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Sin and Salvation: A Comparison of Major World Religions
What does your friendly Baha’i neighbor believe about salvation? Are there any points of agreement between you and
your Jewish postal worker about sin? The following chart will help you understand how some of the major world religions understand the issues in play in Romans 4, 5, and 6.
It is assumed that, in general, people have the ability
to follow the law of God. Grievous sins within
Judaism is not anticipated. God disclosed his law to
Moses on Mount Sinai. God’s revelation of his moral
will is the foundation of Jewish belief and practice.
The covenant God made with his people at Sinai is
permanent and irrevocable. However, the terms and
conditions of this covenant have been elaborated by
authorized rabbis and can be altered (within limits)
over time, as the cultural conditions faced by successive generations of Jews change.
What happens to each person when God judges him or her after death is
the consequence of how that person lived during life on earth. If the person was generally obedient to the Ten Commandments, that person will
be in God’s favor. If the person was disobedient, there may be suffering
due to just retribution by God. However, even an extremely evil person
can come to repentance and afterward atone for sins by walking according to the law of God. Three main views about atoning for sin have
emerged within Judaism since the Roman army destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem: • Atonement can be made by repenting of sins, praying,
and doing good works. • The corporate sufferings of the Jewish people
atone for the sins of every individual Jew. • The Jewish people are
assured of happiness and peace in the next life just because they are Jews.
The doctrine of Original Sin is denied; human beings
do not have sinful natures. People are sinless until
they rebel against Allah. People should not behave
according to their lower (animal) nature. Instead,
they should use their free will to act in total submission to Allah.
One must believe the teachings of the Koran and obey Allah’s commands and do his will. Islam does not recognize any work by Allah for
the benefit of delivering Muslims from their sins. Persons must atone
for their own sins by sincere confession and good works. Allah will
judge each person by the balance of good or evil that he or she has
done. Yet, even the most pious Muslim is not guaranteed entrance into
paradise; only the martyr can be assured of this. Additionally, Allah is
under no compulsion to be merciful.
Human beings, by nature, are neither sinful nor evil.
Each person has been given the capacity by God for
spiritual growth and progress. Evil, in fact, is seen as
only the absence of good. Satan, understood in some
religious traditions as an evil angelic being, does not
exist, but rather is a personification of a human’s
lower nature, which can destroy those who fail to
gain harmony with their spiritual nature.
Salvation, a state of happiness, is realized by those who turn toward God
and believe in the manifestation of God that appears in the age in which
they live. Salvation does not save anyone from a sinful nature or acts of
sin but instead frees humans from bondage to their lower nature. It is
this lower nature that threatens the destruction of society. Only through
God sending manifestations are people able to reach their true potential.
It is through the teachings of these historical manifestations that people
evolve to a higher place of spirituality and unite with God.
Sin consists of two primary elements: (1) ignorance concerning reality and (2) the illusion that persons are real.
The persistent quandary in which human beings find
themselves involves misapprehending the nature of the
self and the cosmos. By recognizing that everything is
one undifferentiated reality, including oneself, a person
escapes from the otherwise endless cycle of reincarnation. Evil actions, especially violent ones, result in a person accumulating bad karma, which inhibits the person’s
ability to break free from ignorance and illusion.
People who realize their identity with the Brahman obtain release from
their ignorance and are no longer subject to the karmic laws that cause
one’s soul to be reincarnated. Instead, they have attained enlightenment
and provisional union with Brahman that will become final at death.
Spiritual paths that can assist a person in this quest include “the path of
devotion” and “the path of knowledge.” In all cases, a person must act
consistently with the dharma (the ways of Hindu spirituality).
In Buddhism, sin is not viewed primarily in ethical
terms, but as ignorance of the true nature of reality.
Since all existence is one undifferentiated unity, evil
and good are ultimately the same. Nonetheless, individuals are responsible to have a proper sense of
virtue and decency, and acting in a vicious manner
will inhibit one’s movement toward liberation. Rather
than the absolute sense of right and wrong, good and
evil found in some religions, Buddhist ethics seeks to
avoid moral extremes which cause struggles and to
avoid viewing the world as a reality that is independent from oneself. The Five Precepts are the manner
of life that adherents are to follow, including commandments not to kill, steal, lie, or be unchaste, and
to avoid alcohol and drugs.
Humans are presumed to be within a recurring cycle of birth, death, and
rebirth. The body in which one is reincarnated is dictated by the karma
from one’s previous life. Karma is the sum of a person’s actions in a previous life (or lives). Good karma assists one in receiving a body conducive to attaining enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of reincarnation, which bad karma can result in a person being reincarnated
into a lower form of existence. Escape from the cycle of reincarnation
can be achieved by taking the steps on the Eightfold Path:
1) Right views, belief in the Four Noble Truths and rejection of false
views concerning one’s person and destiny; 2) Right resolve, ridding
oneself of improper thoughts; 3) Right speech, speaking clearly and
truthfully; 4) Right conduct, performing proper actions; 5) Right livelihood, living simply; 6) Right effort, working to achieve detachment
from the world; 7) Right awareness, understanding the nature of oneself
and reality; 8) Right concentration, putting aside all distractions and
focusing one’s thoughts totally on enlightenment.
Taken from Charts of World Religions by H. WAYNE HOUSE. Copyright © 2006 by H. Wayne House. Used by permission of The Zondervan Corporation.