Sermon delivered at Pontiac Bible Church
It is arrogant and intolerant to insist that your religion is right and try to convert others to it.
This statement is widely accepted in our culture, and Christians who choose not to be converted to this way of thinking are not tolerated by many in our society. But, can’t we admit that religion is, by its very nature, exclusive? Religion creates an “in-group” of people who know the “truth,” live the “right” way, and who are “loved” by God. Anyone not belonging to that religion is in the “out-group.” They don’t know the truth, they don’t live the right way, and therefore God doesn’t love them. They’re infidels that need to be converted, killed, or at least marginalized. Surely, we must acknowledge the divisiveness, bigotry, persecution and war that religion has caused! This is the religious problem. Religion is exclusive; it rejects tolerance in the name of truth.
But, non-religion isn’t much better. It rejects truth in the name of tolerance. Popular arguments against religious exclusivity abound in our society. Some believe that all religions are equally valid and basically teach the same things. This is not true, however. Christians say Jesus is God, but Muslims say Jesus is not God. Both religions cannot be equally true, nor do they teach the same things, especially about who God is.
Others say that every religion is false, none see the whole truth, and/or God doesn’t actually exist. But if you are going to make these claims, you must also claim that you, alone, possess all knowledge and truth. How do you know that no religion is true, unless you know what is true? And how do you know that God doesn’t exist outside of your knowledge, unless you possess all knowledge? Thus, you are claiming that every religious claim throughout thousands of years of human history has been wrong, except the claim that you are making. And that you are smarter than every one of the billions of people who have believed (and currently believe) in God (a list of names that include some of the most brilliant people who have ever lived). In the end, this is a pretty arrogant and intolerant position, just like the religious problem it seeks to fix!
So, religion rejects tolerance in the name of truth, and non-religion rejects truth in the name of tolerance. But is it possible to have both truth and tolerance? Is it possible to believe something is exclusively true, and also treat people who disagree with respect and love? I suggest that Christianity gives us the ability to believe in exclusive truth while being an inclusive people.
Christians believe that every human being, even one who is not a Christian, is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Thus, every person is infinitely valuable and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of the color of their skin, the amount of money in their bank account, their religious beliefs, or their sexual orientation.
Christians also believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, and not by anything good we do (Ephesians 2:1-10). This means we cannot think that we are better than others because we are Christians. We’re not Christians because we’re good, or because we’re smart, or because we’re talented. If Jesus hadn’t died on the cross to save us, we’d be lost, enemies of God, and destined to eternal death. We have nothing to boast about except how amazing Jesus is!
Christianity is the most inclusive religious movement in history! It isn’t bound to a nationality, a gender, a socioeconomic class, or a single people group. Anyone and everyone can come to Christ and receive grace, forgiveness, mercy and eternal life. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what addictions you have, what your struggles are, how much money you have, what talents you possess, what you have to offer, who you vote for, how you dress, what music you listen to, or what your last name is. None of these things earns salvation. Jesus offers that freely to all who come to him.