All the major world religions claim to have the answers to life’s big questions. They promise eternal glory and salvation. To varying degrees, they require followers to commit to a set of values and maxims. But do these religions bring me closer to God? And do they all lead to the same God?
Many people believe in God in one form or another. Many say, “All paths lead to God.” “It doesn’t matter what you believe in, as long as you believe in something.” “There is one God; whatever you believe in, He loves you.” But is this correct?
The three major monotheistic world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have a lot in common. They all believe in one God. They believe that the world has been created by this one God. They promise everlasting glory and salvation, if you submit to their religious understandings and maxims.
Another thing they have in common is that they all believe we have been separated from God because of sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned, mankind was separated from God, and must therefore find a way back to God.
Nevertheless, our approach to meeting God can vary greatly. Some people encounter God through strong emotions, experiences and sensations. They enter an emotional rapture to lead themselves into close contact with God. For the charismatic Christian churches this emotional rapture is often an important part of worship, with songs of praise, speaking in tongues, cries of hallelujah, etc. Also Muslim Sufis attach great importance to this emotional rapture as an approach to God.
Other people find meaning in maxims and laws and regulations. These are meant to act as “brakes” on sin and the natural lusts and desires that would otherwise be the driving force in their lives. A good life and blessing is to be achieved by following a set of divinely-inspired laws and regulations. Here we find many conservative Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and followers of various other religions.
Others find comfort in grace. Grace is a central and important concept especially for Christians. For many Christians, grace means forgiveness of sins they have committed, but also for the sins they will commit. In the Roman Catholic Church, confession plays a central role. By confessing their sins to a priest and receiving intercession, sinners are reconciled to God. This is part of the sacrament of reconciliation, and carried out at regular intervals.
But some people are not satisfied with any of this. They seek a deeper satisfaction; they are aware of their lacks. Despite strong sensations and experiences, or an ascetic way of life with strict rules of conduct, they are still the same old people, with the same lusts and sinful tendencies. And despite grace and forgiveness, they are not satisfied, as they continue to live according to their own lusts afterwards. The problem of sin is still not resolved!
Who is God? And what is His desire for us?
“Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” Hosea 6:3.
Hosea was a Jewish prophet, who had a sincere desire to get to know God. Based on his experience, he had learned that God was One who came to his aid at the right time, when he sought Him with all of his heart.
“So Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’” 1 Samuel 15:22.
Samuel was another Jewish prophet, who clearly had a thorough knowledge of what God liked. He could testify that God loved people who obeyed Him, and listened to what He said. But God was apparently not so concerned with outward rituals.
Jesus – the way and the truth
Jesus is at the center of Christianity. There is broad agreement that He is an important historical figure who has had enormous influence. But is He also something more than that?
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6.
Here we see that Jesus told His disciples that He is the only way to God. Many will say that that might be taking it too far. Aren’t there any other paths to God than through Jesus?
Jesus says in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
Here we see that Jesus says that practicing God’s will is one of the criteria for entering the kingdom of heaven. Jesus continues to speak about building your house upon a rock and not on sand:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27.
John, one of Jesus’ disciples, later described Jesus as follows in his gospel:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.
So John could witness of Jesus, whom he had personally known and seen, that the Word which Jesus preached had become life in Him. They weren’t dead words, but what He lived and also preached.
Was Jesus a human being like you and me?
According to the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus came to earth as a man, with the same conditions as you and me. He was the “Son of Man”; He was tempted like us but suffered rather than giving in to sin. In this way the Word became flesh in Him, and He could open a new way for us, back to God, where we can come to a life that is pleasing to God.
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:17-18.
But how was Jesus able to suffer rather than sin? Instead of giving in when He was tempted, He suffered and did the good. You yourself may have tried time and again to live in a way that pleases God, but you experience again and again that you fall short. Why didn’t this happen with Jesus?
God will empower us
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me[a] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8.
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus received power to defeat the sin that dwelt in His flesh, all that couldn’t please God. By overcoming all the evil, hatred, envy, demands etc., in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus could be pleasing to God. Instead of evil, goodness came forth! At the end of His life, Jesus testified that God would also give His disciples this same power by the Holy Spirit, and that they therefore should be His witnesses throughout the earth.
But what does it mean to be a witness of Jesus? Is it enough that I profess myself to be a Christian?
People who are to testify about something naturally testify about what they have seen and experienced. Those who personally see and experience that the things Jesus has taught them have become reality in their own lives, are real witnesses of Jesus. They can testify that the words He spoke when He was in this world really are not dead words, but that they are living words, powerful, able to create something new in a human being.
Paul writes in Romans 14:17 that God’s kingdom consists of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” By obeying and doing God’s Word, our lives will increasingly be filled with these three things, and we become bearers of the kingdom of heaven, and can be a great blessing for our fellow man.
To profess to a religion can neither make me really happy nor bring me closer to God. But doing the Word of God, practicing it in my daily situations – that is genuine and true worship, which also gives real and true satisfaction. That is following in the footsteps of Jesus, and which leads us back to God.