[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "Jesus and Authority." Click on the title to listen to the audio.]
There is a commercial on the USA network in which different actors from various shows say something unique about themselves. Things like "I am Irish," "I am an adoptive father," "I am an olive-skinned fellow," etc., fill this one-minute ad, which is meant to express the diversity of mankind. The commercial ends with an invitation to all these various types of people by saying, "Characters welcome."
What I find most interesting about this commercial is that as these distinctive traits are rattled off, the actors delve into religion. One claims to be a Jew, one a Christian, one 'spiritual' (whatever that may mean), and then a woman says, "I believe in all paths to God." In our relativistic society, this is nothing new. She is simply trying to be "open minded" by trying to include all the viewpoints just mentioned and many others that are not. What could possibly be wrong with this?
I'll answer that in a minute...first, let's be reminded of what's happening in Mark 11. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, effectively proclaiming Himself as God's Messiah...the One He had been promising since Genesis 3:15. Then, He curses the fig tree, expressing a parable which points to the end of Israel as the Jews knew it. Next, Jesus clears the temple, effectively saying that this religious practice will become obsolete and will cease. Jesus is making some clear statements of authority...He's the Chosen One to save mankind and reconcile God and man...He has the authority to curse people for their spiritually fruitless activity...He has authority over what religious practices are valid or invalid.
Now, back to this "Characters Welcome" commercial. "I believe in all paths to God" may sound like a warm, fuzzy, personal opinion, but it is actually a statement of authority. A statement like this does not actually embrace every religious system...it rejects every religious system. It comes against any religion in which right and wrong are taught and upheld as absolutes (Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc.). It says that all these "right/wrong" religions are actually wrong. In trying to remove all claims of authority from religion, this viewpoint actually asserts an incredible authority...the authority to overthrow all religion as we know it! "I believe in all paths to God" is not a passive position...it is an act of warfare!
It actually gets worse when we ask, "Where does this statement of authority come from?" In other words, on what authority was this woman basing her conclusion? The scary answer is that there is no external authority to which she turned for such a conclusion. She turned to the authority of self...she set herself up as an authority superior to all others. She saw the landscape of religious life and said, "I don't think so...I think I'll determine the proper way to relate to God, and it's not found in any authority outside of me, myself, and I." It is this kind of pride that comes before a fall...an eternal fall into the hands of an angry God.
I wish I could say that this kind of audacious claim to authority was rare, but it is not. I wish I could say it was limited to unbelievers, but it is not. It is the kind of claim any Christian is making when he/she is a hearer of the Word but not a doer. For example, when the Scripture tells us to forgive one another as God, in Christ, has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32), we are not at liberty to decide whether that "works" for us. We cannot set aside the teachings of the Scripture at will. When we do, we are essentially saying, "I believe in all paths of Christian living," rather than the one outlined in the pages of holy scripture.
The kind of claims that Jesus makes as He curses the fig tree and cleanses the temple leaves no room for authority negotiations. The Bible leaves us with only two options...we will submit to the authority of this Jesus, or we will rebel against the authority of this Jesus. We will repent and believe in this Jesus on the basis of His authoritative claims, or we will reject Him because we treasure ourselves and our own authority more. Submission, repentance, and faith lead to everlasting life, according to the Bible. Rebellion and rejection lead to eternal destruction. That is the authoritative claim of the Bible...and of Jesus.
So, as we are sharing the gospel with friends, family members, neighbors, etc., we must remember that we are not trying to add a great, appealing, mouth-watering dish to an already full buffet of religion. Instead, we must realize that if they don't eat of this Bread of Life...if they don't submit to the gospel of Jesus Christ...then not only will their souls starve in this life, but their souls will face eternal death in the life to come.
Let's not try to convince our friends of "what we believe"...because my personal authority is no greater than theirs. Let's simply learn how to clearly explain what God has said about Himself, mankind, sin, salvation, faith, Jesus Christ, etc. Let's simply give men and women the gospel and pray for God's intervention. After all, on that day...when judgment comes...we will not be filling out self-evaluation forms and judging ourselves against one another. We will be standing before the God who will authoritatively reward and punish us based on our response to Him in this life.