The True Religion—How to Identify It
“Be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will . . . to the end of fully pleasing him.”—Col. 1:9, 10.
1-4. (a) How do many people feel about judging religious matters? (Acts 18:12-17) (b) Why might you or others feel that way?
IF TWO persons were arguing over which is the true religion, and asked you to sit as ‘judge’ to determine who was right, would you want to do so?
2 Few subjects are as controversial as religion. History provides a noteworthy example involving one of the early leaders of Christianity, the apostle Paul. After a near riot that arose because of different religious views, Paul was arrested. His case was heard by Festus, governor of the Roman province of Judea. Paul’s accusers were Jewish religious leaders, including high priest Ananias. Festus later reported to King Herod Agrippa II on what occurred:
3 “When confronted with [Paul], his accusers did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected; but they had some argument or other with him about their own religion.”—Acts 25:18, 19, Jerusalem Bible.
4 As you can well appreciate, Governor Festus was reluctant to get involved in a religious dispute. Many people feel that it would be unwise either to claim to have the true religion or to try to decide whether any religion is true. You must have heard the seemingly wise and liberal view, ‘Let each man believe as he wants. There is good in all religions.’
5. Why can it be said that every individual is involved in the matter of religion?
5 Nonetheless, all of us are definitely involved—this is not a subject that we personally can avoid. Despite the increasing emphasis on being scientific, and on atheism in the Communistic world, religion is part of our inner makeup. As one encyclopedia expressed it:
“Of the whole family of man, existing in all ages, and scattered over every quarter of the globe, there is not one well-authenticated exception to the fact that, moved by an inward impulse, and guided by revelation or tradition, man worships something which he believes to be endowed with the attributes of a superior being.”
6, 7. What reasons does everyone have for investigating true religion?
6 The volume Religion and Philosophy says about religion in the distant past: “The origin of the world and man’s place in it were as puzzling as death. Explanations of these questions vary enormously, but they are still basic to modern religion. Although science can explain most phenomena of the here and now, men everywhere still seek hope beyond the few decades of individual existence.”
7 Certainly, with regard to answers to these fundamental questions and to hope for the future, we do not want to rely on a delusion or a myth. That being so, we have ample reason for investigating this matter of identifying the true religion.
8. What thoughts might pass through a person’s mind as he contemplates the universe?
8 The view of the atheist is that there is no God, while the agnostic says that no one really knows about this—that we are just here. But do these views really satisfy or harmonize with the facts? Some share the thoughts expressed by philosopher-historian Will Durant, who was reported as saying:
“I feel the creator’s urge in all living things and I suspect there is something corresponding to that even in the atom, in all its exploding electrons. An atom is not a dead thing. It’s a thing throbbing . . . with life. And consequently I can’t think of the universe as a machine. A machine does not throb with life. It stands perfectly still unless something throbbing with life gets hold of it.”
Many persons, even some agnostics, have grappled with such thoughts in seeking the answer to life and have reasoned that this higher intelligence, this Creator, logically would provide answers or information for his creation, even as we humans do for our own children.
SEARCHING FOR TRUE RELIGION
9. Why was the course of a certain Persian man, in looking into the Bible, a reasonable one? (Job 35:9-11)
9 Those who are sincerely searching for truth generally recognize that there must be a God and that he reasonably would reveal his will and offer answers about why we are here, what life means and what the future holds for us. Consider the case of a Persian man in West Berlin. Years ago his father was an influential politician, but after a political reverse he took the family to Russia, where the son studied and became an engineer. In time the young man moved to East Berlin and later sought asylum in West Berlin. He explains:
“Although I belonged to an Eastern religion, I had not been active religiously. Still, since childhood I believed in God and I often meditated on the purpose of life and why there are so many religions. In the summer of 1975 I met two students of the Bible and talked over matters with them. From their explanations I was able to conclude that the Bible is inspired of God. They visited me at my home and we got involved in discussions regarding the differences in religions. They left with me the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind?* The explanations in it based on the Bible brought about changes in my entire outlook on life. What I learned, and the changes this brought about in my thinking and actions, have brought me great joy.”
