You Don't Have To Be A Christian To Honor God

Love always wins

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I was taught from a young age that Jesus was the only way to God, and that if I accepted Him as my Savior then I would go to heaven. Seemed like a no-brainer to me. All I had to do was believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sins, ask God’s forgiveness, and then accept His free gift of salvation. I believed what my parents told me . . . and what child wouldn’t do that in order to spend eternity in paradise instead of hell? With my child-like faith, I said the prayer and sealed the deal. However, I remember even then thinking how fortunate I was to be born into a Christian family. I wondered about people raised in other cultures or religions, and how a loving God could send them to hell. I mean what if my parents were Muslim or Jewish or Hindu and had a different understanding of “truth” – I am guessing I would have just followed their lead into a different faith . . . and with no less sincerity! So due to mere chance (or God’s "cruel" election), I would have gone to hell for believing the wrong thing. But I know for certain that God is good, so something does not add up.

Sadly, there are many people who would define their entire Christian faith with the prayer of salvation. It started and ended with a prayer. They may blend in with the church and follow the basic “rules,” but this is totally different than following Jesus. They view God kind of like a big Santa Claus, thinking His job is simply to protect us from suffering while He helps us build our American dream (and then ushers us into eternal bliss when we die). Somehow we have equated our call to make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19) into simply making "believers" of them. Francis Chan points out, "While our good intentions may have gotten some people in the door, they also may have caused a whole generation to have a lower view of our God." According to Matthew 7:21-23, our faith should encompass more than just saying a few words, and even more than “doing things” in His name . . .

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’”

Whoa – so we could actually prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works in God’s name, but do it all apart from pleasing the Father . . . to the point of being refused entrance into heaven? That should wake us all up.

But the Gospel has always been good news (1 Corinthians 15:1-2) – it is not a list of burdensome things we must accomplish to earn His approval (Matthew 11:28-30). Our good works should come naturally from the overflow of a changed heart . . . and it is how we partner with God to further His kingdom here on earth (Ephesians 2:10)! However, according to Matthew 7, even the “good things” they were doing did not please God.

So how do we reconcile all of this?

According to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, our good works, our extreme acts of charity, and our lofty spiritual gifts are all meaningless when exercised apart from love (1 Corinthians 16:14, John 13:35). So I wonder if the people in Matthew 7, who seemed to be doing all the “right stuff,” were focused more on their behavior than on operating in love. And if that is the case, then it leads me to this question . . . how does God feel about the opposite scenario - people who do not proclaim to be Christians, but who are operating in genuine love? Can they “do the will of the Father in heaven” without knowing it?

Scripture says God created all mankind in His image, every single one of us (Genesis 1:27). So as humans (not just as Christians), we carry the nature of God within us . . . whether we acknowledge Him as God or not. We were created in love and for love, so we all have the capacity to operate with God’s heart and “do His will.” Just because someone has not discovered Jesus yet, or may even be hostile toward Him because of their negative experiences with religion, does not mean they cannot honor God with their life.

When we operate with authentic love, we glorify God . . . even as a non-Christian. Anytime hope is released or truth is spoken, Jesus wins.

Do I believe that all paths lead to God? No (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). But do I believe there are multiple ways to connect with God’s love and express that through different faiths, as people do their best to seek Him out? Absolutely.

Each religion has core differences regarding the basis in which a person can have a relationship with God . . . so despite the post-modernist attempt to define truth as relative, everyone cannot be right. Our beliefs matter - Jesus is not the same as other gods like Buddha and Mohammed (Read more HERE, HERE, and HERE). There are two main religious systems. One is based on merit, weighing the good deeds against the bad ones . . . but still never guaranteeing the person will “get into” heaven. In the other system (Christianity), entrance to heaven is not based on one’s own merit, but upon a merciful God who loved us so much that He paid the entrance price for us (John 3:16).

However, though religions differ vastly regarding their conditions for salvation, there is actually a common morality among most of them, a belief that we should “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” And often with this ethical code, comes a desire to live from a place of love and peace. Because of this, Christians can easily find common ground with the principles of different religions, or maybe admire individuals of other faiths for their pure heart and good deeds. Some people in other religions may even live holier lives than many “self-proclaimed Christians,” which can leave the Christian struggling to understand how God could be displeased with these people’s lives . . . to the point of not even letting them into heaven! But where did we get the idea that God is only delighted with Christians?

