God and Religion
By Ed Young
September 14, 2014
“All religions are basically the same. After all, they all point to God.” That is something that many people in our world believe. It is perpetuated by the media and reported as fact by current culture. But is there any reality to it?
In this message, Pastor Ed Young unpacks the basics behind the major world religions. He reveals the truth of how Christianity stands apart and distinct from every other religion. And we discover the powerful truth that God doesn’t want us to be religious; he wants a relationship with us.
What’s up Fellowship Church? You guys like these pants? You like these pants? Now some people are like, are you kidding me? You couldn’t pay me money to wear those hideous plaid pants, not even on the golf course! Well, I’ll talk about these pants a little bit later.
ILLUS: Lisa and I were at a sushi bar in California a couple of years ago and this place was your quintessential California sushi restaurant. You know, the music thumping, the hardwood floors, the “beautiful people” were there. We walked in, looked around, and there were only two seats available at the sushi bar. We sat down and we sat down by a guy who was single. You could just tell. No wedding ring on, looking at all the ladies. And after a while I think he got a little bored, a little frustrated, so he began to talk to us. And he was talking about himself. You know we love to talk about ourselves, have you noticed that? He was saying this and saying that. “I’ve traveled here, I’ve traveled there. I live now in Newport Beach” and on and on and on. And finally he said, “What are you guys doing here? You don’t look like you’re from California?”
And I just said, “Well, we’re on business.” I never want to tell someone, hey, I’m a pastor. Because that’s a conversation killer. Whenever I say that, and I’ve been talking to someone for a while, they kinda do the rewind. <rewind sound effect> Hmm… how many F-bombs have I dropped? Hey man, I’m sorry I said damn and hell and amen. Whatever. It’s kinda funny to play that pastor card sometimes.
Anyway, finally he kept asking questions and I said, “Well, I’m a pastor and I’m here in California working with some leaders in some churches.”
And he was like, “Oh, that’s cool. You don’t look like a pastor.”
I said, “Thank you very much. That’s a great compliment.”
And he said, “You know, talking about religion, I think that God is at the top of the mountain. And there are many different paths to God and pretty much all religions are doing the same thing. I mean, they’re going after God so… I think if you’re sincere and you follow a path, you’ll get to the top of the mountain.” That’s what this guy told me in this sushi restaurant.
I call that sushi theology. Salmon, yellow tail, ono, all rolled up into one. It’s just sushi. It’s just sushi theology. Whenever someone makes that statement, and we’ve heard that statement many times, haven’t we? Whenever someone makes that statement, so often people make that statement I believe out of ignorance. Because normally when someone says there are many roads that lead to the same path you’ll stop them and say,
“Well how much time have you spent studying the world religions?”
“Well, I saw this special on television, um, this documentary. And I read this book, or I took this course in school…”
“Really, though. How much time have you spent studying Hinduism? Buddhism? Islam? Judaism? Or Christianity? The macro world religions.”
Usually, about 99.9999% of people who make that statement have never studied the world religions. There are some similarities, no question about it, in the world religions. We know that. Yet, there are some major differences. Because all of the world religions talk about exclusive truth. So to make that statement is a statement of ignorance.
Some people make that statement – you know the mountaintop story – God’s at the top of the mountain and if you follow your path you’ll get to God. Others make that statement not out of ignorance, but out of arrogance. Here’s what’s so sly about that statement that all roads lead to God. It seems humble, it seems so politically correct, it seems so cool.
“Hey, you know man, every way is equal and everybody is equal (which is true) and every religion is kinda doing the same thing.”
It sounds so humble, it sounds so sweet, so kind. Yet, it’s really the height of arrogance. And many times people don’t think about it but it is very arrogant. Because what you’re saying when you say that is, see my perspective is I see the whole picture. God is at the top of the mountain and that’s absolute truth. And these other paths, they’re just like going here and going there, going yonder, and they’ll ultimately reach God. In other words, forget the thousands of years of history, forget the brilliant theologians and minds who have studied the world religions, I’ve got the 4-1-1 on the deal. Isn’t that interesting? So they want to be so inclusive. In reality, though, that is exclusive.
