Scripture Reference: Acts 17:24-28, Romans 1:18-23, Romans 2:12-15
The Lie That God Is Obligated To Save Followers Of Other ReligionsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 17, 1999
Selected highlights from this sermon
There are many teachers and gurus in the various religions of the world. But there is only one religion with a sinless Savior that died for His people.
Through Christ alone you can attain heaven. Nobody else can lead you there, let alone give you access to the kingdom of God.
Is it fair? Perhaps not, but we don’t have a right to reinterpret the Bible just to fit our idea of fairness.
I want you to visualize a woman, a mother in a third world country. She lives in poverty, in squalor. Her children are dirty and hungry, and her husband has been killed in a civil war. She walks miles just to get a little bit of milk for her starving children. And then she contracts a disease, and after months of suffering she dies. And because she is not a member of the Christian religion, but belongs to some other religion, she trades this hell for another hell, a temporary hell for an eternal one. Is that even thinkable? Doesn’t that raise all kinds of issues regarding the love of God and the justice of God, and that which is right and that which is proper?
You know, of course, that there is no issue as controversial about Christianity as the matter of what about other religions, and whether there is salvation through Jesus Christ alone or whether there are other options out there that are just as good. All that the Southern Baptists have to do is to publish a prayer calendar and say, “Pray for your Jewish friends that they’ll come to know Christ as Messiah,” and you have a storm of protest. There are not too many sins left in contemporary society, but there are some, and one of them is to be perceived as intolerant. And of course, along with that word goes words like bigotry and narrow-mindedness and you name it.
A number of years ago actually the Chicago Trib had an article entitled Theologians Opening Heaven’s Gate A Bit Wider, in which they said that the old doctrine that one had to be saved through Christ alone, was being roundly condemned by Catholics and Protestants and everyone in the religious community. The whole idea of salvation somehow being limited, like one author said, “Limited to those who happen to be born in the right country at the right time and under the right circumstances,” is so contrary to what we would think would be fair. That’s very difficult to accept.
Well, as you know, this is a series of messages titled Ten Lies About God (and how you already may be deceived). We’ve talked about matters such as whether we can refashion God according to our image, whether He can become what we want Him to be. We’ve discussed whether there are many paths to God or whether He is more tolerant than He used to be, looking at the difference between the Old and the New Testaments, and we discover that it is a lie to think that He is more tolerant. We’ve asked the question of whether or not God actually personally suffered, and you will remember the message in which I said, “Yes, He did.” And now we come to the lie that God is obligated to save followers of other religions. It’s very sensitive and very difficult but we need to face the issue.
Now before we get into details, I have a question to ask you. How are we going to resolve this controversy? How are we going to answer those charges of bigotry? Nobody wants to be called a bigot. Nobody wants to be a bigot. Where are we going to go to somehow unravel what is an important issue, and not a theoretical one?
Sometimes people say, “You know, theologians just deal with issues that aren’t connected to real life.” Good theology is always connected to real life. This matter is a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of heaven and hell. We’re not talking theory here. We’re talking actuality. We’re speaking about our friends. We’re speaking about ourselves. But to where will we turn to find an answer?
Well, you know, of course, that Christianity teaches that God, who exists and who created all things, is a self-revealing God. And because He has spoken in the Scriptures, it is our responsibility to find out what they say, and also what they don’t say, and then not take our beliefs further than the Scriptures themselves go. So today we’re going to be speaking about some things that are clear in the Bible as well as some things that are less clear, and we hope to make those distinctions.
Where do we go? Do we turn to one another and say, “What’s your opinion? What’s my opinion?” No, that’s not the way to find truth about God. Do we turn to nature? Does it help us? Yes, it helps us some, as we’ll discover today, but we can’t solve that question. We can’t turn within ourselves and think that wisdom resides within us because we are so prone to be wrong. We actually have only one place to turn and that is the Bible so let me begin today by telling you the plan of this message. We’re going to answer four questions.
Question number one: Is Christ the only way? If so, why? Question number two: What does the Bible say about non-Christian religions? How does it regard them? How does it interpret them? Question number three: How is God going to judge people, both those who have heard the Christian message, and those who haven’t? And then number four is going to be something about what the final judgment is going to be like. That’s where we’re headed, and thank you so much for going with me on this interesting and perhaps controversial journey.
