Aren’t All Religions the Same?
Dr. Jim Denison
Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a disease caused by tiny virus particles which attack the brain and spinal cord. Until this generation, polio was a kind of AIDS in American society. Many of you remember those days when polio was a feared enemy; many of us know someone affected by the disease and its accompanying physical problems.
Why is polio not feared as it once was? The answer is named Jonas Edward Salk. Dr. Salk, an American research scientist, announced in 1953 that he had developed a trial vaccine for polio. He tested his vaccine on himself, his wife, and their three sons. It worked for them. Immediately it was tested widely; by 1955, it was being used across the world.
In those exciting days, there were two questions no one thought to ask. First, aren’t all vaccines basically the same? They knew that all others had failed, and that Dr. Salk’s had succeeded. And second, why only one vaccine? For the simple reason that only one was needed.
No one asked these questions, for the answers were obvious. And across the world, millions of people made sure they were vaccinated, and those they cared about as well. Today polio is virtually no threat to world health.
Unfortunately, there is another disease which still exists today, and is far worse even than polio. This disease has infected every person who has ever lived, and is always fatal. Fortunately, there is a vaccine which will work for every person on earth, and is free of charge.
The disease, of course, is sin, our broken relationship with God. The cure is salvation through Jesus Christ, his Son. And yet questions persist about this spiritual, eternal “vaccine”: aren’t all faiths the same? Why is there only one way to God?
Today, as we continue to ask hard questions about God, let’s explore this issue together.
What does the Bible say?
First let’s examine what God’s word says, four clear facts in Scripture. We need to understand what Jesus claimed about himself.
Fact number one: Jesus is God (v. 1). “Trust in God; trust also in me,” he says. In verse 9 he repeats the assertion: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Earlier the authorities tried to stone him to death “because you claim to be God” (John 10:33).
Other religious leaders claimed to reveal God; Jesus alone claims to be God.
Fact number two: Jesus is preparing our place in heaven (v. 2).
“Prepare” means one sent ahead to get ready for the arrival of those to come.
This is the picture of an Army scout, making sure the way is clear. It’s the President’s envoy, preparing the way for his arrival. In Malaysia, I had guides who would hack a trail through the jungle for me to follow. This is what Jesus is doing for us, right now.
He says that his Father’s house has “many rooms.” This is an oriental picture of the family, where all the rooms are under the father’s one roof. Jesus has already gone there, to get our room ready for us. This is what he’s doing this moment.
Other religious leaders taught about heaven or the afterlife; Jesus alone claims to be preparing it for us.
Fact number three: Jesus will take us to heaven personally (v. 3).
Here we discover another great word for what he is doing for us. “Take you to be with me” translates a word which means “to walk alongside of.”Jesus hasn’t gone to heaven and merely left us directions for finding our way there. He will come back and lead us there, personally. He will escort us home.
Other religious leaders taught about the way to heaven; Jesus alone claims to take us there.
Fact number four: Jesus is the only way to the Father (v. 6).
Jesus is not just a way, truth, or life. His Greek is emphatic: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He claims to be the exclusive way to God the Father.
Later he was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one in all of human history ever made this claim! Not Buddha, or Mohammad, or Caesar, or Stalin, or anyone else. No one but Jesus.
Peter made the same announcement: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Now, you may agree or disagree with Jesus, but you need to know what he claims about himself: that he is God, preparing our place in heaven, and that he will one day take us there, as only he can. These are the clear statements of Jesus Christ.
What do people say?
Now, this claim flies in the face of contemporary culture, doesn’t it? These statements are politically incorrect, to say the least. Three “isms” dominate our culture and reject everything we’ve heard so far today.
The first is relativism, the idea that all truth is relative and subjective. Most Americans don’t believe there is such a thing as absolute truth, let alone that it is found in Jesus Christ alone.
200 years ago, philosopher Immanuel Kant said that we come to truth as our minds process sense data. As a result, we cannot know “the thing in itself,” but only our experience of it. Now, two centuries later, everyone seems to agree. Truth is personal and subjective, we’re told. This “postmodern” worldview dominates our culture.
And so 93% of us say that we alone determine what is moral in our lives.
Only 13% of us believe in all ten of the Ten Commandments.
We’re taught that language is only a convention of human power; words do not describe reality, but only our version of it. There can be no objective truth claims, only subjective experiences. It’s fine if Jesus is your way to God, but don’t insist that he must be mine.
The second word for our society is pluralism: the different religions are roads up the same mountain. They’re all worshipping the same God, just by different names, we say.