What if I said, “Whoa! I got some tickets to the Cowboys game, and I can go see the Cowboys play. I’ve got like these ultimate seats, and I’ve got the ultimate parking pass. I can park in the shadow of the AT&T Cowboys Stadium – ‘stay-jum.’
Well, you would know, OK (and I have a terrible sense of direction), Ed, you’ve got to go specifically, especially when you get near the stadium you’ve got to turn right, you’ve got to turn left. You’ve got to go here and show the parking pass and finally you get to the right space. There are specific directions. What if I said,
“Man, don’t bother me with that! You’re being intolerant! I believe if I just take any path, any street, any road I’ll get to my parking spot at the AT&T Cowboys Stadium. I’m just going to start driving because I sincerely believe if and I feel it. Ya know? I’m just going to drive and I’ll get there.”
You’d be like, “you’ve got to be kidding me! There’s only one way to get to that specific parking spot and to sit in those seats in the suite and it’s going to be sweet!”
Christianity comes along, or Islam comes along, or Buddhism comes along, or Hinduism comes along, or Judaism comes along, and they make exclusive claims. There are some similarities, they make exclusive claims. And Jesus said in John 14:6, he said, “I am the way.” I didn’t say this. I’m telling you what Jesus said. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to God but by me.”
So to call Jesus a good teacher, just a good teacher, is being intellectually and historically dishonest. Either Jesus was Lord or he was a raving lunatic. But we go, “man, exclusive truth? I’m not sure. I think everything is relative, man. What’s true to you is truth. And what’s true to me is truth.” Sounds sexy.
OK, let’s say you had to have a serious operation on your heart and you went to this amazing hospital, let’s say the Mayo Clinic. And a team of relativists operated on you. Now you’ve got a heart problem, but what if one doctor said, “You know what? Truth to me is this person’s got a jacked up kidney. I’m going to take the kidney out, the left kidney. That’s what I’m doing.” But the other relativist says,
“Nah, not the heart, it’s not the kidney. I’m going to take that ear off.” And it doesn’t work. There’s only one way to get to the AT&T Stadium. There’s only one thing to do if you have a heart problem if you’re a surgeon. There’s only, Jesus said, one way.
Now some people say, “I can’t believe Jesus would say that he’s the only way. Man, I have a problem with that. I mean, how about the person in Borneo or the person in some rain forest or some tribe who’s never heard about God?”
When someone asks me that question I know what it is. It’s a <boom> smoke screen. They’re not really concerned about the person in Borneo or the person in the rain forest somewhere who has never heard about Jesus. They’re not really concerned about that. See, they don’t want God up in their grill, up in their business. They don’t want him to have a backstage pass to their life so they have a vested interest in keeping him at bay. The Bible says God is just, he’s fair, he’s sovereign. He’s going to take care of the person on Borneo or the person in the rain forest who has never heard. He’s going to take care of them. What, though, are you doing with the truth that’s been given to you?
T.S. So let’s go back to the sushi restaurant. Are you into sushi theology? Yellowtail, salmon, tuna, ono, all rolled up into one? It’s all sushi. Well to understand sushi bar theology let’s take a quick flyover, a flyby, of the world religions, you want to? The world religions. Let’s talk about the eastern religions, the eastern religions. And I’m a terrible speller so you can just laugh when I misspell words. When I went to school back in the day we actually learned how to write and the teachers would always say, ‘Great handwriting but horrible spelling. D-’ or something like that.
Well the eastern religions would be, and this is the oldest religion out there, Hinduism. Let’s talk about Hinduism just for a second. I probably misspelled that, didn’t I? Hindu. Did I? How do you spell Hinduism? Hinduism. See, I am ADD, ADHD, hyperactive, I have processing problems. I love it, though! I mean, everybody has a handicap. And I believe everybody uses our handicap, I really do, to make us all better. I believe that. So just fall in love with your handicap. We all have one.
