The best thing for me about road trips has always been having miles and miles of time to think! Now it’s not quite the same having to drive myself everywhere but I still manage to get a lot of thinking in. Riding home with Terry from Florida last year I began thinking about all the religions and how a person could choose what was truth. Setting aside my convictions, emotions and beliefs I asked myself “Why Christianity”? As in, why would a person choose Jesus over Allah, Buddha, or any of the many and varied choices? What makes me consider Christianity the truth over any other religion? It wasn’t that I expected Christianity to fall short, but I expected it to be just another omelet (but maybe look yummier) on a buffet of omelets.
Truth isn’t fragile, and as Annie Dillard points out, we were never meant to check our brains at the door of Christianity. While some aspects are to be accepted in “faith,” why would God, after putting together a universe of well-ordered and mathematically precise creation, then hand us an incoherent scramble of eggs to swallow? It would be inconsistent with his very nature.
I’m going to refer to the belief that Jesus-died-for-our sins-rose again-and-wants-us-to-love-him, as the “Jesus factor” instead of “Christianity.” The word “Christian” refers to people who believe they represent God and “Christianity” is man’s attempt to represent his own interpretation or experience of God. So when I refer to the “Jesus factor” look at God, not people. Also, I’ll use the word “paradise” to represent the concept of an after-death reward, including nirvana, purgatory, heaven, or enlightenment. I will also refer to the Jesus factor as a “religion” as that’s the way much of the world perceives it.
So (mentally) I stand in the buffet line and study all the omelets (religions) spread out before me. And what I see surprises me.
I don’t see a Jesus factor omelet though I do see one labeled “Cultural & Religious Christianity.” In each religion’s attempt to create different and unique flavors, each omelet has added its own personal brand of god(s), rules, traditions, and “truth,” but I notice that there is one common flavor to them all, and that is that every one of them is made from Egg-Beaters. Every omelet on the buffet is based on a system of behavior that determines what our eternal reward will be, as in, we earn our reward.
For example, here’s what these popular omelets offer:
- Hindu – Their doctrine of sin includes “violations of caste (class) rules. Similar to the Sikh, they work to obtain release from the cycle of death/rebirth (reincarnation) through knowledge, works, and love and devotion.
- Mormon/Latter Day Saints – Exaltation or godhood through obedience to Mormon teachings, including faith, baptism, endowments, celestial marriage, and faithful tithing.
- Buddhism – Making merit to earn enlightenment. The Southern Buddhists believe that Buddha was merely a saint and life results in dissolution at death with no continuing life. The Northern Buddhists believe that Buddha was a savior, so you must have faith in Buddha while working to earn Buddahood. You must follow the Path, being reincarnated until you’re good enough to reach the Pure Land.
- Jehovah’s Witness – faith in Jehovah plus works (baptism, moral life, faithfulness in Kingdom Hall activities, etc).
- Muslim – repentance, submission, and obedience to the will of Allah. Religious practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are basic concepts and obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society.
- Church of Scientology – People are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature, so you must be spiritually rehabilitated by a type of counseling known as auditing in order to free yourself of your limitations. They believe that souls reincarnate and have lived on other planets before living on Earth. Members are required to make donations for study courses and auditing, the amount increasing as higher levels are reached, and Scientologists usually move up the Bridge at a rate governed by their income.
- Unification church/Moonies – God’s children must pay for at least a part of their debt of sin before God will forgive them, done through fasting, fund-raising, recruitment, and other such works. Unification marriage required for physical salvation.
- Worldwide Church of God – Baptism and obedience to God’s law necessary. Must not break any of Ten Commandments, especially not keeping the Sabbath (Saturday).
- Seventh-Day Adventist – Continued obedience evidenced by baptism, tithing, keeping dietary laws & Ten Commandments, especially Saturday as Sabbath.
- Baha’i – Obedience to divine commands and good works toward world unity & peace.
- Sikh – obtaining release from cycle of death/rebirth (reincarnation) through path of devotion. Ones next life depends on his deeds in the past life. Achieving oneness with god takes us out of this life cycle.
- American Indian – salvation gained by prayer, pledges, & sacrifice which win attention & help of supernatural forces/departed elders.
- Jew – their doctrine of salvation is repentance, trust in God, and obedience. Their belief in an afterlife is a range of views: reward or punishment in heaven or hell, vagueness, or afterlife denied.
- New Age – God is an energy source, and we are all gods moving towards enlightenment. To become enlightened we must have a “change of consciousness.” And if we don’t master the possibilities of godhead in this life (earning it), reincarnation assures us that we will have endless other opportunities for advancement.
Yep, the Egg Beaters are consistent in each one—salvation is based on obedience and works. It must be, because they have no provision to achieve paradise outside ourselves. The only possible way to take the earning aspect out of religion is the Jesus factor. It is the only one that doesn’t require us to earn our salvation/paradise. A religion based on our earning it does nothing but promote fear, and fear is not of God. To choose any omelet there is to choose fear—fear of never knowing if you’ve been good enough. No thank you.