Question number one: Is Christ the only way? Yes, of course. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” Paul said in the New Testament, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” And the Apostle said, “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Could it be any clearer than that?
And of course, it’s not that way arbitrarily. That’s the way it is because of who God is. I’ve already emphasized this so often that I shall not underline it again. But I need to say that Jesus is the only Savior among all the religions of the world. I’ve emphasized that after being at the Parliament of World Religions and discovering that there are many teachers and many gurus, but nobody who is actually able to make a sacrifice to God that God will accept. There are no Saviors. There are just teachers.
Furthermore, Jesus is the only one who has what we need to stand in the presence of a holy God, namely the perfection and the righteousness that have to be credited to us for God to accept us, so it’s not a matter of bigotry. It’s not a matter of saying, “Well, what makes you think that you are right and others are wrong?” This is just the way it is. The infinite glory, and the wonder and the holiness of God demands an infinite and holy sacrifice on behalf of sinners in order to receive them, and Christ is the only one out there who meets those requirements. There are no other options.
Now you look in the Old Testament. You say, “Well, before Christ came how were they saved? Is David going to be in heaven?” Yes, David is going to be in heaven. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – they never knew much about Christ – maybe some glimmers but not much. But what the Bible says is that He saved the Old Testament people on credit. Now you know what it is to buy something on credit. When you buy something on credit you go into a store and you say, you know, “I want this piece of furniture,” or “I want this car,” or whatever it is that your little heart desires, and people today will give it to you. And in some instances you don’t even have to put anything down, but if you know anything about the credit process, the bills will come in.
God says in the Old Testament, “I’m going to save you on the basis of the fact that your bill will eventually be paid when Jesus dies, so there is no salvation apart from Christ. There’s not even a possibility that it can be otherwise. But that doesn’t necessarily solve the question of other religions, does it?
There is in evangelical circles today what is sometimes called the wider mercy view. And the wider mercy view says that it is possible for people of other religions (who sincerely follow their other religions) to be saved by Christ, though they don’t necessarily know it until they get to heaven. C. S. Lewis propounded this, and a number of other theologians have taken it up, and their view is that the sincere Buddhist, or the sincere Hindu (or regardless of what their religion is) will discover when they die that Jesus will say, “You didn’t know My name but you were actually worshipping and loving Me, and on the basis of My sacrifice, you, too, will be accepted.”
Now in many respects that seems to be an attractive view, but the problem is you just can’t quite find it in the Bible. They give illustrations of it. They say, “Well, look at Job, or look at the Old Testament saints, or look at Cornelius in the New Testament because he was a Gentile God hearer before the Gospel was clearly presented to him.” But the problem is that all these illustrations are illustrations of people who were exposed to the true God, and they were given some special revelation. They heard the message. That’s the problem.
Sometimes people interpret the Bible on the basis of human fairness (those who say, “Look, it’s got to be made fair, so in order to be fair it has to be this way.”), and I’m going to be commenting on that in just a few moments – the whole notion of fairness – but we really don’t have a right to reinterpret the Bible just to try to make God fair.
I want you to know that if there is a plan like that, God will save people of other religions based on what Jesus did. All that I can say is that God has not seen fit to reveal it in the Bible, so it’s best not to speculate. Is salvation through Christ alone? Absolutely! There is no other option, as I mentioned.
Let’s go on to question number two, however. What does the Bible teach about non-Christian religions, or as we sometimes say, pagan religions? What does the Bible have to say about that? Well, first of all, let me say that in the Old Testament our Jewish friends need to be reminded that the God of the Old Testament was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there was no tolerance in the Old Testament. Now we dealt with that in a previous message. But let me remind you of the fact that it says in Deuteronomy, for example, that when it comes to the pagans, God will smash their altars, and will bring them down. There was no sense of saying, “Well, they can be saved, too, because they are sincere.” You sure don’t find that in the Old Testament. I can’t imagine Elijah on Mount Carmel (and some of you perhaps have been to Mount Carmel). Those of us who have been to Israel - I mean we’re standing there on Mount Carmel where the fire of God came and destroyed everything that was there, but it was the god of Baal. It would be unthinkable that Elijah would say to himself, “Well, these religions have their path to God too.” No, you don’t find that, because we’ve learned that God is holy and you just don’t come to Him in any way.