Anyway, Hinduism. It’s the oldest macro religion. Now there are many different offshoots and micro world religions that we’re not going to get into. But Hinduism basically has one goal. Hinduism believes, of course I’m sure you know this, in reincarnation. Some of us, Hindus would say, on our 6,000th or 7,000th try. Hinduism is all about karma, what you reap is what you sow. And if you have some bad karma or whatever, you might be reincarnated as, I don’t know, a rat. If you have some good karma you might be reincarnated as our dog, Ava. And speaking of that, I want to show you a picture. This is hilarious, look at this. Keep that up. Now this is scary. That’s Lisa’s great grandmother, Mammy, to the right. To the left is our dog, Ava. Now I don’t believe in reincarnation but when I saw that… I mean, look at that! That’s scary! And Mammy’s with the Lord, we know that. And Mammy, we love you. I never met Mammy but… Lisa even said that. When we bought Ava (she’s a rescue), she’s like, “Ed! Ava looks like Mammy!” Anyway, it got me off subject.
Hinduism! Reincarnation. Well, the goal is moksha. Say moksha with me. Moksha. Moksha means to be released from the cycle of reincarnation, to be at one with Brahman. That’s what it means to be a Hindu. Hinduism is very, very confusing. It’s difficult to grasp.
The next one I want to talk about is Buddhism. Now, Buddhism is kind of an offshoot from Hinduism. Buddhism basically is a works-based religion. And the goal is to reach Nirvana. I’m not talking about the band. Some of you are like, really? No, Nirvana would mean, it means to extinguish. It means to blow out. And here’s what Buddhists are driving at. You’ll hear about the four noble truths of Buddhism. #1 – Life is suffering. #2 – Suffering is caused by desire for pleasure, prosperity, etc. #3 – Suffering can be overcome by eliminating our cravings for pleasure and prosperity. #4 – We achieve this by following the 8-fold path. That’s Buddhism. So you do all of these things and you can achieve Nirvana. These are eastern religions.
And the eastern religions are esoteric. Esoteric means they are all about mysticism, they’re all about looking inward and they view history as a cyclical entity. It goes around and around. <singing> “Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky? Yeah!” If you’re over 40 you got that. Billy Preston, remember him? He got the jam! I think he passed away. I read that the other day. So, eastern religions, esoteric, meaning mystical/inward, Hinduism, Buddhism.
Now let’s go to the west. Let’s go west, young man. The west! <squawking (yes, I typed squawking) melody to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” movie> This is how I passed in school. You got to make some sound effects. The west. Now these religions would be Judaism (I’m not even going to spell anymore!), Islam (I’ll just put that), and Christianity.
OK, Judaism. We know a lot of people who are Jews. You know there’s only 14.2 million Jews in the world? I was shocked! That’s not very many.
We are taking a trip to Israel. Lisa and I are leading one. December 30th. There’s still room for you. We have a large group going. People are like, “I’m not sure about going over there, man. I’m kinda scared!” I’m telling you, you’re safer to walk the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv than Downtown Dallas, Miami, or Fort Worth. And if it’s dangerous to go over there the authorities will say, “Danger! Danger!” and we’ll not go. But you talk about the Bible coming alive? It’s an awesome, awesome trip.
Judaism is grounded on the Law. Judaism and Islam and Christianity, let me keep with the right color scheme, would be exoteric, not esoteric. Exoteric. That means they believe God revealed himself from the outside through nature and also through a truth text, a book.
Judaism, we have the Torah. Say Torah with me. Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, that’s the Torah. Jews are all about the Torah. Well, the Jews wrote two commentaries about the Torah. The Mishnah and the Talmud. All of these laws and you would not believe some of these laws. Like one law is this. This is crazy, man. The 10 commandments, we know about the 10 commandments. One of the 10 commandments goes, “Honor the Sabbath.” Basically it means work for six days, stop working and start worshipping on the Sabbath.
Well the Jews, and this is not in the Bible, the Jews, with the Mishnah and Talmud said you can’t work on the Sabbath and they so defined it they said like, if you’re walking down the road and you have, maybe, sinus drainage. I hate to be gross. And you spit and the spit hits the dirt. It causes some mud. That mud could be mortar, and you know what mortar is used for? To build. Uh-uh-uh. You’re working on the Sabbath. They were a freaky bunch, weren’t they? The Pharisees? That’s crazy. So the Jews basically are not really concerned about the afterlife. And I have many great friends, wonderful friends, who are Jews. I do in all of these different religions, I do. But we have to understand the differences. The Jews, though, basically are waiting for Messiah. They’re waiting for Messiah to give them back their land and dominion on the earth. So it’s very, very historical, it is a religion that is based on works.
