“I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16 NIV).
All Roads Lead to Rome
“Christ for the Christians, Buddha for the Buddhists, Mohammed for the Islamic people. All religions ultimately worship the same God.”
The speaker was one of our oldest members in our church and this wasn’t the first time he had spoken these words. A number of others nodded in agreement.
What should I do?
I was already in trouble with the leadership of the church for sticking my nose into things that didn’t concern me, acting as if I were God, telling some of these same old men that they were not Christians. It was said in love and with grace but also with firmness and conviction. “I need to tell you,” I spoke with one of them a few weeks ago, “that by your own confession, you aren’t a Christian. I don’t want you going to your death bed thinking that you are right with God. When you face Him in the judgment, you will not stand.”
Well, that didn’t go over well, as you can imagine…
And here it was again, the same heresy, the same deception spoken by the wise old men of our congregation. But that wasn’t the worse of it. Rosa was there and she had brought her daughter.
Rosa had become a Christian the week before. I had sat beside her in the small group after the service to discuss the Pastor’s sermon and share a few prayer requests. I had noticed her hand tremble a bit when she shared a prayer request and there was moisture in her eyes. After the prayer, I asked her if she would like to talk for a moment and fifteen minutes later she was praying the sinner’s prayer and a new believer was the cause of heavenly celebration.
Now Rosa had come back the next week with her daughter and they were both listening to these wise old men promoting their false gods. I knew that I had to do something. And I did.
Others agreed with me, of course. God always has his remnant ready and waiting to support the gospel but I took the lead. Not wise but still necessary.
“Well, I have a problem with this whole idea of exclusivity,” said one of the old men, let’s call him Norman. “Why in the world would God only reveal Himself to the Jews and leave the rest of the world to rot in hell?”
My heart went out to him. I got it. He was a veteran of WWII and had seen his fair share of pain and suffering and death. His gospel was the gospel of peace at any cost. Tolerance no matter what. Anything to avoid the horrors of war.
But that doesn’t change the truth. In fact, it proves it.
“The reason that God only revealed Himself to the Jews,” I said, “and the reason that He only reveals Himself through Jesus Christ is exactly because of people like you, Norman.”
That made him sit up and listen.
“It is very common for people to just assume that our God is more or less the same as any other god out there. But it isn’t true. Our God, the God of the Bible, is radically different than every other religion and diety in the world.” I paused, looking around the circle. “God chose to reveal Himself to a specific person, Abraham, and create a single nation through Moses, in order to control the story, so that we would get it right, so that we would see the difference, know Him for who He truly is, get our facts straight, and follow the God who is actually there, who is real, who parted the Red Sea, who brought the people into the Promised Land, who rose Jesus Christ from the dead.” I took a deep breath. “The differences are the important parts. Our God is NOT the same as other gods, not by a long shot. And that difference, that exclusivity, makes all the difference in the world.”
I could see more heads nodding but the old men just stayed quiet. We had been sparring off and on for years but it never seemed to go anywhere. I just wanted to make sure that Rosa and her daughter heard the truth, so that they would not be decieved just as they were starting their spiritual journey.
The idea that “all religions lead to the same God” seems to be based loosely on the idea that “all roads lead to Rome.” It is true that the Romans were famous for building roads to the farthest reaches of their empire and it helped to unite the ancient world under their rule. It was a key element in their military might allowing them to move troops and equipment quickly and efficiently whereever they were needed. It encouraged economic activity, travel and the exchange of ideas. They were efficient and expertly engineered, many of them lasting until the present day. They were easy to navigate and always protected. Of course, as is often pointed out, they also aided in the spread of the gospel throughout the ancient world.
The History Channel website tells us that “To embody the idea that “all roads lead to Rome,” the Emperor Augustus even saw that a so-called “golden milestone” was placed in the Roman Forum. Cast from gilded bronze, this monument listed the distance to all the city’s gates and was considered the convergence point of the Empire’s road system.”
Maybe all roads do lead to Rome. At least they used to. But it certainly isn’t true that all religions lead to the same God. In fact, that is one of the main points of the Letter to the Romans written by the Apostle Paul. There is only one gospel and it is the power of God for salvation and he is not ashamed of that exclusivity. He would die for that exclusivity, for the priority of Christ, for the difference that he makes in the lives of his people.
For many people, the Letter to the Romans (or the “Book” of Romans) brings to mind the Roman Road of Salvation. This is a popular tract that was very much in use when I went to university. It uses five or so passages from the Book of Romans to describe the basic plan of Salvation. Useful for people who wanted an easy way to explain the gospel to an unbeliever.
The Roman Road of Salvation
1. Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
2. Romans 6:23a “for the wages of sin is death.”
3. Romans 6:23b “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (also Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”)
4. Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (also Romans 10:13 “for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””)
5. Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (also Romans 8:1 and 8:38-39 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…..for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”)
There it is in a nutshell. The Way of Salvation using the Book of Romans. It is beautifully simple but, at the same time, deceptively deep. And it doesn’t always make much sense to the modern ear. It needs to be used more like an outline, or a skeleton, on which meat and bones are meant to be added. And that is the purpose of these blog posts.
It is a strange topic for the Lenten Season of 2019 but I stand by it. The cross of Calvary cannot be understood apart from the deep truths of the Book of Romans and it is well worth our time to explore how to best use that bare-bones skeleton in our efforts to speak to our family and friends and neighbors this Lenten Season.
And here is a final truth that I want to share with you. This gospel is an embarassment to many people today, even in the church. Certainly my church is unusual as an international meeting place for various denominations and even different faiths. But it is also true in many more evangelical churches that sin, and the wrath of God, essential to the gospel, are all but forgotten in the preaching calendar. And, as an evangelistic tool, it is not often suggested that we tell people that they are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” It generally doesn’t go over very well. Apparently we are ashamed of the gospel.
Perhaps we can explore these things together over the next 50 days and see if we can add some good meat to these bones and find a way to explain the gospel for the modern ear while, at the same time, not budging an inch on what it wants to say. It may be a daunting task but one well worth undertaking. Come join me as we walk this Roman Road of Salvation together this Lenten Season.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, it seems a bit strange to read that Paul is not ashamed of the gospel and yet know that we often are. We know that we shouldn’t be, but the reactions of people make us feel stupid and silly for suggesting that people are sinners and deserving of your wrath. Most of the people we know are decent, moral people who are trying to live life right the best they can. They have loving families and great kids and they can’t seem to connect to these ideas. At the same time, we know it is the gospel and that it is an essential part of the path to salvation. Help us to learn to talk about these truths with grace but firmness. We want to learn from you, O Lord. In your name I pray. Amen.