And then you look at the New Testament and you discover that Paul says that those who worship idols aren’t even really worshipping the idols. They are worshipping the demons that the idols represent. That’s pretty strong. The New Testament and the Old Testament together show that the pagan religions simply do not have any merit in God’s sight. Now hang on for a moment, but that’s what it says. In fact, the Bible gives an entirely different interpretation of religion.
When I was in university many, many years ago, the whole thing went this way. Look, there is an evolution in religion, and first of all, people believed in many gods and then they straightened it out a little bit, and then it became more refined until you have Christianity with its belief in one God but three in one, and so forth. Actually the Bible gives an opposite view. Instead of the evolution of religion the Bible talks about the devolution of religion.
It says in Romans that when they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations. Their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, to birds and to four-footed beasts and creeping things, and they worshipped the works of their hands. And so the religions of the world are really not so much in a state of evolution but they represent a time when people did understand the true God, they turned away from the truth, and they ended up being false religions, which are really anti-God.
Do you remember that old story about the elephant – how you have four different people describing an elephant, the four blind men of Indostan, if I remember correctly? And in one instance one man said, “Well, I think the elephant is like a tree,” because the man was up against one of the legs of the elephant. The other one said, “Well, I think he is like a rope,” because he was hanging onto the tail. And you have different explanations. And then they discovered – presto – it’s all the same elephant. The purpose of that story is to say it’s all the same God. It’s just different expressions.
You know, there are several reasons why that illustration is fatally flawed, but let me give you one of them. It’s because the Bible would even teach that we’re talking about different elephants. I mean we’re talking about different gods. The god of other religions is not the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, so the simple fact is that even though there is similarity in teaching in some instances (Buddhism, for example, has some things about denial and so forth that may indeed be compatible with Christianity), when it comes to the matter of salvation of how people get to God, the Bible consistently gives no hope to those who are in some other religion. Not any teacher will do. Not any sacrifice will do, but only Christ for the reasons that we’ve already outlined.
Let’s go on to a third question. We’ve looked at the question of whether or not Christ is the only way, and answered yes. What about the other religions? Well, according to the Bible they fall short of what God requires, and they are actually expressions of a warped idea of God. What about the basis of God’s judgment? What about those who have never heard?
Well, take your Bible now and turn to Romans 1. I already quoted some of the verses from Romans 1, but I shall now begin at verse 18, and then we shall go briefly to chapter 2. Let me give you the principle, and after I’ve given you the principle, we shall read exactly what the text says. The principle is this: Everyone will be judged on the basis of what he or she did with he or she knew. That’s the basis.
Now with that as background, let’s show it in the text – Romans 1:18-19: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Wow! Paul is discussing the question of how those who were not privy to God’s revelation to the Jewish people are going to be judged. And he says that nature displays the eternal power and Godhood, and it is such a clear display that for them to fall into worshipping pagan gods leaves them really without an excuse.
Now let me give you another passage in which the Apostle Paul shows the fairness of God’s judgment, his justice. There are two lights. There is the light of nature and the light of conscience. Now we’re talking about general revelation. General revelation means that this is revealed to everybody. Special revelation has to do with the Bible, so keep those terms distinct. But notice it says in verses 12-15 of Romans 2, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles (now notice), who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
What is Paul saying? What he’s saying is that the Jewish people who received the Law are going to be judged by that standard, but the Gentiles who did not receive the Law are going to be judged by the light of nature and by their own consciences.
Now let me be very clear about this. God isn’t going to take the Gentiles and say, “Why did you not keep the Sabbath Day holy?” They’d say, “Wait a moment. We never heard that we were supposed to keep the Sabbath Day holy.” He’ll say that to the Jewish people, but not to the Gentiles over here because the text says that they did not receive the Law so they’re not going to be judged by the Law. But God will say to these other people who did not have special revelation, “You committed murder and you knew that it was wrong. You lied and you knew it was wrong. You were a thief and you knew that that was wrong.” Why? It’s because those are the kinds of laws that are written in people’s hearts and their consciences, and that is the standard by which the judgment will take place. Don’t ever think that God is going to take people from other religions and say, “I’m going to send you to hell because you never believed in Jesus.” That would be manifestly unfair. How in the world were they supposed to believe in Jesus if they never heard of Him? That will not be the standard of judgment. The standard of judgment is by available light, not light that is unavailable. That’s very important throughout the Scriptures.