I think some people are confusing the salvation aspect of faith with the morality aspect . . . and these are two completely different things. They embrace the truth that all people have equal value, but then wander from this truth to the false claim that all ideas have equal merit.

In the end, when compassionate people from other faiths pour out their lives for others, thus making this world a better place as a result, this pleases our heavenly Father. And even if they are unaware of their true Creator (and actual source of their love), they can still advance His kingdom on earth and do “His will.” But they don’t earn their way to heaven through such acts.

As I meditated on this concept, I thought of numerous examples where God’s heart is released and His purposes fulfilled (without even mentioning His name).

            1 – Movies like Wonder where people are reminded that the true value of a person does not come from one’s external appearance. Or movies like The Blind Side or Remember the Titans that are based on true stories of overcoming hardship and breaking down racial barriers. Such movies can release hope and courage to others who might be going through hard times. They can be a powerful tool to help us align our thoughts with God’s heart, and ignite our imagination to dream of a way forward, through what otherwise may feel impossible. 

            2 – Televised auditions that display people’s God-given gifts, while telling their stories of perseverance along the way. Did you see the Americas Got Talent audition where Mandy Harvey performed? She went deaf at age 19 and then taught herself to sing again through muscle memory and vibrations – absolutely incredible! Or what about The Greatest Dancer audition, when Andrew, the 21 year old with Downs Syndrome, danced his heart out on stage and inspired the crowd to erupt with cheering and shouting. My heart melted. (See the videos below)

            3 – Documentaries and biographies that tell the stories of people who have sacrificed their life for the greater good, and move us toward a heart of gratitude and admiration (Revelation 12:11).

            4 – Music that touches or soothes the soul. I think about songs like You’ve got a friend by James Taylor, or I hope you dance by Lee Ann Womack - they uplift the listener because they release God’s heart for us. Or maybe it is classical or jazz music that calms your spirit at the end of a stressful day. The point is that music does not have to be blatantly Christian for God to be in it.

            5 - Moments in life that inspire wonder and awe of our Creator (Psalms 19: 1-4). Maybe we learn about an exotic animal, or visit one of the seven wonders in this world, or see a stunning sunset, or experience the miracle of childbirth. Maybe we find a starfish at the beach, or see a hummingbird on our feeder, or watch a flower bloom. God’s glorious handiwork is displayed all around us through His creation (Romans 1:19).

            6 - Medical discoveries of new ways to heal disease, or medical providers who go above and beyond to fight for their patients’ well being (while not getting paid anymore to do so).

            7 – Attentive caretakers of those with a severe illness or disability. Dick Hoyt is a great example – he refused to put his severely disabled son in an institution and instead took up pushing him through marathons in a wheelchair, because it was the one thing that made his son truly feel alive. In the process, he inspired a nation with a father’s love, and restored value and purpose to the lives of disabled people who can’t do for themselves.

            8 – Individuals who cannot just stand by and watch the atrocities in this world - they are moved with compassion to do something (1 John 3:17). Children like Kayce Miller who sews dolls for the homeless, or Jahkil Jackson who started a nonprofit at age 9 making blessing backs for the homeless. There are also people providing clean water to nations in need, people helping to rescue victims from sex trafficking, and people advocating for laws to protect girls from becoming child brides.

The list goes on and on.

Whether these people realize it or not, God is in all the good they are doing (James 1:17).

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

I used to think as a Christian, my role was to try and convert others so they could “get into heaven.” But interestingly, the first century Christians were not primarily concerned about going to heaven when they died. Instead, their focus was living a life that would bring heaven to earth (Matthew 6:10) . . . the type of life that others would see and say, “We want in on that!” The church grew rapidly in the first century, and during a time when they could have been martyred for their faith . . . so something was radically compelling about the way they were living (Acts 2:42-47).

Has the church lost this vision, and that’s why an all-inclusive mentality of salvation appears feasible to others . . . because it looks like all the other religions? (Read more HERE). Does the Christian church today offer anything more than what people can find at their local Country Club, or at the charity where they volunteer?  

In the end, what makes a greater impact – seeing someone wear a Christian t-shirt, or watching a video of someone defending the outcast? What inspires others to move in love - learning about someone’s perfect church attendance, or hearing how someone went out of their way to help a stranger (Luke 10:25-37)? What honored God more - the Pro-Life couple who threw out their pregnant teenager for her sin, or the Pro-Choice woman who took her in and helped her raise her child? (true story) 

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Go forth preaching always; if necessary use words.”  Are there some non-believers who do this better than Christians? I am sure there are. But should this be? I wonder if the warning in Matthew 7 is really just an invitation back to our original calling as believers to do “the will of the Father?” Because in the end,

The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Galatians 5:14)

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

I am asking God to help me unlearn any narrow beliefs that have caused me to miss out on connecting with others who are different than me, or have hindered me from celebrating the beauty of another person’s journey through life (because I think I have it all figured out). Brennan Manning put it well when he wrote,

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition.

