Type “world religions” into Google and here’s what you get: “There are twelve classic world religions …: Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism.” Simple enough.
Then type, “Which religion is right?” This answer is more complicated—“Each religion describes its ‘God’ or gods as the right one(s), and they are all different. By logic, either they are all false or only one is true.”
Note two of the points: (1) the God or gods of the religions are all different, and (2) only one God is true.
I agree that there is only one true God. Question 5 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Are there more Gods than one?” The answer is definite: “There is but one only, the living and true God.” This answer is based solely on Christianity’s authority, the Bible. In Isaiah 44:6, God says, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” Many other Bible verses say the same.
I believe this truth not only because it’s in the Bible, but because the God of the Bible and of biblical Christianity is unique. This is where I take exception with the point that the God or gods of the religions are all different.
Except for Christianity, all world religions, though distinct, are actually not that different from each other.* Their writings, leaders, gods, and message all share the same characteristic—they are man-centered. Their gods are fickle, their writings lack authority, their leaders are fallible, and their message throws man upon himself for answers. Christianity, in contrast, is completely different from all other religions: its God is holy, its Scripture is infallible, its leader is divine, and, most importantly, its message points man away from himself to an all-sufficient Saviour, Jesus Christ. Theologically this is known as grace, and this is what makes Christianity unique!
When we talk about grace, we are speaking of the way God treats people in relation to eternal matters. In other words, why does God accept or reject men when they die? Does He accept them for the goodness that is in them? Does He accept them for the good they have done? Or does He accept them on the basis of grace alone?
The formal definition of grace is “the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor of God.” This means that God favors man with forgiveness and salvation apart from anything that man does, apart from any effort, work, or merit. Grace is totally free.
Man cannot earn his salvation; God had to do that on his behalf. The message of grace is that God came in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, and earned salvation by His obedience to God’s law as the believer’s substitute. Christ did this because the believer could not earn his own salvation since all man’s righteousnesses are “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Grace is contrary to man’s common sense. It is not what man expects. As the psalmist says, “[God] hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). We naturally expect the opposite to be true. We expect to be treated the way we deserve to be treated; we expect to be punished for our sins and iniquities. The idea of grace insults our deepest sense of justice and righteousness. Grace cannot be true, we say. But it is.
Grace is about the sinner getting what he does not deserve—heaven, and not getting what he does deserve—hell. Grace is the unmerited favor of God.
According to Romans 6:23 the only thing we’ve earned is death. Death is all we can legally claim as ours; it is what we have earned by our sin. But grace says that even though we deserve death, if we believe the gospel, we will be given eternal life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So biblical Christianity offers grace. What do all the other religions offer? Works. Do some research on the major leaders of the world religions to see whether any of them had grace or offered it. Look at Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism in Iran; Buddha from India; Laozi, the founder of Taoism in China; Confucius from China; Mohammed from Arabia; Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism in India; and Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í faith—you will find that not one had or offered grace. All of these men—from the sixth century up through the nineteenth century—offered something utterly different from Christ. They offered works, self-merit!
Even pseudo-Christian religions reject grace. The Roman Catholic Church says, “We must perform good works. We must truly merit Heaven” (Pocket Catechism, St. Joseph edition, question 67). Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witness cults say the same. Sadly, they see religion itself as the means of gaining the acceptance of God. Yet here again biblical Christianity is different.
The apostle Paul reminded Titus that God’s favor is obtained “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy” (Titus 3:5). That’s grace—the undeserved favor of God. Paul describes how undeserving any person is in light of God’s favor: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us“ (Romans 5:8.)
But grace is not just a doctrine or concept; it is a person. Grace is the doctrine of God’s unearned favor, but grace is also Jesus Christ. The Bible says that grace “came by [through] Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Christ was the one who merited, earned, and deserved the favor of God on behalf of all those who trust Him. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ then you have grace.
One way to think about grace is to use the acronym GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. God’s riches include justification, forgiveness, strength, help, and many other things. These all belong to those who belong to Christ by grace through faith. Is it any wonder the hymn writer joyously wrote, “Saved by grace alone! This is all my plea: Jesus died for sinful men, and Jesus died for me”?
Think about it: Jesus died for sinful men, and Jesus died for me! What a testimony! No follower of any other religious leader can say anything like it. When they must answer to God in the last day they will be speechless and lost.
What sets Christ and biblical Christianity apart from all the other religions of the world? Grace! You might have religion, but do you have grace?
*Note: I am broadening the discussion here to the religions, not just their God or gods.
Rev. David McClelland</strong> is the minister of Grace FPC in Litchfield, New Hampshire, and Rev. David DiCanio is a minister-at-large currently serving in Liberia.