The questions of “how does Christianity measure up to other world religions?” and/or “what’s so different about other world religions anyways?” always seem to be familiar inquiries for Christians either inside the church or outside the church. Recently, I was reading Who Do You Think You Are?, and one of its sections hits the nail on the head. Check it out:
“Man-made religion in its various forms seeks to have human works entirely or at least partially involved in salvation. In Buddhism, ceasing desire saves you. In Confucianism, education, self-reflection, self-cultivation, and living a moral life save you. In Hinduism, detaching from your separated ego and making an effort to live in unity with the divine save you. In Islam, living a life of good deeds saves you. In Orthodox Judaism, repentance, prayer, and working hard to obey the Law save you. In New Ageism, gaining a new perspective, through which you see how you’re connected to all things as a divine oneness, saves you. In Taoism, aligning yourself with the Tao to have peace and harmony saves you. What nearly all religions and spiritualities hold in common is the theme that, if there is a savior, it’s the person we see in the mirror every morning.
Christianity is also a religion of works—just not our own works. Only by the work of Jesus Christ are we saved. Only through faith in his sinless life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection can anyone be saved. Jesus saves us, which then results in our good works—what Jesus also often refers to as the “fruit” of his already accomplished work of salvation in us. This is a vastly different way of looking at the world than any other religion. Our works don’t justify us. Rather our works are an act of worship to a God who has already made us new.”*
This passage brought something significant to mind that I had never thought of before: in all religions except Christianity, you cannot know if you are saved while on earth.
In Buddhism, is there a definite level where your lack of ‘desire’ saves you? And what is it? Can you ever come to a point where you can be assured of your salvation based on how desire-free you are? If there is not an external standard, how do you measure it? And if you can’t measure it (externally), then how can you be assured (internally)?
In Confucianism and Hinduism, how much is enough? Is it merely existential ‘salvation’ on earth? Sure, education, morality, and success are generally good endeavors–but what is this salvation based upon? An inner feeling of happiness that may or may not be conferred to eternity? And if you assert so, then how do you know? And how do you know if you were ‘existentially’ happy enough to pass into paradise or that ‘better stage of life’? Compare yourself to others? That’s once again using internal, personal standards as a barometer for external realities, which cannot be true, especially since all people would have different (and self-advantageous) criteria.
In Islam and Orthodox Judaism, you don’t know if you are saved until after you die. All through life you strive harder and harder under the burden of “is this good enough?” without ever knowing if it is. Only looking to your own strength, ability, and fortune to produce ‘good enough’ moral results to save you into paradise. Even the morally best of the best cannot know if they are saved until they die, just as much as the morally worst of the worst. Those who think they are ‘not good enough’ are rendered to go about life with worry, anxiety, and despair, and those who think they are ‘good enough’ are rendered self-righteous with condescension towards others whom they compare more favorably to. Each extreme is a moral dead end. Inevitably, both beliefs produce moral compulsiveness to earn the love, favor, and blessing of God. Because their moral works determine their standing with God, they don’t know if they have been found on the ‘A’ side of the bell curve until the teacher passes the results out–on judgement day. Thus, all of life is spent depending, hoping, worrying, and placing the weight of your soul–not on God for salvation–but on yourself: your ability to keep the commands, your moral performance, your works. At that point, you become your own savior and God becomes nothing more than a heartless, pitiless gate-keeper. But in both cases, that’s so far from the truth.
And in New Ageism and Toaism, one must again look inward into his/her own ‘god-ness’ for assurance. But how do you know if you are saved? A feeling? You can’t place the weight of your assurance upon something that changes like a rollercoaster. Then, the issue of your assurance will become a blur, a constant change of direction, and a chaotic ambivalence; indeed, it just causes spiritual nausea–something, after all, to be avoided at all costs.
Yet, Christianity is–and implies–none of these things. The fact that salvation is not based upon people’s moral performance at all is why it is such ‘gospel’ (good news) in the first place. Instead of looking inwardly to our own ‘goodness’ and ‘god-ness’, we look outwardly at the cross and resurrection and know that the full price for our salvation has been paid. Therefore, by placing faith in Jesus’ full accomplishment of salvation for us, we are freed to love God and others–not out of compulsion to earn God’s acceptance/approval/love or for the sake of our moral resume into paradise, but simply because we have already been saved to do so.
To conclude with gospel-ridden implications:
Christians can’t boast in their works–for they did nothing to earn salvation–Christ did.
Christians can’t be self-righteous–because their good morals did nothing of contributing worth to save them at all, nor to gain an ounce of favor with God–rather, it is all given as a gift through Christ.
Christians can’t live in despair–because their sin has been already been atoned for by Christ. They are covered in his righteousness now, and their future performance can’t forfeit that standing. Our standing with God is not contingent upon our doing for God.
Christians can be assured of their salvation–because Christ is our assurance, we don’t look ‘in’ but ‘out’. In the resurrection, we see that Christ’s sacrifice for our sins was sufficient for justice. Thus, our salvation is as sure as Christ’s immovable position beside the Father in heaven.
Like the great hymn proclaims,
Behold Him there! The risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness
The great unchangeable I AM
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased with His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God
Christianity, therefore, is different from all other world religions.
*Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are?, p. 111