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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Case for Christianity

Don Stewart :: Setting the Record Straight

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Chapter 2 – Setting the Record Straight

What Christianity Is and Is Not

This chapter picks up where the last one left off. It clears up a number of common misconceptions about the Christian faith.

First, we again emphasize that all religions are not ultimately saying the same thing. The differences between them are so vast that they cannot all be true at the same time. While all of them can be wrong, they cannot all be true. Furthermore, Christianity makes specific claims that rule out the claims made in these other religions. It claims to be the only religion, or faith, which has the truth about God. Therefore, according to the Christian perspective, the idea that somehow all religions are teaching the same thing and that all paths eventually bring humanity to the same place is not true. This is crucial for us to understand.

Indeed, Jesus made Himself the issue, not His teachings. People will spend eternity with God or apart from Him based upon their response to the claims of Jesus Christ.

Once this is established, we then go on to demonstrate that Jesus Christ did not merely make these claims about Himself, He backed up His claims with objective evidence. This is where Jesus is different from other religious leaders. He not only made the claims, He proved that He had the right to make these claims.

Before we examine the case for Christianity there are a few more introductory matters that need to be covered. This chapter covers those issues. They are as follows.

All Religions Are Not Ultimately Saying the Same Thing

Though humans have many different belief options do these choices really matter? Is it possible that all these different belief systems (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc.) are ultimately saying the same thing? If this is the case, then why make such a big deal out of Christianity?

Often we hear it asked in this manner, “Why make such a big issue about Jesus Christ and Christianity? All religions ultimately teach the same thing. Was not Jesus basically saying the same thing as Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, and the other founders of great religions? They all teach that God is love, that we are to love our fellow humans, and that we should give of ourselves for others, do they not? If this is the case, then why single out Christianity for special attention?”

1. All Religions Ultimately Contradict Each Other at Their Main Points

The answer is simple: the Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and other religious groups cannot all be experiencing the same God because the way they define God contradicts each other. For example, Buddhism believes in an impersonal God—it does not separate God from creation, they are one-in-the same. However, Christianity believes and teaches that God is personal—He is not the same essence as His creation but has a separate existence from it. There are many such examples of major differences between the various religions.

Since the various religions teach different and contradictory things about the nature of God, and how a person can get to know Him, they cannot all be true at the same time. They can all be wrong, but they cannot all be true. It is impossible for God to be personal and impersonal at the same time. Hence, to say that all religions are ultimately the same shows a lack of understanding of these religions and what they are teaching.

Remember: The main question that needs to be addressed concerning the various religions is not, “Do they contain some truth?” The real issue is, “Can they save?”

2. Christianity Is Unique among the World’s Religions in Its Claims

Next, we must consider the unique claims of Jesus. He said,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)

Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way in which a person can know the only God who exists. Therefore, according to the Christian faith, any religion, which teaches another way to know God, is, at that point, incorrect. This claim of Jesus does not make it true in-and-of itself, however it does rule out the possibility of Christianity being compatible with any other religion.

3. Jesus Is in a Different Class than the Founders of Other World Religions

Throughout history many religious leaders have come on the scene and attracted large followings—the Buddha, with his teachings on how to cope with life’s suffering, gained millions of adherents. Confucius, with his precepts on how members of society should get along with each other, likewise numbers his followers in the millions. The same can be said for Muhammad and the religion of Islam. Yet, Jesus has demonstrated that He is in a different class from these, as well as all the other founders of the major religions of the world.

4. The Person of Jesus Christ Is the Issue: Not His Teachings

Several things make Jesus different. First, He made Himself the issue while other leaders made their teachings the prime concern. Central to religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Confucianism, etc. are the teachings. What is stressed, in these religions, are the things these founders taught; not so much who they were. The teachers, therefore, are secondary to the teachings.

However, in Christianity, the opposite is true. The all-important issue is not so much what Jesus taught, as whom He claimed to be. The religious leaders of His day became infuriated when He claimed authority over everything. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, contrary to their tradition, they became incensed. The Bible says,

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. (John 9:16 NRSV)

Jesus answered this charge by declaring the following.

“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8 HCSB)

Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

5. Jesus Makes a Difference

This is one of the major differences between Jesus and the founders of other religions—He made Himself the issue. We find Jesus asking His disciples the following question:

“Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15b NLT)

He asked this question to secure a commitment, either for Him or against Him. We do not find the founders of the other world religions doing such a thing.

When the Jewish religious leaders brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, their accusation against Him was as follows:

“By our laws he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.” (John 19:7b NLT)

Therefore, contrary to the founders of all the other major religions, it is the identity of Jesus Christ, not His teachings, that is the major issue.

6. Jesus Demonstrated His Authority

Another aspect that separates Jesus from other religious leaders is that He demonstrated He had authority to make such monumental claims. While other religious leaders have made great claims, they have given no legitimate evidence to substantiate them. Jesus, on the other hand, backed up His claims with objective proof.

The Difference That Jesus Makes Is Illustrated

The account of Jesus healing a paralyzed man illustrates this point. When this man was brought before Him, Jesus said,

“Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5b God’s Word)

This claim to forgive sins upset the religious rulers. Mark records the following response:

Some scribes were sitting there. They thought, “Why does he talk this way? He’s dishonoring God. Who besides God can forgive sins?” (Mark 2:6, 7 God’s Word)

They said it is only God who can forgive sins.

Only God Can Forgive Sins

They were absolutely right in their assertion that only God could forgive sins. The prophet Isaiah records God as saying,

I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 NRSV)

But making the claim to forgive sins is something that cannot be publicly verified. How could anyone have known that Jesus had this authority? Realizing this to be the case, Jesus responded:

Jesus knew what they were discussing among themselves, so he said to them, “Why do you think this is blasphemy? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!” The man jumped up, took the mat, and pushed his way through the stunned onlookers. Then they all praised God. “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” they exclaimed. (Mark 2:8-12 NLT)

We note how Jesus dealt with the situation. He asked, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven or rise up and walk?’” It is much easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” because no one can tell, at that moment, whether or not they have been forgiven. There is no observable sign that accompanies the forgiveness of sin.

Everyone Will Know That Jesus Christ Has the Authority

But, if someone says to a paralyzed man, “Rise up and walk,” it will immediately become apparent to everyone whether or not the person has the ability to supernaturally heal. When Jesus instantly healed the paralytic, He showed the religious rulers He had God’s authority—since this miracle occurred where everyone could see it with their own eyes. Jesus, therefore, demonstrated His authority in the observable realm. It illustrated the fact that He also had supernatural authority to forgive sins in the realm we cannot see—the invisible realm.

Therefore, Jesus did not merely make claims about Himself; He backed up those claims with observable miracles, which testified, to His power and authority.

7. Fulfilled Prophecy Separates Jesus from Other Religious Leaders

Another thing that separates Jesus, from other founders of the great religions of the world, is that He fulfilled predictions about Himself that were written hundreds of years before He came. No one else can claim anything like this. Since the evidence is so vast, we will devote an entire chapter in our book to show the remarkable fulfillment of prophecy in the life of Jesus.

8. Jesus Christ Came Back from the Dead

A final fact, which separates Jesus from all others, is that He conquered the ultimate enemy that everyone faces—death. By coming back from the dead, He provided a solid answer to the question, “What will happen to us when we die?” No other religious figure has returned from the dead to verify his claims except Jesus of Nazareth. As we shall later see, the evidence that Jesus came back from the dead is sufficient to convince even the most skeptical.

9. The Claims of Jesus Can Be Tested

In addition, the bodily resurrection of Jesus can be tested by the most rigorous historical methods. While many other religious traditions have an idea of spirit resurrections (an untestable hypothesis), only the New Testament proclaims a bodily resurrection that passes all tests of historical reliability. This provides the believer with a genuine hope of life beyond the grave.

Thus, the resurrection of Jesus Christ separates Him from all other religious figures, past or present, for He conquered the greatest enemy we all face—death.

Therefore, Jesus is different from the founders of other religions in at least four ways. They include the following:

  • He made Himself the issue instead of His teachings.
  • He backed up His claims with observable miracles.
  • He fulfilled predictions made about His life and His ministry. These predictions were made hundreds of years before He was born.
  • He conquered death to verify that He was the unique Son of God.
  • These four things separate Jesus from any other religious leader past or present.

According to Scripture, Truth Is Absolute

We now move on to the next obvious question, “So what if Jesus is unique? Does it really make a difference?” A popular response to this question is, “I’m glad Jesus has helped you, you need help! But don’t tell me I have to believe in Him. What is true for you may not be true for me. It’s enough that a person believes in something but ultimately it does not matter what you believe.”

1. It Is the Object of Faith That Is Important

The Bible refutes this kind of thinking. It is important what we believe. In the New Testament, it is always the object of faith—Jesus Christ—and not faith itself, which is stressed. As far as the Bible is concerned, correct belief is crucial. The New Testament teaches that right belief consists of several things.