For instance, 64% of us say that all religions pray to the same God. God just has different names for different people. It’s fine if Jesus is your road to God, but don’t make the rest of us travel it.
And pluralism typically leads to universalism, the idea that everyone is going to heaven, no matter what they believe. Only 2% of Americans are afraid that they might go to hell. 62% say it doesn’t matter which God we believe in, so long as we’re sincere. We’re all on the road to God, whatever we might believe about him.
With relativism, pluralism, and universalism, the biblical teaching that Jesus is the only way to God is made to be mean, judgmental, and arrogant. Tolerance is the most important attribute in our society. Anything less is hypocritical at best, dangerous at worst. Or so we’re told.
Can we make a relevant and realistic response? Absolutely.
How do we respond?
First, let’s respond to relativism with the fact that objective truth is an intellectual and practical necessity in life.
To deny absolutes is to affirm them. If I say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” haven’t I made a claim to absolute truth? This is not new. The ancient “skeptics” were a philosophical movement centuries before Jesus. They said in essence, “There’s no such thing as truth, and we’re sure of it.” The relativists make the same mistake today.
Recently I heard the apologist Ravi Zacharias tell about an experience on a college campus. At the end of his defense of an objective and coherent universe a woman confronted him: “Who told you the universe has to be coherent?” His answer was excellent: “Do you want my response to be coherent or not?”
We don’t accept relativism with the Holocaust, do we? I hope no one here would dismiss the Holocaust as “Jewish truth” but not ours. Do you want your doctor to be relatively sure of his diagnosis? The cook to be relatively sure that your food isn’t poisoned? The airplane mechanic to be relatively sure the plane won’t crash?
Objective truth is an intellectual and practical necessity in life.
Next, let’s respond to pluralism with the fact that the world’s religions teach radically different truth.
For instance, Hinduism teaches that there are many “gods” but no God, and that through mutual reincarnations we will all be absorbed into ultimate reality. No sin, no salvation, no personal eternity in heaven. Buddhism similarly teaches that we come to “Nirvana,” “blowing out,” and cease to be one day. Islam says that Allah is the one God, that he has no Son, and that “salvation” comes through obedience to the Koran. Judaism does not accept Jesus’ claim to divinity, of course, or believe that he is the way to the Father.
If one is right, the others are wrong. These cannot be different roads up the same mountain—they are different mountains.
Third, let’s respond to universalism with the fact that Jesus is the only way to God we need, or can trust.
It doesn’t bother me that only one key in my pocket will start my car, so long as it works. It doesn’t bother me if doctors can prescribe only one chemotherapy when someone I love has cancer, so long as it works. It doesn’t bother me that only one microphone will amplify my words so you can hear them today, so long as it works.
And only Christianity works. Our basic problem with God is called “sin.” We have all made mistakes and committed sins in our lives. These failures have separated us from a righteous and pure God. The only way to heaven which works is the way which deals with these sins. And only Christianity does. No other religion offers forgiveness for sins, grace for sinners, and the security of salvation. Only Jesus.
If your child was facing the threat of polio in 1955, would you accept a doctor’s relative assurances that she would be well? Would you try every possible vaccine, in the belief that they’re all the same? Would you protest that only one works? Or would you vaccinate your child, gladly?
What about your soul?
You can do so today. You can ask Jesus Christ to forgive your mistakes and take charge of your life, today. Unlike the world’s religions, there is nothing else you need to do. No multiple reincarnations, or four noble truths and eight-fold noble path, or life of obedience to religious laws. Just Jesus, today.
If you have your “vaccination,” you must share it with someone else. Someone you know is in danger of an eternal separation from God in hell. You have the cure for their terminal disease. Would you pick just one such person you know, and pray for him or her right now? Would you ask God to give you the chance to share your salvation with that person this week?
An elderly man became dissatisfied with his religion. He studied each of his options, and chose to become a Christian. A friend asked why, and he explained this way:
“It was as though I had fallen into a deep well, with no way out. A Hindu master came by and told me that if I would be faithful in this well, in the next life I would escape it. Then he left. A Buddhist monk came by and told me that if I would cease desires, I would cease suffering in this well. Then he left. A Muslim imam came by and told me that it was Allah’s will that I be in this well. Then he left. A Confucian teacher came by and told me that if I had not tripped, I’d not be in this well. Then he left.
“Then Jesus Christ came by, and Jesus got into my well. And lifted me out, forever.”
To whose well will you take Jesus this week?