How reasonable it was for this engineer to give consideration to the Bible! The Bible includes the oldest and most widely circulated of all sacred writings. It alone comes to grips with questions that we need answered—Why are we here? Why do we die? What does the future hold?
10. What may be observed as to whether all religions using the Bible teach, basically, the same thing?
10 When we mention the Bible, is your reaction, ‘Well, most all persons who accept the Bible believe, fundamentally, the same thing’? Many feel that way. However, that is definitely not the case. As with the engineer in West Berlin, millions of sincere, intelligent persons who have examined this vital issue of true worship know that there are vast differences between the teachings and the practices of various religions claiming to be based on the Bible. And, frankly, there are also vast differences between most of these religions and the Bible itself. These differences can involve your entire approach to life and religion. As we examine a few basic and vital points, analyze your own religion or beliefs. Ask yourself, ‘Am I personally seeking true worship?’ And if you see that in some ways your beliefs or practices are at variance with true religion, think seriously about what you will do.
11. Why should all of us be willing to consider making adjustments in our beliefs and conduct?
11 The possible need to adjust our beliefs or conduct should not surprise anyone familiar with the Bible. For instance, Jesus Christ said, regarding some very religious persons of his day, ‘the worship they offer is worthless; the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.’ (Matt. 15:9, JB) Nor is it just a matter of doctrine. Jesus’ half brother James wrote: “Faith is dead if it is separated from good deeds” and “Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion.”—Jas. 2:26; 1:26, JB.
A KEY ACCOUNT
12, 13. The account of Adam and Eve contains what details that might aid a person seeking to identify true religion?
12 In considering the matter of true religion, many persons might first think of what Jesus taught and did. But before we examine that, let us give some attention to the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Persons earth wide are familiar with what it says about Adam and Eve. Simple as that account may seem, it is a key place to look in searching for identifying marks of true religion.
13 Briefly, Genesis reports that God created man directly, forming him out of the elements of the earth and then proceeded “to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7) The Creator designated one of the trees of the garden where Adam lived as representing the knowledge of good and bad and commanded: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Gen. 2:16, 17) God thus indicated his right to determine what is good and what is bad. Adam was not left to work out by painful trial and error what was good and what was bad or what was the right or the wrong religion. The Creator also made a woman, Eve, and presented her to Adam as a permanent mate. We read: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) Now, in our seeking to identify true religion we can learn much from this well-known account.
14. How could you reason with someone as to what Genesis says and the theory of evolution?
14 First, the Bible says plainly that man was created directly by God. (Gen. 2:7) It does not say that over millions of years he evolved from some form of animal life. How do we know? Because the record unequivocally states that the animals were to reproduce “according to their kinds.” (Gen. 1:21, 24) True there is latitude for variety within the animal kinds, such as the many types and sizes in the cat family. But God’s law prescribed a boundary, so that the animals could not evolve from one kind to another animal kind, nor into humans, the highest of created kinds on earth. Furthermore, no intermediate life forms have ever been found. Does your religion accept the Bible account, or does it go along with the popular but unproven theory of evolution?
15. What does Genesis tell us about Adam and Eve’s life and prospects? (Gen. 1:28)
15 Next, we can note that Adam was created with the prospect of endless life here on earth. God said that if he disobeyed, he would die. The converse is clear. If he obeyed God, he would not die. He would continue alive on earth. As what? As a human soul. Did we not read, “the man came to be a living soul”?—Gen. 2:7.
16-18. In reasoning with someone about identifying the true religion, how could you use what Genesis says about the human soul, death and the possibility of life after death?
16 These facts are significant because so many religions maintain that each human has within him an immortal soul. That was a prominent teaching in ancient Egypt and Babylon, and it is still found in many religions. But does it agree with what Genesis says about Adam? Not at all. Adam did not have an immortal soul within him—he was a soul. And what would happen at death? Would he receive immortal life as a spirit? No! God said that he would return to the ground, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:19) Adam’s death was to be a punishment for breaking God’s law, not a step toward immortal life somewhere else.
17 Ask yourself, ‘Is that what my religion has taught me?’ The Bible nowhere teaches that humans have immortal souls that survive the death of the body. It gives a better hope, namely, that God is able to bring a person back to life as a soul, resurrecting him to live on earth or in the spirit realm.—Acts 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:35-38.