Now you say, “Well then, how will these people do?” Well, I need to give you the bad news, that despite general revelation, the light of nature and the light of conscience, there are going to be several things revealed. First of all, nobody really passes the grade because nobody lives up to what he knows is right. Some people will do better than others, and God is definitely going to take that into account. Jesus made that very, very clear – that a person’s judgment is based on what he knew. He who knew his Lord’s will and didn’t do it will receive one degree of punishment. The person who didn’t know God’s will is going to receive another. Of course, that’s the way God is going to run it, but at the end of the day, the bottom line is that no one will have lived up to what he knew.
And we’re not talking about other religions. I’m talking about myself. I’m talking about you. Do you live up to what you know to be true? I don’t think so. There have been many times when I’ve done things that I knew were wrong, and I did them anyway. It’s just the natural fallenness that we have, so the answer is nobody’s going to do very well because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Furthermore, the light of nature and the light of conscience cannot give us what we need. Remember what we need! Don’t lose sight of it. We need the righteousness of Christ credited to us because without that credit we will not get to heaven because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Therefore what we need to understand is that general revelation of nature, and conscience is not enough to save someone. You need the righteousness of Jesus.
Now, having said that, what happens to the sincere seekers in other religions, the ones who are totally honest, the ones who say, “The god who I am serving can’t be the right god. Because of my conscience, because of nature, I want to serve the true God no matter what.” I believe that the Bible teaches that God is obligated to give them that special revelation, to lead them in the truth because if they seek like that, they shall find.
There are many stories of that that come to us from church history and from missions where there have been people who have sought the living and the true God, and God connected them with someone who could share the Gospel. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. I just want to read it and you can look at the text later.
He said, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being;’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”
Notice that the Bible says that the purpose of general revelation (God even put certain people in one part of the world, and other people in another) is that men might grope for God (That was the old King James translation) and that perhaps they might find Him.
Some of you may know that a couple of months ago on WMBI I was on with a young man from Jerusalem. And this man was brought up a Muslim. He was very committed to the Muslim faith, a radical if you please. He was also educated in a Muslim university, but he could not find peace with God because of his sense of sin. He knew that whatever might be said about prophets in the world, they weren’t saviors. Teachers yes, but not saviors, not somebody who could clean him up and take him to God, so he began to seek and wonder with this great restlessness. And you may recall, if you were listening, that he had a dream about Jesus. And his dream was so compelling that he could not get away from it. And later on someone gave him a New Testament, and he began to read the New Testament and so forth, and he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And stories like that are coming to us and we’re discovering that those who work in different religions occasionally will find people just like that.
Now the simple fact is this, that beyond this we cannot go in the Bible. You know the Scripture says the secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things, which are revealed for us and for our children. So far as we know, every time in the Scriptures that someone is saved he needs to hear the message. God in creative ways gets the message to those who are desperately and honestly seeking.
Let’s go to a fourth question. I’ve talked about the basis of judgment. Let’s talk briefly about the final judgment. Here you have people who have come to faith in Christ, and Jesus has borne their debt. He has paid their penalty. That’s what the cross and the resurrection of Christ is all about, so they, of course, are accepted by God. Those who stand before God and have not trusted Jesus (And we’re not just talking about people who have never heard. We’re talking about millions of Americans who have heard but have rejected Christ, and I’ll say a word about them in just a moment.) are bearing then for themselves their own penalty. Now is God obligated to save everyone? No! In fact, He was not obligated to save any of us.
You know, it’s interesting that when you come to the doctrine of the fall of Satan and all of the angels (the tens of thousands) that fell with him, the Bible expressly says that there is no sacrifice for them. There’s no possibility of them ever being redeemed. God did not feel an obligation to redeem them, and we would not charge God with injustice. We would say that He was perfectly just in doing that. I suppose that if He wanted to there might have been a way to reconcile and redeem, but He’s not chosen that. God is not obligated to save everyone. He is obligated to treat them justly. That is an obligation found from Genesis to Revelation.
You say, “Well, is it fair? Well, that’s a very loaded question because the whole business of what is fair is so wrapped up with all kinds of human notions about fairness. That’s a very difficult question to answer. For example, we may say that in the minds of some people fairness means that everybody gets treated alike. Well, if there’s anything clear in Scripture God does not treat everybody alike.
