What separates Christianity from other religions?
The short answer is the gospel (literally “good news”). All other religions teach that salvation is found in some process within the follower, and consequently the follower’s ultimate attention is with his/her internal experience. Christianity is, always has been, and always will be a revealed religion. It’s not discovered through human philosophy, insight or custom. Christianity alone proclaims a salvation which is found in an event outside of the believer; that is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s go a little deeper. There are a couple of Biblical doctrines that really separate Christianity from the other major religions in the world: Justification and Adoption.
To help us more clearly understand these concepts, it will be helpful to describe our standing and relationship to God before belief. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes us as “objects of wrath.” The subject of God’s wrath is often denied or at best ignored and will likely continue to be until we begin to realize the seriousness of our sin as rebellion against God. Listen to what other Christian writers have said on this subject.
“God’s wrath arises from His intense, settled hatred of all sin and is the tangible expression of His inflexible determination to punish it…But we may ask, why is God so angry because of our sin? It is because our sin, regardless of how small or insignificant it may seem to us, is essentially an assault on the infinite majesty and sovereign authority of God.”
Author of The Gospel For Real Life: Turn To The Liberating Power Of The Cross… Every Day
“Without any of the turbulent emotions found in us, and which betrays human weakness, the supreme Lawgiver, from the perfection of His nature, is angry at sin, because it is a violation of His authority, and a wrong to His inviolable majesty.”
Author of The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement
In summary, before we were justified and adopted we were enemies of God. It is this “bad news” that makes the “good news” music to our ears!
Justification is a legal term. To be justified means to be declared innocent. The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ was our God-appointed legal representative who took our place and experienced God’s wrath for us. Many translations of the Bible define this as propitiation. Perhaps because this is such a strange word, many English translations of the Bible have replaced the word “propitiation” with different wording. Some translations suggest it to mean “turning aside” God’s wrath; however that definition seems to communicate more of an idea of deflection (Like a UFC fighter deflecting a punch from his opponent). Jesus did much more than just deflect the wrath of God from us; he took the full brunt of the blow. God held nothing back as His wrath against sin was unleashed in holy fury on Jesus. The ramifications of this are stated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is The Great Exchange. Our sins were put on Christ and Christ’s righteousness was put on us. Our justification is then based on the righteousness of Christ for us, not righteousness that is in us. Martin Luther called this an “alien righteousness.”
All of this comes by grace through faith in Christ alone. Romans 3:22, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Exercising faith involves renunciation and reliance. That is, we renounce any trust in our own good works and relying entirely on the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is not to say that we don’t do good works. In fact, genuine faith always produces the fruit of good works. Faith without works, as James says, is dead. The point is that whatever works we do are never any part of the grounds of our justification.
The justified person does not have to feel guilt-ridden and insecure about his/her relationship with God. We can live with the constant awareness that we are accepted by God, not on the basis of our own performance, but on the basis of the infinitely perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. What is true of Jesus, then, becomes true of us.
Not only did our legal standing with God change but so did our relationship with Him. God desires us to experience Him and to primarily experience Him as Father. We have to be careful when talking about experiencing God and make sure that our individual subjective experience with Him is a response to a deep and meaningful understanding of objective truth.
We need something more than just a legal standing if we are to live in the presence of God for all eternity. We need to be brought into a familial relationship with God. And that’s exactly what happened! God has not only justified us, He has made us family members through adoption. We, who were enemies of God, were pardoned and brought into a close personal relationship with Him. He gives us the privilege of addressing Him with the very intimate and endearing term, “Father” (Galatians 4:6).
Sadly, some people have not had a good relationship with their human fathers and therefore the concept of fatherhood brings up images of harshness, abuse or unfaithfulness and feelings of anger, resentment or indifference. Whether we have a father whom we love and respect or one we despise, we should never form our view of God from any human father. Rather, we need to go to the scriptures to get an accurate picture of our heavenly Father. Spend some time thanking God for your position in Christ: a person justified in His sight and adopted as His son or daughter.