If we were to run into a Gentile pagan from the first century who somehow time-warped to our culture today, most Americans would say things like, “They seem very nice and very religious. They are so faithful to be mindful of all of their gods…They are just a really good person…They are more religious than I am…I find their religious practices so interesting.” It might be similar to how most would respond to living next door to a Hindu swami.
Without question, as a follower of Jesus, we should be gentle, kind and loving to those of all faith traditions. It’s the fruit of the Spirit! Yet, the typical American attitude about the truthfulness of polytheistic religions is very different than the apostle Paul’s attitude.
This is what the apostle Paul said about the polytheistic faith of the Gentiles in the first century:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.Ephesians 2:11-12
Paul looked straight at those who used to worship a pantheon of gods and told them that not only were they separate from Christ in their old life but that they were “without hope and without God in the world.” It wasn’t just that they had a different religion than Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in affirming a universalistic religious pluralism. The worship of many gods was (and still is) completely bankrupt when it came to the promises of God, completely void of hope, and completely disconnected from the true God.
Before we follow Christ, here is how Paul describes us:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.Ephesians 2:1-2
Following the ways of the world is the same as following “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” otherwise known as Satan. He is called a “ruler” because he has a measure of power in this world to deceive and torment people. Satan is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” He is actively trying to get people to reject Christ and live in unbelief. Satan is happy to have people believe anything but the truth of the gospel regardless of how “religious” they are.
Yet, Satan is a conquered ruler. He does exert a measure of power, but all of his authority has been stripped away by Jesus. Jesus now has all authority as He Himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matthew 28:18).
Imagine an oppressive ruler who had been completely conquered and overthrown by good and generous Kingdom yet was still on the run trying to exert his power over the kingdom he once had. All of the oppressive ruler’s authority has been taken, but by using the power he has left, he tries to get people to believe he still has authority. And so he only has the amount of authority that people are willing to give him. He goes from village to village usurping the people’s authority who haven’t yet been told “the good news” of their freedom. And even those who have believed the good news are a target and must stand firm against his attacks (Ephesians 6:10-18).
This is why we can’t sit idly by in silence, but we must “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:18). Following Jesus isn’t about having one set of beliefs among a myriad of comparative religions. It’s about a relationship with the rightful King and Lord.