Even in my own lifetime, I have heard Christ called "The Revolutionary Jesus," "The Marxist Jesus," "The Nazi Jesus," and "The Capitalist Jesus"-to mention just a few.
I daresay that had this abuse of teaching been done to one of the founders of the other great world religions, the abusers might have been hacked to death in an attempt to avenge mischaracterization of the religion's fundamentals. Yet those of us who consider ourselves to be orthodox Christians do not respond this way-both because we believe in Jesus' injunction to his followers to turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29) and because of our foundational belief in the sovereignty of God. Hence the statement attributed to Charles Spurgeon: "Defending the Bible is like defending a lion." The Bible speaks for and defends itself.
Nonetheless, from time to time, we are called upon to set the record straight, drawing upon 2,000 years of Christianity that is centered upon the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the one "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8, NIV). Today it is imperative that we as Christians point out the way in which society is altering the unalterable. We must defend the notion that God has not changed.
Take the results of a survey conducted in early August 2005 by Newsweek and Beliefnet. More than 1,000 Americans were asked what they believe and how they practice their faith.
Perhaps what is most interesting-and disturbing-about the results is that 68 percent of evangelical Protestants and 83 percent of non-evangelical Protestants said that yes, according to their own religious beliefs, "a good person" who isn't of their religious faith can "go to heaven or attain salvation."
Here's how Newsweek's Jerry Adler put it: "Along with diversity has come a degree of inclusiveness that would have scandalized an earlier generation. According to the Newsweek/Beliefnet Poll, eight in 10 Americans-including 68 percent of evangelicals-believe that more than one faith can be a path to salvation, which is most likely not what they were taught in Sunday school."
I certainly hope not, but I am no longer so sure.
This finding is startling. And I have to wonder where we, as a Church, have failed? Are we not communicating the Bible, which clearly teaches that Jesus is the only way to God and that no amount of good deeds or random acts of kindness can get anyone into heaven? Are we not making it clear that salvation cannot be bought-except with the blood of Jesus?
These aren't my concepts-they're from the Word of God. Jesus Himself said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, NIV).
To me, it doesn't get any clearer than that. And I am grieved, disheartened, and confused that people who profess to be evangelical Protestants would believe otherwise.
The one comfort we can draw from these statistics is that it has become easier to identify the goats camouflaged as God's sheep. Christ has always indulged a certain mixture of pretenders among the authentic believers in His Church, and today's cultural climate makes it easier for orthodox Christians to discern the difference.
Though it is a popular idea, we must make it clear that being "a good person" does not bring salvation. As Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast."
We are saved only by the grace of God, and salvation is possible because Christ died on the cross to pay the price for your sins and for mine. And praise God He did!
With these things in mind, as we consider any form of spirituality, we should ask three questions:
1. Is it consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus?
If someone claims to enjoy an emotionally fulfilling spiritual life but could not care less for his neighbors who are on a self-destructive journey that inevitably ends in eternal separation from God, that is contradictory to the command of Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 19:19)
2. Is it consistent with the totality of the life and teaching of Jesus?
There is no use in someone's claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ who habitually and casually breaks the Ten Commandments, which Jesus declared that He came to fulfill, not to destroy (see Matthew 5:17).
3. Is it consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible?
It's quite easy to take a phrase from the Bible, to isolate it from its context, and to claim any sort of new-fangled idea. In point of fact, orthodox Christians believe that the two books-the Old Testament and the New Testament-of the Bible are very consistent. The first claims that the Messiah is coming, and the second claims that He came.
As a final warning, I would add that the word spirituality is used to justify all sorts of physical and external ecstasy-but in truth the word for some 2,000 years was used in reference to those who have invited the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, to dwell in them. When the Holy Spirit does dwell in a believer, He leads them into righteousness and purity, sanity and reason-not toward following their own whims.
While our society continues to evolve, we must remember that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8) He does not change. He alone is the way to God the Father, to heaven, to salvation. And nothing we can do or dream up will ever change that.