Are all religions basically the same?

There are many who believe that all religions are basically the same.

Many people feel this way: They say, “When you get right down to it, when you strip away all the surface level differences, when you get them down to their essentials, all religions basically teach the same thing.  So it doesn’t matter which one that you believe.  All spiritual paths, in other words, lead up the mountain to God in one way or the other. and if you strip them down to their essentials they all teach the brotherhood and the sisterhood of men and women and the universal Fatherhood of God.”

And yet Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” And in Acts 4:12 Peter echos the same premise: “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” These statements take Christianity and put it in a class all by itself.  The uniqueness of Christianity is rooted in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.  He is unlike any other religious leader who ever walked the planet.  Listen to the difference between what other religious leaders say and what Jesus says. 

Other religious leaders say, “Follow me and I will show you how to find the truth.”

Jesus says, “I am the truth.”

Other religious leaders say, “follow me and I’ll show you the way to salvation.”

Jesus says, “I am the way to eternal life.”

Other religious leaders say, “follow me and I’ll show you how you can become enlightened.”

But Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”

Other religious leaders say, “follow me and I’ll show you many doors that lead to God.”

But Jesus said, “I am the door.”

Other religious leaders say, “Follow me and I’ll show you how you can find spiritual nourishment.”

But Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

Then Jesus said, “So, follow Me.” 

You see the difference?  For a long time people tried to harmonize, find commonality between the different religions of the world.  But there are drastic and irreconcilable differences between Christianity on the one hand and all other belief systems on the other hand. 

A study of the world religions will reveal that all religions, other than Christianity, are basically based on the idea of people doing something through their struggling and through their striving to somehow earn the good favor of God.  You’ve got to use a Tibetan prayer wheel or you’ve got to go on pilgrimages or you’ve got to give alms to the poor or you’ve got to avoid eating certain foods or you have to pray in a certain way or you have to go through a series of reincarnations.  They are all attempts of people to reach out to God. 

But Jesus Christ is God’s attempt to reach out to people.  Jesus taught the opposite of what these other world religions taught.  He said that nobody could earn their way into heaven so you might as well stop trying.  He said two things that are very consistent with what we know to be true.  First, we’re all guilty of wrongdoing.  And you know that’s true.  Not one person here would claim they’re perfect.  We know how true that is.  Everybody “falls short.”  Then Jesus said, our wrongdoing separates us from God.  we know from our experience that that’s true, too.  has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve felt that God is distant, detached from you?  Of course. We’ve all felt that. Why? Because our wrongdoing has created a gulf, a separation between us and God.  And because God, by His nature, is a righteous judge, our wrongdoing must be paid for. 

But out of his love for us, Jesus Christ voluntarily offered to be our substitute, to pay the penalty for the sin that we deserve so that we wouldn’t have to. And when we receive his sacrifice on our behalf, then we become reconciled with God. That’s what Christianity says. 

There’s a difference between good works and grace.  All other religions are spelled “DO”.  Why?  Because they all fundamentally teach that people have to do something, some sort of religious ritual, some sort of way to make themselves morally ok to try to please God.  The problem is nobody knows how many good things they have to do in order to please God.  It’s like you are a sales person and your boss comes to you and says, “I’m going to fire you unless you meet your quota but I’m not going to tell you what your quota is.”  So you go out and sell, sell, sell because you don’t know how much you have to do to meet that quota.  It’s the same thing.  Every other world religion says you’ve got to do something to make yourself acceptable to God, but you never know how much you have to do.

Christianity, on the other hand, says you can never do enough to earn your way into heaven.  Christianity is spelled “DONE” – it’s done!  Jesus Christ has done what we could never do.  He lived the perfect sinless life and He went to the cross to pay for the sins of the world.  And remember what He said just before He died on the cross.  He said, “It’s done.  It’s finished.  The sins of the world are paid for.”  And all that’s left for you is to apply that to your life, to receive His free gift of forgiveness and grace and mercy.

We can really see the distinction between “Do” and “Done” when you look at the stories told by various religions.  In fact, there’s a story that’s told in Buddhist literature that’s very similar to the story Jesus tells about the prodigal son.  At least they start out very similar.  In both the stories, young men kind of rebel against their father and they go off to a distant land on their own and then everything sort of falls apart for them and then they decide they want to come home and be reconciled with their fathers.  They both start out the same.  But in the Buddhist story the young man comes home and what does the father do?  He forces him to pay the penalty for his past misdeeds by spending years in servitude.  But what happens in the Christian story?  The prodigal son comes home and instead of forcing him to work off his past misdeeds, the father opens his arms and gives him unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness and grace and he embraces him and he enfolds him.  There’s a difference.

The Bible says in Titus 3:5, “God saved us.  it was not because of any good works that we ourselves had done but because of His own mercy that He saved us.”  That’s not to say that Christians don’t do good works.  They do, but it’s not to try to make themselves right with God.  It’s after they have received this free gift of God’s grace that they say, “I can’t believe that God loves the likes of me!” And they’re so overwhelmed by gratitude of what God has done that it’s very natural for them to express that love of God toward other people by doing good things.  Now they’re indwelled by the power of God in order to achieve that.  So it’s not that Christians don’t believe in doing good deeds but it’s not the way in which they become reconciled with God.  That is a freely offered gift of grace.

So other religions are irreconcilable with Christianity in terms of how you become reconciled with God.  And there’s also other major differences as well.

Christianity says there is one God, eternally existing in three persons – the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Hinduism says everything is God.  you’re god and I’m god, the tree is god, the house is god.  Islam denies that Jesus was God.  Islam denies Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  Buddha was non-committal about the idea of God.  he wasn’t sure – he was kind of agnostic.  He wasn’t sure if God existed or not. 

So you can see those beliefs are at odds with each other.  They can’t all be true at the same time.  They contradict each other.  So all religions are not basically the same.

And it makes sense when you think about it.  It would be illogical for God to come over to one side of the world and say, “Here’s who I am.  I am one God.  I am a good God.  I eternally exist in three persons.  This is how you come to Me.”  But then He goes to the other side of the world and says, “Forget all that!  I’m not one God.  I’m millions of gods.  And I’m not a personal God, I’m an impersonal God.  I’m a good god but I’m also a bad god.  You don’t become reconciled through grace.  You have to earn it and go through reincarnation.”  And then you go to another part of the world, “Forget those two things.  I’ll tell you something different.  I’m Allah and this is what you need.”  It wouldn’t make sense.  God would be schizophrenic if He did that.  Then we’d all be in trouble if God were schizophrenic.  What would make sense is if God would provide a path for us to follow for us in finding Him.  And He would tell us about that path in an absolutely extraordinary way.  Which He did.  It’s called Christmas.  It’s called the incarnation – God becoming man that He might pay the penalty for our sins, find out exactly what He is like and we might spend eternity with Him. 

So it does matter which path you follow in your spiritual journey.  Jesus’ words dispel the myth that all paths lead to God.

(Adapted from a document by Lee Strobel, author of Case For Faith )

Coming next, “Do all religions have equal claims to the truth?”  


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