Here is a comment that a reader named Kyle left recently in response to the most popular post on this blog: “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?”
Lee, I found your article tickled the ears of culture but was vastly void of truth. By Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me”… he’s making an absolute truth statement. Therefore anything that contradicts his statement is by definition false. There is one God. One Lord. One Savior by which man is saved. No other religion can save its followers, forgive sins, and offer hope for today and eternity. Our culture will scream, “Offensive! How dare Christians claim Jesus is the only way to God.” But Jesus himself said it. For Christians not to profess this truth is to not trust in Jesus at all. Therefore, not all religions are true or lead to God. In fact, any religion that is contrary to the claims of Jesus (his words, not mine) is false. Forget religions. It’s who you say Jesus is that matters. Living a “good and kind life” can make things pleasant for today but that does nothing for your eternal standing once our time on earth is done. I would think satan is quite pleased we have more religions than we can count.
Later that day, Kyle submitted this Spiritual Conundrum to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:
I’m confused, and it’s actually from reading your posts and responses to people. You said you’re a christian and actually believe that salvation and heaven are only possible through Jesus Christ. Yet, you also say that every religion is right in its own way and leads people to the same God. Isn’t that completely hypocritical of your own faith? How in the world are all religions right and serving the same God?
That got me to thinking.
Yes, Kyle and hundreds of millions of other Christians are confused.
They’re confused because their preachers have drilled into their heads a false “Christianity” that is so vastly void of truth that they can’t even read and understand the Bible’s own plain words about who is saved, and how.
(Photo credit: Linda Hedenljung)
Today’s “Christianity” is a vast void of truth
What passes for Christian doctrine in the bulk of Christian denominations today bears little resemblance to what Jesus, and his apostles after him, taught in the New Testament. Over the centuries, institutional Christianity has substituted human-invented doctrines for the teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles, resulting in a vast void of truth in Christianity.
Because of this vast void of truth, hundreds of millions of Christians are confused when they encounter teachings based on what the Bible actually does teach.
And yes, I do think Satan is quite pleased that now, 2,000 years after Christ, Christianity itself is divided into more sects and denominations than you can count—and most of them are teaching doctrines that neither Jesus Christ nor any of his apostles would have recognized.
We can’t sort out in a single article all of the fallacies and misunderstandings that have taken Christianity hostage and morphed it into an entirely different religion than the one Jesus taught and demonstrated in his life. But we can look at how today’s Christianity got so far off track that there is very little genuine truth left in it. And then we can take up some of Kyle’s specific issues.
If you, our readers, find articles like this one helpful, we’ll make them into an occasional series responding to common Christian misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Bible.
Today’s Christianity is not Jesus’ Christianity
True fact: Most of what today passes as basic Christian doctrine originated centuries after Jesus walked this earth. In particular, the key doctrines about salvation, both in Catholicism and in Protestantism, were not developed until 1,000 to 1,500 years after Jesus instructed his disciples and sent them out to preach the Good News.
Jesus never heard of most of the doctrines that are today preached as “Christianity,” because they didn’t even exist yet. And he certainly never preached them.
A Trinity of Persons? That wasn’t invented until two or three centuries after Christ. Yet it is the fundamental doctrine of God in all three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
Jesus suffering crucifixion in order to satisfy God’s wrath at human sin? That one took 1,000 years to come up with. And it is the reigning doctrine of salvation in Catholicism today.
Salvation by faith alone? Jesus paying the penalty for our sins? These didn’t show up until 1,500 years after Christ. And together they form the reigning doctrine of salvation in Protestantism today.
None of these doctrines are taught in the Bible. For more on this, see: “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the articles linked from it.
And yet, these are the doctrines that form the core of the doctrines of institutional Christianity today.
In short, Christianity as it exists today has long since abandoned not only the fundamental teachings of the Bible, but also the Christian faith that the earliest Christians lived by. And what Catholicism and Protestantism teach about how we are saved was not part of Christianity for the first thousand or more years of its existence.
Yet these johnny-come-lately dogmas are the doctrines that most Christian churches insist we must believe in if we wish to be saved.
In effect, they are saying that what Christians believed for the first thousand years of Christianity about how we are saved was wrong.
But more importantly, they are saying that what the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Bible as a whole teach about how we are saved is wrong.