Look at that earthquake in Turkey, and by the way, the next message in this series is the lie that God takes no personal responsibility for natural disasters. And I’m going to prove to you scripturally that He does take responsibility for them. So look at what happened in Turkey. Look at what happened in Mexico. Look at what has happened in different parts of the world with all of the natural calamities, the hurricanes, the tornadoes, and the earthquakes. Is that fair? I mean, we’ve never had an earthquake. God does not treat everyone alike if that’s what you mean. He did not treat Hammurabi in the way in which He treated Abraham, but He is just.
And when His justice is exercised, His love must be involved with that justice. And when His love is exercised it also must be a just love. His attributes work together in concert, but there’s no doubt that sometimes we see clearly the justice of God and at other times we see more clearly the love of God. And God has a right to be God.
And that’s the difficult thing for us to accept, isn’t it?
Someone told me the other day that there is a movie by the name of Rudy, and in the movie apparently there was a young man who tried to get onto some kind of athletic squad, or whatever, and a man from Notre Dame (a professor) was speaking to the young man, and said these words. I think they are classic. He said that after 30 years of lecturing he has come to two incontrovertible conclusions. He said number one he has concluded that there is a God, and number two, “I’m not him.” That is worth 30 years of lecturing right there.
There is a God and I’m not Him. You see, whether you like the way in which God runs His universe, can I remind you that God did not choose the attributes that He has? He didn’t say, “Well, you know I’m going to choose to be loving. I’m going to be choosing to be merciful. No! Like John Piper says, “He’s stuck with being God.” And therefore we have to respond to the God that exists and not the God that we would like to have.
William Cowper, who went through his own spiritual metamorphosis with great difficulty and struggle (and someday I’ll tell you his whole story), gave us many hymns and many poems and became a friend of John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. Cowper was talking about those who’d like to see God run the universe differently, people who look in the sky and say, “I want You to be fair according to my standards.” Cowper says, “They snatch from God’s hand the balance and the rod. They rejudge His justice and become the judge of God.” Watch it! Two incontrovertible conclusions! There is a God and I’m not Him.
So how are you going to respond to this message? Let me give you two very important conclusions that we’ve been led to so far. Conclusion number one is that the proclamation of Christ is urgent. That’s why we have missions at Moody Church. That’s why we believe so strongly that when Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,” He meant what He said, and we all want to have a part in it. We believe that missions are the centrifugal force that drives us to share the good light of the Gospel.
In fact, here’s the exciting thing. People say today, “Well you know we’re into diversity.” Well, I’m glad that you’re into diversity. Heaven is into diversity. People say, “Well you know it depends on which continent you were born as to whether or not you are going to become a Christian.” That’s not true at all. The Bible says that in the end time there are going to be people from every nation and tongue and people. And there are some countries in Africa who have more born again Christians than some states in our United States. The Gospel is a gospel for the world. Jesus died for the world. He is the Savior for the world, not just the western world. And that’s why we have to be so concerned about sharing the good news of the Gospel because, if I might clearly say, eternity hinges on your relationship with Jesus Christ. And that’s why we will never lose, God willing, our missionary zeal and vision for the whole world – for our city and for our neighborhoods, but for the world too.
Let me give you a second conclusion. And now, folks, you have been listening very, very carefully. I can tell that because things are quiet in here. Please continue to listen to what I’m going to say now. I would rather die as a person who had never heard of Christ, like that mother that I began this message with. I would rather die as a person who had never heard of Christ than a person who has heard the Gospel and rejected Christ, especially those who reject Him because He’s not fair, or those who say, “It can’t be that way because my god is more tolerant,” or people who come with a predisposition to reject God’s sovereignty, and therefore who turn away from the message that could save them if they believed and humbled themselves and accepted it.
What am I saying? My experience has been, and remember my experience is limited because I’m so young (chuckles), that people who are so worried about people who belong to other religions are not worried nearly enough about themselves because most of these people are people who say, “I’m rejecting Christianity. I’m accepting Jesus as a teacher but I’m not accepting Him as a Savior.” I’m saying if you are concerned about other religions, good! Some of us are too, but you had better be concerned about yourself first.
There are three different possibilities – three different reactions regarding the message that I’ve preached today. First of all is agnosticism, to simply say, “I am going to prefer to just go on my own way, and I’m not going to accept what the Bible has to say, and all this business of Jesus.” That’s one option, and many people are taking it. Agnosticism!
