Three Reasons Christianity Is the Opposite of Other Religions

Christianity is the opposite of other religions, and the main difference is contained in a few profound words Abraham spoke to his son, Isaac. Genesis 22:7 and 8:

Isaac said, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”

1. Christianity is the opposite of other religions, because God provided the Sacrifice

For a moment, consider the absurdity of Abraham’s words: “God will provide His own lamb for sacrifice. He will provide what’s necessary to worship Him.”

This doesn’t make sense. Religion is about what man does. At the heart of every religion is an individual providing a sacrifice. That’s what makes it worship. A sacrifice that doesn’t involve any sacrifice isn’t really be a sacrifice. Yet God can be worshiped even though He provided the sacrifice.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Abraham prophetically said God would provide the Lamb for Himself. John the Baptist saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

2. Christianity is the opposite of other religions, because God did the work

In other works-based religions, even those that claim to be Christian, people do the work. But in Christianity God has done the work. This doesn’t just make Christianity different than other religions. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The Tower of Babel was the first organized rebellion against God. It also serves as a good picture of all false, works-based religions. The people said, “Come, let us build a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:3).

  • Other religions are about man reaching up to God. The people say, “Let us…”
  • Christianity is about God reaching down to man. God says, “I will…”

God did this so dramatically He actually became a Man in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul explained it like this in Philippians 2:6-8:

Though [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

3. Christianity is the opposite of other religions, because God did the propitiating

Propitiation is a gift, offering, or sacrifice meant to turn away the wrath of an offended individual. The closest English words are appeasing, expiating, placating, pacifying, or satisfying. In other religions, the responsibility for propitiating is on man. Although, whenever propitiation is discussed in Scripture, it always discusses what God did for man:

  • Romans 3:25 [Jesus] whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood.
  • Hebrews 2:17 In all things He had to be made like His brethren…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
  • 1 John 2:2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
  • 1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

In other religions man puts forth the effort, brings the sacrifice, provides the offering, etc. But in Christianity, like Abraham prophesied, “God provides for Himself the Lamb.” The Lord did what was necessary to turn away His own wrath, by pouring it out on His Son, Jesus Christ.

God provided the only sacrifice that could ever satisfy Him

To go a step further, not only did God provide the sacrifice, He actually became the sacrifice. To tie it back to the typology between Isaac and Jesus, like Isaac was willing to become the sacrifice, Jesus was willing to become the sacrifice. This is why Jesus is called the Lamb OF God. He is the Lamb God provided.

If we made propitiation for our sins:

  • It would be about us showing our love for God.
  • It would allow us to be prideful and take credit for our salvation.

But the way God did it reveals His love for us and leaves Him with all the credit and glory. This is why Christianity is the opposite of other religions. This is why only in biblical Christianity does God receive all the glory and praise. It is not about what what we have done for God. It is about God, and what He has done for us.

Discuss: 

  • Do you often think about what you need to do for God, or do you think about what God has done for you?
  • When you think about what God has done for you, in what ways should that affect your life?

I discussed all of this in greater detail in this sermon: Genesis 22:5-8: A Father’s Love.

Should someone have the responsibility of getting others to worship?

should someone have the responsibility of getting others to worshipMy last post, “A traditional church will die!”, discussed what a change it was for us musically the first time we visited WCC. But I also said there were a number of things we loved immediately, like the way the music sounded, the instruments we weren’t used to hearing used in service, the desire to honor the Lord instead of entertain, etc. Then there there were a number of other things we’ve grown to love over time, in particular the richness and theology of the hymns.

One of the most significant things we noticed – and found surprisingly refreshing musically – was the absence of someone trying to artificially stir us up emotionally. Aside from being invited to sit or stand, we weren’t being told what to do, how to act, feel, move, etc. I would say it felt very freeing, like we could worship without being manipulated. I started asking myself two questions as a result:

  • Is it really some else’s job to get others to worship?
  • If someone isn’t motivated to worship, can someone else really change that?