Islam. Let’s talk about Islam next. The Qur’an was written 580 years after, after the Bible. It’s basically a crude copy of the Old Testament. It’s also works-based. You’ll know that the Moslem, the devout Moslem, follows pillars and well look these pillars up.
The five pillars of Islam. The right creed: there is no God but Allah. The right prayer: five times a day facing Mecca. Almsgiving: I mean, you’re forced. At Fellowship Church it’s your option. In Islam you, I mean you have to give. Almsgiving. #4- Fasting. You’ve heard of Ramadan, etc. The Pilgrimage to Mecca.
So here’s what happens. When your ticket is punched, depending on how well you’ve followed the five pillars will coincide with if you’re punished in eternity or you go to paradise. Yet, it’s kind of a fingers-crossed kind of deal. I hope I get into paradise. I’m not sure, but I’ve tried real hard. Islam is one of the fastest-growing macro religions because it’s very rationalistic. Also, it grows by force. If they threaten your life, which Moslems do around the world, if you don’t follow Allah you’re dead. That will cause a lot of people to bow the knee to Allah.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam. Now we move to Christianity. Now see, what separates Christianity from all the other world religions is the fact that it’s not a religion. Let me say that again. What separates Christianity from all the other world religions is the fact that it’s not a religion. People call it one but it’s not. And I tell people this, and I can show you through Scripture this, Jesus was the most anti-religious person who ever lived! I think some of you missed that. Wait a minute. Jesus was the most anti-religious person who ever lived. Religion is a man-made system of do’s and don’ts in order to appease God. Religion, religion is spelled d-o. I got to do this or I can’t do that. I got to do this or I can’t do that. I better do that or I can’t do this. And maybe, just maybe I can appease God.
Well the Bible says something scary. The Bible says good isn’t good enough. The Bible says, in Isaiah 64:6, you talk about stepping on my toes? Ed, all of us have become like one who is unclean. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”
All of my righteous acts, all of your good acts, all of your righteousness and my righteousness, aside from God, falls short. It’s U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, ugly. God can’t wink at it. God can’t look at it because God is holy. He’s just, he’s pure, we’re not. So he cannot even look at our lives. I don’t care what we do or we don’t do, we can never appease God. That’s tough. God, though, did something, didn’t he? God – and this makes logical sense.
Here’s what separates Christianity from the pack. See, Christianity is spelled d-o-n-e. Christianity is spelled d-o-n-e. The work has been done. The price has been paid. God did something for us through Christ that we can never do on our own. Never.
ILLUS: Picture, if you would, a lake. And let’s say this lake has this wall around it, like 230 feet high. And let’s say that you decide that you decide to jump in. You can’t swim, but you make the choice. People say don’t but you’re like, I’m going to go do it, man. You jump in. you’re in trouble. You’re not going to last very long. You can’t swim. You’ve never been in the water before. You’re going to drown very, very quickly. You’re like flailing and looking around… <gurgling sound effect>
Then you see a lifeguard. He extends his hand to you. You’ve got a choice. Man, I’m drowning. I can grab this dude’s hand and he’s going to rescue me. He’s going to save me. We have that choice.
Or we say, “I tell you what. I am going to do what I’ve got to do. Forget the lifeguard. I’m going to teach myself how to swim right now. Although I’ve never been in the water before I’m going to teach myself how to swim. I’m going to do this and do that and maybe I’ll come up with some cool stroke over the next 30 seconds to get me out of this. Then once I reach the wall I’m going to dig my toenails and fingernails in it and I’m going to climb out of that wall and then I’ll climb to the feet of the lifeguard. Then, yeah, he can pick me up and everything but I’ll just come up with some strategy to save myself. I’m going to do that.” We can’t do that. We’re drowning. It’s not going to happen.
Some of us are drowning and we look at the lifeguard and we say, “I can’t believe you would say that the only way for me to be saved is to take your hand. Forget that! I’m going to do what I’m going to do. That’s so, that’s so exclusive for you to do that. Who are you to claim that? Surely there’s got to be another way, another stroke, or somehow I can get out on my own.” You can’t do it. It’s a choice you have to make. And the hand extended to you is a nail-pierced hand of Jesus.
