If there’s one thing to which human history overwhelmingly testifies, it is that we are fervently religious creatures. Among the rocks and rubble of human cultures throughout the millennia is evidence of the pursuit of spiritual things. As humanity, we have exerted extraordinary effort into the worship of figures such as Ra, Gaia, Dazhbog, Zeus, Aphrodite, Shiva, Vishnu, Izanagi, Izanami, Ahura Mazda, and gods of our own understanding. We’ve worshiped rocks, stars, trees, comfort, the dead, the living, and even ourselves. The world has seen her brahmins, caliphs, Siddartha Gautamas, and Joseph Smiths. We are natural-born worshipers.
And you’ve probably heard it said before. “When it comes down to it, most of the world religions are pretty much the same.” But is that true? For example, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, and Christianity; they propose a problem with the world, a solution, and the worship of a deity. Other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Rastafarianism, Wiccan, and Neo-Paganism feature categorically similar threads.
Nevertheless, while many of the world’s religions have similar features, biblical Christianity differs radically from them all. There are a handful of things which put it in a category of its own. Without understanding these differences, we cannot properly comprehend Christianity.
Here are three major differences between Christianity and other religions:
- The Creator God is the founder of biblical Christianity.
Christianity is not really a religion that was started. Rather, it is the God and Creator of the universe continuing his self-crafted plan of providing the way for fallen humanity to be reconciled into permanently right relationship with him.
Christianity simply observes the progressive outworking of God’s merciful, saving plan to his human creatures in the Person of Jesus Christ. As Christ stepped on the scene 2000 years ago, it was not so much the beginning of a new religion as it was the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plans. Those plans did not happen to start with a Jewish rabbi and his obscure followers. Christianity is not the product of a dynamic social-revolutionary in the land of Israel. Rather, it is the product of God’s sovereign orchestration of time and history for the redemption of an unworthy people through the God-man, Jesus Christ. When God incarnate arrives, he is methodically continuing what he founded: the plan of redemption. And it’s a plan which started a long, long time ago; to be precise, prior to the existence of any human being.
Historically, fallen men can always be traced to the origin of the major world religions. However, with Christianity, God has been the one initiating, working, founding, and continuing. Men never kept the true worship of God going. God always kept it going.
What distinguishes Christianity from other faiths is that it is not man discovering and developing, but God disclosing and dictating. God is the founder.
- The Creator God accomplishes the work of salvation in biblical Christianity.
Generally, “salvation” describes the way in which a human being experiences saving from what is wrong. When it comes to the salvation of the creature, there is a colossal chasm that exists between Christianity and all other religions. The world religions propose a myriad of salvation-paths. For example, in Buddhism, one must practice the Noble Eightfold Path to reach nirvana. In Hinduism, to attain moksha, the liberation from samsara and karma, one must exert themselves in the paths of yogas. Generally, in arbitrary, self-made ideologies, salvation involves attempting to be a good person as the self defines good. Whatever the specifics, salvation in the world’s religions can generally be categorized as accomplished through man’s exertions.
In this way, biblical Christianity is the photo negative of the world’s religions. It is a religion in which salvation is accomplished through God’s exertions. God is both the architect and achiever of humanity’s salvation. Man becomes the recipient of God’s work in salvation. He is the beneficiary of God’s doing. Humanity’s sole contribution to salvation is negative: the need for salvation is due entirely to our natural and willful rebellion against our God. Not only is man unable to save himself, he is also unwilling. Hence, the need for salvation is great.
Humanity’s salvation requires something that is external to his being and foreign to his nature. Therefore, the triune God must act. And he did and does. Jesus Christ is the God-become-man individual who performs the central work of the Creator’s architected plan of salvation. Contrary to the creature, Christ is both able and willing to do the work of salvation. And it’s a good thing because he alone is uniquely qualified.
Salvation involves the necessity for Christ to live a life in utter moral perfection. However, the reason he does is not primarily to serve as an unprecedented example by which humanity might be inspired so as to rescue themselves. Instead, Christ’s primary objective is to render himself an acceptable substitute offering on behalf of the recipients of salvation. Christ is, in nature, and practices, in deed, completely impeccable. He does so because God’s own requirements for acceptance are a righteousness which matches his own.
Every human being has flagrantly violated that standard. Moved by his mercy, God provides himself for the requirements he demands. Jesus Christ died on the cross to absorb the wrath of God due the recipients of salvation for their failures. Christ’s subsequent resurrection declares his impeccability, and, therefore, the satisfaction of God’s penal justice paid in the crucifixion-death of Christ on our behalf. Man offers zero assistance to God in this central work of salvation. Since he is the guilty party, all his efforts are annulled in the contribution to his salvation.
God’s work in salvation continues. As mentioned, he crafted the plan of salvation itself. Notwithstanding the myriad of world religions, at no time has humanity embarked on a quest to discover God’s plan of salvation. Again, man is in rebellion. Thus, his religious endeavors are the consequence. However, in his mercy, God still acted on our behalf. In addition to Christ’s death and resurrection, God acts to draw the recipients of salvation. Moved by his compassion, he grants faith. Faith is the vehicle by which the benefits of Christ’s salvation work is instantaneously and fully granted. Man responds in faith with the result that he is instantly declared righteous by the highest judicial system in the universe; the Creator. No additional work is required for permanently remaining in right standing with God. Thus, God is both the architect and achiever of man’s salvation.
Theologically, Christianity is properly described as a religion of “sovereign grace.” The term “sovereign” refers to God’s reign and rule, and the term “grace” refers to benefit given which is undeserved and unearned. In short, this describes God’s accomplishment and outworking of salvation on man’s behalf. So, “God’s sovereign grace,” or “the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace,” describe God’s solo-work in accomplishing the salvation of those will become Christians.
Salvation is God’s doing, not man’s. This is a major difference between Christianity and all other world religions.
- The Creator God does the work of conversion in biblical Christianity.
Biblical Christianity cannot be spread by external force. Whether political force, violent force, economic or social force – not one person in history has ever experienced conversion by the power of man.
Various misinformed individuals have and will argue that Christianity has spread by force at times in history: they may cite the rule of Constantine, the Crusades, Conquistadors, or the Inquisitions. More contemporarily, one might cite the external force of social and cultural pressure in decadent places like the United States. Residual methods from, for example, the Second Great Awakening, involve a form of social and emotional coercion. But genuine converts cannot be manufactured.
This is not to say that attempts were never made to make Christian converts by the coercive, external force of men. They have. However, not one person has ever been made a Christian by man’s doing. In fact, it is impossible. It only has, and will, happen, not through the power of men, but the power of God.
And this is not to say that people are not human instruments in conversion. They are. But to be sure, they are precisely that; instruments. God does the converting.
Christianity is not fundamentally a religion of external improvement, but internal re-birth. Because of humanity’s natural condition, we are unable and unwilling to come to God. Man’s fundamental condition requires far more than improvement. The Christian doctrines describe the act of God rendering converts as new spiritual creations. Naturally, the creature is incapable of re-creating himself from within. In his act of sovereign grace, the Creator makes converts by performing an act of soul-birth. Externally, the individual appears unchanged. Internally, everything is new.
Christ emphasized that he was the seeker of converts. God the Father performs the drawing of converts, while God the Spirit, the regeneration. It is a change of the spiritual, not external.
Most of the world religions feature common themes within. A deity is worshiped, a problem with the world is observed, and a solution proposed. While these features are present in biblical Christianity, the differences between it and other religions are vast. Biblical Christianity has its founding, salvation work, and conversion in the Creator God.