Chapter 6: Religion and Salvation
6.1 I don’t need a religion.
If religion were only good for teaching people
to live good lives, then perhaps not everyone needs a religion. But what is a
“good life”? More importantly, where is your life heading?
Faith in God is more than what we do in our
everyday life of work and play. It is also more than some vague idea of meaning
or value. Faith in God is finding the answer to our “ultimate concern.” It is
about where we came from, why we live, and where we will end up. Without God,
we are trapped in evil, sin, suffering, and death. But, through Jesus Christ,
we can be saved from our afflictions and receive eternal life. This means that
we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
6.2 All religions are pretty much the same.
You might say, “Different religions are simply
different paths up the same mountain.” But what if one guide told you that the
only way up the mountain was to crawl back downward, while another told you to
jump off its side, while yet another told you to keep climbing up? They
couldn’t all be right at the same time!
Different religious traditions often offer
completely opposite answers to our problems. For example, one religion teaches
about a heavenly afterlife, while another denies that heaven exists at all.
Which is right? Given that our entire existence is at stake, we have to find
the answer—not just a plausible answer, but the right answer.
6.3 Your religious beliefs may be true for you but
not for me. There is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to religion. Who
is to say which religion is right? We should just respect each other’s beliefs.
Is the belief that “there is no absolute right
or wrong” absolute? If so, then it’s self-defeating because it claims to be
Religious beliefs must be based on reality. Any
belief that is not true to reality is false belief. Different people may choose
to believe differently, but not all beliefs are based on the truth. You may
choose to believe that there is no such thing as gravity, but would your belief
be valid? If you then jumped off a cliff, would you not fall anymore? Like
gravity, religion isn’t just a matter of personal taste, where your opinion is
as good as the next person’s. Because our religious belief determines our
destiny, it must be firmly rooted only in the absolute truth.
God tells us, “Besides me there is no other
God.” Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me is not condemned, but whoever does
not believe stands condemned already.” Either this is true or this is a lie. We
must find out which, because the future of our very existence is at stake.
6.4 If Christians cannot even agree among
themselves, how can you claim that there is absolute truth? Even if I want to
know the absolute truth, I am getting different answers from different
Just as the diversity of beliefs among world
religions does not disprove the existence of absolute truth, the differences in
beliefs among Christians do not disprove absolute truth. Although there are
many Christian denominations that disagree in their basic doctrines, the Bible
tells us that there is only one true gospel (Gal 6-12).
Despite the various views on salvation, it is
not impossible to find the true gospel. Instead of only looking to men for
answers, we must turn to God’s word and Spirit for guidance (Gal -12). We need to humbly and
diligently examine the message we hear against the Scriptures to see if it is
true (like the Bereans in Acts -12). If a church preaches the true
gospel, she would agree completely with the teachings of the apostles (Eph -20; 1Tim ). The believers in this church would also
receive the Holy Spirit as the apostles did (Acts ; ;
cf. 2:2-4; -46;
19:1-7). If we seek the true gospel with sincere prayer for guidance, God
promises us that we will find it (Jer 29:13; Mt
6.5 Isn’t “trying to do the right thing” enough?
God will accept me if I be a good and sincere person.
Trying to be good is just not good enough. The
Bible tells us that we all have sinned (Rom ), and no sinner can save himself from sin no matter
how much “good” he has done (Rom ).
Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ because only Christ
can deliver us from sin and judgment (Eph 2:8,9; Tit
In answering the claim that sincerity is good
enough, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli write, “No one accepts sincerity alone as
sufficient in any other field than religion. Sincerity may be necessary but it
is not sufficient. Is it sufficient that your surgeon, your accountant or your
travel agent be sincere? Is sincerity alone enough to save you from cancer,
bankruptcy, accident or death? It is not. Why then do you think it should be
enough to save you from hell?”1
Kreeft and Tacelli continue the above argument, “Your hand shakes; how
can you be the surgeon on your own hand? You’ve fallen into quicksand and have
no solid place to stand for leverage to get yourself
out. You’ve sold yourself into slavery and you are no longer free or rich
enough to buy your own freedom back. You need more than sincerity; you need a
Savior. Sincerity is necessary for salvation—only those who sincerely seek, find—but it is not sufficient.”2
6.6 Why is God so narrow-minded that he only saves
Imagine a person drowning. Now if someone threw
this person a lifesaver, the only logical response would be to reach out and
grab it. Would he or she ask instead, “Why can’t I be saved by my own methods?”
or say, “I don’t want to hold on to the lifesaver, but you should still save
Like the person drowning, we can’t save
ourselves from the destiny of hell because we all have fallen away from God.
But he has offered salvation to everyone without exception. He even came to
this world and laid down his own life to save us. Far from being narrow-minded,
God opens his arms to anyone who believes in him.
