Morals of Christianity today: What does "being saved by Jesus" mean?
Are Christians the only ones saved?
Christianity's message is to follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in order to reach eternal life (i.e. heaven). This message is what describes the Christian religion; whatever has a different message, then it is a totally different religion.
Let's explore a little bit about Christianity's origins and some traits it has now before analyzing the true meaning behind the religion, and the belief that "in order to be saved and not perish/live in eternal damnation, you have to recognize (or accept) Jesus as your Savior".
If we analyze the New Testament, especially the Gospels and the Acts Book, we can find the main description of what is expected from a person who believes in Jesus and thus, makes him a Christian: love others, help others, forgive any transgression, be loyal, don't lie, do not be selfish, in general- be a good person and try to avoid sin. Jesus was a man who according to the general belief, never sinned. He lived a perfect life and expected those who followed Him to be as sinless as possible, and made sacrifices and decisions what they may not like at the beginning, but that eventually turned out to be good.
Jesus lived in times where the Roman Empire took over control over the civilized known world. Native Americans, Ottomans, Northern Europeans (at that time) and Asians were lesser known powers- the Romans took over all of Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Western Middle East. Christianity, of course, did not exist- there were mostly Jews and pagans. So Jesus was a Jew, and followed the practices of the Jewish religion, which he changed with and through his followers. But Jews back then can be said to be similar to what we have in Christianity today- strict leaders who abided solely in the law of Moses. Whatever was not according to the religious beliefs was considered heresy, blasphemy, and death-deserving. So, Jesus and most of his followers were killed because they did not obey the local religious laws and rules.
After Jesus died and resurrected according to the Christian belief, Christianity was born, founded by Peter. So Christianity was basically a form of Judaism with the major difference that the new-then Christians believed that the Messiah announced by the major prophets arrived. Christianity in its beginning had trouble trying to fit in the Jewish society as well as outside, even though Paul found less difficulties outside of Israel. Christianity was rejected and even those who tried to spread it were mostly punished by stoning, beheading or crucifixion. Peter, Paul, Timothy, and other first Christians were victims of these punishments, too. Several years later Christianity, which was indeed growing, became the religion of the empire, and it took a very strong importance in political decisions. Through the centuries, Christianity went from being a raw derivative of Judaism into a major religion which, ironically, began to turn into the very thing it was against at its first stages: structured, strict, and corrupted.
So here is the issue- once humans touch a religion, their imperfections corrupt the main purpose it is for. When Jesus came to the world, the intentions were to influence people to become humble. He did not hang out with the wealthy and powerful. His disciples did not belong to elite groups nor they were stunning millionaires. Jesus was not born in a golden room with all kind of jewels surrounding Him. He lived a very humble life. So Jesus' life is one that projects humility, mercy, good works and undeniable goodness. But people, as always, corrupt whatever system they take their hands on, in order to gain personal benefits. Whatever is threatening to their welfare, is erased and replaced.
The Bible and the Church have nearly 2012 years today, probably less because Christianity did not begin until the third decade of the A.D. age. Christianity became a powerful religion which controlled the Roman Empire and thus all countries in southern Europe. Today Christianity is the largest religion with near two billion followers in the Americas, Europe and minor populations elsewhere. But Christianity has always had a dark history after it became part of the Roman Empire. Many of us follow the religion because of cultural reasons, but Christianity per se, the true Christian lifestyle, is decaying fast.
Truth is that religion is nothing if there is no spirituality. What I mean is that many people today go to church to "meet" with the cultural aspects involved. They go to church because it is the norm. Some certainly go to church to try to connect with God in an intimate way while meeting other people with the same beliefs. But what if today's churches are nowhere close to what they really should represent? Have churches become social clubs where people meet and make money using the Bible and other religious things for their own gain?
This is the Church today- the Catholics and Orthodox follow a very strict set of regulations in order to "access" God. In order for a person to participate on the heritage that Jesus left us- the Eucharist or the Last Supper's Memorial- Catholics have to follow a series of steps which includes courses and classes, like school or advanced education, that take time; very similar to the process to become a professional. Catholicism sets a series of rules, many of them influenced by pagan traditions that mixed with original Christianity when it became the religion of the Roman Empire, that people have to follow, that is the way they are taught from the very beginning of their life, so they learn to believe that it is the right way. Priests and nuns have to be celibate, they cannot marry. There is a series of steps Catholics have to follow to believe they are under God's approval. So far, Jesus never required any rule for a person to reach Him when He walked in Israel, neither He said no one "you have to do this and that" for them to feel they were granted access to God. On the contrary, Jesus told his disciples to let the children approach Him, without any kind of permit. Now, many Protestant groups today are nowhere close to what true, free Christianity should be. As a former Protestant, most of my deceptions on church happened with Protestants. The hypocrisy and falsehood stunning in many churches is rampant. Some churches are elitist, and have created a set of rules which make little to no sense at all. People who cannot dance, drink a droplet of alcohol, wear earrings, shave their legs and arms, use make-up, eat meat and much more, based mainly on "generalized" or mere cultural aspects. While there are some good churches today out there, these make up a tiny percent of all churches, because during these two thousand years approximately, Christianity has turned into a mere cultural dogma which people follow without actually understanding its message. Many people who go every Sunday and some Wednesday or other weekday nights to church are the same ones who are greedy in their workplaces, are very intolerant to human mistakes and endorse bad competition; they endorse wars against people who they believe in their personal opinion are a threat, or simply refuse non-Christians or even other Christians with different approaches to hang with them. Some believe God want people to be wealthy and be superior to others.
