(The post below is an illustration I used recently in an ongoing, excellent, back-and-forth conversation I have been having with a Muslim reader via responses to this blog. I thought it worthy of its own post and have modified it.)
I believe there are really only 2 religions – 2 religious belief systems – in the world. Sounds crazy, right? No, I truly believe there are just 2.
In the first religious belief system, we can use the illustration of a ladder extending from earth to Heaven.
Humanity attempts to “climb the ladder” to Heaven by right beliefs, good intentions, obedience to all kinds of rules, and the faithful practice of all kinds of rituals. The adherents of this religious belief system believes if they can just do enough, they can tip the divine scales and God will let them into Heaven. This religious system is called “good works.” They might call themselves “Buddhists” (using the 8-fold path of enlightenment) or “Hindus” (reincarnation – coming back over an over again in some new form), or something else. They might call themselves “Muslims” (practicing the 5 pillars, attendance at the mosque, etc.) or “Christians” (going faithfully to “church,” practicing the “Golden Rule,” singing in the choir, knowing the Bible, etc.). The question about all of these people is, “What – or who – are they counting on to gain Heaven when they die?” Essentially, if they are trying to “climb the ladder” to Heaven by their good deeds, they are counting upon themselves. They are counting on their own performance and spiritual achievements – in essence, their own goodness.
In the second religious belief system, we can also use the illustration of a ladder between earth and Heaven. But in this faith system, God in Heaven looks down upon humanity and sees that they cannot “climb the ladder” and get to Him. None of them can. All are helpless, all are hoplessly lost, and all are in need of rescue. All are in deep shame and in need of their honor to be restored. So God – oh yes, He is truly Most Merciful and Most Compassionate – sends His mercy and compassion down the ladder through His prophets. He does this especially and uniquely through Jesus – Isa Al Masih. The prophet Isa – spotless and sinless – takes upon himself the sins and shame of the whole world through the voluntary sacrifice of his life. He provides restored relationship with God in Heaven, forgiveness of sins, and the honor man needs and craves. This is indeed Good News but. . .there is a big IF. Mankind must believe in Isa – who he is and what he has done – and follow him to the end. This religious belief system is not called “Christianity.” It is called “grace.” Grace is simply receiving (accepting) by faith a gift that cannot be earned. In this case, the gift is the gift of forgiveness and righteousness (right standing) before God and the resulting gift of eternal life in Heaven.
2 religious belief systems:
good works and grace.
What do you think?
(Postcript: I want to emphasize over and over again that I am not trying to get any of my Muslim readers to convert to “Christianity” or to become “Christians” through this blog. Why? Because Jesus didn’t! He simply used all kinds of terms to indicate that he himself is the ladder to Heaven. All I want – all I passionately want – is for all people to see Jesus – Isa Al Masih – for who he is, and to put their complete trust in him to live forever in Heaven with God who certainly is Most Merciful and Most Compassionate.)