2. Faith Must Be in the God of Scripture

First, faith must be in God, but not just any god. Faith must be placed only in the God of the Bible—He is the only God who exists. There are no others.

3. Faith Must Be in His Son: Jesus Christ

Second, faith must be placed in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It is impossible to have a relationship with the true God apart from the Person of Jesus Christ. The Bible says,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:12 NRSV)

In another place, it states the following:

No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:23 NRSV)

According to the Bible, anyone who claims to know God, and yet does not believe in Jesus, does not know God. You have to have both the Father and the Son.

4. Faith Is More than Mere Mental Assent

Furthermore, faith in Jesus is more than merely acknowledging intellectually that He existed or that He is the Lord. James wrote about this type of ineffective faith. He compared it to the belief that demons have. He wrote,

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (James 2:19 NKJV)

The demons know who Jesus is—God the Son, the Savior of the world. But merely knowing these things and other facts about Jesus does not do them any good—they have no relationship with Him. Biblical faith consists of trusting Jesus as Savior—not simply acknowledging Him with the intellect.

Therefore it does matter what a person believes. Faith must be placed in God’s Son—Jesus Christ—or else there is no forgiveness.

5. The Bible Encourages People to Use Their Minds When considering These Issues

Though the Bible encourages people to put their faith in Jesus, it is neither blind nor irrational faith. No one is asked to sacrifice his or her intellect when they put their faith in the God of the Bible. Christian faith is intelligent faith.

6. The Bible Reveals What God Has Done in History

This is because the Christian faith is based upon the firm foundation of what God has done in the past. He has revealed Himself to humanity and that revelation is recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible tells us what God requires of us and that we are to respond to Him by faith. In doing so, we are never expected to stop thinking or to act irrationally. Isaiah the prophet records the Lord as saying,

Come now, and let us reason together... (Isaiah 1:18a KJV)

Jesus emphasized that coming to God involves the mind as well as the heart and soul. Matthew writes,

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37 NKJV)

When Jesus had a conversation with one of the scribes, He equated intelligence with knowing God. Mark writes,

When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Then no one dared any longer to question him. (Mark 12:34 NET)

The New American Standard Bible puts it this way:

When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions. (Mark 12:34 NASB)

An intelligent response from this person caused Jesus to remark that this man was close to the kingdom of God. This is another indication that the Bible encourages people to use their minds when examining the evidence for the Christian faith.

7. The Apostles Knew the Events They Preached and Wrote about Were True

The writers of the New Testament knew the events they preached, and wrote about, actually occurred—because they were eyewitnesses to these events. Simon Peter showed that the New Testament authors were aware of the difference between mythology and fact. He wrote,

For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. And he received honor and glory from God the Father when God’s glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven, “This is my beloved Son; I am fully pleased with him.” (2 Peter 1:16-17 NLT)

They knew what myths were, and they knew what they had experienced. They testified that the things they had experienced were not myths, but reality. Consequently they welcomed an honest investigation of the facts. Blind faith was never encouraged.

Summary of the Christian Position

Therefore, the Christian position can be summed up as follows: If the God of the Bible is the true God, then every subject explored will only confirm, not contradict, His written revelation. The Christian is not afraid of any issue that may come up.

The Evidence Is Sufficient to Believe in Christ

Finally, as we examine the case for Christianity we will discover that the evidence is more than sufficient to believe. When all the evidence is in, it will be clear that the Christian faith is true—Jesus is the one whom He claimed to be. Therefore, each individual must ultimately make a decision concerning Him.

The rest of this book will present some of the evidence for the “Case for Christianity.”

Summary – Chapter Two
Setting the Record Straight

From our examination of further introductory issues with respect to the Christian faith, we can make the following concluding observations:

  1. All religions are not ultimately saying the same thing.
  2. Christianity is unique among the world’s religions.
  3. Jesus demonstrated Himself to be different from any other religious figure.
  4. Scripture teaches that truth is absolute, it does matter what you believe.
  5. The Bible encourages people to think about these matters—to use their mind.
  6. When all the facts are in, the evidence is sufficient to believe in Christ. Therefore, the Christian is not afraid of answering any question the doubter may ask.

Consequently, giving evidence for belief in Jesus will strengthen the faith of the believer and will show the unbeliever that Christianity is based upon fact. It also demonstrates the need for each of us to respond to the claims of Jesus Christ.

Now that we have an understanding of the basic issues that are before us, let us move on to our case for Christianity.

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