In college I had a friend who loved to argue that all religions are basically the same. He described the situation this way, “pretty much every religion is about moving from the imperfect physical world to the perfect spiritual realm. Some call it Heaven, others Nirvana, and so on.”
There are several versions of this idea out there. You’ve probably heard “there are many paths to God” or the story of the blind men touching the same elephant.
One issue with my friend’s argument is that he generalized too much. You can say anything is the same if you step far enough back. For instance, “All sports are basically the same, you just have to outscore your opponents.” Or, “All people are basically the same, we all need food and oxygen to survive.” This kind of argument is really weak, and in general we should avoid them.
The bigger issue, however, is that even his generalization is wrong when it comes to Christianity. Scripture tells a compellingly different story than most religions when it comes to salvation, the physical world, and beyond.
Although many religions share similarities, Christianity has several distinctives that make it incredible unique, and some of them are in complete contrast to the view my college friend shared. Today, we’ll take a look at three of those distinctives:
1) The Means of Salvation
In most of the worlds religions, if you want to reach “heaven” then you must be a good person. Islam requires your obedience to the Five Pillars, Buddhism requires you to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, and Judaism calls people to obey the Ten Commandments.
While many thing that Christianity calls people to also obey the Ten Commandments or to be a good person, this is not actually the message given in the Bible. Romans 3:21-25 explains it this way,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Notice the contrast here. Righteousness comes “apart from the law.” In other words, we don’t earn righteousness through good works – we’re simply never going to be good enough. We have “all sinned and fall short,” with the exception of Jesus. Because of our sin we deserve death, but Jesus came forward as a propitiation (payment to take our place) and actually earned salvation for us. We are therefore saved by his grace, it is a gift, and we receive it through faith by trusting in his work.
Jack Miller simplified the Gospel with these words, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” This is not a message you will find anywhere but Christianity.
2) The Destination of Salvation
The second distinction revolves around our ultimate destination. For many religions Heaven is a place completely separate from the physical world. They see the physical as the reason for pain, suffering, temptation, and sin. Once we escape the physical world, we’ll no longer have to deal with those things.
Again, Scripture tells a different story. In the beginning, God created the physical world and “it was good.” There is nothing inherently wrong with the physical, but it has been infected with sin. While many people have the view that God’s solution is to burn it all and bring us to Heaven, this is not the case. Revelation shows us that God’s plan for the physical world is not destruction, but rather, restoration.
Revelation 21:1-5 speaks to this, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Right off the bat, we see that there is a new heaven and a new earth. Earth isn’t going away, it’s being made new. It’s also important to notice that the holy city comes down out of heaven to earth. God’s future plan isn’t to bring us all to Heaven and live in a non-physical reality, but rather to bring Heaven down to Earth. He Himself will dwell with us in a physical world where He will wipe our tears away, and there shall be no death nor crying nor pain.
3) God Became a Man (and the Dignity of Mankind)
Many belief systems use religion to “put people in their place.” Men have used it to justify caste systems, commit genocide, and start wars. There are even some who call themselves Christians who have done this exact thing.
But once more, Scripture tells a different story. Christianity is distinct in the dignity it ascribes to man for two reasons. First, it claims that man is made in the image of God. Judaism and Islam also share this view, but no one else does. Secondly, it claims that God himself was willing to actually become a man and die for us so that we might have salvation. While many religions look to their founders as great people, none come close to the boldness of identifying their founder as God.
Philippians 2 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.“
We know that all people have intrinsic value because we are made in God’s image and Christ died for us. This level of dignity drives us to treat others (even our enemies) with respect and love. Many ancient cultures during the time of Christ valued strength above all else, for only the strong would survive. Because of the dignity of man, however, Christianity places the highest view possible on loving others. God does not measure strength by your ability to dominate others, but rather by your ability to serve them.
And so while other religions speak of the importance of giving to the poor or helping others, none would dare claim that God humbled himself to become a man who would serve others. He didn’t just come to give people food in the soup kitchens either, he came to give everything. He died for us.
Choosing the Best Answer
One simple reason I’ve believed the message of the Gospel is a strategy I used in multiple choice tests. I was never a great memorizer, but seemed to do well at problem solving and educated guessing.
If you’ve ever taken an SAT prep class, you know one of the strategies (when you don’t know the answer) is to look for the unique answer. If only one answer can be correct, then odds are that the unique answer is the right one. I know this doesn’t work as scientific proof that Christianity is 100% true, but it does work for me as a piece of evidence in a large puzzle that I strongly believe points us to Christ.
Are all religions basically the same? No, not even close. Christianity is unique because it redefines how we receive salvation, calls us to a physical final destination, and defines the dignity of man more powerfully than anyone else.