Another is anger. Like the man who told me that if there is a hell I want to go there and I’m going to defy God throughout all of eternity no matter how long I burn. Utter foolishness! Stupidity! Don’t go there. Don’t go there.
The Bible says regarding the nations of the world, “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision.” We’re talking about a very holy God, and the Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands unprepared. You don’t want to do that.
We have looked at agnosticism and anger. The other possibility is awe, to say, “Wow, if that’s the God that the Bible represents, I’d better get my act together. I’d better become His worshipper. I’d better get to know His Son, because apart from His Son there can be no salvation. And, therefore, what I’m going to do is I’m going to receive His Son as my Savior and believe in Him that I might be saved.” Now that’s another option, and that’s the one I’m urging you and pleading with you to please take.
What about the matter of bigotry? You know, in the Old Testament God chose the Jews. There’s no question about it. Did it lead to bigotry? Yes, it did unfortunately. You look at some of the passages in the Bible and it’s very clear. Can that lead to bigotry in our lives? Absolutely! Tragically it’s possible.
What do we do? Do we become bigoted? No. When we understand this we are humbled. We are saying, “God, why me? Why do I have the opportunity?” and we bow in the presence of sovereign God and say, “I will never, never take credit. In humility and brokenness I will share the good news of the Gospel,” never with a self-righteous attitude of “We’re right and you are wrong,” but rather, “We’re all wrong, and Jesus is right.” That’s the way in which we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the difference between Christianity and the other options out there? Well, one is that all the other options are people trying to get to God, seeking Him, groping for Him, as the old King James said. And the other is a revealed religion where God comes down and God saves, and as a result of that, salvation is a free gift. In no other religion do you have that.
One time I was with a man on a plane and he said, “You know, there are just a lot of religions in the world.” And I said, “Yeah, but fundamentally only two. Let’s take a piece of paper and on one side you write down all the religions that believe that you have to be a good person to get to heaven, and that’s the way to become a good person – that you have to work your way to heaven. Let’s put all of the religions of the world that believe that in some form on this side of the paper. Over here all those who believe that salvation is a free gift and those who humble themselves and receive it, let’s put all of them on that side of the paper.”
Well you know that only Christianity was on that side. And it has to be a free gift. Think about it. We do not have the righteousness that God requires. Christ is the only one who has it. We cannot cooperate and add to His righteousness and make it better, so we simply humble ourselves and we receive that gift. And that’s what makes Christianity so unique. But its uniqueness is its stumbling block because unconverted people say, “I want to work at it,” or “I can just accept Jesus and live as I like.” They have no notion of the radical change God brings about when people are saved.
In the country of India there was a missionary who made friends with a Hindu pearl diver. And they became good friends, and the Hindu was a very loving man. And one day he gave the missionary one of the most beautiful exquisite pearls that one could possibly even imagine. And the missionary said to him, “I need to pay you for this. I can’t accept it as a free gift.” And the pearl diver said, “Absolutely not.” He said, “You must accept it. You cannot pay me because I need to tell you that this pearl was retrieved by my only son who drowned and died in the process. If you were to pay me it would be an insult for the life of my son.”
And the missionary said, “Do you realize what you’ve just said? You have had such a hard time with this whole idea that salvation is a free gift. You thought that you had to go to Delhi on your knees, and so forth. You thought it was so hard, but don’t you understand that the reason you can’t pay for it is because God sent His only Son and gives us a pearl – a gift – that is so priceless, it is an insult to think that you can buy it.” And the pearl diver understood the wonder of the Gospel and believed.
What a marvelous message! Let’s give our lives to proclaim it around the world. And to those who are listening here in this church, or are listening by radio, let me tell you that through Christ there is a gift that you cannot buy. And it’s the message that we want to give to the entire world.
Would you join me as we pray?
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Your greatness and for Your sovereignty. And we pray that we might not take for granted the wonder of You giving us the privilege of belonging to You, and the marvelous Gospel that we proclaim. We pray for those who have listened to this, and are struggling as to whether they can believe. We pray that You will cause them to believe. Bring them to faith in Jesus, we pray.
And now before I close this message, what is it that you have to say to God, whoever you may be? Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, if you know Christ as Savior, you thank Him for it. And who is it in your life that you have to witness to and share the Good News with? If you don’t know Christ why don’t you believe on Him now and say, “Okay, I bow. I accept.”
Father, the work that You have begun in our hearts, complete it we pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.