Is Christianity too narrow?
Passage: John 3:16–3:21, 1 Timothy 2:1–2:7, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–1:10
Christianity says Jesus is God's only solution to a problem every human has. Christianity is good news about what Jesus has done, not good advice about what to do.
Have you ever worked at a job where you didn’t know what your boss expected from you? You show up to work and your boss expects you to do a good job, but they haven’t actually defined what a good job is. You are just expected to do a good job without any guidance about what that means or how to do it.
As a student, usually on day one of class the teacher hands out a syllabus and tells you what the class is all about, what percentage of your grade comes from homework and what percentage comes from tests, what topics you will cover, what papers and projects you will have to do. They often go over classroom rules and procedures. All of this lets you know what is expected of you and what you can expect from your teacher. But if they told you none of that and you just have to figure out how to get an A by yourself and how to act in class so you didn’t get detention?
Perhaps growing up, you never knew where you stood with your parents. Maybe one day they were super happy letting you do certain activities but then the next day it seemed like all those activities were off limits. They were inconsistent about discipline and punishment. Or perhaps they just never said anything. You had no idea whether they were happy with you, mad at you, indifferent toward you.
How does it feel to be in these sorts of relationships? How does it feel to not know what someone expects of you? How does it feel to not know what to expect from someone else?
This evening we are halfway through our Explore God series. We’ve talked about life’s purpose, whether God exists, and why God would allow pain and suffering. In all of this, we have been talking about the Christian God and we have been using the Christian holy book, the Bible, as our source of truth. Which leads us to this week’s question: Is Christianity too narrow? There are so many other religions, how can we draw our answers about life and God just from this one religion? If we are going to truly explore God, shouldn’t we talk about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and others?
In response to the question “Is Christianity too narrow,” many people would answer “yes.” Christianity can feel narrow in at least two ways. First, Christianity can feel too narrow morally. Christianity defines a path we must walk with “dos” and “donts” and that can feel too narrow. We don’t want God or other people meddling with our lives and telling us what to do. Even as Christians, we can feel it is too narrow so we often pick and choose which “dos” and “donts” we are going to take seriously and which we aren’t. We practice selective hearing when it comes to what God says.
Those outside the church are usually most bothered, disturbed, and offended by what Christianity teaches about sex and sexuality. Until recent decades, the default and accepted teaching of the church for thousands of years was that sex is designed to be experienced between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. Anything outside of that is contrary to God’s design for sex. The Bible is clear that same-sex relationships, whether they are monogamous or not, are outside of God’s good design for us. God created marriage to be a relationship between a man and a woman.
But this brings us to another hot topic: gender. Is gender something you are born with? Or is it something you decide? Are you born as a male or a female or do you decide that at a later time? The Bible is clear that God created us with specific genders and he called it good. Gender and how we express our sexuality are defined by God and not by us. But many feel this is too narrow. It’s too restrictive on our freedom. No one should be able to define or judge our love life. That is for us to decide.
If you are a Christian who holds to the Bible’s narrow definition of marriage and gender, you might be called bigoted, judgmental, and hateful. You might be labeled as the problem with this country. You will be equated with a racist who doesn’t want to give equal rights to all people. If you talk about it, you are spewing hate speech. A couple weeks ago, it was discovered that the wife of our vice president, Mike Pence, teaches at a Christian school that holds to a narrow definition of gender and sexuality. Both Mike Pence and his wife received all the above in response.
In light of this cultural pressure, many churches have begun reevaluating their stance. Maybe even you personally have. Maybe you are firmly committed to Jesus and you wonder if this teaching is too narrow. You have gay and transgender friends or maybe even kids and relatives. And you wonder, “Who am I to interfere with their love life? Who am I to tell them that they their feelings towards the same gender are wrong? Who am I to tell them that they can’t be a girl if they want to be?”
Not only do people feel Christianity is too narrow morally, but they also feel it is too narrow spiritually. There are so many different religions in the world with good people following them, how can Christians say that they are right and all those other religions are wrong? That’s arrogant and judgmental.
Some people will come up with a solution by saying, “Well, all paths lead to God. The different religions are all different paths. It doesn’t matter which path you are on since they all lead to the same place.” This solution doesn’t work though because this belief is just as narrow. This is a belief system that tells Christians, “You are wrong to believe your path is the only way. My belief that all paths lead to God is the right one.” And if you asked them, “Do you think the world would be a better place if everyone adopted your beliefs,” they would likely say “Yes. There would be less fighting. Less arguing about who’s right. More harmony.” But do you see what they are doing? “All paths lead to God” is its own religion and belief system that has the same problems they are trying to solve.
Sometimes people will say: “If we lived in India or Iraq or Africa, we would believe in a different god. So how can we say that the Christian God is the right one? We only believe in this God because of where we live and because our parents or someone else told us about Christianity.” This is making the claim that our truth claims about God are culturally conditioned and relative to our time and place so they can’t be trusted. But this statement itself is a truth claim which also is culturally conditioned and relative to our time and place. Therefore it can’t be trusted. The same evaluation criteria can be applied. To someone who says, “If you were born in Iraq, you would be a Muslim, not a Christian,” you could reply, “If you were born in Iraq, you would be a Muslim and not someone who claims all paths lead to God.” If a Christian’s truth claims are invalid because of their cultural context, so are someone’s truth claims who says all paths lead to God.
Neither of these are new problems. When Christianity began 2,000 years ago, the first Christians received the same sorts of pushback and pressure. People thought they were strange. People thought they were too strict. People ridiculed them them for living differently than everyone else and thought their sexual restrictions were too narrow. People also thought their beliefs were too narrow and actually dangerous. People ridiculed them and pressured them to conform because they said that Christianity was a danger to their country and society. Read 1 Peter 4 if you want a great example.
The truth is that all paths are narrow. All paths are exclusive. No path includes everyone. Every path make some people right and some people wrong. There might be similarities between the paths, but there are major differences. All paths make truth claims that are narrow and exclusive. All paths claim to have the right answers and belief that other paths are wrong.
Today, people want to be inclusive morally and spiritually but their attempts fail because they are still telling other people, “I am right, you are wrong, and the world would be a better place if you believed what I believed.”
In exploring this question, we are going to focus on two principles. The first is this: Christianity says Jesus is God’s only solution to a problem every human has. Christianity says Jesus is God’s only solution to a problem every human has.
This truth tells us the problem we have as humans is inclusive of everyone. No one is exempt. No one is excluded. There are no exceptions. We all have the same problem. To address this problem, God has provided one and only one solution: Jesus.
Across all time and all places, you can see that as humans we have a sense that there is some sort of higher power and that in some way we can connect with this higher power and that we are accountable to this higher power. And we all feel that there is something wrong with us and with our world and we all try to come up with a solution. Every religion identifies a problem and has a solution toward salvation or healing or transformation or freedom, whatever it is.
Let’s turn to a famous passage to see what Jesus has to say about the problem and the solution. Take a look at John chapter 3, verse 16.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Notice that everyone by default is on a path toward death. If left to ourselves, we will all perish, meaning we will live and die separated from God forever. We are all on a path with death as the final destination. So if you want to arrive at a different destination, you need to take an exit off our default path. Jesus says the only exit off the highway of death is to believe in him. If you don’t want to perish, if you want to exit the path of death you are on, you need to believe in God’s Son, Jesus. If you want eternal life, you need to trust in him, follow him, surrender your life to him. You need to hand over the keys of your life to Jesus.
This is very narrow. Jesus says there’s only one option for salvation: believe in him. Why did God make it so narrow? Is it because he is mean? Is it because he is a control freak? Is it because he wants to exclude people? Is it because he hates people? No, we are told it is because he so loved the world. God’s motive is love. He created this narrow path because he loves us.