We’ve chosen to do our own thing our own way. And we deserve to drown. Yet God, in his unfathomable, irrational, on a holy ‘notha level love commissioned Jesus to live righteously, to die sacrificially, and to raise bodily. Jesus did that. God orchestrated it. Just think about it logically.
The world religions for example, all the world religions, would basically say God is powerful. They would say that. God is powerful. If God is powerful, wouldn’t it make sense for him to devise a plan? To build a bridge? To extend his hand to you and me, who can’t get to God? I mean, wouldn’t that make logical sense?
It doesn’t make logical sense for God to say, “well I’m powerful and you just figure it out yourself. You can figure it out through reincarnation.” That sounds cool and sexy. And Moksha, and “you can figure it out through Nirvana,” whatever that means. “You can figure it out through waiting on me.” But see, I’ve already come and gone. “You can figure it out through these five pillars,” but see that’s a works-based thing. “But look what I did for you. Look what I did for you!”
That’s what separates Christianity, again, from all of the others. It is a grace-driven relationship, not a religion.
What is grace? Something we don’t deserve. We deserve separation from God. We deserve to drown. God, though, loves you and me so much, God loves us. If we knew how much God loves us we would blow a fuse, man. That’s how much he loves us. He loves us so much he did something and he did something that only God could do.
Let me go back just for a second and explain what I’m talking about. Think about the 10 commandments, the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, there in the book of Exodus. Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Why did God give us the Law? The Law? Remember the Sabbath. Don’t cheat on your wife. Be honest, etc. Well, he gave us the Law as a diagnostic tool and as a prescriptive tool. The Law shows me how to live. The Law, the 10 commandments, are basically about relationship with God and with man. That’s cool. I don’t follow the 10 commandments perfectly because I’m a sinner but, you know, they’re a guide to life. So they tell me what to do, how to live, but also they tell me, “Ed you’ve screwed up, man. You have messed up, my brother! You are a sinner!” That’s what the Law tells me. It tells me how to live, it also tells me I’m not perfect. So if I’m drowning I can’t learn how to swim because I’ve never been in the water before. And even if I get to the wall I can’t climb up 250 feet. Jesus is the way.
So here’s what God did. God arranged this ingenious plan. He arranged for Jesus to become man. He was fully man and fully God, something we’ll never understand. And Jesus did two things. #1, he fulfilled the Law perfectly. Sinless. And that is just awesome! Not only did he fulfill the Law perfectly, because he fulfilled the Law perfectly, sin must have a payment because God is holy. He can’t look at sin, he can’t wink at sin. He can’t say, “Well, you tried, my brother.” He can’t do that because he’s holy. For God to look at sin he would be unholy. He would be unjust. So for God to keep his holiness intact he sent Jesus to fulfill the Law perfectly. Then to take the punishment on the cross for your sins and mine. For your junk and your funk and mine. So on the cross God poured his wrath out upon Jesus and then poured his love out on us.
People say, “God is love. God is love. God is love.” That’s true. He’s love. But we also have to remember God is just. He’s holy. Because he’s holy sin must have a payment. The payment for the sin, for the sins of the world, was arranged by God sending Jesus, building that bridge, extending his hand and doing something for us that we don’t deserve. That is grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says that salvation is a free gift. I mean the hand is out there to us.
ILLUS: These pants right here? Lisa and I got invited to a cocktail party a couple of weeks ago. We walked in and there were these guys with these pants on and they were handing us cards. And I looked and these are Haggar slacks. And because they gave me the card, boom, I got these pants. Wow, free man! It’s free! It’s just free! I like that, man! Free-99! Here’s what I’ve learned, because now I’m older. There ain’t no such thing as free. These pants cost Haggar something.
Salvation is free, yeah it’s free. On our side it’s free. But how much did it cost God? Everything! Everything!
These religions are different. They’re different about the human condition. They’re different about salvation. They’re different about their claims, their history. What separates Christianity from all is the fact that it’s not a religion, it’s based on a relationship. And the question is, have you been saved by the Lifeguard?
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]