“At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
— Ephesians 2:12-13
The key word for the proper consideration of our question is “religion.” We need to know the proper definition of that key word. “Some propose to define ‘religion in general’ as ‘the personal relation of man to God.’ This definition is widely accepted in our day. …Luthardt offers the same definition: ‘Though the designations of what we call religion may be different, all of them express a relation to the deity of a more or less internal and personal nature. And this I think we may call the general concept of religion’” (F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, p. 11).
Longman’s English Dictionary defines religion as “belief in one or more gods,” and adds that “almost every country has some form of religion.” The commentary is true. But the heathen create and worship idols and deities which are fashioned after creatures of God —both man and the animals— worshiping and serving “the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:23 and 25), quite contrary to the reason behind the creation of man by God in the first place, to His own glory.
There are only two essentially different religions in the world. They are the Christian and heathen religions. Both use the term “religion” derived from a Latin word, religio; but the two are quite opposite to each other and can never be compromised in any way because they are absolutely contradictory to each other.
The religion of the heathen is man’s own endeavour to placate the deity through his own effort, works, worship, sacrifices, moral exercises, etc. Such religion is nothing but the religion of the Law and therefore cannot save. The Word of God in Romans 3:20 says: “Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His [God’s] sight; for by the Law is the knowledge of sin;” and also in Galatians 2:16, God’s Word says: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; for by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” The heathen religion doesn’t give the despairing man any hope for forgiveness, salvation and eternal life because it is “without Christ.” God’s infallible Word says: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having NO HOPE, and WITHOUT GOD in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). The verse describes the estrangement of the Gentiles before coming to faith in Christ as being “without the Messiah,” making their worshiping or so-called religious activities hopeless and futile and therefore unable to save. There can be no doubt about that result because Jesus says in clear and simple words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter said the same to the leaders of the Jews: “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).
The heathen religion therefore gives false hope to the foolish natural man, who cannot discern the things of God, according to the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 2:14, where he says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Those sacrifices purportedly offered to God by the heathen in order to gain His favour are offered to devils (I Corinthians 10:20). The heathen religion therefore is nothing but IDOLATRY forbidden by our God as found written in Exodus 20:3-6 (the First Commandment), and in many other passages such as Matthew 4:10, where Jesus Himself quotes Scripture, saying: “It is written: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” (Cf. Exodus 34:14; Psalm 81:9-10; etc.).
On the other hand the Christian religion, or the religion of the Gospel, is the only religion that is perfect and unsurpassable because its source and norm is not the word of men but God’s own Word, which is perfect and beyond criticism. Its perfection is so absolute that it requires no supplementation or improvement and cannot be developed to any other higher degree or level of perfection. The Christian religion is therefore the worship of the only true and living God (Jeremiah 10:10) according to the doctrines and words taught to men by the Holy Ghost (I Corinthians 2:13) by divine inspiration (II Timothy 3:16). And the only true and saving faith, based alone on that Word (Ephesians 2:20) is the belief divinely wrought and engendered by the Holy Ghost through the means of grace (Romans 10:17; II Thessalonians 2:14; etc.). It is the only religion that brings out and teaches as its central doctrine the true fact that God has been reconciled to the sinner without any works on the part of man but through the vicarious satisfaction (atonement) of Christ Jesus, and that forgiveness and salvation is a free gift from God to man, appropriated by the sinner though faith in the Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is the reason for the Lord’s Great Commission clearly stated in Mark 16:15-16: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature [that is, to all mankind]: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The Christian religion gives hope to the poor wretched but penitent sinner because it brings to him the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and His finished work of atonement; it conveys the love of God and the forgiveness of sins to him, purchased by Christ in satisfaction of God’s justice (I John 4:9). In Acts 26:16-18, our Lord said to the Apostle Paul: “But rise, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee, delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee; to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” What a GREAT Commission this is!!
It is therefore the Lord’s command that only the Christian religion be preached to all the people in the world, because He wants “all men to be saved and to come unto knowledge of the truth” which is in Christ Jesus (I Timothy 2:4-5), and it is the only saving religion (Acts 4:12). Any other religion or form of worship, libation, rituals or sacrifices, works, etc. outside the Christian religion is entirely an abomination in the sight of God, the very opposite of the true worship, and is man-made not of God. Anyone or nation without the only true Christian religion is still in darkness (Isaiah 42:7; Luke 1:79) and must be enlightened by the Holy Ghost through the Gospel to see the Light of God, which is Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 4:6).
Hence in the 13th verse of Ephesians 2, the Christians at Ephesus, having heard from Paul and believed the Gospel of the true Christian religion, having come to faith and been made alive in Christ Jesus, the Saviour of mankind, everything in their lives now turns from death unto life, from the awful consequences of sin unto salvation, and from HOPELESSNESS unto everlasting PEACE and JOY. This will always be the benefit of all those who believe the only God-approved religion, the religion of the Gospel, the religion of grace without works. Any other religion dishonours God; and from such we should run away and reject, always observing only those things the Saviour has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). May the Lord continue to be with us according to His promise as we, by His grace and nourished by His Word, strictly abide in His true and only saving religion!
—N. B. F.