What the Bible really teaches about who is saved
Protestants, in particular, quote various Bible verses, mostly from Paul’s letters, to support their notion that we are saved by faith alone, and that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. But the fact of the matter is that neither Paul nor anyone else in the Bible ever said these things. In fact James specifically denied that we are saved by faith alone:
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24, italics added)
This is the only place in the entire Bible where “faith alone” is even mentioned. And in that one place, it is specifically rejected.
We really don’t have to quibble about this. Jesus, Paul, and the other teachers in the Bible make crystal clear statements about who goes to eternal life (i.e., is saved), and who does not. And their words apply not only to Christians, but to people of all religions.
First, here is Jesus’ own clearest statement about who is saved and who is not:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31–46, italics added)
Here Jesus teaches us plainly that people who do good deeds for their fellow human beings in need will be saved, while people who don’t will not be saved. And he makes it very clear that this applies to everyone on earth (“all the nations”), not just to Christians.
The apostle Paul also explains how non-Christians are saved:
But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:5–16, italics added)
Jews and “Greeks” (meaning pagan polytheists) are not Christians. “Gentiles” as Paul uses the term here are not Christians. Yet Paul explains how they, too, will be judged for eternal life or death on the day of judgment. And he says that they will all be judged by God, through Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul says that people of all religions who do good will be saved by God through Jesus Christ.
And Paul says all of this before he makes his famous statements about how Christians are saved by faith apart from the Law—meaning without having to keep the Jewish ritual laws of circumcision, animal sacrifice, ceremonial purification, and so on, as taught in the Law of Moses contained in the first five books of the Bible.
Today’s Christianity claims that only Christians are saved.
The Bible teaches just the opposite.
Moving to the book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, we read:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. . . .
Blessed are those who do his commandments, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 21:22–27; 22:14–15)
Christians generally believe that the New Jerusalem is a depiction of a future kingdom of God where those who are saved will live. And here it says that its gates will always be open to people from the nations who bring glory and honor to it, but that no one who does evil things and practices falsehood will enter it. In other words, people of all religions will enter the city or not according to the quality of their character and their life.
These are some of the clearest statements in the entire New Testament about who is saved and who is not. They come from Jesus Christ himself, from the apostle Paul, and from the book of Revelation, which most Christians believe was written by the apostle John—one of Jesus’ inner circle of followers.
These passages say in very clear language that people of all nations and all religions are saved by how they live, not just by what they believe.
Any doctrine that says anything else is accusing Jesus, Paul, John, and all the rest of the teachers in the Bible of speaking falsehoods.
And in case you’re wondering, the Old Testament teaches the very same thing. For example:
But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. (Ezekiel 18:21–24)
There are many, many more passages like these ones throughout the entire Bible.
Today’s Christianity has departed from true Christianity
Protestants, in particular, ignore and deny all of these plain teachings of the Bible in favor of two doctrines that the Bible never teaches anywhere—and in fact specifically denies:
- We are justified, or saved, by faith alone.
- Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
The Bible simply doesn’t say these things. They were originated by people such as Martin Luther and John Calvin 1,500 years after the last books of the Bible were written. Yet Protestants have made justification by faith alone and penal substitution their central doctrines of salvation.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has adopted as its primary doctrine of salvation the satisfaction theory of atonement originated by Anselm of Canterbury 1,000 years after the last books of the Bible were written. This is the doctrine that says that Jesus suffered crucifixion in order to satisfy God’s wrath at human sin. In Anselm’s book Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became a Man”), published late in the eleventh century, Anselm sought to establish this new satisfaction theory based largely on human reason rather than on the Bible. That’s because the Bible doesn’t actually teach any such doctrine. It is a human invention.
Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement led, five hundred years later, to the Protestant doctrine of penal substitution: the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
We can point to the exact times in history when these new doctrines about salvation that are at the core of traditional Christianity originated, and we can point to the specific human beings who invented them.
In adopting these human-invented doctrines, both Catholicism and Protestantism have largely abandoned the doctrines about redemption and salvation that were held to for the first thousand years of Christianity: the ransom theory of atonement and Christus Victor.
Orthodox Christianity still holds to some of the older doctrines about redemption and salvation. But like Catholicism and Protestantism, it also holds to the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, which is not taught in the Bible, but was first promulgated as official Christian doctrine by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and was more clearly formulated in the Athanasian Creed a century or two later.
