Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE UNIQUENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH”[1]

 

 In our modern world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain our grip on the uniqueness of the Christian faith. We have the problem right here on the home front, where Bible reading and the Lord’s Prayer were decades ago banned from the public school system because of a Supreme Court ruling based on a misunderstanding of the original intent of the U. S. Constitution. The notion that one religion is true, and the others are false is hardly in keeping with modern views about tolerance and political correctness. According to tolerance and political correctness, all religions are to be granted legitimacy as an integral part of our culture, except for Christianity. It is no longer considered in good taste to refer to certain cultures as “primitive” or certain religions as “pagan.” To do so is to forfeit your intellectual respectability in social circles by making value judgments. Modern man is too sophisticated to speak in such terms of other peoples and their cultures. Even within Christendom, the ancient landmarks are rapidly disappearing. In morality there is no such thing as sin; in theology, there is no such thing as heresy. The only heresy is bigotry. Even the Supreme Court of the United States declares that it is impossible to define such terms as pornography or obscenity; so the movies and magazines are filled with both, and they are well on their way to invading the television industry.

When we move into the supposedly non-Christian world, where the missionary has to operate, we find that the exclusive claims of Christianity are vigorously challenged by the non-Christian religions now undergoing an unprecedented resurgence. It is safe to say that the most offensive aspect of twenty-first-century Christianity is its claim of exclusiveness. Such a claim does not make sense to the Hindu, the Buddhist, or the Confucianist. Most of the well-known ethnic religions of the world hold certain doctrines in common:

 

It is only fair to point out that while the non-Christian religions are tolerant in theory, they are not always tolerant in practice. There are certain fundamental doctrines in Hinduism that are not open to debate. One of these is the doctrine that all matter, including the individual soul, has no objective existence in fact. Another is that ultimate reality is spiritual and found only in Brahman, the world soul. Hinduism tolerates everything except conversion and herein lies its inconsistency. If all religions are equally valid, as the Hindus maintain, why should they object when a Hindu becomes a Christian? Tolerance in Islam? Ridiculous. Islam calls for death should anyone convert from Islam to any other religion.

I am not concerned about “proving” that Christianity is true in this message (which it certainly is) or that the non-Christian religions are false (which they certainly are). Nor am I saying that these other religions do not have some things in common with Christianity. I am simply trying to point out certain features of Christianity which, taken together, place it in a class by itself. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the former high priest of American liberal theology, erroneously said on one occasion that there is nothing in Christianity that cannot be found in the other religions of the world. It is true that unusual births and strange claims of resurrections are found in the non-Christian religions; but when one examines the details one is struck not by the similarities of the two accounts, but with the dissimilarities. What person in his right mind would want to suggest that the Resurrection story in the Gospels is to be placed in the same category with the resurrections found in the mystery religions so common in the Roman world of the Lord Jesus Christ’s day? They have about as much in common as ancient witchcraft and modern medicine.

Therefore, to clear the air and establish several important things on this first day of our annual Missions Conference, I wish to outline for you the uniqueness of Christianity by consideration of three important fundamentals, the character of the Christian God, the person of the Christian’s Savior, and the nature of Christian salvation:

 

First, THE CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN GOD

 

The God of the Christian revelation, whose name is Jehovah, claims to be the one true God, Creator of heaven and earth.[2] Though His revelation was given through Israel and He was known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is never depicted as a tribal god. He is the King of all the earth.[3] He is a great God and a great King above all gods, and all other gods are idols.[4] There is no other god like Him.[5] He deserves and demands the worship and service of all men.[6] Some things about Him:

First, God is an eternal Being. He is self-existent and, therefore, eternal.[7] All else exists because He willed its existence.[8] He alone exists necessarily, from eternity to eternity.[9]

Next, God is a personal Being. He is eternally separate and distinct from all other beings. He is conscious of Himself.[10] He possesses the power of self-determination. He can love and be loved, and He is love.[11]

Third, God is an infinite Being. His attributes are infinite. He is all good, all wise, and all powerful.[12] He fills all heaven.[13] He fills all earth, as well.[14] He is not merely wiser, more just, and more good than any other being, He is infinitely wise, infinitely just, and infinitely good. He is both immanent and transcendent[15] at the same time. His only limitations are those that He has voluntarily imposed on Himself.

Fourth, He is a moral Being. The Greek gods were more immoral than their devotees. Not so Jehovah. He loves righteousness and hates iniquity.[16] He is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works.[17] He is both light and love.[18] His love is a holy love. His holiness glows with love, and His love burns with holiness. He is a holy God and demands holiness of all His people.[19]

Fifth, He exists in three Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are three Persons but only one God.[20] All three Persons are eternally coequal in wisdom, love, and power. Each has all the powers and prerogatives of the other Two. All three Persons have been and are engaged in the work of creation, redemption, and judgment.

