(The post below is an illustration I used recently in an ongoing, excellent, back-and-forth conversation I have been having with a Muslim reader via responses to this blog. I thought it worthy of its own post and have modified it.)
I believe there are really only 2 religions – 2 religious belief systems – in the world. Sounds crazy, right? No, I truly believe there are just 2.
In the first religious belief system, we can use the illustration of a ladder extending from earth to Heaven.
Humanity attempts to “climb the ladder” to Heaven by right beliefs, good intentions, obedience to all kinds of rules, and the faithful practice of all kinds of rituals. The adherents of this religious belief system believes if they can just do enough, they can tip the divine scales and God will let them into Heaven. This religious system is called “good works.” They might call themselves “Buddhists” (using the 8-fold path of enlightenment) or “Hindus” (reincarnation – coming back over an over again in some new form), or something else. They might call themselves “Muslims” (practicing the 5 pillars, attendance at the mosque, etc.) or “Christians” (going faithfully to “church,” practicing the “Golden Rule,” singing in the choir, knowing the Bible, etc.). The question about all of these people is, “What – or who – are they counting on to gain Heaven when they die?” Essentially, if they are trying to “climb the ladder” to Heaven by their good deeds, they are counting upon themselves. They are counting on their own performance and spiritual achievements – in essence, their own goodness.
In the second religious belief system, we can also use the illustration of a ladder between earth and Heaven. But in this faith system, God in Heaven looks down upon humanity and sees that they cannot “climb the ladder” and get to Him. None of them can. All are helpless, all are hoplessly lost, and all are in need of rescue. All are in deep shame and in need of their honor to be restored. So God – oh yes, He is truly Most Merciful and Most Compassionate – sends His mercy and compassion down the ladder through His prophets. He does this especially and uniquely through Jesus – Isa Al Masih. The prophet Isa – spotless and sinless – takes upon himself the sins and shame of the whole world through the voluntary sacrifice of his life. He provides restored relationship with God in Heaven, forgiveness of sins, and the honor man needs and craves. This is indeed Good News but. . .there is a big IF. Mankind must believe in Isa – who he is and what he has done – and follow him to the end. This religious belief system is not called “Christianity.” It is called “grace.” Grace is simply receiving (accepting) by faith a gift that cannot be earned. In this case, the gift is the gift of forgiveness and righteousness (right standing) before God and the resulting gift of eternal life in Heaven.
2 religious belief systems:
good works and grace.
What do you think?
(Postcript: I want to emphasize over and over again that I am not trying to get any of my Muslim readers to convert to “Christianity” or to become “Christians” through this blog. Why? Because Jesus didn’t! He simply used all kinds of terms to indicate that he himself is the ladder to Heaven. All I want – all I passionately want – is for all people to see Jesus – Isa Al Masih – for who he is, and to put their complete trust in him to live forever in Heaven with God who certainly is Most Merciful and Most Compassionate.)
I agree, too many people are depending on themselves and forgetting that we can’t get anywhere without God’s help. As the prophet Daniel said in Daniel 9:18 – we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. It’s because of God’s mercy not our own self-righteousness.
We all succumb to this sometimes however but we always have God there to remind us.
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall make your paths straight.
Marvin – as always, thanks for your encouraging words! Here are some for you that pertain to this topic (from Titus 3:3-7):
“Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.
But — ‘When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.'”
Very good Mark. Two belief systems — “good works” and “grace” reminds of the two roads referred to by Isa Al Masih, one “broad” and the other “narrow.” The broad road seems intuitive and feels like the right path. It accommodates every “label” under the good works belief system. We can fix our messes. We are good enough if we just work hard and check off all the requirements. But it’s end is bitter disappointment and destruction. The narrow road is humbling…and crazy. It is anything but intuitive or comfortable to our minds and pride. We are helpless. We can’t fix our messes. We can’t possibly work hard enough or check off all the requirements. We aren’t in CONTROL! To travel this road we are only asked to believe and trust in what someone else already did on our behalf. The crazy thing is that if we simply do that, we’ll find ourselves on the most glorious journey in all of life and eternity. He came down the ladder so that we might have life (not a checklist of requirements) and have it more abundantly. That’s the road I want to travel.
Steve, I appreciate your comments so much – so much that you will see them in the next post I write. Watch for it! Love the words of Isa that you alluded to:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (The Injeel, the Good News of John, chapter 10, verse 10, NIV).
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (The Injeel, the Good News of John, chapter 10, verse 10, NLT).
Thanks Mark. I did see the “next post” too. Glad you found my comment useful for His purposes.
Thank you, Steve.
What a kind, loving God to not give us what we deserve – punishment for our sins (this is mercy) – but give us what we don’t deserve – forgiveness for our sins (this is grace)!
These are some verses about God’s grace that really touch my heart:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“. . .he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).