In short, the bulk of Christianity today has long since abandoned both what the Bible teaches about salvation and what Christians believed about salvation for the first millennium of Christianity.
As a result, what we have today is a form of “Christianity” that is vastly void of truth.
The basics of Christian belief must be stated plainly in the Bible
That’s why traditional Christians such as Kyle are so confused when they read here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life that Jesus is the only means of salvation and that people of all religions are saved if they live a good life according to their conscience and their beliefs.
Unlike the doctrines that reign in present-day Christianity, the Bible actually does teach both of these things. And these two principles are not at all contradictory or confusing once you hear and understand what the Bible actually teaches about God, salvation, and eternal life.
For a start, please see: “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” and the articles linked from it.
Here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, we believe that for a teaching to be considered basic or fundamental to Christianity, it must be stated in the plain words of the Bible itself. If it’s not stated in the Bible’s own words, it may still be true, but it cannot be considered a key, fundamental teaching of Christianity.
Today’s Christianity takes as its fundamentals doctrines that were formulated by human beings centuries after the Bible was written. None of these key doctrines of today’s Christianity are stated in the Bible’s own plain words.
In short, today’s Christianity has vastly departed from the plain teachings of the Bible.
That’s why it is vastly void of truth.
Now let’s get to some of Kyle’s particular issues.
“No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Kyle quotes Jesus’ words in John 14:6:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Kyle then goes on to say that no other religion can save its followers.
But that’s not what Jesus said.
It is critically important to read exactly what Jesus said, not adding, subtracting, or substituting any words. Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father except through Christianity.” He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Christianity is not Jesus. Christianity does not save people. Jesus saves people. And he doesn’t need our human-organized, human-run Christian churches in order to do that.
True fact: The Bible never says, “Only Christians are saved.” It couldn’t possibly have said that, because when the New Testament was written, Christianity did not yet exist as a religion.
In fact, as shown above, the Bible is very clear and specific about how non-Christians are saved: through living a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings according to their conscience and their beliefs. Anything that conflicts with this plain teaching of the Bible is false. Anything that conflicts with this plain teaching is a misunderstanding of what Jesus, Paul, James, John, and all the rest of the Bible teach.
Back to John 14:6, notice what Jesus did not say.
- Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father except by believing in me.”
- Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father except by being Christian.”
- Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father if they belong to any religion other than Christianity.”
What he did say is that those who come to the Father, meaning the God and Creator of the universe, do it through Jesus. Traditional Christians have added to Jesus’ words by saying that no can come to the Father, and be saved, except by believing in Jesus, by belonging to the Christian church, and so on.
That’s simply not what Jesus said in John 14:6. For more on what he did say, and what it means, please see this article: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”
It is not a religion or a belief that saves us. It is Jesus who saves us. And Jesus is perfectly capable of saving not only Christians, but people of every religion all around the world—and even people who have no particular religion at all.
“It’s who you say Jesus is that matters.”
The common Christian idea that, as Kyle says, “It’s who you say Jesus is that matters” comes especially from this passage:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:13–17)
Jesus goes on to say that he will build his church on the rock of this belief (not on Peter, a mere human being): the belief that he, Jesus, is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (see Matthew 16:18–20).
Once again, let’s pay attention to exactly what Jesus says.
- He does not say, “It’s who you say I am that matters.”
- He does not say, “Only those who say this will be saved.”
- He does not say, “Living a good and kind life doesn’t matter.”
- He does not say, “Your eternal standing is based on who you say I am.”
Rather, he affirms Peter’s statement that he (Jesus) is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and says that this is the teaching upon which he will build his church.
In other words, he says that a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God will be the foundation of Christianity. And that is precisely what happened: Christianity distinguished itself from Judaism—and from every other religion—by its belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.
So one more time, it is important to pay attention to exactly what Jesus said, and not to add or subtract words from it.
Jesus did not say, “No one outside my church will be saved.” He said, “I will build my church upon the belief that I (Jesus) am the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
As shown above, in other places Jesus teaches us how people of all nations and religions will be saved. Here he teaches that for those who are Christian, saying and believing that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God is the foundation stone of their religion and faith. Christians who deny these things cannot be saved because they are rejecting their God.
“Satan is quite pleased that we have more religions than we can count”
Kyle’s comment concludes with, “I would think satan is quite pleased we have more religions than we can count.”
I’m not sure where Kyle gets this. As quoted above, in Romans 2:5–16 Paul tells us how Jews and pagan polytheists (“Greeks”) are saved.
Is Satan pleased that God, through Jesus, is able to save people of all religions, as the Bible teaches?
I don’t think so.
In fact, I think Satan gnashes his teeth when he sees that Jesus has the power to save all people everywhere who live according to their beliefs and their conscience, and who do good deeds of love and kindness for their fellow human beings, just as Jesus, Paul, and everyone else in the Bible taught.
What Satan is quite pleased about, I think, is that over the centuries he has managed to get Christianity so off-track and confused in its doctrines that it ignores these powerful, universal teachings of salvation taught plainly in the Bible.
I think Satan is quite pleased at having shunted Christianity far away from the broad, universal religion of loving God and loving the neighbor that Jesus taught, and turned it into a petty, exclusive club in which everyone who belongs to our church is saved, whereas everyone who belongs to any other church is damned to eternal torment in hell.
That’s what I think Satan is quite pleased about.
But the Lord God Jesus Christ is far more powerful than Satan.
The Lord God Jesus Christ is God of all the universe, of all the earth, and of all the people who live on earth.
The Lord God Jesus Christ is able to save people from every religion if only they love God, love their neighbor, and live a good life of kindness and service to their fellow human beings according to their conscience and their faith.
That’s what really gets Satan’s goat!
Oh, and about Satan, please see: “Is there Really a Devil? Why??”
How are all the world’s religions right?
So yes, I am a Christian. Ardently so.
And yes, I believe that every religion is right in its own way, and leads people to the same God.
That’s because I pay attention to what the Bible itself says, in its own words.
The Bible tells us in its own plain words how people of all religions are saved, and that it is Jesus Christ who does the saving, no matter what people’s religion is.
All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)
Not some power. All power.
Not power over only some of the earth, but power over all the earth.
Not power only to bring only some people (Christians) to heaven, but power to bring all people to heaven if they love God as they understand God, love their neighbor, and live according to their conscience.
Jesus has all power in heaven and on earth. That means Jesus is not limited to our human-organized Christian churches in his saving power. Jesus’ saving power extends to everyone on earth.
The Bible tells us in many places (some of which I quoted above) exactly how Jesus does this. See especially the quote from Romans 2:5–16, where the Bible explicitly states how God, through Jesus, saves Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles—all of whom are non-Christians, and none of whom believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Christian churches and preachers that teach otherwise are dead wrong. And they are dead wrong because they are ignoring and contradicting the plain, clear teachings of the Bible itself.
So how are all of the world’s religions right?
Here are the teachings that Jesus said are basic to all the rest:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34–40)
In short, loving God and loving the neighbor is the heart of all religion and of all religious faith and practice. Every legitimate religion tells its people that they must love their neighbor, serve their neighbor, and do good deeds for their neighbor because that’s what God, who rules all, commands us to do. They say this in various ways, according to their differences in history and culture.
All of the world’s religions are right in their own way because all of the world’s religions teach the same fundamentals that Jesus Christ taught in the Bible. They differ on doctrines and details. But if you look deeply enough, you will see that they all agree about the most basic commandments—on which, Jesus says, all the rest depend.
Jesus has the power to save people of all religions
That’s why Jesus has the power to save people of all religions. Because God has made sure that people of all religions have the basic teachings they need to love God above all, and to love their neighbor as themselves.
And if all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ, as the Bible says, then Jesus Christ is the God of all the earth, and of all the religions. Jesus has the power to save people of every nation, religion, and culture even if some of their beliefs may be faulty and wrong.
And yes, this applies to Christians as well—even though today’s Christianity is vastly void of truth.
Christians who pay attention to what Jesus himself taught in the Bible about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves will be saved. And they will be saved regardless of the false, non-Biblical doctrines that their preachers have drilled into their heads.
This is the beautiful teaching of Jesus Christ.
This article is a response to a comment and a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
For further reading:
- The Evangelicals are Right: The World IS Coming to an End!
- Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!
- “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
- Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach
- Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
- If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
- The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus