Lately, there has been a lot of intolerance expressed in the name of religion. There are many, who grow up in a particular religion, and assume a prideful intolerance of others who are different. Others will use people's ignorance to create a false fear of others. There are many, who assume that their religion is the one true religion, and if one does not believe the way they believe, you will be condemned to hell. And unfortunately this turns a lot of people off to the truths contained in Divine revelations. The general public ends up avoiding religion altogether.
This is what happens when people focus on belief, and not on how one lives their life.
So what did Jesus say about other religions? Actually quite a bit, It so upset the religious leaders, it was the religious leaders who had Jesus killed. Because if salvation is from how one lives their life, and not on head knowledge or belief, this lessens the strict exclusiveness of a religion. So lets take a look at what Jesus had to say on this matter.
RELIGION VERSUS HOW ONE LIVES ONE'S LIFE
Jesus, as it turns out, cares more about how you live your life over what you believe in terms of religion. This will come as a surprise to many, but it is true. It is more important how one lives one's life according to the Lord's will:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)Jesus also makes it clear that he does not care for people who use religion to get attention from others:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:5-6)And Jesus is quite against religious people who do not life a life of charity and love towards others:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23)He then follows the above quote that He does not care for those who just believe, but rather those who hear what He says and actually does it (Matt. 7:24-27)
WHAT OF OTHER RELIGIONS?
Religious differences are not new, and there were different religions in the day of Jesus. Here is one episode that is only recorded in the gospel of Mark:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40)Which means, one should tolerate other religions that have similar beliefs. Do not be focused on "who follows what" or if others do not recognize your belief as an authority. If the religion has a positive view of Jesus, all the better. For Jesus said He is the Truth, and if there is any truth in other religions, He is there present, but hidden.
Now, in Jesus' day there were multiple groups, but the Jews had a general dislike of another religious group known as the Samaritans. Not only did the Samaritans had different religious practices, but they only believed in the first five books of Moses. All the other books they rejected. Sound familiar? Since they tended to hate each other, this is why Jesus selects a Samaritan in the parable of the good Samaritan:
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)Again, this shows that Jesus cares more about how you live your life, not your religious beliefs.
WHAT OF THOSE WHO NEVER KNEW JESUS CHRIST
There are many Christians who do believe that if one is not a Christian, who do not know Jesus Christ, will be condemned. But this is really short sighted, and actually goes against what the Bible teaches. God is love, and all are judged according to their works (Matt. 16:27), not according to one's belief system. The New Testament makes clear that even those who did not know Jesus Christ had made it to heaven:
- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are listed as among those in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11, Luke 13:28).
- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are listed as currently alive in heaven (Matt. 22:32).
- Abraham is shown to be in heaven (Luke 16:22-30)
The reason why Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are mentioned, is that in a higher sense these patriarchs refer to the three levels of heaven. Paul mentions the third heaven in one of his personal experiences (see 2 Cor. 12:2). So these patriarchs refer to those who were righteous.
So what about those who did not necessarily live such a good life, because they were unaware? This is actually mentioned in a parable in the gospel of Luke, where a master of a household entrusts his possessions to his servants, who then abuse the responsibility they have been given, beating other servants, and living a slothful life. Note the end, where punishment is different between those who know and those who do not know:
And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48)In other words, religious knowledge and religious belief do not help if you choose to live an evil life. In fact, those who know and live an evil life will be judged more severely than those who lived an evil life and did not know.
Moreover, one other point here, after the crucifixion Jesus made a descent into the netherworld, and released souls from spiritual captivity:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah (2 Pet. 3:18-20)This goes a bit beyond the scope of this blog post, but this refers to an intermediate spiritual world between heaven and hell, where periodic judgments are made to separate the good from the evil. These are typically those who lived a good life but in external appearance only, or those who were good but followed some false ideas. The point is here, that even if one does not know the truth, they will have a chance to learn more in the other life. Lack of knowledge does not mean condemnation. However if one does evil intentionally, and enjoys it, that does mean condemnation.
SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF GENTILES IN HEAVEN
Swedenborg spent a full 27 years having waking visions of heaven and hell, and recording the spiritual sense of scripture. He confirmed that just because one was not born into Christianity and had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, it does not mean one is condemned. One is judged according to how one lived their life. Here is the passage in particular, which may come as a surprise to many Christians, who would falsely reject it if they were not aware of scripture:
"It is a common opinion that those born out of the Church, who are called heathen or gentiles, cannot be saved, because they have not the Word and thus do not know the Lord, and without the Lord there is no salvation. But still it may be known that they also are saved, from this alone, that the mercy of the Lord is universal, that is, toward every one; that they are born men as well as those within the Church, who are respectively few; and that it is not their fault that they do not know the Lord. Every one who thinks from any enlightened reason, may see that no man is born for hell, for the Lord is love itself, and His love is to will to save all. Therefore He has provided that all may have religion, and by it acknowledgment of the Divine, and interior life; for to live according to one's religious belief is to live interiorly, as he then looks to the Divine; and as far as he looks to This, so far he does not look to the world, but removes himself from the world, thus from the life of the world, which is exterior life.I emphasize the latter part, because one's actions are judged by one's purpose or intent. Doing good for the sake of self, for selfish gain, is not good, that is just being done for self gain. All is judged according to how one loved others, for in loving others one is loving God, for God is love. Love is the answer to all things. Just as "all roads lead to Rome," so all truths lead to One God, who is love itself.
"That gentiles are saved as well as Christians, may be known by those who know what it is that makes heaven with man; for heaven is in man, and those who have heaven in themselves come into heaven. Heaven in man is to acknowledge the Divine and to be led by the Divine. The first and primary thing of every religion is to acknowledge the Divine. A religion which does not acknowledge the Divine, is not religion; and the precepts of every religion look to worship; thus they teach how the Divine is to be worshipped, so that the worship may be acceptable to Him; and when this is fixed in one's mind, thus as far as he wills it, or as far as he loves it, he is led by the Lord. It is known that gentiles live a moral life as well as Christians, and many of them a better life than Christians. Moral life is lived either for the sake of the Divine, or for the sake of men in the world; the moral life which is lived for the sake of the Divine is spiritual life. Moral life and spiritual life appear alike in outward form, but in inward form they are altogether different; the one saves man, the other does not save him. For he who lives a moral life for the sake of the Divine, is led by the Divine, but he who lives a moral life for the sake of men in the world, is led by himself." (Heaven and Hell, n. 318-319)
To make it clear, I am not saying that religion is completely irrelevant, but rather, truth becomes one's guide as to how one lives one's life. I would say the advantage that Christianity has is that it reveals God is a personal being, who became incarnate in human form, to show that He loves us. More accurately, God is Being, God is Man, we are His image. There is a closer and deeper connection, more so than thinking of God as something abstract. And when one understands He became incarnate to fight directly against the hells, so He can fight for you to overcome sin and temptation, and to live a better spiritual life.
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