I’m all for music/worship/song leaders sharing thoughts, verses, feelings related to the songs, etc. but it’s not their responsibility to get people to worship. Since worship takes place in the heart, people might sing, clap, raise their hands (all things I do and am supportive of others doing), but what’s happening in the heart is what really matters, and can – or possibly even should – another person be expected to bring that about in someone else’s heart?

In the military, one of the common commands people yell when they’re in charge is, “Let’s get motivated!” Then in response everyone around the individual yells (usually the word, “Hooah!”), to show they’re motivated. I did this too, but there was always something about it that nagged at me: “People might yell in response – making it look like they’re motivated, and perhaps they are – but having someone tell them to get motivated doesn’t really motivate them if they’re not already motivated. Basically, they’re either motivated or they’re not.”

In my mind it’s the same with worship: if people are motivated to worship they’ll do so on their own, but if people aren’t motivated to worship, can someone else really change that? If we’re gathered together with other believers and thinking of what the Lord has done for us isn’t enough to move us to worship is someone else really going to be able to bring that about in our hearts…and perhaps even more importantly: should someone else really have that responsibility?

A traditional church will die!

a traditional church will dieWhen I accepted the senior pastor position at WCC, some well-meaning friends told us, “A traditional church today will die!”

A few weeks ago our associate pastor’s wife, Jessica Connell, sent me a message while they were attending the ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) conference at John MacArthur’s church, Grace Community: “I wanted to tell you last night when they opened up with Great Is Thy Faithfulness, the worship leader asked people to open their hymnals. Then he said, ‘Some of you have never opened one of these before. Pick it up and become acquainted with this wonderful book.’ It made us smile. We’re so thankful that our children are acquainted with these great hymns of faith.”

Jessica’s message reminded me of those ominous words I was told four years ago. I have to be honest – and although I’m embarrassed to say this – those were some of the scariest words I’d ever heard…especially when combined with a comment from the pastor search committee when I was candidating: “If nothing changes financially, we’ll only be able to pay you for the next eight months.” But, by God’s grace, WCC hasn’t died…and it seems like John MacArthur’s church hasn’t died either.

The similar criticism we heard was, “A traditional church won’t attract any young people!” I don’t know the exact demographics of our church, but one of the most common observations I’ve heard from new people is, “You sure have a lot of young people here!” Whether it’s children, teenagers or young married couples we seem to have a lot. I don’t think it would be too much to say those are the largest demographics at WCC.

When Katie and I first visited WCC four-and-a-half years ago, I remember using the hymnal…something I hadn’t done before. Even though our previous church had hymnals, we didn’t really use them. If hymns were sung, the words were put on the screen in the front of the sanctuary.

Needless to say, when we came to WCC and everyone took out the hymnals to sing from, we were shocked. Seriously. But there were a number of things we loved immediately: we loved the way the music sounded. We loved the use of instruments we hadn’t heard used before in service (like the violin, flute and now cello). We loved how there wasn’t a desire to entertain, but to honor the Lord we were worshiping.

We came to WCC really enjoying contemporary Christian music. There’s a lot of it we really don’t like anymore, but a lot of it we still really enjoy, like the songs we sing at WCC in addition to the hymns (How Great Is Our God, Blessed Be Your Name, Before the Throne of God Above, Indescribable, 10,000 Reasons, etc). Over time we really began to love the richness of the hymns. Our children are memorizing them now as we sing them at church and in our home, and I appreciate that while they’re doing so they’re also learning theology. It’s safe to say that now we’re very thankful to be part of a “traditional church.”

Here are some videos of music practice to give you an idea what it sounds like at WCC:

Should we gather on Saturday or Sunday?

Should we gather together for corporate worship on Saturday or Sunday?
Should we gather together for corporate worship on Saturday or Sunday?

Why do we worship corporately on Sunday instead of Saturday? I’ve been asked this a number of times.

With Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, a transition took place between the Old and New Covenants. Both covenants were instituted with blood. The Old with the blood of an animal and the New with the blood of Christ. Consider the parallelism between describing the instituting of both covenants:

  • Exodus 24:8 Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”
  • Luke 22:20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

With the institution of the New Covenant, a transition took place. From the seventh day of the week to the first. From Saturday to Sunday. Primarily this happened in honor of Christ’s resurrection.

Sunday is emphasized in the New Testament.

The phrase “first day of the week” occurs eight times in the New Testament:

  • Six times in the Gospels (Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, 9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, 19).
  • Once in Acts identifying the day the early church met. Acts 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
  • Once when Paul encourages believers to set aside something to give financially. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. More than likely Paul told them to set their collections aside on the first day of the week, because that’s when they gathered for worship.

If all we had was Acts 20:7 saying the early church met on the first day of the week, that alone would be enough to encourage corporate worship on Sundays.

  • John MacArthur said, The writings of the early church Fathers confirm the church continued to meet on Sunday after the close of the NT period.”[1]
  • Matthew Henry said, “The first day of the week is to be observed by all the disciples of Christ; and it is a sign between Christ and them.[2]

The Sabbath is not emphasized in the New Testament.

But there’s also the de-emphasizing of the seventh day in the rest of the New Testament. “First day of the week” occurs eight times in the New Testament, but “seventh day of the week” never occurs. But understandably we’d expect it to be called “Sabbath” instead. Consider:

  • The Sabbath is mentioned in the Gospels, because the transition to the first day had not yet taken place.
  • When the Sabbath is mentioned in Acts it’s associated with the practice of Jews who have not yet embraced Christ, but it’s never associated with the practice or worship of the church.

After Acts, there’s only one mention of the Sabbath:

Colossians 2:16-17 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

This is the only time the Sabbath is mentioned – say nothing about commanded – after Acts. This fact alone would be unimaginable if believers were expected to keep the Sabbath. The epistles are the letters of instruction to the church. Wouldn’t there be at least one command for Christians? Instead, the one verse mentioning the Sabbath identifies it as a shadow pointing to Christ, while making the point you can’t judge people based on their view of it. Consider the absence of a verse saying, “Let no one judge you regarding forgiveness…love…prayer…service.” Why don’t we see verses like that? Because forgiveness, love, prayer, and service are commanded. The Sabbath is not.

Paul also downplays keeping the Sabbath in Romans. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” (Rom 14:5-6b).

If Paul thought the Sabbath should be observed, two things are inconceivable:

  • That he would write these verses in Romans and Colossians.
  • That there would be no verses mentioning the Sabbath elsewhere in the NT. Contrast the amount of instruction on prayer, love, forgiveness, serving, with the silence regarding keeping the Sabbath.

Gather corporately on the Lord’s Day.

Why is Sunday known as “the Lord’s Day”?

  • In Revelation 1:10 John said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” He’s probably referring to the first day of the week, which is why Sunday gained this title.
  • The more obvious reason is this is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.

The early church met “on the first day of the week…to break bread.” The words “break bread” refer to communion as opposed to simply fellowship together.[3] As much as communion looks back to Christ’s death, it also looks forward to His return: 1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Why would they celebrate communion on the seventh day of the week when Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week? They wouldn’t. This is one other reason for meeting on the first day of the week.

With the transition from the Old to New Covenant, the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ. The same with other ceremonial portions of the Law, i.e. sacrifices, circumcision, festivals. The early church gathered on the first day of the week in honor of Christ’s resurrection, and we should too!

When you worship on the Lord’s Day, are you reminded of the Lord’s Resurrection? Do you have any questions about the Sunday worship, the Sabbath, or a believer’s relationship to the Law? Share your thoughts or questions below!

FOOTNOTES

[1] MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1477.

[2] Matthew Henry’s Commentary: In One Volume, p. 1716.

[3] You can see the that “breaking bread” is not the same as fellowship in Acts 2:42 where the two actions are distinguished from each other: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. In this verse “breaking bread.”