Christianity and Other Religions
In 2014, forces representing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conducted ground attacks on both government and opposition forces in Syria and Iraq; and by December 2015, ISIS held a large area extending from the middle of Iraq to northern Syria, containing an estimated 8 to 12 million people. They established an Islamic state called a caliphate, and implemented Sharia Law, rooted in eighth-century Islam, to establish a society that mirrors the region’s ancient past.
American and allied forces began to fight the militias of the caliphate, and by the end of 2017, the territory of the caliphate had almost all been reconquered. Despite the demise of its physical caliphate, ISIS retains a battle-hardened and well-disciplined force whose defeat is not yet assured. On October 27, 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph (the supreme religious and political leader of ISIS) was cornered by U.S. Rangers and killed himself and two of his children by detonating a suicide vest.
What is so sad in all this is the fanaticism with which followers of ISIS and other terrorist organizations are willing to die for their cause. They do not hesitate to die as martyrs. We have repeatedly heard and read of suicide bombers in many Middle Eastern countries. Muslim men and women are willing to blow themselves up and kill as many bystanders as possible. Why?
We abhor such behavior. Why are hundreds of Muslims willing to do this? Part of the answer goes back to the big lie in Genesis 3:4 when the serpent said to the woman, “‘You will not surely die.’”* According to Islamic teaching, the souls of people who have died remain in the grave awaiting the resurrection on the Day of Judgment. However, for those who believe and did good works in this life, their grave will be spacious and well lit. Their good deeds will come to them in the form of a handsome attendant who will speak kindly and keep them company till the Day of Judgment. From their graves, they will be able to see their place in Paradise. They will beg Allah to bring the Day of Judgment quickly, so they can receive their reward as soon as possible.
For those who do not believe in Allah and have done evil in this world, their grave will be very dark, tight, and restricted, so much so that they will feel their ribs crossing over one another in the middle of their chest. Their deeds will come to them in the form of ugly and mean attendants. From their graves, they will be able to see their place in hellfire. They will beg Allah not to bring the Day of Judgment so that they will not suffer what is in store for them.
Their holy book, the Qur’an, specifies two exceptions to this general rule: (1) Warriors who die fighting in the cause of God are ushered immediately into God’s presence (2:159 and 3:169); and (2) “enemies of Islam” are sentenced immediately to hell upon death. So, Muslim men and women are willing to die for their faith, because if they die as martyrs, they will immediately go to heaven and enjoy the rewards of martyrdom. Male martyrs are promised 72 dark-eyed virgins in Paradise. Female martyrs will receive their husbands, but Paradise will make women martyrs beautiful, happy, and without jealousy. They will also be superior to the virgins in heaven.
There are thousands of religions in the world, but only a handful of world religions. The largest world religion is Christianity with about 2.3 billion members (32 percent of the world’s population); the second largest world religion is Islam with about 1.8 billion followers (24 percent). The third largest is Hinduism with about 1.1 billion supporters (15 percent), followed by Buddhism with about 500 million adherents (7 percent). The smallest world religion is Judaism with about 14.5 million Jews worldwide (0.2 percent).
An estimated 60 million people—less than 1 percent of the global population―belong to other religions, such as the Baha’i faith, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, etc. And roughly one in six people around the globe (1.2 billion, or 16 percent) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest group worldwide, after Christians and Muslims.
The decisive difference between Christianity and all other religions is that in Christianity, salvation is based on faith and God’s grace. In all other religions, if they have any teaching on salvation at all, it is based on works.
Confucianism, for example, which was the state religion of China for centuries, has no concept of salvation. There is no god, no afterlife, only correct behavior, similar to humanism, which is Christianity without God. Confucius, who lived in the sixth century B.C., taught kindness, sincerity, justice, self-denial, and respect toward authority and the dead.
The closest Confucianism comes to being a religion is in its veneration of its ancestors. Elaborate ceremonies for the dead are one of the outstanding characteristics of Confucianism and Chinese culture. But there are no answers to: Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?
In Buddhism, salvation is achieving Nirvana—a state of non-existence. Living beings go through a cycle of reincarnations until they reach this state of non-existence.
Islam, on the other hand, has a clear concept of salvation by works. On Judgment Day, if your good works outweigh your evil deeds, you will be able to enter Paradise. If your evil deeds outweigh your good deeds, you go to hell. Good works are acquired by the observance of the five pillars of Islam:
● Recital of the creed: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
● Prayer (five times a day)—prescribed prayers;
● Fasting during Ramadan (from dawn to dusk);
● Hajj—pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime.
There is no savior in Islam. Yet many people convert to Islam. It is the fastest-growing religion in Europe and America. In the U.S., the number of Muslims has risen from about 10,000 in 1900 to about four million today. In Europe, with more than 500 million people (not including Belarus, Ukraine, Russia), there are between 25 million Muslims, or five percent of the total population. Why? Because Islam provides assurance and peace of mind: If one does good works, he or she will go to heaven.
Of all the world religions Christianity is the only one:
● that has a Savior;
● that is not based on salvation by works;
● that not only teaches right behavior but also supplies the power to achieve it;
● that has a true hope of a better world. In Islam;
● that has a gospel—the good news. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This good news is found in no other religion.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were in prison. After the earthquake that opened the prison doors, the jailer “called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household’” (Acts 16:29–31).
We are saved by grace through faith. No other religion offers salvation by faith. This is why Jesus said: “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
Many people believe that all religions lead to heaven. Christianity, however, teaches that there is no salvation apart from Christ. “‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:12). Furthermore, Christianity is the only religion that offers eternal life for free: “And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
* All Scripture references in this column are quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible.