Is Christianity an Exclusive Religion?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7And I have been chosen—this is the absolute truth—as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One of the criticisms I often hear when talking to others about Christ is that Christianity claims to be exclusive. These claims of exclusivity are seen as a negative in our culture, which values freedom of thought, and in the name of tolerance, often validates any and all views, no matter how outlandish or illogical.

It’s absolutely true that Christianity claims to be true and  on certain doctrinal matters it is exclusive.

In this passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is urging his audience to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority. I previously wrote about the need to pray for our political rivals here.

Paul gives the reason why we should pray for others, even those who are in authority over us and with whom we might disagree – God wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth.

Two questions naturally follow: what does it mean “to be saved” and “what is the truth that people need to understand?”

When the Bible talks about being saved, it’s referring to being rescued from punishment. The picture is that we are on a trajectory that will lead to disaster but because of God’s help, our crisis is averted.

One of the questions that every religion seeks to answer is “how can people be reconciled to God?” Or another way of putting it is, “what must a person do in order to be accepted by God and enter into His presence?”

To be reconciled means to be brought back into a favorable relational status. What must I do to please God, to earn His favor and gain His acceptance?

Nearly every religion answers this question by providing a list of actions one must complete or avoid in order to gain favor. These actions form the basis for evaluating a person’s devotion to God and the quality or “goodness” of a person’s life, which in turn is used to determine their worthiness for entering God’s presence in the afterlife.

But here lies the problem. Nobody can follow all the rules that any religion might establish. These “rules” create a legal system for following God which people inevitably violate. One doesn’t have to read very far into the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were constantly abandoning God’s laws and rebelling against His statutes.

So what is the “truth” that God wants everyone to understand?

The truth is outlined in verses 5 and 6, which state:

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time.

The truth is that the ONLY way to be reconciled to God is through Christ Jesus. His death on the cross purchased freedom for everyone.

So reconciliation to God does NOT occur by keeping a list of religious requirements. Instead, it comes by placing one’s faith in Jesus to make the payment for us.

Is it exclusive? YES and NO!

It’s exclusive in that Jesus is the ONLY one who has made a payment for sin. No other religious system even offers a solution to how imperfect people can make themselves righteous enough to enter into the presence of an infinitely holy God. Every other religious system keeps people trapped in the religious hamster wheel of endlessly attempting to make oneself “worthy” before God, only to experience moral failure through everyday sins.

Fortunately for us, Jesus rescues us from this religious trap and provides a way for us to actually be reconciled.

But it’s NOT exclusive in the sense that the freedom Jesus offers is available to EVERYONE, not just some select group. ANYONE can access God by coming to Jesus!

This is the truth that God wants EVERYONE to understand, which is why Paul urges us to pray for all people to ultimately understand this truth so that they might experience God’s mercy.

Reflection

What is your view on how a person is “saved”? In other words, in your view, what does a person need to do in order to make it to heaven and live with God for eternity?

What is the basis for your answer in the previous question? In other words, what is the source of the views that you hold? 

People often say that Christians are too exclusive in their views. Do you agree that Christianity is exclusive? If so, why is this seen as a negative to people? Does being exclusive mean that it is automatically wrong? Why or why not?

The essence of Christianity’s exclusive claims is found in verse 6, which says, “He [Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” How would you explain this concept to someone else? What does it mean that Jesus gave his life? What does it mean that he purchased freedom?

 

Photo by seabass creatives on Unsplash

Are you a Slave or a Son?

Galatians 4

1What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:1-7, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Previously in the letter to the Galatians, I wrote about how Paul has asked his readers if they’ve been bewitched. He wants to know if they’ve been theologically scammed because even though they started out trusting Jesus and his death alone as the source of their right standing before God, it’s clear that they have since fallen back into a works-based system where adherence to the law became paramount in maintaining God’s favor.

Now, in chapter 4, Paul continues his explanation of why it’s foolish to try to earn God’s favor by keeping the law. He does so by giving the illustration of sons vs. slaves.

Remember that Paul’s audience is not Jewish, so he must use illustrations and explanations that are familiar to his audience.

In the very first verse, Paul says that in Roman culture, children were no better than slaves, even though they may be entitled to the inheritance.

In Roman law, sons had no real rights regarding their future estate until they were to come of age. This happened at the discretion of the father, unlike Jewish culture where a boy became a “man” at a certain age.

Paul’s point is that while the boy was still a child, he was viewed almost the same as a slave. He had no say or rights to the estate, even though it would become his at some point.

The law has that same effect. While under the law, we were not free. We were no better off than slaves and the law could not provide the promised inheritance. It was simply like a guardian to keep us until we would come to Christ, who alone provides the promised inheritance.

In verse 3, Paul says that when we were children, that is, when we were under the law, we were in slavery to the basic principles of the world.

The term “basic principles of the world”, or in some versions “the elemental principles” refers to basic religious principles, practices and systems from which we seek to derive our righteousness and acceptance before God. In this case, it was a Jewish system but it could be any religious system. They all lead to bondage because they are based on human effort vs Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Verse 4 delivers the big “But”. It shows a contrast and what is being contrasted is our relationship as a slave versus our relationship with God as a son!

Jesus died to redeem us, to free us from slavery and to make us adopted children in God’s family.

The proof that God has redeemed us and brought us into His family is the Holy Spirit, who is given to those who believe in Jesus.

The fact that we have God’s Holy Spirit in us proves that God considers us his sons and daughters.

If we are sons then we are also heirs. Our inheritance is eternal life, something that the law could never provide for us.

Do you want to inherit eternal life? Then you must become an heir. You become an heir by becoming a son, or daughter. You become a son, or daughter, the moment you place your faith in Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

If we insist on staying in some kind of religious rules-based system in order to gain favor with God, whether it’s the Old Testament law or some other religious system, then we are choosing to remain slaves who have no legitimate claim to an inheritance.

Reflection

 What do you think is the allure for people to follow a rules-based system when it cannot provide us an inheritance?

In what ways are you tempted to act like a slave instead of a son or daughter?

What are some of the “basic principles of the world” that we can get enslaved to? 

What steps can you take to ensure you continue to live as sons instead of as slaves? What do you think is the key to living out our freedom?

 

Photo by Jose Fontano on Unsplash