The only way to make it possible for God’s creation to have a relationship solely based on love was 1) to make us holy as he is holy (by covering us with Jesus’ blood) and 2) to give us the ability to overcome the darkness (by putting a part of him within us). But because we have free will and we made the choice to leave the relationship in the first place, we must also make the choice to return to it. That’s the thing about love—it never forces. For those things to happen across the board when Jesus died would be to say to every human being “Even though you’re the one who chose against me in the first place and have never asked for it, I have now, without your permission, taken you back.” That negates the very free will he gave us to begin with, so while we may WANT to believe that he has done that for everyone it negates his purpose in dying.
So if you look at the whole picture, the only possible way to have a relationship with God without earning salvation on our part (other than taking away our free will) is Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and then our subsequent ability to choose God or not.
Every omelet I see is made from fruit off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, meaning that it requires performing good vs. evil to achieve eternal life. God never meant us to have the knowledge of good and evil, we chose that, and with terrifying consequences that we often blame God for. His plan was for us to walk totally in relationship with the Tree of Life. The Jesus factor is the only religion where you’re accepted solely based on your heart instead of your performance (remember, I’m talking about God here, not people). Terry said something once that blew my mind. “The Kingdom of heaven has no rules, you know why? Because the Kingdom of heaven is a Person.” And that Person loves you unconditionally. All he asks is that you believe and understand what and why he did what he did and then choose him, and that comes with his gift of Holy Spirit to enable you to truly love him back.
I stare at the buffet. I don’t want Egg-Beaters, where is the real thing? I look again, and down at the end of the line I see something I missed in my earlier perusing. There, in all its glory, is a beautifully cooked egg, simple, whole (including BOTH white and yolk), and the only one made from an organic, free-range egg—the Jesus factor.
Unlike all other religions, the whole premise of the Jesus factor is a love relationship with a God who has a personality and character (as opposed to merely being light/creator/power/force) plus isn’t based on our performance or earning abilities. Sure, Allah, Buddha, and others teach love (though they never claimed to be God), but Jesus is the only one that is based on the state of your heart, on a relationship with God instead of on your behavior. Not only did he TEACH love, like the others, but he PERFORMED the greatest act of love possible, taking our place to restore us back to what Adam walked in. He asks two things of us: first to love him, and second to love others. Period.
Isn’t it strange that the biggest sticking point people have with Jesus is that he “makes it exclusive” because ONLY people who believe in him “get in,” when in reality he’s the most liberating and all-inclusive choice there is? The very nature of ANY religion is a degree of exclusivity, since the premise is “Those-Who-Believe” vs. “Those-Who-Don’t,” or “Those Who Have Earned Salvation/Enlightenment” and “Those Who Haven’t.”
Every omelet I see on the buffet has a tag that reads: “To everyone who EARNS this gift,” while the Jesus factor tag reads, “To everyone who WANTS this gift.” His one big law is to love him.
“BUT,” you say “there IS an omelet that ISN’T exclusive but I don’t see it here. Where’s the one flavored ‘All Paths Lead to the Same God and Once We Die We All Live Together Happily Ever After’? There are no requirements at all to getting there.”
That’s the problem, that omelet isn’t on the buffet because it’s not eggs OR Egg-Beaters, it’s just vapor. Let’s look at it though, because it’s pretty popular and customers are passing a petition to get it included on the buffet.
This one sounds good at first because we all like the idea that no matter what kind of life we live, we’re all going to live together happily ever after in paradise. After all, that’s the only “fair” way a loving God would do it— same destination, same reward. So my question to you is this—what happens in that instant between your physical life and your spiritual/soul life that enables you to suddenly change so we can live together in peace and harmony? Because otherwise, if we all go to paradise being who we are, paradise will only be paradise the first five minutes (and that’s being generous). “We change,” you say, “it’s the physical that is our trouble, we can live spiritually good and get along with everyone.” But even some of the angels in heaven who stood before God couldn’t resist evil, so how can mankind, who is already inherently evil, do it? Without Jesus’ blood covering us and his very Spirit within us to enable us to change, it isn’t possible, as we have seen throughout history. You have to choose Jesus to receive Holy Spirit. If God indiscriminately put Holy Spirit in everyone without asking it would revoke our free will. And for all of us to go to be with a loving and holy God without something that drastically changes us is to merely continue rebirthing fallen humanity over and over, because dying doesn’t change our nature. To believe that is not only a stretch, it doesn’t even make sense.
“But what about the people who don’t know about Jesus, that’s not fair.” Actually, it works that way in other religions too—if you don’t choose their god you don’t get in. Since there are so many testimonies of people who have had dreams or visions in which Jesus has supernaturally appeared, showing them Truth, than I believe God is big enough to handle that one.
Ooh, here’s a popular omelet! “All religions lead to the same god but you still have to earn your paradise by being good.” Nope, that one falls under the others, earning your own way. And it isn’t possible to be good enough. Again, what changes your nature to enable paradise not to be a repeat of earth? I’m certainly not interested in that!
Unlike the omelets, the Jesus factor still stands alone. The magic words that open the doors of the Jesus factor paradise are “I have a free pass.” If you bought your pass with performance the doors don’t open. Matthew 7 tells us: Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.’
It’s a fairly large buffet and I’m hungry, and there’s nothing worse than cold eggs so it’s time to fill my plate. Logically and rationally, after comparing the whole buffet, the Jesus factor egg not only looks appetizing but is the only one that makes sense. So grab a plate and fork, guys, and dig in. I know what I’m going for!