God has shown us the solution to our problem. If
we then still refuse to accept him or insist on other ways, we’re actually the
ones who are narrow-minded.
6.7 What about those good pagans who have never
heard of Christ? Can a person be saved through other means?
Even those who have not heard of the gospel are
without excuse “because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God
has shown it to them” through his creation (Rom -23). Not only so, God’s law is written in their
hearts, and God will judge the secrets of men on this basis (Rom ,16).
God rewards eternal life to those “who by
patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Rom
2:6-11). God is able to save the pagans who seek him just as he is able to save
the believers in Old Testament times who never heard of Christ.
The Bible clearly states that Christ is the only
Savior: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under
heaven given among men by which we must be saved”
(Acts ); “I am the
way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn 14:6). Even if the pagans
who seek God will be saved, they are saved not by their paganism, but by the
atoning work of Christ, who brought God’s grace and reconciliation to the
Although we do not know exactly how God will
judge those who never heard of the gospel, we do know that God’s judgment is
always just. He demands from everyone according to what they have been given (Lk ).
We do not need to know how God will judge the
pagans. Each person will have to be accountable to God on an individual basis.
Instead of speculating about the salvation of the pagans, we need to be sure
that we respond to the gospel we have heard (Heb 2:1-4).
6.8 Christianity is a crutch for weak people. To
cope with the problems of life, some people use alcohol, some drugs, others
If by “weak people” we mean sinners and by
“crutch,” God’s grace, then everyone needs this “crutch.”
The more important question is this: does this
“crutch” work? While other “crutches” such as alcohol or drugs do not offer
real solutions to our problems, the salvation of Jesus Christ is the ultimate
answer to all of life’s problems.
It is not right to reject the Christian faith
based on the assumption that it was invented for some psychological need
because we could also claim that atheism is a crutch for people who are afraid
to acknowledge God. We should examine whether the Christian faith is true. If
Jesus is indeed the Son of God, and if he is able to give us eternal life, then
we must believe him and accept him as our Savior.
6.9 I believe in God, but I don’t believe in
religion. Joining an organized religion involves too many restrictions and
While the word “religion” may bring up negative
connotations for many people, we need to first understand the meaning of
religion. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines religion as follows:
in and worship of God or gods. 2. a specific system of
belief or worship, etc. built around God, a code of ethics, a philosophy of
According to the first
definition, it is not possible to believe in God and not be part of a religion
because the belief itself constitutes the religion.
The second definition involves a
more formal expression of personal belief, including religious institutions or
organizations. It is religion in this sense of the word that many want to
avoid. They do not want to be part of an organization and follow its rules. More
specifically, many want to be a believer of Christ without joining a church.
But before we reject all types of institutions, we must ask, “are all institutions bad?”
An institution is good if it’s a divine
institution, such as marriage and family. In the context of organized religion,
God instituted the church, which is a spiritual community of all believers.
Joining a church is different from joining a club. Just as an infant naturally
becomes a member of the family, a believer who accepts Christ naturally becomes
a member of God’s house—the church (Gal 3:26-29; Eph 2:19-22). God grants us
the privilege to be a member; we do not acquire it ourselves. By God’s will,
believers unite in fellowship and build each other up in the faith (Mt
18:19-20; Eph 4:11-16; Heb 10:25; Acts 2:42-47). If we truly believe in God, we
would actively take part in church.
Unlike secular organizations, where people make
up the rules, the church and her members abide by God’s word. The church must
be built on God’s truth and it’s her responsibility to teach this truth to her
members (1Tim ; Mt
28:20). As long as the church does not impose human restrictions beyond what
God’s word requires, we should gladly fulfill our God-given duties and
functions as members in the body of believers.
6.10 I don’t want to become a Christian because
there are too many hypocrites in the church.
The fact that some professed Christians are
hypocritical does not invalidate the Christian faith. We need to look at Jesus,
the foundation of Christianity. If he is indeed God, as he claimed to be, if he
led a perfect life, and if he had risen from the dead, then we ought to believe
and accept him as our Savior regardless of whether his followers are truthful
to his teachings.
While there are hypocrites in the church, not
all Christians are hypocrites. Many Christians are true followers of Christ who
abide by his teachings. They may make mistakes, but they are not afraid to
repent and change. There is a difference between hypocrites and sinners. By
definition, a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be righteous in order to
receive praise from others. Believers who sincerely and humbly repent of their
sins are sinners saved by grace, but they are not hypocrites.
Jesus himself condemned hypocrisy and warned his
followers against hypocrisy. If you are a true believer who
obey Christ’s teachings, you would not be a hypocrite. Becoming a
Christian doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It is when you become a false Christian
that you turn into a hypocrite.
Peter Kreeft and
Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994) 323.