Islam and Christianity (or at least the most common forms of each) seem to have in common this idea that believing the correct thing about the Nature of God, his revealed Holy Books, and perhaps a few other specific beliefs, is a necessary but not sufficient condition to get into heaven or avoid eternal torment or, in some sense, have a better or eternal afterlife. In short, believing the correct thing will affect your rewards in the afterlife.

I think it's worth asking why. If someone was born in a Muslim country, surrounded by Muslims, never even interacted with a Christian, but they lived otherwise virtuously with kindness and charity and generosity and so forth, why does it matter whether they believe certain specific things? Why would the Christian God care that this person never specifically accepted the statement "Jesus Christ is the son of God" (or whatever other set of statements you may think are necessary for salvation)?

This becomes an especially difficult question, in my estimation, when you consider each religion's reliance on "faith" - that you are good for maintaining faith, and bad for leaving or rejecting your faith. This emphasis on faith in these religions has the effect that changing your mind about something is heavily discouraged, which of course means that Muslims have strong pressures to stay Muslim and Christians have strong pressures to stay Christian.

So if the result of the pressures of Faith is to just continue believing whatever it is you have been taught, then that makes it even extra hard for eg a Muslims to turn to Christianity if it turns out Christianity is true, or conversely for a Christian to turn to Islam if that turns out to be true.

This problem would be entirely sidestepped if God, for example, explicitly revealed the truth to each person individually in an unambiguous way. Then, of course, you would have to choose to deny that.

Some people believe that to be the case I suppose - that there is some form of unambiguous reveal in everybody's lives - but I don't believe that's a tenable position.

It might not be immediately obvious to some of you why this question is important, but consider this possibility: the Mormons are right. Consider the possibility that you end up in the afterlife, and you find that you don't have access to the highest level of Heaven, because you didn't get baptised in a Mormon temple and accept their beliefs. The Mormon answer to that is that, if you earnestly pray to ask if the Book of Mormon is true, you will find that it is. However, I invite all readers to make such a prayer right now. I suspect that, of you who receive an answer, those who are already Mormon will mostly receive a "yes" and those of you who are not will mostly receive a "no" - though please report exceptions! So, you pray, you don't get an answer or you get a "no", you've researched the BoM and you rationally conclude that it's probably not true, and yet you end up in some lesser form of afterlife and find that you were wrong. But you've lived your whole life virtuously, accepted Jesus - you might reasonably find yourself asking, "Why did it matter that I didn't accept these specific claims? Especially when all the evidence and my prayers told me otherwise?"

So that's my question. Why would that matter?

  • 1
    These are philosophical questions. It is very clear from the scriptures (both Old and New Testaments and particularly of the book of Job, the exemplary book of a single man on earth viewed in isolation) that the real finding of the true God begins with the realisation of the wickedness of one's own sins and the evil of one's own interior and the necessity that Deity should judge that state. Then, it is not a philosophical enquiry : it is an urgent matter of necessity : to be saved from the wrath to come. And there is but one way : I am the way, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 5 '21 at 13:41
  • just an FYI your LDS possibility isn't quite right about the doctrine. You aren't baptized in a temple, baptisms are performed for those that have died but for those living it is performed outside the temple. LDS believe in an afterlife and that everyone will have an opportunity to hear/receive the gospel (it is a choice) see also
    – depperm
    Aug 5 '21 at 17:03
  • It's a valid question, but different denominations answer differently. In my college days I struggled with this Q too, having heard Karl Rahner's anonymous Christian concept. My stance now: right concepts of God matters and are instrumental to lead us to the right kind of faith. Analyzed subjectively, our faith in God is not religion-neutral and it's multi-dimensional (since we have mind, emotion, will). Different faith has different intellectual content which in turn shapes our feelings toward God and produces different action. Aug 5 '21 at 19:32
  • Denominations like Catholicism that are "generous" to those who don't receive a good gospel presentation before they die (or those who through no fault of their own have a corrupted notion of Christianity) will leave their ultimate salvation in the hands of God. But it does NOT absolve the church to relax her missionary efforts, since correct beliefs are essential to shape the right kind of faith life for believers to flourish in their lives. Believers who have full understanding of their faith can say they are more blessed than anonymous Christians although both groups may be saved. Aug 5 '21 at 19:40
  • You're welcome to discuss this further in the Upper room. Aug 5 '21 at 19:43

Jesus made the stakes clear:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-33)

The stakes are freedom.

