Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is Christianity Different from Other Religions? Monday Morning Theologian

This post is the lesson I will be presenting this Wednesday evening to my AWANA Journey (high schoolers) group.  It is based on AWANA's Faith on Trial curriculum.  We are considering the proposition that Christianity is the only way to reconcile us to God, based on Acts 4:12 - "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

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What if...
Imagine one day if we learned that a cure for cancer had been discovered. How many suffering people could be saved? Thousands? Millions? Not only the afflicted, but also families, friends, caregivers...
Here's the catch: There is a cure, but only one cure, for cancer. What if you were dying of cancer? Would you say something like, “I don't like that there is only one cure for cancer. That is arrogant! I sincerely believe that I should be able to cure my cancer any way I choose. This is a personal matter!”

Wouldn't it make more sense to rejoice that there is a cure?

We Christians rejoice that there is a cure for something worse than cancer, our sin, our rebellion against God, the creator of the universe. It is unfortunate that so many people disagree that there should be only one cure. It is also unfortunate that so many people are in denial that they have the fatal disease of sin.

The claim of Jesus
Most people familiar with conservative evangelical Christianity would likely know that one of its teachings is that the one and only way to have your sins forgiven by God is to believe the claims of Jesus, particularly in his death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf. In addition to Acts 4:12 above, Scripture support for this position includes a similar passage that includes quote from Jesus:

John 14:5-7: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

So the claim that Jesus is the only way to reconciliation with God is not something that just appears out of nowhere. Why does this claim exist? I believe that there are two key reasons why Jesus and his apostles proclaim this:

(1) Jesus is Creator and (2) Jesus is Savior.

Jesus is Creator
The Bible teaches that Jesus is the one who is the creator.  Consider some key passages:

John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Hebrews 1:1-3: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…

Colossians 1:15-18: He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Note on “firstborn” - if we had more time, we would do a word study on the word “firstborn.” It will have to be enough to point out that both the Old and New Testament use this word as “unique in rank and privilege.” For example, in Exodus 4:22, when Moses is getting his instructions from the LORD regarding Pharaoh, the LORD says, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son...”

So we see that Jesus, as God, is the member of the Trinity that did the creating.

Jesus is Savior
Have you ever heard the expression, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself?” Quite often, this saying is expressed as a negative, as if a boss assigns an employee a task, and the employee messed up, so the boss now has to clean up and get the job done. In the case of reconciling us to God because of our sin, it doesn’t matter how well someone, or something else, can do the job, without qualified personnel, the job cannot get done. In the Hebrews 1 passage above, we not only talked about Jesus as creator, but also as savior (“After making purification for sins…”) Why is that?

Hebrews 10:1-4: For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Two observations:
  • Sacrificial systems cannot forgive our sins
  • The Jewish sacrificial system existed as an “object lesson (not just for Sunday School teachers!)” reminder of the people’s sinfulness
So bulls and goats cannot take away sins. Can we take care of sins on our own?

Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace you have been saved through faith,. And this is not of your own going: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 3:3-4: For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…

God’s mercy, not our goodness, saves us. We need a savior, and that savior is Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Case Study – The Death and Resurrection of Jesus
What better support for the intersection of creator and savior than the act of salvation itself, the death and resurrection of Jesus? In these moments we see both the power and sacrifice of Jesus working at the same time. When Jesus is betrayed and arrested, he describes how he has, through the Father, angels at his command (Matthew 26:53):

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?

A Roman legion at full strength had 6,000 soldiers.

Jesus is more explicit in John 10:17-18 as he explains how he is in control of what is happening and what will happen:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it town of my own accord. I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

The ESV Study Bible notes explain that “...Jesus voluntarily yielded up his life when he knew his suffering was completed. It also implies that the divine nature of Christ was active in his resurrection, he was able to 'take up' his life again.”

Seeing the dual roles of Jesus as both creator and savior helps us understand the bold assertion that, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (as Paul writes - 1 Timothy 2:5). In other words, Christianity is the only way to reconcile us to God.

Application Points
I cannot remember when I first made the connection that the creator also made the sacrifice that makes reconciliation possible, but now that I have, it may be one of the most awe-inspiring truths that I can think of. Each truth, the creator truth and the savior truth, when considered individually, are profound.
  • The truth of a creator? Sure.
  • Someone willing to die for what they believe in? Since Old Testament times, prophets have died for God's message in anticipation of the once and for all sacrifice.
When thinking of both at the same time, the uniqueness of Jesus and Christianity may be more clearly seen. Here are some conclusions I've come to:
  • Christianity is unique among all world views, “religious” or otherwise, because it makes a claim and backs it up supernaturally.
  • Christianity is also unique because its claims to truth are based on historical occurrences, especially the resurrection of Jesus. Either it happened or didn't happen.
  • Because the claims of Christ are based on history, we have an answer to our family, friends, and neighbors who object to the exclusive claims of Christ because they are intolerant, narrow minded, self righteous, and not respectful of others who believe otherwise. Of course the claims of Christ are intolerant, but more importantly, are the claims true? Then we can discuss why we are confident they are.
  • Like our friends, family, and neighbors who sincerely believe other world views and religions, we can sincerely believe in the claims and promises of Jesus with confidence that we are following the one true God.
It is my hope that as we consider Jesus as both Creator and Savior, we can see and trust the beautiful truth that we have a way to reconcile us to God. God has chosen to provide a way to save us from sin by reconciling ourselves to him, one way is enough.

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