith out there. There is clearly some work to do in our churches to help people understand this again, so that we may be humble before God and give Him all the glory. Because right now it seems that man wants to claim the glory from God, just as he claims salvation and blessings. Repent today and believe in the love-gift of grace and salvation. And tell others about it, and pray that God may grant them that gift also. And know that it is the only way from the only God, because if it depends on our own goodness, we are doomed.