The Bible teaches a process of sanctification that proceeds from a transformation of the mind (learning the truth, the domain of the Son of God), to a reformation of the affections and emotions (the domain of the Holy Spirit), to an alteration in priorities and habits of action (the domain of the Father), leading to a harvest of righteousness (good deeds) and ultimately a life of peace. You see aspects of this process described in the Parables of the Four soils and the Wheat and the Tares, and many other places. The line is drawn: lies of the devil (the Tares or weeds) grow up fast and look impressive but yield no good fruit, no grain for the harvest. Truths from God yield good fruit. The truth is the seed - no truth, no good growth.

The stakes are fruitfulness.

Another area is loyalty. Jesus is loyal to the people he "knows", as revealed in Matthew 7. It is about relationship. Truth is not only propositional, it is personal. Different religions may share some of the same propositions, but not all share the same person.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is not just one who knows the truth and teaches the truth, he literally IS the truth. He knows his sheep and calls them by name, and when called by name, his sheep know he is their shepherd.

10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:1-18)

The stakes are friendship.

  • I accept that Christians BELIEVE that, but the question is why? Not why do they believe it, why is it important. If I reviewed the evidence and decided I didn't think Jesus was divine, but I otherwise lived a virtuous life, why would that one factual error be enough to condemn me? It's the point of my analogy at the end of my post: if you accepted Jesus but rejected LDS believes, and you ended up in some lesser form of the afterlife, might you be asking the same question? Why? Why was being factually incorrect about this one thing so important?
    – TKoL
    Aug 5 '21 at 15:25
  • 1
    John 8:24 seems to indicate that the stakes are "dying in [y]our sins"... Aug 5 '21 at 15:32
  • @TKoL - It is not about being factually incorrect but about being relationally incorrect. Matthew 7 makes it clear. Some people had the right name - Jesus - but Jesus said he didn't know them. A later chapter in Matthew (sheep and goats) has people who thought they didn't know Jesus, but found that they did. If you know Jesus as God, you know him. If you don't know him as God, you don't know him. His identity it the most important thing about him. It is not "one thing" - it is the main thing. "Who do you think I am?" is his question to all. It is about identity. Aug 5 '21 at 20:07

It depends on who you believe God is. The Christian God is love, grace, mercy and righteousness. He has allowed many forms of knowing Him, they are all faulty and true - each to varying degrees of each. There is no perfect truth in this age and all will die with much error. He has not designed such a wide variety of groups, all with error - this is the result of a fallen/corrupted world.

But we would believe (to varying degrees) that there is a plan to allow all of humanity to know the true God and choose the way He has provided to enter the next life - to be with Him and be free of sin and death.

Salvation in Christianity is not about what we know or how much truth we have, it is about how we live and how willing we are to abandon our earthly treasures for the heavenly ones. We all get opportunity to choose on a daily basis. Will we be getters or givers, will we be selfish or selfless, will we be patient or not, generous or not...

When we've finished with this life, we will not be perfect or complete or able to go to the next - except for the way that Jesus has offered us all. In his righteousness alone, he has defeated sin and death for all.

Every religion has a God. Some are harsh and unforgiving, some are demanding and capricious. Our God requires much of us. But what He requires, He provides. This is unique to Christianity and is at least partially recognised in all branches.

He requires love, sacrifice, righteousness, holiness, belief, faith, trust.

He has provided these things in Christ. And He calls each to follow as best they can, knowing that all stand by grace alone and not by merit in any good we have done or truth we think we may know.

It doesn't matter if you believe the wrong stuff. God can straighten you out in a moment should He choose to do so. Until now He hasn't, so it can't be that important for this life.

God is bigger than Mormons and Baptists and Catholics and... frankly I don't think He cares much about any of them or we wouldn't be in this mess. But there IS a plan to fix everything and it isn't finished yet. In fact, it's hardly started!

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31

The truth does matter, but it is not critical for salvation. Freedom in this life is relative to the truth we encounter - if we can recognise the truth when we see it.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. Just as You sent Me into the world, I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, so that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:16

Edit regarding truth not being critical,

The truth about salvation through Christ is of utmost importance.

What is not critical is whether one believes in a trinity, a mode, an angel or whatever. This confusion is not of God and is part of what Jesus came to fix, the job is not finished yet as the deceiver is still deceiving.

  • 1
    The question asks 'Why does it matter ?' This answer says (quote) 'It doesn't matter . . . . .'
    – Nigel J
    Aug 5 '21 at 13:53
  • The truth does matter, but it is not critical for salvation - Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me [John 14:6, NIV] Aug 5 '21 at 14:34
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:31,32. All his disciples know the truth : and thereby are they free. Yes, it is critical.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 5 '21 at 15:11

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