Now, how can this all be found in a religion based on a man who was not rich and lived a humble life? The answer is easy- the true essence of Christianity has been lost. This is the reason why I personally have chosen to step away from church. I have found that most things taught in most churches today, do not come from God, but from personal beliefs which derive from misinterpretations, either created by themselves to obtain personal gain, or from culture. My relationship with God and my spiritual reality cannot depend on human perceptions, culture, or other aspects that are subject to bias and convenience.
To understand a little bit more on what I am trying to say is, for example, the intolerance to other people's lifestyles and beliefs. It surprises me to see in the Internet an outstanding number of people who make homophobic comments based on their perceptions on the Bible. There are Christians who respect homosexual people, but there is a significant number of Christians who treat them as if they were sick, abnormal, freaks and believe they are under demonic possession. Also, the number of Christians who believe that Muslims endorse terrorism and evil actions. And it is all because of what they have learned from other people and misinterpreted Biblical verses or testimonies which supposedly affirm these conclusions which are totally false.
So with all these explanations, now we can go to the Christian message itself- "You have to believe in Jesus in order to be saved". Biblical verses are used to justify this which are clearly, a misinterpretation if we want to be sure that God is indeed good and merciful. A good Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist is going to hell to burn for eternity because he never knew Jesus, or because they chose to continue to believe in what they have always believed? Pardon me but this is beyond absurd. This is the same as a kid being punished by a father because he accidentally did something wrong, or because he did something he thought he was right to do when it was not, due to lack of knowledge or prior advice. If God is fair, merciful, full of love and perfect, then it is obvious that the general interpretation that only Jesus, literally, is the way, is wrong.
Then, am I saying that it is wrong to say "Jesus is the only Way"? Not necessarily. There is something called "metaphor", and many of the books and verses found in the Bible are not to be taken literally because it simply causes confusion. No matter if a person chooses to believe something literally out of fear or out of ignorance, there is no way to avoid confusion if you believe the Bible is entirely literal. A lot of people debate the Genesis' explanation of the creation comparing to the evolution theory, and I find it entirely unnecessary- if you read the first verses of the Genesis it is obvious it is a metaphor. Come on, a couple of people punished by God for eating a fruit? Where did Cain's wife come from? Where is Eden today, why there is no place in the world today guarded by seraph angels with a sword? People living almost a millennium? The same goes with the Book of Revelation. The Genesis' first chapters can be merely a quick summary of the first million years of the humanity, since time, for God, is different than our Gregorian perception. Earth did not take six Gregorian days to be created, though God could have done so. The evolution theory is perfectly harmonic with the Genesis' summary of events of the creation if the latter is taken into the right context.
The same goes with many parables and messages from Jesus. "Jesus the Way" does not mean you have to know Jesus from the Bible and follow Him in a literal way, going to church and praising Him in the Protestant or Catholic fashion. Jesus the Way means Jesus' model here- being perfect, loyal to God in every way. That is demonstrated through a honest life and through good works. The perception of being saved by grace is extremely convenient and it lack fairness to people who never hear of Jesus. Jesus always showed people that they dogmas should not dictate their lives and that what many Christians do today. Following dogmas, general rules and not questioning or trying to find more. If a Muslim lives a life that is equivalent to what Jesus lived, regardless if he believes in Islam and rejects the Christian religion, then he is saved. If a Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Mayan, or a person who believes in Greek or Nordic mythology lives a life which imitates and tries to be like Jesus- regardless of hearing or not hearing of Him- is saved! Why? Because Jesus showed a model to everyone, not only to the local Jews of the time nor to specific people.
If Christianity was the sole religion to be right, then God will certainly move much more people from other religions to abandon their beliefs. A lot of people embrace Christianity because they are against human rules on their religions, which they leave. They are not really against their religion, they are against the human imperfections and associate them with the religion, making them move to a new one. This same principles applies to Islam- they also claim their religion is the right one, though they are much more lenient to at least other Abrahamic religious people, according to the Quran.
So here is the good news. Christianity is a religion which has been corrupted by pagan and convenient ideas over the last centuries. Therefore, it has flaws. Not necessarily it means it should be rejected, but every mindset which creates confusion, absurdity, fanaticism, arrogance and other negative traits cannot come from God, so they are human and must be neglected in order to reach a higher spirituality. In other words- you cannot see the path to reach God as a complicated set of rules and paths in which you have to be tested by other people. Certainly, the path to reach God is not easy because it requires staying from sin. But that's it. You just have to be more like Jesus, that is the true meaning of "accepting Jesus".