The gospel and other religions

A friend recently asked me some related questions:
How should Christians think of other religions? I know that we are supposed to love our neighbors and even our enemies, and I believe that all humanity, in Jesus, is included in God's love and life. But how do we convey this truth to those who follow other religions if we are not supposed to offend them?
I feel my friend's angst here because, in part, he is reacting to the cultural trend that says we must be tolerant of all viewpoints and critical of none. Perhaps he also wrestles with the idea that God has reconciled himself to all people despite their religious beliefs.

First, let me comment on the idea that God has reconciled all humanity to himself. This universal reconciliation is entirely God's work of grace, in Christ, apart from any effort or merit of our own. This means that people are not reconciled to God because of their religious belief or practices, Christian or otherwise. This reconciliation was accomplished 2,000 years ago, and since then, in accordance with God's good timing, the Holy Spirit (often working through Jesus' followers), calls individuals to embrace this truth of who they are in Christ. As they do so in faith, they enter into their reconciliation with God as Spirit-led followers of Jesus.

My friend's second concern is how we, as Christians, can extend to non-Christians (some who are devotees of non-Christian religions) this invitation to follow Christ without offending them (or, we might say, without "dissing" their particular religion). My experience is that we do so by sharing with them the good news of this universal reconciliation, which means that God, through Jesus Christ, has included them in his love and life. This message is a positive, hope-filled declaration of the gospel of God's grace for all people, despite who they are, what they have done and what they have believed. This message rises above religion and goes directly to the truth that God loves, accepts, forgives and includes all people. It also is an invitation for that person to place their trust in the God revealed in Jesus Christ and in so doing to become a follower of Jesus.

Presenting the gospel in this way does not constitute an attack on any one religion. In fact, it is a message that transcends all religions, for religion, at its root, is man's attempt to become reconciled with God through one's own efforts or merit. As one grasps the truth that God has, already, reconciled himself to us all, the need for any religious system simply fades away.

This gospel-shaped line of thinking may be to some, at least at first, quite offensive (remember Paul's reference to "the offense of the cross" in Galatians 5:10-11). Indeed, the gospel is sometimes "hard to swallow" because it is so counter-intuitive; so shocking. That being said, we should never in our approach or demeanor be offensive. Instead, we should lovingly, winsomely share what we know to be the truth of the gospel. It is our calling to do so - to join with Jesus, who, through the Spirit, is evangelizing humanity - helping them understand who he truly is and thus who they truly are: God's dearly loved, accepted and forgiven children.

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