Sixth, He has revealed Himself to man. He is not a god afar off, who hides Himself. He rejoices in the inhabited world and delights in the sons of men.[21] He has revealed Himself through general revelation, which includes creation and conscience; and through special revelation, which includes the written Word and the living Word.[22]

No other religion has a god who possesses all these characteristics. The Christian God, therefore, is unique.

 

Next, THE PERSON OF THE CHRISTIAN’S SAVIOR

 

All the well-known religions, except Hinduism and Shinto, have their founders. Some of them were good and great men compared to other men, but none of them belongs in the same category with the Lord Jesus Christ. He stands alone in solitary grandeur among those who walked the earth. By almost universal consent He is the greatest individual who ever lived. Even non-Christians gladly acknowledge the influence of His life and teaching. Jean Paul Richter expressed it well when he said,

 

“He, being the mightiest among the holy and the holiest among the mighty, lifted with His pierced hands the gates of empires off their hinges, turned the streams of centuries out of their channels, and today rules the world.”

 

No other religion, including Islam, is so completely identified with the life and teaching of its founder. Buddhism could exist and flourish if Gautama, the Buddha, had never lived. The same can be said of Communism and Karl Marx. Confucius is by no means essential to the system that bears his name. This is not true of Christianity. Christianity stands or falls with Jesus Christ. Without Him, there would be no salvation, no Gospel, no New Testament, and no Christian Church.

The uniqueness of Jesus Christ finds expression in six things:

First, His virgin birth. This is clearly taught in two of the four Gospels. It is true that miraculous births are claimed for other religious leaders, but the details are so vulgar and grotesque as to make them suspect. In our Lord Jesus Christ’s case, the miraculous element was reduced to an irreducible minimum - His conception. After that, natural processes occurred, and the Lord Jesus was born nine months later as any other child is born. He was neither a physical giant nor did He make any effort to establish Himself as a mental prodigy. The record tells us that he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”[23] If modern scholars have problems with the virgin birth, they can derive comfort from the fact that both Mary and Joseph did too, at first. We should also remember that the Gospel writer who gives us the most details concerning the birth of Christ (Luke) was a physician. Moreover, the virgin birth was not added simply to embellish the story. It was a necessary part of the miracle of the Incarnation. It was essential to the preservation of His holy nature.[24]

Next, His sinless character. The matchless life of perfect love lived by Jesus Christ is a unique phenomenon in the history of the world. He was born without sin, and He lived without sin. On this point, we have the testimony of both friends and foes.[25] He was the only man who ever lived whose inner life was white as snow, pure as sunlight, and strong as steel. Never once did He depart from the path of rectitude. Never once did He succumb to the world, the flesh, or the devil. He was the only person who ever loved God with all His heart and could say, “I delight to do thy will, O my God.”[26]

Third, His atoning death. Without sin Himself, He died for the sins of others. He died not as a prophet, or a reformer, or even as a martyr. He died as a Savior, the only Savior of the world.[27] He gave His life and shed His blood for the remission of sins.[28] His death, far from being an accident or incident of human history, was part of God’s eternal plan and purpose and could be brought about only in God’s way, in God’s time, and with God’s consent.[29] In death as well as in life He occupied a solitary throne.

Fourth, His victorious resurrection. Not only did He claim to be “the resurrection and the life”; He rose from the dead on the third day as He had predicted.[30] The Resurrection accounts as given by the four evangelists bear all the earmarks of a true story. They are all the more remarkable because the disciples did not expect ever to see their Lord Jesus alive again; and seen when His resurrection was reported to them, they refused to believe it until they saw Him with their own eyes. And when they finally preached “Jesus and the resurrection” in the city that crucified Him some paid for it with their lives. To say that the disciples deliberately fabricated the story is sheer nonsense. To say that they believed something that didn’t actually happen is also nonsense. This historic event, one of the best-authenticated facts in history, is of the utmost significance to the Christian faith. It is the foundation stone. Remove this stone and the whole superstructure crumbles. Christianity stands or falls on the Resurrection. His virgin birth, His sinless character, His atoning death - all have no meaning apart from the Resurrection. Deny that and you have denied everything else.

