AREN’T ALL RELIGIONS LEADING TO GOD?
AND WHAT ABOUT THE QUESTION OF DEVOUT JEWS?
A podcast listener named Kayla asked John Piper the following question: “Pastor John, is God the same god in all religions, but in different forms? I’ve heard this said, but what does the Bible say?”
It is good to start off such an emotive question as this with a reminder of exactly what God thinks of us: He loves us – because God is love. But this love is not just for you and for me, it is not just for those who are His followers. He loves EVERYONE – this is the message of John 3: 16 and it is also the message that God is…
“not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 10)
So I believe that it is right for me to declare my belief that His love for you is not dependent on your faith or lack of faith; whether you are a Christian, a Moslem, a Hindu or an atheist.
I also feel the need to point out – before I look at the question of whether all religions are leading to God – that there are many strong and varied views on the answer to this question. Many of you will no doubt be seated in the place of judgement – certain that you are absolutely sure of the truth of your standpoint. You might be surprised – horrified even – to discover that others have an equally strong opinion – which is totally in contradiction to yours! And I guarantee that BOTH of you will say that you are basing your decision on a correct understanding of the Bible. I therefore ask you to be patient with one another and to respect one-another’s’ view. However tough this question is, it is not going to contravene the fundamentals of our faith. So here we go…
In our last session we explored Postmodernism – a world-view which believes that all religions are equally valid in man’s search for a relationship with the deity. We saw that this is a philosophy that is as old as time itself – a belief in “syncretism” – a belief that all “gods” are local deities under the one universal godhead and that in many cases they are simply different names for the same god. Therefore, we gave the example from the time of Jesus that the population of Ephesus identified their goddess Artemis (the goddess of the hunt) with the Roman goddess Diana – seeing them as one and the same deity.
Today this is seen in the growing belief in what has for centuries been known as the wheel theory of religion – that all faiths are “spokes” that lead down to the one hub of the universal god. This is the belief that all faiths lead to God, all faiths are equal, all faiths are right, all faiths lead you to heaven.
This is NOT what this church believes.
We again state our stand on the words of Jesus Christ who declared (in John 14 verse 6):
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
So, the simple – but really hard – answer to our “Tough Question” is “Other religions are NOT leading man to God. All other religions are false religions. No other religion leads to God and no other god can save you and grant you eternal life”. We cannot believe anything else. As Bernard Levin (and he was a Jew) stated:
“I take it that a religion which claims to be following the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth must, even if only by a process of elimination, think that the other religions are, for all their holiness and worship, mistaken”.
So, are we saying that the devout Moslem or Buddhist or Hindu who is living a good life and showing kindness and care to all others and who is seeking God with all their heart is doomed to a lost eternity? This seems SO harsh!
If all religions do not lead a person to the one, true, God, then where did these religions come from?
The Bible tells of many false gods – notably Baal and Ashtoreth. Each nation (sometimes each city) had their own gods. The Bible describes these objects of wood, stone and metal as being lifeless (for example, see Psalm 115: 4-11), but often refers to the power that worshipping them unleashed (for example the Egyptian magicians were able to emulate some of the signs that Moses performed and even in the New Testament we are told of Simon the sorcerer who successfully practiced magic arts until he became a Christian himself – see Acts 8). Many therefore conclude that these “gods” were, in fact, demons that were being used by our enemy, the devil, to deceive the world – counterfeiting some of God’s actions to distract mankind away from God. As such there are many scholars today who looking at Voodoo and primal religions as well as at “miracles” supposedly performed at the foot of Hindu idols or through Islamic mysticism declare that these demons are still at work in the world today.
Now: if this is so, then other religions are NOT man-made (the idols are made by man but the religion itself is not) – rather, they are demon-made. Our enemy, the devil, has only one aim – and that is to destroy God’s greatest love – mankind. So other religions are deceptions. They cannot lead you to God, they can only lead you away from God. When a man follows Allah, or bows down to Krishna, he is being led AWAY from God and not to God.
Paul, writing to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 10: 20-21) “puts this one to bed”:
“…the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons…”
This says, perhaps clearer than any other point in Scripture, that other religions are worshipping demons.
This is why it is bluntly stated in many places (such as this one found in Deuteronomy 29 verse 18):
“Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.”
So crucial was it to understand that no other way must be sought to find God that it is also frighteningly declared:
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again” (Deuteronomy 13: 6-10).
Yet, you say that other religions contain so much truth, so much wisdom, so much love. Surely, you say, this is evidence of the inherent goodness of other religions and proof that they are “of God”?
- There are two possible theories as to why this is so: the “Deception Theory” and the “Divine Theory”.
- The first is that this is the great deception of our enemy, the great deceiver. Satan knows (maybe better than us) what is good and bad, right and wrong. Most other religions include aspects that are good – but by their very goodness they lead adherents of other faiths away from the ONLY truth, the ONLY way, the ONLY Life, the ONLY complete goodness and wisdom and love. Am I saying that the devil “put” goodness, truth and love in the false religions that he controls? No.
