But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
-- 1 Peter 2:9
We live in a nation that's blessed with choices. Need a cell phone? There are dozens of companies offering feature-packed devices from Apple, Samsung, Nokia and a multitude of other manufacturers. Well-stocked supermarkets have 10 or more brands of bottled water on the shelves. And the local Cineplex shows movies for everyone's taste--from cartoons to romantic comedies to horror flicks. And while you're driving to your favorite shopping mall (the one with more than 100 different stores), try counting all the makes and models of cars in the parking lot.
Yes, Americans like to sing the praises of choice. So it should be no surprise that we also have options for religion. Like the sandwiches displayed on a fast-food menu board, there's something for every taste and preference. What's more, many who consider themselves "spiritual" will assure you that which religion you choose doesn't really matter--just so long as you're sincere in your beliefs and it makes you happy. After all, one person's truth isn't someone else's. It's all relative. And we're all worshiping the same god. Right?
Not really! Jesus made some startling claims that clearly oppose the easy-going beliefs of our modern-day culture. And He also backed them up. For example, the Bible accurately predicted Jesus' birth--even the name of the tiny village where it would happen--centuries before the fact. And in Christ's brief time on earth, He cured the sick, raised the dead, forgave sins and became a living sacrifice to pay the price for all the wrongs of the world. His Resurrection from the grave--just as He predicted--proved His ultimate power over death. And 2,000 years later, Jesus' words continue to change lives and make an eternal difference.
"I am the vine; you are the branches," we read in John's Gospel. "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Many people--even those who aren't Christ-followers--agree that Jesus was a "good" man and a "wise" teacher. But the hot-button question is whether or not He's really the only way to God. The short answer is...YES! Jesus declares that no one can come to the Father (God) except through Him. Of course, that's a claim that makes people uncomfortable these days. It's a claim of exclusivity. And many call it intolerant.
Or maybe it's not quite so exclusive after all. Jesus' death and Resurrection make it possible for anyone who accepts God's free gift to have eternal life! No one who wants a new life through Jesus is turned away. And unlike man-made religions, the way to God isn't about keeping certain rules, saying special prayers or eating (or not eating) particular foods. Instead, being a Christ-follower is about having a personal relationship with Jesus, accepting what He already accomplished and letting Him live through us.
By some counts, there are today about 20 different major world religions...and not to mention thousands of related beliefs and their offshoots. And they all have something in common: their emphasis on doing. But Christianity--the simple faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior--is instead about what's already been done. We can't earn our salvation or perform enough good deeds to earn our way to God's favor. Christ has already taken care of it--and paid it in-full on the cross. All we need to do is come to Him in faith.
"It is finished!" Jesus proclaimed as He hung from the cross. And it is worthy of our praise.