Monday, 21 February 2011

What about Other Religions? John 3:1-15

Does truth matter? Does it matter what if you believe in is true or false, or is it more important to believe in it sincerely?

They are fairly philosophical questions, but they are ones which inform much of the debate which goes on around this whole issue of living in a multi-faith society. Often you will hear people describe different religions as different paths up the same mountain, the idea being they all eventually make it to God, therefore it doesn’t matter what you believe just as long as you believe it sincerely.

The problem is that’s fine as a theory but falls down when put to the test in the real world. Imagine I sincerely believe that it is ok to drive at 70mph in a 30 zone. Does my sincerely held belief make it right or make it true? Will my sincerely belief convince the police who has just clocked me with his speed gun that it’s ok, or the magistrate who is deciding whether to revoke my driving licence. No, sincerity doesn’t matter, truth matters, it is a thirst mile an hour limit whether I sincerely believe otherwise or not.

Or what about a more serious historical example, Hitler sincerely believed he was right when he exterminated the Jews, does that make his view ok? Does that affect history’s view of his actions? No it doesn’t!

Michael Green wrote “You never hear it said when people are talking about the horrors of Auschtiz or Belsen. Hitler was undoubtedly sincere in his hatred of the Jewish people, but everyone would say he was wrong.”

Sincerity is not enough, it does not make something right or true. Believing the truth matters and that applies no less to faith than it does to speed limits or genocide.

Truth not sincerity matters
Turn to John 3:1-15 where we see Jesus lovingly yet honestly deal with someone who sincerely has a faith but in something that will not lead him to see God. Read Passage

What does the passage tell us about Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, he comes secretly to Jesus because he wants to know who Jesus is. Nicodemus is an extremely intelligent, articulate and devout man who has dedicated his life to his faith and to teaching it to others. If any path leads to God surely his does, after all look how sincere he is in his beliefs.

But Jesus response to him is blunt (3)"Very truly I tell you, no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Do you see what Jesus is saying, you may be sincere, you may be intelligent, you may be a religious leaders Nicodemus but none of that matters unless you sincerely believe in the right thing. And the consequences of not of belief are the most important ever, unless you believe in the right thing you will not see the kingdom of God, you will not live forever in a right relationship with God.

Truth matters, putting your faith in the right thing matters, it is not that any faith will do. And Jesus tells Nicodemus he must, must, be born again.

How can I be born again?
We live in a spiritual pick’n’mix age when people pick what they want and like from different religions and combine it and think that is fine, that as long as they are spiritual that is ok, just another way up the mountain. But Jesus is saying there is only one way, and no other way will do. In fact Jesus is telling Nicodemus he is spiritually dead unless he is born again, but what does that mean?

Jesus explains what it means to be born again in (5)using different terms so Nicodemus can understand, lovingly using Old Testament words that Nicodemus would be familiar with so he would understand. How does he describe it? Being born of water and the Spirit.

Turn to Ezekiel 36:25-27. Israel is in exile, judged for its sin and idolatry, but God promises that he isn’t finished with them, and do you notice in these verses who is acting? God, “I will…take you…gather you…sprinkle clean water on you…”. God sprinkles them to cleanse them – ritually done after contact with a dead body, and he gives them a new heart and puts his spirit in them.

God will save his people, he will cleanse them from their sin and enable them to live for him. John 3:14-15 Jesus is telling Nicodemus how God will do that it is through faith in Jesus death for us at the cross.

Imagine that I dropped down dead right now? What would you do? Hopefully you’d check for a pulse, maybe perform CPR, call an ambulance and at the hospital they may shock my heart to start it pumping again. What would I do? Nothing. A corpse can’t bring itself to life.

Jesus warns Nicodemus that he, just like us, is spiritually dead, he needs to be cleansed from sin and rebellion and enabled to live loving and pleasing God. God does that for us as we put our faith in Jesus death for us. We must be born again.

So what about other religions?
All world religions agree that humanity falls short, that somehow we have become disconnected from the divine. But the problem is that they all give different answers as to how we repair that breech, how we can be right with God. Answers so wildly different they are mutually exclusive, so different that they cannot possibly be different paths up the same mountain.

You can’t believe them all and it would be intellectual stupidity to create a mish-mash of beliefs. It doesn’t matter how sincere you are but whether you have believed the truth. The big question is not am I sincere, but have I sincerely believed the truth? It couldn’t matter more because they cannot all be right.

Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism and so on are all about humans, us, doing things, living in a certain way to make it right with God, to earn back enough credit with God that he grants us eternal life. The problem with that is every time we fail we tip the scales further against us, and we can ever do enough to rebalance them?

But did you notice that what Jesus says to Nicodemus is different? Jesus does not down play sin, in fact he says it’s is so serious even Nicodemus can’t make himself right with God so we definitely can’t. Instead he says we need God to make it right and he does by sending Jesus to die for us. We can’t save ourselves he saves us and we are to respond to that salvation by putting our faith in Jesus, and everyone who believes will have eternal life.

There are a number of implications of that:
1. If there is no other way to be right with God we must believe in this way. Christianity is so exclusive that you either have to accept it or reject it, you can’t try to mingle it with something else because Jesus says he is the only way.

2. If you are still not sure examine other faiths, look at them in detail and see which one is the truth. I have no doubt that following Jesus Christ will stand out. Every other religion calls on you to try, to do, following Jesus is about him securing our forgiveness.

3. If you know Jesus as your Saviour, if you have trusted him be encouraged, he is the only way. Don’t bow to society’s mantra, don’t feel cowed by the pressure you are put under. It would be unloving not to tell people the truth.

4. Praise God for saving you by grace – there is no room for boasting just for gratefulness and praise.

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