Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Uniqueness of Christianity – Part 2

II. Christ Is Unique

Simply put, what makes Christianity so unique is Jesus Christ, what he claimed about himself, and what we believe about him.

1. Divinity of Christ

We see these unique claims about Jesus throughout the New Testament and prophesied in the Old. None of the founders of any other religion made such claims as Jesus did. Others said they heard from God in some way or they became enlightened. But Jesus claimed to be divine: “I and the Father are one… When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Because of this and similar statements, Christians believe that in Jesus we have seen God because God became flesh and lived among us.

2. Jesus as Savior

The second unique claim we have is that not only was Jesus divine, but salvation is only through him. Most other religions are performance-based – they have no Savior. You have to accomplish something to get into Paradise, achieve Nirvana, get good karma, or whatever that religion believes is its ultimate reward. No religion except for Christianity has a Savior who guarantees you eternal life based only on your faith. We read in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” NLT

3. Grace and Mercy

Thirdly, in no other religion, philosophy or belief system do we see God’s grace and mercy to the extent we see them in Christianity. As I just mentioned, in most other religions you are pretty much on your own. But in Christianity, God promises to be with you always, as Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (NRSV) God’s grace and mercy are extended to us based on the following:

(1) The human race is separated from God because of Adam’s fall and the sin we do – God can’t have fellowship with sinful people.

(2) Because of all the wrong we have done throughout our lives, God’s perfect justice demands that a penalty must be paid.

(3) In God’s mercy, Jesus came to earth to pay that penalty so that people can get back into the right relationship with God that we were created to have.

(4) For those who accept God’s gift, God forgives us, restores us to rightful relationship with him, transforms us by his grace, and is with us always.

(5) God equips us for service which prepares us for eternal life in the hereafter.

All of this is summarized in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV

One way of saying that is: “In Christianity, instead of asking us to make the effort, God makes the effort for us.”

4. Relationship vs. System

Finally, Christianity is unique in that more than anything else, it is a relationship with God through Jesus.
Yes, Christianity has a moral code like many other religions, but Christianity is much more than a system of morals and ethics.
Yes, Christianity has doctrines, but it is much more than just a belief system.
Yes, Christianity has sacred Scriptures, but those Scriptures are more than just stories or rules: they reveal God to us in ways you won’t find anywhere else.
Yes, Christianity has religious observances, but they are more for worship and thanksgiving for our salvation than to find favor with God. As a matter of fact, the sacrament of communion is an observance of, and thanksgiving for, the gift of salvation we have through Jesus. (“Eucharist” means thanksgiving)

Yes, Christianity has a deity, but God is not distant, harsh, disconnected, unmerciful, or uncaring, but loves us and is with us. While most other religions are more systems of morals, ethics, and religious practices, Christianity is most importantly a relationship with the Living God. Morals, ethics, doctrine, and religious practices, while important, are secondary in Christianity – the relationship is primary.

By the way, we see God’s grace in Judaism, because the God of the Old Testament is of course the same God that we worship. However, we now have the fullest revelation of God in Jesus Christ, because in him we see God’s grace, mercy, and closeness to us most clearly.

More on this in a future post.

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