Friday, February 22, 2013

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; NKJV

Van Gogh, Weeping Woman
    In her best-selling book Beyond Belief religious scholar Elaine Pagels tells of a close friend of hers who was tragically killed in a car accident at age sixteen. Ms. Pagels was attending an evangelical church at the time, and was distressed to hear that since her friend was Jewish he was not born again, and hence was doomed to hell. "Distressed and disagreeing with their interpretation – and finding no room for discussion – I realized that I was no longer at home in their world and left that church" (Beyond Belief, p. 31).
    The story is tragic, and one can readily sympathize with Ms. Pagels. Unfortunately we cannot delude ourselves here, as terrible as the truth may seem. It would be nice to imagine that all well-meaning and sincere people go to heaven when they die. But so to imagine is to lose sight of the bigger picture. As we have seen, no human being meets God's standard of righteousness, and the this is because of the dark forces that are at work in every human heart. There are many different religions and philosophies in the world, each with many earnest and sincere followers. But we must face the fact that as human beings we simply do not measure up to God's standards, and this creates a problem – a huge problem.
    As we have also seen, the answer involves an atonement of some sort, but then this raises the further question as to who is qualified to provide the atonement. And that, in turn, raises yet another problem: the atonement has to be the substitution of one life for another. But in order for it to be a genuine substitution it has to be of equivalent value to the original. If I smash up your brand new Mercedes and offer you my beat-up old Ford in return, it is hardly a fair exchange. Sacrifices of animals were made in the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, but the blood of a bull or a goat can never really be the substitute for the life of a human being. Something more is needed. It must be a human life for a human life.
Van Gogh, Man Reading the Bible
    Moreover, the person being sacrificed must be perfectly innocent himself. Trading the life of one condemned criminal for that of another condemned criminal hardly satisfies the demands of justice. They both deserve to die on their own accounts. The substitute has to be innocent in order to offer his life in exchange for that of the criminal. It is for these reasons that there is only one person who is qualified to fill the role, and the person is Jesus Christ. Because He is true man He can act as the representative of the human race; and because He is true God His death is of innocent value and sufficient to cover the sins of the entire human race if need be. Moreover, because He was perfectly sinless He did not have to die for His own sins, and thus was in a position to give His life as an atonement for others. Thus He was able to do what no purely human priest or animal sacrifice could possibly do, and that was to really and truly atone for our sins.
    This is why there is no salvation apart from Christ. From the very nature of the case He is the only one who is in a position to secure salvation for us. Far from being tyrannical, for God to send His only Son into this sin-cursed world to die for our sins was an extraordinary demonstration of mercy and kindness. The person who throws a life-preserver to a drowning man is not being a tyrant; he is trying to save the man's life.
    What makes Christianity unique among the world's religions is that it offers mankind a Savior. If you think that you are a righteous person, if you think that your own good works are sufficient to merit heaven when you die, then there are other religions for you. But if you are honest with yourself, and can see some of the evil that is ingrained within human nature, if you can see that you could never stand before a righteous and holy God on the basis of your own merit, then you need a Savior. Every other religion offers a way to heaven paved with the pretense of human goodness. Christianity offers sinners salvation through a Redeemer. Let every person judge for himself what truly meets the need.

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