One simple tenant separates Christianity from nearly every other religion. Hebrews records it as "by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb 10:14, NKJV).
As we've entered the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time in which devout Muslims fast during daylight hours and focus on good deeds to burn away sin, Christ's sacrifice and atonement becomes all that much more important. Let's set the stage.
The Apostle Paul, by anyone's right the most prolific and authoritative apostle in the Bible, was first a zealot of the Law and then an antagonist of it. As Saul, he was a Jew of Jews. In his day, Saul would have been described as a man's man, so to speak. He was a leader of "the people." He was religious elite; perfect in his pursuit of Jewish tradition; a religious leader born to a father who was himself a Pharisee. Unlike the Sadducees who were aristocratic "old money" Jewish leaders, Saul's family worked its way into the halls of the religious elite through "good deeds" that, for Paul, mainly consisted of persecuting to death the fringe, extremist, apostate followers of Jesus from Nazareth. Paul describes his bona fides relating to the Law as...:
"If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Phil 3:4-6, NKJV)
For argument's sake, Saul the Pharisee was, from a religious and familial bona fides perspective, Franklin Graham, inasmuch as Graham and Saul rose from a blue collar religious parentage to inherit a religious familial dynasty. As familiar as Franklin Graham is to American Southern Baptists, Saul the Pharisee would have been the Franklin Graham of his day.
So Paul the Apostle was an enigma. Before Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Saul was legalistic, trusting in his own works to earn his entry into God's heaven. After Damascus, Paul was the exact opposite, trusting in the one single act that differentiates Christianity from most other religions – Christ's atoning, sufficient sacrifice on the Cross. Consider how differently his approach to salvation comes across in speech to the Romans than his life as a Pharisee:
"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:21-26, NKJV)
Simply put, Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross was enough. Paul reminds the Romans that they cannot be righteous through the law because the law requires repeated atonement for sins. Repetitive sin is the lot of man, not because we want to sin, but because man's sinful nature is stronger than our free will to avoid it (Rom 7:7-25). So, if true Christianity was like Islam or Mormon or even some offshoots of Christianity itself, then we would constantly be negating our good deeds through commission of sins that we cannot control. That, my friend, is a sad premise on which to build a religion.
But we have Christ.
"By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." (Heb 10:10-14, NKJV)
So, Christian, just weeks after we celebrated the resurrection of Christ, we are reminded that not all religions respect the Cross and Jesus' sacrifice. That's ok. It's not our job as followers of Christ to convince every Muslim or Buddhist or Jehovah's Witness that works alone won't get them there. Instead, it's our job, through works of love, to show them that despite our sin, despite ourselves, Christ's sacrifice was enough – once for all.
Ramadan Mubarak, my Muslim friends. Jesus died for you too – once for all.
– Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.