Religion—A stone of stumbling?

Unfortunately, the natural inclination of the human heart towards God and constructed religion does not necessarily provide people with knowledge about the truth of God—it only provides a means for people to practice their beliefs about God. In fact, the spectrum of beliefs and faiths among people groups range from worshiping the Greek and Roman pantheon (which, by the way, is alive and well on planet earth), to crediting nature for the existence of all things (naturalism and evolutionary theory), to the elevation of Satan as god (satanism), to the five traditional major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism).

But is religion another stumbling block in the road of people’s life? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. How then is religion a stumbling block that leads people away from God?

1. The first reason religion can be a cause people to stumble is due to Syncretism.
Syncretism is the belief that all religions lead to the same God. Those who advocate for syncretism maintain that all religions are true and equal, even if their beliefs differ by an enormous degree or stand in direct contradiction. Take for example a quote by Paulo Coelho, who says, “All religions lead to the same God, and all deserve the same respect. Anyone who chooses a religion is also choosing a collective way for worshiping and sharing the mysteries.” Unfortunately, this view has become increasingly prevalent in our collective thinking. For example, Oprah Winfrey unabashedly teaches Syncretism. On national television she stated, “While Christianity is a valid way to achieve high states of spirituality, it must not be considered a unique way, or a correct way.” On another occasion she stated, “I’m a free-thinking Christian who believes in my way, but I don’t believe it’s the only way, with 6 billion people on the planet.”

Unfortunately, this view stands in direct opposition to the New Testament. Every writer of the New Testament would strongly protest such statements. In fact, Christ is recorded as stating the issue like this, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6 ESV—italics added).

The apostle Peter would join Christ’s claim. On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter stated emphatically, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Act 4:11-12 ESV—italics added).

Regardless of the biblical claim and clarity on the matter, syncretism has become a large part of our societal landscape. But is sycretism the correct view when the religions themselves so adamantly disagree in their beliefs about God? George Santayana points out the differences that ought to lead us to recognize that all cannot be correct when he says, "Each religion, so dear to those whose life it sanctifies, and fulfilling so necessary a function in the society that has adopted it, necessarily contradicts every other religion, and probably contradicts itself."

2. The second reason religion is a stumbling block to people is due to what might be termed, the Grand Scale.
Many people believe that if they live a moral life and try to do their best, God will consider their actions sufficient to merit entry into everlasting life. People seem to intuitively believe that when they appear before God at the judgment, at the close of the age, that God will somehow have a scale of sorts. And that somehow God will place on one side of the scale all the good they have ever done, and on the other side place all the bad they have ever done. God will then remove his hands and allow the scale to balance. If the good outweighs the bad, they earn or merit eternal life. If the bad outweighs the good, well, not so good. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the Bible’s declaration. The Bible unequivocally teaches that no one can be good enough to merit eternal life.

In fact, in the book of Proverbs there is an interesting sentence provided by King Solomon, that says, “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12 KJV). In my opinion, this idea of the great scale is the “way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”.

This then makes religion a great stumbling block to many people. Many believe that if they are spiritually-minded or religious and try to live a good and moral life according to their religious beliefs, they will earn or merit eternal life. Again, this is not the biblical perspective. In fact, Paul gives us possibly the best summation of this predicament when referring to the Jews of his day who rejected Jesus Christ but held to their religious beliefs (italics added).

“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge [biblical knowledge about Jesus Christ]. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness” (Romans 10:2-3 KJV).

This is precisely what all religions do. Religions produce people who have a zeal for God but not according to God’s instructions. Their zeal is not the issue, the problem lies in what they believe—just as the Jews who rejected Christ during Paul’s life. And, being ignorant of the truth of God as declared in the Bible about Jesus Christ, and going about their lives establishing their own beliefs about God, they refuse to submit to God. In the end, their religion will prove to have been a stone that caused them to stumble.

If this is the case, how is one granted eternal life? Eternal life is a gift from God given to all who believe in Jesus Christ and the sacrificial work he accomplished at the cross. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life is not a reward for being good—no one can be good enough to pay for their sins. Paul explains this clearly saying (emphasis added),

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV).

All religions, excluding true Christianity, have a single common thread—they all hold that human merit and conduct is the means for attaining everlasting life. Christianity stands singularly alone as the only faith that attributes to God the grace and cause for obtaining eternal life. Any belief that holds otherwise, in the end, will prove to be a stone in the road of people’s lives.

Our next discussion: Have we considered religious counterfeiting?

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