18 In view of what we read in Genesis, does your religion hold that God’s purpose was for humans to live endlessly on earth? Many of the major religions focus attention on afterlife in heaven, nirvana or something of the sort. One mark of the true religion is acceptance of the Bible’s teaching that the earth is man’s home, where God purposes for humans to live perpetually.—Isa. 45:18.
CONDUCT ALSO INVOLVED
19 We should observe, too, that true religion as revealed in Genesis involves conduct, not merely certain doctrines or beliefs.
20 When Adam and Eve broke God’s law about the fruit of that tree, the most serious aspect of the sin was their disobedience. But did you ever consider the fact that at the same time they were taking something that did not belong to them? In a sense, that might be termed stealing. For their disobedience, their sin that included stealing, they were expelled from the garden of true worship. As you probably know, most religions speak against stealing, do they not? But, in practice, what do they do in the case of an unrepentant thief, whether a shoplifter or white-collar criminal who defrauds the public or embezzles from a business? Do they expel persistent thieves from ‘the fold’ as God expelled Adam? Think about it.
21 Also, consider the matter of marriage. Though to this point in our discussion we have considered only the account of Adam and Eve, in view of what is said about their sticking together we can well ask ourselves, What is the attitude of my religion toward marriage and divorce? Are husband and wife expected to stick together, or is divorce a common and casual thing? God is described as ‘hating a divorce.’ (Mal. 2:16) Is that the prevailing view in the religions you know of, perhaps even the religion of which you are a member?
NOAH’S EXPERIENCE IN TRUE RELIGION
22 Now let us move on to another Biblical account for help in identifying true religion. It involves Noah, whom we are told “walked with the true God.” At a time when “the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time,” Noah did not keep true religion to himself. He did not view it as a personal and private matter. He was “a preacher of righteousness.” The Bible tells us that God brought a global flood to destroy the wicked, but he preserved Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives.—Gen. 6:5–8:2; 2 Pet. 2:5.
23 Some may respond that the account of Noah and the flood is but a fable or an allegory. How does your religion stand on this? If you asked one of its leaders, would he say that the Bible account of Noah and the flood is interesting but should not be taken literally? If so, that would be significant, for it would put him in opposition to Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity. Jesus accepted the Biblical account of Noah and the global deluge as historical fact, and so did his apostles.—Luke 17:26, 27; 1 Pet. 3:20.
24-26. What commands did God give to Noah, and why are they noteworthy?
24 According to the record in Genesis chapter 9, when Noah and his family emerged from the ark in which they had survived the flood, God stated some clear commands that are helpful to us in identifying true religion today. We read:
“Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat. And, besides that, your blood of your souls shall I ask back. . . . Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God‘s image he made man.”—Gen. 9:3-6.
25 Though God made this statement millenniums ago, it was issued at the outset of a new chapter in human history. This emphasizes that it is important in establishing what is true religion. Noah, through his sons, became the forefather of all mankind. Therefore, what God commanded Noah logically applies to all humans on earth today.
26 What did those commands mean for Noah and his family? For one thing, they were not to eat meat with the blood still in it. Consuming blood, which represented an animal’s life as a soul, was forbidden. Also, Noah was told not to murder humans. Thus all of mankind, as descendants of Noah, are required to show due respect for blood and for life, if they are to have God’s approval.
27. In seeking to identify true religion, what further examination is in order, and why should we be looking for consistency?
27 Though we have so far considered just two early accounts in the Bible, we have been able to isolate some identifying marks of true religion. Since all of us have an inner desire to worship, what we have examined up to this point should be most useful to us. But we can be aided further in identifying true religion by next considering some aspects of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles at the beginning of Christianity. In doing so, we will see the consistency between the beginning of the Bible and its later portions as to identifying marks of true religion.
Published in 1951 by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
[Picture on page 8]
The Bible says plainly that man was created by God and that the man himself was made “a living soul”—not that he has an immortal soul
[Picture on page 9]
What is the attitude of your religion toward marriage and divorce? Are husband and wife expected to stick together, as the Bible teaches?
[Picture on page 10]
The Bible presents the account of Noah and the flood as a historical reality—is that what you have been taught?