Love — Lesson 2



1) Comparing religions is not easy.

a) Claims differ greatly on issues of divine nature, problems of humanity, and the character of salvation.

b) It is not true that all religions say the same thing, just in culturally different ways.

2) Religions can be compared with respect to their truth claims on answers to four perennial questions that humans regularly raise.

a) What is the nature of the ultimate?

b) How may the human predicament best be described?

c) What is the character of salvation?

d) How is salvation appropriated?

3) Comparing these truth claims involves some basic issues.

a) What is the goal of life?

i) While there are many religions, there are not many answers to the question of the goal of human existence.

ii) It may be narrowed down to three metaphysical [1] systems:

(1) Naturalism – there is no god that matters.

(2) Monism – god is everything, or the soul of everything.

(3) Theism – there is a personal God.

b) What is wrong with humanity, what prevents the goal of life from being attained (addresses the issue of sin or evil)?

i) Hindu – the goal is identity with the Absolute; evil is ignorance of the truth.

ii) Muslim – the goal is obedience to the law of Allah; sin is disobedience to divine laws.

iii) Sin is always defined in relation to the ultimate.

c) What, if anything, the transcendent or the real has done about the human problem?

i) What provision has been made?

ii) Answers range from nothing at all to everything.

iii) God can be viewed as the good that helps us simply by being there to the One who intervened in history to save humanity.

d) How is salvation appropriated?

i) If sin is ignorance, enlightenment is called for.

ii) If sin is inauthentic living, authentic living is called for.

iii) If sin is transgressing God’s law, obedience is called for.

BODY: How do these approaches to religion relate to the requirement of love as a component of that religion?

1) We have seen that there are three types of world views.

a) Naturalism – religions or quasi-religions that focus mainly on the world, whether or not they actually deny the existence of God.

b) Monism – religions or religious philosophies that identify God with everything that there is.

c) Theism – religions that posit a personal creator, ontologically [2] distinct from creation, who is advancing divine purposes in history.

2) Varieties of naturalism.

a) Holds that there is no god of any kind, in the world or beyond it.

b) Naturalistic spirituality operates within the all-encompassing system of nature.

c) Because no entities exist outside the natural causal system, humans must create whatever meaning life has without bringing God into the picture (Humanism).

i) Western humanism looks to upward evolution and the increasing well-being of humanity, and salvation comes through human effort alone.

ii) Humankind is the measure of truth as its own and only savior.

(1) Evolutionary humanism – Julian Huxley.

(2) Existential humanism – Jean Paul Sarte.

(3) Political humanism – Karl Marx.

d) Deism, a second form of religious naturalism, does not allow the creator to intervene in history.

i) Thomas Paine – God gave the world its start and its existence a basis of meaning, but then left us on our own.

ii) God created the world but now lets it operate by its own natural and self-sustaining laws.

iii) Though the existence of God is not denied, the natural realm remains all that we can be concerned about.

e) Far eastern religions are mostly disinterested in a high God.

i) Taoism – honors the spirits of rivers, mountains, and stars, together with the patron deities of the trades and occupations.

(1) Since the goal is oneness with nature and personal happiness, the hindrance (sin) is unnatural behavior and disharmony.

(2) The path to salvation is to live naturally.

(3) Since there is no high God to be concerned with, the individual pursues the goal of religion in relation to the material world and the natural Tao. [3]

(4) Religion is largely a matter of adjusting to the teleology [4] of the world and its laws.

ii) Confucianism is similar – an ethical doctrine, a gentle humanism.

(1) The goal is well-being on earth and the hindrance (sin) is anarchy in behavior.

(2) Salvation comes from living together in good relationships according to tradition.

(3) Humans become corrupt when they refuse to pursue the good of other people and of the ancestors.

(4) Critically important are relations between father-son, ruler-ruled, and husband-wife.

(5) What matters is regulation and harmony, respect and courtesy, filial piety and adjustment to one’s place in society.

iii) Buddhism – a world religion that in practice is largely oriented to life on earth.

(1) Our miseries arise from the desire for things.

(2) Unhappiness arises from wanting this and that and being frustrated at dissatisfaction.

(3) If people would just lose their desires, they would find happiness.

(4) The state of losing desires is the goal called Nirvana.

(5) It is easy to attain, but there are disciplines available through which one can begin to lose such desires.

(6) Rather than a personal God, emptiness and the extinction of ego are central to original Buddhism.

(7) The root of misery is desire, and since there is no personal God to help us, salvation is attained through ascetic discipline, following the path laid out by the Buddha. (Mahayana Buddhism tended only later to make the Buddha into a personal savior).

iv) Zen is a Japanese variety of Buddhism whose goal is also enlightenment in this world.

(1) The focus is on the fact that our minds are trapped in ignorance and need to be liberated through mental discipline.

(2) Zen offers a way to experience the unitary character of reality, and since one cannot think one’s way into it, what is required is a revelation that comes in a flash of insight.

f) Naturalism focuses on the world.

i) But is it really true that there is no more to existence than just this world?

ii) Love and devotion cannot be understood without reference to a loving personal transcendence.

iii) Living well on earth is important, but there is still a deep need in us to know God.

iv) Naturalism has trouble answering the ultimate questions of life.

3) Varieties of Monism.

a) Monism identifies God with the world or with the soul of this world.

i) God is not thought of as distinct from the world; transcendence is equated with the material world.

ii) Its truth claim is that reality is ultimately one.

(1) God is the world.

