Greg was a freshman in college. He went home for spring break and on Sunday morning went to worship at the church he attended while growing up. After the service he stayed to talk to the pastor.
“Pastor Mike,” Greg said, “I am not so sure any more about much of what I learned from you in confirmation class.”
“Oh really?” the pastor replied. “Tell me more.”
“You always taught us that Christianity was the one, true faith, and how everyone should believe in Jesus,” Greg said. “But I am taking a class on world religions and it is becoming clear to me that all religions say pretty much the same thing.”
“Tell me more,” Pastor Mike said. “Perhaps I’ve missed something.”
“Well, as you know,” Greg continued, “Christianity is primarily about loving your neighbor, obeying the Ten Commandments, and following the Golden Rule. But what I have been learning is that every religion has a moral code, and they all say the same things—don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, worship God, love your neighbor, and all the rest. There is nothing unique about Christianity’s moral code.”
“I agree with you completely,” said Pastor Mike. “Was there anything else you were wondering about?”
Greg looked bewildered. “What?” he said. “You agree with me?”
“I certainly do,” replied the pastor. “No religion, and no culture for that matter, would last very long without such a moral code. How could it? Families would disintegrate, no one could be trusted, no one’s property would be safe, and people would end up killing each other in order to survive. Society would be reduced to ‘survival of the fittest,’ just like in the animal kingdom. The Ten Commandments are just the basic rules necessary for life together. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians, all contain many of the same rules. Now, I do believe Christianity has a superior moral code. You don’t find much in the other religions about loving, forgiving, and praying for your enemies; and you learn much more about serving those in need from the Bible than anywhere else. But I’ll agree, Greg, there is nothing unique about the Christianity’s basic moral code.”
“Why, then, is there all this fuss about having to believe in Jesus?” Greg asked. “Why do we send missionaries all over the world to tell people about Jesus if they already have a good enough religion?”
“Oh,” said Pastor Mike, “are we talking about Jesus now? I thought we were talking about morality.”
“Isn’t it all the same?” Greg asked. “Didn’t Jesus say he was here to uphold the Law, and wasn’t he always telling people to ‘go and sin no more.’?”
“That’s right,” said the pastor, “but isn’t there anything else you remember about Jesus from confirmation? I will give you a hint. Next Sunday is Easter.”
“Well, yes,” Greg said, “Jesus rose from the dead, but…”
“But what?” asked Pastor Mike. “Think about what you just said: He rose from the dead. You said there was nothing unique about Christianity’s moral code. But there is much more to our faith than ethics. And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is unique. Have you ever seen anything like it? What’s more, have you run across anything like that in your study of the world’s religions? Islam can be traced back to Mohammed, but any Muslim will tell you that Mohammed died and stayed dead, and if possible, they will make a pilgrimage to his tomb. And Buddha never claimed to be able to rise from the dead, nor did Confucius or Moses or any other religious leader return from the dead. Have you learned in your world religion class of any other resurrected leaders?”
“No, I guess not,” replied Greg.
Pastor Mike continued. “Greg, I’m not a Christian because of the Ten Commandments. I can get rules and laws anywhere. So of course, all the religions of the world have that part of the truth. But Jesus offered much more. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins—our failure to keep the rules—and then he rose from the dead to defeat death and offer us eternal life. That is what we need most; not more rules. And that part we could never manage on our own. We can obey rules– at least some of them, some of the time. But we can’t raise the dead, and we can’t prevent our own death. If you want to know about Christianity, you don’t start with the commandments; you start with Jesus and his death and resurrection. There is the heart and soul of our faith. That is what Jesus told his disciples to tell the whole world about. There is much in every religion that is true and good. But only in the person of Jesus of Nazareth did God visit his creation, die for the sins of all humanity, and then rise from the dead offering eternal life to all who would believe in him. No other religion has anything like that.”
Greg thought for a moment, and then said, “Why, then, did you make us memorize the commandments?”
“Because we need that, too, and so does everyone in the whole world,” said Pastor Mike. The commandments are not the most important part of the Christian faith, but they are important. Yes, Jesus offers resurrection from the dead and life in heaven forever. But until then we have to live together here on this earth and get along now in this life. Because our obedience will always be far from perfect, this world will always be a sad and troubled place. It was on the cross that Jesus somehow took all that sin and sadness upon himself and died for it all. But when he rose from the dead, he promised that we too would one day be freed from sin and death. Obey the rules, yes, but most of all, believe in Jesus. There is no one else like him.”
John 6:68-69 — Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Acts 4:11-12 — Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Romans 10:9 — If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.
–Ancient Jesus prayer