Fifth, His ascension into heaven. His entrance into the world was a miracle; His departure from the world was also a miracle. This is the way God intended it to be.[31] The Lord Jesus did not intend to remain on earth indefinitely. He came simply to “tabernacle” among us.[32] When His redemptive mission was accomplished, it was fitting that He should return to heaven. The Resurrection and the Ascension are treated in the Pauline epistles as two phases of one climactic event by which God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His own right hand, far above all principality and power and might and dominion.[33] He is now the Prince of life, the Lord of glory, and the Head of the church.[34] He now sits at the right hand of God, the place of power, where He is a living, reigning Lord and Savior, able to save all who come to God by Him.[35] All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.[36]

Sixth, His second coming to earth. The Old Testament predicts and the New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus Christ will return to the earth to rapture the church, to judge the world, and to establish His everlasting kingdom of justice and peace.[37]

These six aspects of His life and person place Jesus Christ in a class by Himself. He is a unique figure in the annals of history. Not one of these things can truthfully be said of any of the great figures of history or any of the founders of the non-Christian religions. Jesus Christ would say of them what He said to His disciples: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.”[38]

 

Finally, THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN SALVATION

 

All the well-known religions of the world have a doctrine of salvation. Indeed, salvation is the ultimate purpose of all religions. They use various terms and advocate different ways, but they all purport to deliver man from the human predicament in which he finds himself. The doctrine of salvation in Christianity differs fundamentally from the salvation offered by all other religions:

First, Christian salvation is the gift of God, not the work of man. In every other religion, man seeks after God and tries by various ways and means to placate His wrath and secure His favor and protection. In Christianity, it is God who seeks after man. Redemption is something accomplished by God and offered to man “without money and without price,” Isaiah 55.1. Salvation is a free gift, Romans 6.23, bestowed by God on the principle of grace and received by man on the principle of faith, Ephesians 2.8.

Next, Christian salvation is rooted in morality. God is a holy God. He cannot forgive sin simply by fiat. He cannot dispense mercy at the expense of justice. He must remain just at the same time that He justifies the sinner.[39] He cannot save the sinner, however much He loves him, without first solving the moral problem of sin. The theology of redemption as taught in Scripture embraces several great laws or principles required by the holiness of God: (1) “The soul that sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18.20. (2) “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” Hebrews 9.22. (3) “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul,” Leviticus 17.11. (4) “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins,” Hebrews 10.4. (5) “by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us,” Hebrews 9.12. These five statements constitute the moral basis for the Christian doctrine of salvation. It is free, but not cheap. It cost God the lifeblood of His only Son. Now when God forgives sin He is not only good and kind; He is also faithful and just.[40] No other religion offers a salvation that is rooted in morality and, therefore, consistent with the holiness of God.

Third, salvation is always deliverance from sin, both its penalty and its power. Other religions treat the symptoms, not the disease. Salvation for them is release from suffering, as in Buddhism; or ignorance, as in Hinduism. In Christianity salvation goes deeper and gets at the root cause of suffering, ignorance, and all the other ills that afflict mankind. The human predicament is the result of sin; and all man’s fears, doubts, and frustrations stem from that. To get rid of them, one must first get rid of it. Jesus Christ by His atoning death and victorious resurrection met all the demands of a holy God against the sinner. Jesus Christ, acting on our behalf, accepted the penalty, paid the price, and settled the account. The sinner who repents and believes is forever set free from the law of sin and death, Romans 8.2. Here and now he enjoys “peace with God,” Romans 5.1, and for him there is “no condemnation,” Romans 8.1. But that is not all. Salvation in Christianity includes deliverance from the power as well as the penalty of sin. This is made possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. The Christian walks in the power of the Spirit, and he will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, according to Romans 8.1. The power of sin has been broken. Sin has no more dominion over him, since he is not under law but grace, Romans 6.14. He is given not just a new leaf to turn over but a new life to live. He is now “in Christ,” which means that he is a “new creation,” Second Corinthians 5.17. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.

Fourth, salvation includes the whole man - body, soul, and spirit. When man fell chaos was introduced into all parts of his constitution - spirit, soul, and body; mind, heart, and will. Theologians have called this “total depravity.” Salvation, if it is to be effective, must attack and conquer sin in every part of man, not just his soul. This is precisely what Christian salvation does. It involves the whole man - spirit, soul, and body.[41] It also includes the mind, the heart, and the will.[42]

Fifth, salvation is a present possession as well as a future prospect. Christianity is the only religion which offers a here-and-now salvation. In all other religions, the devotee must wait until the future life to discover whether or not he is a candidate for salvation. Buddhism and Hinduism teach the doctrine of reincarnation. One can only hope that his lot in the next life will be an improvement on this one. But he is never sure. He may go up in the scale of life, or he may go down. Before he gets through he may have to pass through eight million incarnations. And when Nirvana is finally reached what kind of salvation does he experience? The word Nirvana means to “blow out” like a candle. The five states of being are dissolved, and the individual soul is lost in the universal soul. Like a drop of rain falling back into the ocean, it loses its separate identity. Not only is there no salvation for the body, but the personality itself is destroyed. On the contrary, the Christian does not have to wait for the next life. Here and now he can enjoy the forgiveness of sins and know that he has eternal life.[43] Moreover, for the Christian salvation is also a future prospect. What he has now is only a foretaste of what’s ahead. His body too is to be redeemed.[44] In the resurrection, he will be given a new body, a “spiritual” body, a “glorious” body, which will be free of sin and endowed with new powers and properties quite beyond anything he has known in this life. Indeed, salvation will extend to the “whole creation” and will involve a new heaven and a new earth from which all taint and trace of sin will have been removed.[45]