- For the second theory – the “Divine” one – is that all mankind is made in the image of God and so there is a vast amount of goodness, wisdom and love out there that comes from the soul and spirit of man himself. Our enemy is only too glad to embrace that in religions that lead mankind away from God.
And what about those who have NEVER heard the Name of Jesus? There are clearly those who live in such out-of-the-way places – such as isolationist tribes in the deepest Amazonian rainforest – who have never heard of Christ. Are they “damned” because of their ignorance – an ignorance that is not their fault? Paul, in a difficult-to-understand passage in Romans 2: 12-16, seems to answer this question:
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
This seems to be saying that those who have never heard about Jesus have the Law “written on their hearts” – that is, their conscience tells them what is right and what is wrong. God will judge them according to what He sees in their hearts.
Paul goes on to say (Romans 4: 3):
3 What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
Abraham did not know Jesus, but his belief in the one true God means that he enters Heaven through the death of Jesus.
There is a further complication. Christianity has grown out of the Jewish faith. Our Bible is built upon the Law and the Prophets (which we call the Old Testament). The God whom we trust in, follow and serve is YHWH – the same God that the Jews have worshipped since the beginning of time. But we know that Jesus is Immanuel – God with us, God made flesh who came and dwelt amongst us. And we know that Peter was speaking right when he declared to the rulers of the Jews:
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 12)
So, does this mean that the devout Jew (the one who is following the teaching of the Old Testament and who believes in God with all his heart) is damned because they do not believe in their heart and confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord (John 10: 9)?
And are we saying that Jewish faith is a “false”, demonically-inspired religion like those mentioned above? Certainly not! But because the Jewish faith has not embraced Jesus it is an incomplete religion and all the obedience to the Hebraic Law cannot save you and cannot lead you to God completely. Only following Jesus can.
CONCLUSIONS AND CHALLENGES
Jesus died for all the world (John 3: 16), and only through Jesus is there forgiveness of sin, and only through Jesus can we enter Paradise.
All other religions are false religions or (in the case of Jewish faith, incomplete religion) and none of them can “save” you.
Let us beware of anyone teaching us that other religions are simply different ways of searching for or serving the same true God. Some churches are even encouraging their “flock” to incorporate other religions in their worship. We must not do this! In the Bible we are told that the Israelites of the time of King Ahab were compromising their faith in God with other religions. Inspired by the One, true, God, the prophet Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and challenged the Jews:
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18: 21).
Let us beware of a growing movement in the so-called church which, by some, has been called “Love Wins”. This is not a new philosophy. It too has been around since the earliest days of the church. This movement (the most high-profile adherent seems to be Rob Bell) declares that a God of love could not possibly destroy mankind – the object of His love – and that as Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, therefore after death all will realise that Jesus is their Saviour, and all shall be saved. These people believe that the sins of ALL were paid for and forgiven through Jesus at the Cross and all that is yet needed is for everyone to realise this and accept His forgiveness – which we shall all do when we see Him face-to-face. We do not believe this. We see this as a heretical view. Like it or not, the Bible is clear – when we all stand before the Judgement Seat of God those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life shall be told:
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” 23 Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7: 21-23)
The challenge to us, therefore, is to:
“go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20)
Unless people hear from us about Jesus – the only One through whom they can enter Heaven – then how will they know? Their religion, their god, cannot save them.
Can a Moslem or a Hindu or a Buddhist come to know the one true God? Not through their religion – for their religion leads them away from the one true God. Only a “person” can find the one true God – and that is through making a personal relationship with Him – in spite of their location, their culture and their religion. For once they have a true relationship with Him then they can come to the Father through Jesus the Son.
Let us again look at our key verse:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
How can we come to God “through” Jesus? This, I believe, takes us to the picture of Jesus as the “gate” (read John 10 to find out more about this). He lets in who He will let in and keeps out those who He will keep out – those who are not right with Him, those who have not put their faith in Him, those who are “wolves” and “thieves”.
Let us not judge anyone. Better people than I adhere to other faiths – kinder, harder working, more worshipful. We are “all in the same boat” – thank God that I know Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. May all others know this joy too – through me and through you.
Let us not judge anyone. Better people than I have realised that there will be those in Heaven whom we never expected to see, and those missing from Heaven who we expected to be there.
Like Abraham we declare: “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18: 25) We cannot boast that we understand all that God will choose to do – but we trust in His justice.
We take our stand on this: that no religion can save us. Going to a Mosque, religiously, will not save you. But neither will going to a church save you! It is only through a personal relationship with Him that we will enter Heaven. It is not through our religious obedience or our ritualism or our good works. As Ephesians 2: 8-9 puts it so succinctly:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
God knows the HEART and SPIRIT of every man, woman and child. It is He alone who decides whose name is written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21: 27). It is He alone who is able to welcome a person into Heaven with the words “well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25: 23).