Even Paul knew that in order to reach the people, he needed to meet them on their terms, in their culture, and amidst their belief system. (In Acts 17:16-34, you can read how Paul approached the people in a pagan culture by relating to their idol inscribed “to the unknown God”).

Similar to Paul’s approach, a good friend of mine ministers to pagan people at New Age festivals by helping them connect with God’s love. Many people at these festivals are spiritually hungry and open to hearing from their “Creator;” however, they might shut down at Jesus rhetoric. So she meets people where they are, connects them with the true source of love, and then trusts God to do the rest. (Listen to a similar story HERE).

Instead of forcing our beliefs on others, what if we just engaged in a conversation with them . . . maybe even worked through our questions together? In time, we may come across an opportunity to share the hope we have found in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15) . . . and who knows, we might even discover some common ground in the process. 

I have stopped worrying about hell and feeling like I have to save everyone. Scripture says that God is patient with us, desiring that none of His children should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and He is the rescuer not me. So I have given up any agenda to proselytize and I now see my role in the Great Commission as simply emulating Jesus’ example (Matthew 28:16-20). But this is no small task - Jesus did not just announce the kingdom of God; He also demonstrated it in action. So how do I do that? I simply pray for others to encounter God’s love, and then I make myself available to God as a vessel of that love. Each day I give my “yes” to God, and then I do my best to seize every opportunity that comes my way to serve others with His heart. I refuse to waste my life on just me (read more HERE).

In the end, love transforms whether we recognize Jesus as the source or not. Do I want others to know the true source? Of course! But do I fret if they have not discovered that yet? Not anymore. (Read HERE about the atheist who found Jesus as he was dying). 

Christians are held suspect when they simply view others as projects they want to fix, instead of people they deeply love. People don't care how much we know, until they know how much we care. Our friendship with others should never be conditional on whether they profess Christ as their Lord. 

So whether you currently follow Jesus or not, let me encourage you to keep following your heart’s passions and using your gifts to make a difference. Together let’s be a light in this world through our good works (Matthew 5:16), and in doing so, bring a little more of heaven to earth. For we were all created in and for love. 

And if you ever want to know the reason for my hope in the midst of a suffering world, I'll be oh so happy to tell you.

DISCLAIMER:

I want to make something very clear. This article is not intended in any way to diminish the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the importance of His sacrifice for us. There is no other religion that comes even close to being able to empower us with the hope and peace we find in Jesus (in this world and the next). More than anything else in this world, I long for others to encounter the love of Jesus (and of course God longs for this too). Evangelism is an integral part of our calling as Christians - how will they know if no one tells them (Romans 10:14, Isaiah 52:7)? But sometimes people aren't ready to hear what we have to say, so trying to lead them down the "Roman road of salvation" is not going to work.

I am not content with just passively accepting everyone for whatever they believe (as if it does not matter) - I am ALWAYS looking for ways to share Jesus with others. But look at how Jesus did it - He drew them with His kindness (Romans 2:4). He went to the outcast and loved them just as they were (you can read more about how Jesus dealt with people and controversy HERE). 

This article was simply meant to get people thinking from a different perspective, to point out that God has made us all in His image and has uniquely gifted each of us with the ability to make a difference in this world. We all have something to offer, and there is value in recognizing this even in those who don't profess Christianity. 

Since charity can be done without love (and sometimes even with selfish motives), the good works of Christians should look different than those of the world! In his book, "Letters To The Church," Chan reminds us not to confuse "theological knowledge or general kindness with being Spirit-filled." In the end, if we truly have access to the Father through Christ (John 16:15), then our lives should stand out as different (Matthew 5:16). We should be known by our good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). 

I am asking the Lord to be transformed so radically by His power and presence in my life that I bear supernatural fruit (not something that looks just like the world's good works). Would you consider joining me in this prayer? Maybe if we all did this together, others might actually want what we have to offer. 

FURTHER READING:

"Jesus Among Other Gods" by Ravi Zacharias

“Eternity In Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World” by Don Richardson

 

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.