(2) The world emanates from God.

(3) God is in the world.

(4) Through the world, God himself experiences change and evolution.

(5) The world in both its good and evil flows from God necessarily and is not the result of any decision on God’s part.

(6) Since monism is hard to reason one’s way through, its truth is grasped mystically rather than by rational inferences.

b) Pantheism and Panentheism.

c) Hinduism embodies monism in a classic religious form.

(1) Salvation has an eternal dimension though not on a personal plane.

(2) The goal of religion is oneness with being, and human kind’s problem (sin) is that it does not recognize this.

(3) This makes knowledge the key to salvation – we must learn to recognize our own divine identity.

(4) We need to change our way of thinking and accept the fact that we are part of the divine essence.

d) What we call the New Age markets this philosophy in the west.

i) New Agers like to say that all being is one, interrelated and independent, and that God and the world are all a part of one continuous reality without boundaries.

ii) Everything, including ourselves, partakes of this one divine essence.

iii) Whatever exists is god, and therefore perfect.

iv) Humans are divine and only need to wake up to that fact, to honor and worship themselves.

v) New Age spirituality promises to help us tap into spiritual energy within ourselves.

vi) It is a western form of Monism that places emphasis on the individual, although (paradoxically) the idea of monism originally was to lose personal distinctness.

e) Monism gives rise to questions.

i) How can we be one with Being when we sense our own personal distinctness as a fact – our own personal distinctness from God and from other persons, and we crave fellowship with both?

(1) If God is impersonal, there can be no genuinely I-Thou relationship with God, though the need for such a relationship is fundamental to religions, including popular Hinduism (as opposed to philosophical Hinduism).

(2) This is why monistic religion tends to develop theistic cults such a Hare Krishna.

ii) Monism also has special difficulty with the problem of evil – it declares it illusory or attributes it to God.

iii) It makes black flies as significant as humans.

4) Theism – there is a personal God existing in the world and beyond the world who created the world and who intervened in history to accomplish the salvation of man.

a) Infinite personal being, maker of heaven and earth, who values human beings made in his image.

b) He cares (loves) so much that he enters into history to restore the covenant relationship threatened by sin.

5) What does all of this have to do with love?

a) Religions can be viewed as alternative accounts of love.

b) Consider these statements that use the word “love” in ways that have different implications for life.

i) If you love God enough, he will love you, but if you do not, you will be sent away.

ii) Love is a desire that requires eradication if one is to find genuine peace.

iii) Love requires respect for ancestors and submission to leaders and to established structures of society.

iv) Love is attained by gaining the freedom to do as you please regardless of the feelings of others.

c) Theories and love.

i) Naturalism – there is no god to love us.

ii) Deism – posits a transcendent god, but he is wholly transcendent; he does act purposefully in history subsequent to creation. He has no particular purpose for humans in the world who have to figure out what is right and wrong by studying nature and who live their lives without a personal relationship with their maker. God will judge on the last day according to man’s performance, but it depends on a natural rather than a supernatural revelation of God’s law.

d) Not all theism knows a loving God.

i) Muslims confess Allah as the one true God, Muhammad as his apostle. God gave a revelation of his will for humanity recorded in the Koran.

ii) Doctrine of sin is understood in relation to these features – failure to submit to Allah’s will in the Koran.

iii) Islam has developed five pillars:

(1) The simple creed confessing Allah as God and Muhammad as his prophet.

(2) Regular daily prayers.

(3) Fasting.

(4) Almsgiving.

(5) Pilgrimages to holy places.

iv) Man is judged based on observance, so atonement, no Savior, each person is responsible for his own fate.

v) Fortunately for Muslims, what is commanded is fairly easy to fulfill.

(1) Sin is not taken to involve inner corruption.

(2) It is assumed that people can obey Allah’s will in their own strength.

(3) Having done what is required the faithful are entitled to feel good about their achievements.


1) Theists have a strong view of revelation.

2) If there is a personal Creator who loves us and wants us to know him, he would have to communicate with us so that we might know his thoughts and plans.

3) God would make himself known.

4) Not content just to give information, God has shared his very self with us in history and recorded it in the gospel.

5) According to Jesus (the Word as revealed in the word), the God who made the universe loves us and wants to relate to us.

a) What could possibly give us a greater sense of importance and value than that?

b) At the depths of the Christian revelation is the truth that human history is being redeemed by the grace of God at work.

c) We long for every person to gain knowledge of the ocean of God’s love.

6) There is no greater love than this:

a) John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.

b) Rom. 5:8 -- But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

[1] Philos.

a. concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth.

b. concerned with first principles and ultimate grounds, as being, time, or substance.

[2] on·tol·o·gy (on tolÆÃ j"), n.

1. the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such.

2. (loosely) metaphysics.

[3] Tao (dou, tou), n. (sometimes l.c.)

1. (in philosophical Taoism) that in virtue of which all things happen or exist.

2. the rational basis of human activity or conduct.

3. a universal, regarded as an ideal attained to a greater or lesser degree by those embodying it.

[4] tel·e·ol·o·gy (telÅ" olÆÃ j", t"Ål"-), n. Philos.

1. the doctrine that final causes exist.

2. the study of the evidences of design or purpose in nature.

3. such design or purpose.

4. the belief that purpose and design are a part of or are apparent in nature.

5. (in vitalist philosophy) the doctrine that phenomena are guided not only by mechanical forces but that they also move toward certain goals of self-realization.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)