Sixth, salvation involves not only the individual but society as well. The Gospel has social implications. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. . . Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” Matthew 22.37-39. The gospel is first personal but has a social effect. Both are important. Traditionally liberals have preached a social gospel and the conservatives a personal gospel. However, when a personal gospel is preached and truly embraced the impact on society is astounding.

 

The New Testament writers refused to settle for a dichotomy. In Paul’s letters faith and love are frequently mentioned in the same verse.[46] John brings the two together in his first epistle.[47] James insists that faith and works belong together and goes so far as to say that without works faith is dead, James 2.14-26. Genuine faith in Christ always leads to love for the brethren, and love does not stop with the brethren; it goes on to embrace the world in all its varied needs - physical, mental, material, and social, as well as spiritual.

When the question is asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the Christian’s answer is a resounding “Yes.” He cannot, like the priest and Levite, pass by on the other side, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10.31-32. The love of Christ will compel him to share his resources, however meager, with the world round about him. His Master “went about doing good,” Acts 10.38, and he can do no less, Galatians 6.10. He has no illusions that by his own efforts he can bring in the kingdom; but as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” he will do his best to permeate society with the principles of the gospel, including brotherly love, and peace with men. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men,” Romans 12.18.

Wherever missionaries have gone they have built churches, opened hospitals, founded orphanages, operated schools, and in a hundred-and-one other ways have tried to follow in the steps of the Master, who had compassion on the multitudes, helped the helpless, fed the hungry, healed the sick, cleansed the leper, and raised the dead. The non-Christian religions are now engaging in various kinds of social service and medical and educational work, but the impulse did not come from their religious beliefs. They have been forced into them by the competition afforded by Christian missionaries. Each non-Christian religion has its own doctrine of salvation, but none of them can compare with the glorious salvation found in Jesus Christ.

This, my friends, is why we engage in missions.

__________

[1] Adapted from J. Herbert Kane, Understanding Christian Missions, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1974), pages 105-113.

[2] John 17.3; Isaiah 40.28

[3] Exodus 3.6; Psalm 47.2

[4] Psalm 95.3; 96.5

[5] Psalm 89.6

[6] Deuteronomy 6.13-15

[7] Exodus 3.14; Deuteronomy 32.40

[8] Colossians 1.16-17

[9] John 1.1

[10] Proverbs 8.22-23

[11] John 3.16; Matthew 22.37; 1 John 4.8

[12] Exodus 34.6; Romans 11.33; Isaiah 40.18-26

[13] Isaiah 66.1

[14] Psalm 139.7-10

[15] Acts 17.27-28; Isaiah 55.8-9

[16] Hebrews 1.9

[17] Psalm 145.17

[18] 1 John 1.5; 4.8

[19] Exodus 15.11; Isaiah 6.3; Leviticus 19.2; Hebrews 12.14

[20] Matthew 28.19

[21] Proverbs 8.31

[22] Romans 1.19-20; 2.14-15; Hebrews 1.1; John 1.14, 18

[23] Luke 2.52

[24] Luke 1.35

[25] 2 Corinthians 5.21; 1 Peter 2.22; 1 John 3.5; Luke 23.41; John 19.4, 6

[26] Psalm 40.8

[27] 1 Peter 3.18

[28] Matthew 26.28

[29] Acts 4.27-28; John 19.11

[30] John 11.25

[31] John 16.28

[32] John 1.4

[33] Ephesians 1.20-21; Philippians 2.9-10

[34] Acts 3.15; 1 Corinthians 2.8; Colossians 1.18

[35] Hebrews 7.25

[36] Matthew 28.18

[37] 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17; Matthew 25.31-46; Revelation 19.11-20.4

[38] John 8.23

[39] Romans 3.26

[40] Titus 3.4; 1 John 1.9

[41] 1 Thessalonians 5.23

[42] Romans 12.2; Philippians 2.5; 2 Corinthians 10.5; Romans 5.5; Colossians 3.15; Hebrews 10.22; Romans 7.9-25

[43] 1 John 2.12; 5.13

[44] Romans 8.23

[45] 1 Corinthians 15.44; Philippians 3.21; 1 Corinthians 15.42-44; Romans 8.22-25; Revelation 21

[46] Colossians 1.4; 1 Thessalonians 1.3

[47] 1 John 3.23

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org