Continue onto verse 17:
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
Did God create a narrow path in order to condemn people? Did God create one solution to our problem to condemn people? No, God sent Jesus into the world in order save people. But a response is required. Look at verse 18:
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)
In love, God made one way to get to him because there wasn’t a way before. Jesus is not one path among many. There aren’t multiple paths. There is one path. Every other path leads to perishing and condemnation. If we don’t want to end up at that destination, we must respond to Jesus with trust and obedience.
What about people who don’t respond to Jesus? Are they good people on a good path toward God? Look at verses 19 through 21:
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
Jesus is God’s light come into the world. People who reject him as the path to God remain in darkness and don’t come into the light because they love the darkness.
The truth is that humanity’s problem includes everyone. We are all walking in darkness. We are all lovers of darkness and are by nature selfish. We are all condemned and on a path toward eternal separation from God. But God has provided a solution. Our principle is this: Christianity says Jesus is God’s only solution to a problem every human has.
Let’s look at a second passage that talks about this principle. Turn to 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Here an early follower of Jesus named Paul is instructing a young man he is mentoring, named Timothy. He’s teaching Timothy about what churches should do together and one important practice is to pray for all people. Why should they pray for everyone, even people who don’t believe in Jesus? Verse 3 tells us why:
3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
They should pray for everyone, even those who don’t believe in Jesus, because there is only one God. And there is one mediator between God and men. In other words, whether they recognize it or not, they are accountable to the one and only God who exists and their only way of getting to him is through Jesus. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for everyone, meaning he paid the penalty we deserve. We have all tried to run our lives on our terms rather than God’s and there’s a costly consequence for that. Jesus paid it: he died in our place. And it is only through him that people can be made right with God. So we should hope and pray that people who don’t believe in Jesus would come to him to be reconnected with God.
Why did God create such a narrow path to him? Why is there only one way to God? Why doesn’t he let people come to him through other religions? Is it because God doesn’t want people to be saved? Is it because he doesn’t want people to know him? No. Verse 4 says that God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. We see again: Christianity says Jesus is God’s only solution to a problem every human has. Without Jesus, we would all perish. But God desires for people to be saved and know the truth about him so he sent Jesus to die for us. God so loved the world that he gave his only son.
Let’s turn to our second principle by looking at 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
First Thessalonians is another letter written by Paul but instead of being written to one person, he is writing to a group of people. Previously, all of these people were part of a different religion. In Paul’s day, the primary religion most people followed included many gods. Each god had their own job. If you wanted a good sea voyage, you made the god of the sea happy. If you wanted good crops, you made the god of rain happy. But one day, Paul came to town with this message we have been talking about: Jesus is God’s only solution to a problem every human has. In fact, Paul would have said, you all have this problem. You have rebelled against God. You have done what is displeasing in his sight. If you don’t turn to Jesus, you will remain condemned in God’s law court and you will perish.
Amazingly, they didn’t throw Paul out, saying, “Get out of here with your narrow views! Don’t judge us! You have your path to God and we have ours! Leave us alone!” Instead, they put their trust in Jesus! And not only did they accept this narrow spiritual path, they accepted a new way of living: a new moral path. They turned from their old gods and old way of life to trust in Jesus and follow his ways. And they didn’t do it begrudgingly. They don’t think Jesus took all their fun away. Instead, they are filled with hope and joy and love. And it isn’t because life is easy for them. Other people in their city are now ridiculing them for giving up their former religion and way of life. Let’s start reading in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 6:
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
Notice what he says in verse 9. Paul says that they turned to God from idols, aka false gods, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Here’s the second principle for this evening: Christianity is good news about what Jesus has done, not good advice about what to do. Christianity is good news about what Jesus has done, not good advice about what to do.
News is not advice. News is about something that has happened. In this case, it is the news that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son as the only solution to a problem we all have. Jesus died on a cross for our sins. He was resurrected from the dead. Now he saves all who trust in him. This is news of an event. It isn’t advice that we can take or leave. It’s news that has changed everything.
These people to whom Paul was writing were part of another religion. And Paul doesn’t say, “Hey, I’ve got some good advice to help make your life better but you can just stay on the path you are on.” No, Paul came with good news! And this good news tells them that they are actually worshiping false gods and the path they are one leads to death. But they took the exit to now worship the one true God and to receive salvation through Jesus.
Christianity is not good advice that you can just incorporate into your other beliefs. It’s good news that requires a whole life change. It requires abandoning the path we are currently on to get on this path. It requires a whole new life orientation.
Whereas the teachings of other religions can be separated from their teacher, Christianity cannot. You cannot separate the teaching of Christianity from the person of Christ. If Jesus did not exist, or if he was not who he said he was, or if he did not do what he said he came to do, then Christianity is false. The Bible even says that if Jesus wasn’t really resurrected from the dead then Christianity offers false hope and leads people to live a lie.
If this event did happen and Jesus is who he said he was, then it changes everything. If it didn’t happen, then Christianity doesn’t matter. A Christian author named C.S. Lewis said it this way: "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” (C.S. Lewis)
It’s not just that Jesus taught a way to God, or taught truth about God, or taught people how to experience life with God. No, Jesus said he himself is the way to God, the truth about God, and the life of God.
Think back to what we talked about in the beginning. What’s it like to relate to someone who hasn’t revealed what they expect from you? What’s it like to relate to someone who hasn’t revealed what you can expect from them?
As humans, we have a sense that there is this higher power out there to whom we are accountable and that there is something wrong with us that needs fixing. Do we want to go through life wondering what this higher power is like? Do we want to go through life wondering if we are doing what is pleasing to him? Do we want to go through life wondering if we are in good standing with him?
Don’t we want to know for sure what he is like? Don’t we want to know for sure what pleases him? Don’t we want to know for sure that we are saved, forgiven, and in good standing with him? We want a narrow, specific, clear answer about who God is, how we can know him, and how we can have a good relationship with him.
It’s good news that Christianity is narrow. How horrible is it working for a boss when you don’t know what to expect from them or what’s expected of you? How scary is it to have a parent who is inconsistent? You don’t know if they are going to be happy or mad. You don’t know how to please them.
The problem is that even as people who believe in Jesus, we can often put our faith in other ways of being right with God. We try to hide our sin. We try to perform and pretend. We try to present our good works as a reason for him to love us. The truth is that there is no path to God in Christianity. God came down the path to meet us and walk with us up it.
With God, he has defined how to have a relationship with him clearly. He has defined how to be saved clearly, how to be forgiven clearly, how to be right with him clearly. He has defined what pleases him and how to enjoy relationship with him. This should bring relief! This brings freedom because we know where we stand and don’t have to constantly wonder.
How do we relate with someone who is inconsistent? How do you relate to someone who has not made it clear what they want from you and what they expect from you? How do you relate with someone who has not made it clear what you can expect from them? How would it feel to know exactly what God thinks of you? To know exactly where you stand with him?
It feels safe. There is safety in knowing where you stand with God and that he will always act the same toward you as he always has. We are SAFE: Secure in Christ, Accepted by God, Forgiven of everything, Embraced in love. We can have a humble confidence in our approach to God, knowing that he is always consistent and will not change.
Do you have fear in your relationship with God? Are you afraid his love for you fluctuates depending on how good you have been? When do you feel far from God? When do you feel he is distant? That’s what you trust in.
In order for good news to actually be good, it has to be true. Whether Christianity is true, valid, and beneficial all comes down to whether Jesus was who he said he was. If he isn’t then, we shouldn’t reorient our lives around him. The next two questions in Explore God help us have confidence that the good news is true news.