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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 reli-
gions understand the issues in play in Romans 4, 5, and 6.


Judaism It is assumed that, in general, people have the ability What happens to each person when God judges him or her after death is
to follow the law of God. Grievous sins within the consequence of how that person lived during life on earth. If the per-
Judaism is not anticipated. God disclosed his law to son was generally obedient to the Ten Commandments, that person will
Moses on Mount Sinai. God’s revelation of his moral be in God’s favor. If the person was disobedient, there may be suffering
will is the foundation of Jewish belief and practice. due to just retribution by God. However, even an extremely evil person
The covenant God made with his people at Sinai is can come to repentance and afterward atone for sins by walking accord-
permanent and irrevocable. However, the terms and ing to the law of God. Three main views about atoning for sin have
conditions of this covenant have been elaborated by emerged within Judaism since the Roman army destroyed the Jewish tem-
authorized rabbis and can be altered (within limits) ple in Jerusalem: • Atonement can be made by repenting of sins, praying,
over time, as the cultural conditions faced by succes- and doing good works. • The corporate sufferings of the Jewish people
sive generations of Jews change. 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.

Islam The doctrine of Original Sin is denied; human beings One must believe the teachings of the Koran and obey Allah’s com-
do not have sinful natures. People are sinless until mands and do his will. Islam does not recognize any work by Allah for
they rebel against Allah. People should not behave the benefit of delivering Muslims from their sins. Persons must atone
according to their lower (animal) nature. Instead, for their own sins by sincere confession and good works. Allah will
they should use their free will to act in total submis- judge each person by the balance of good or evil that he or she has
sion to Allah. 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.

Baha’i Human beings, by nature, are neither sinful nor evil. Salvation, a state of happiness, is realized by those who turn toward God
Each person has been given the capacity by God for and believe in the manifestation of God that appears in the age in which
spiritual growth and progress. Evil, in fact, is seen as they live. Salvation does not save anyone from a sinful nature or acts of
only the absence of good. Satan, understood in some sin but instead frees humans from bondage to their lower nature. It is
religious traditions as an evil angelic being, does not this lower nature that threatens the destruction of society. Only through
exist, but rather is a personification of a human’s God sending manifestations are people able to reach their true potential.
lower nature, which can destroy those who fail to It is through the teachings of these historical manifestations that people
gain harmony with their spiritual nature. evolve to a higher place of spirituality and unite with God.

Hinduism Sin consists of two primary elements: (1) ignorance con- People who realize their identity with the Brahman obtain release from
cerning reality and (2) the illusion that persons are real. their ignorance and are no longer subject to the karmic laws that cause
The persistent quandary in which human beings find one’s soul to be reincarnated. Instead, they have attained enlightenment
themselves involves misapprehending the nature of the and provisional union with Brahman that will become final at death.
self and the cosmos. By recognizing that everything is Spiritual paths that can assist a person in this quest include “the path of
one undifferentiated reality, including oneself, a person devotion” and “the path of knowledge.” In all cases, a person must act
escapes from the otherwise endless cycle of reincarna- consistently with the dharma (the ways of Hindu spirituality).
tion. Evil actions, especially violent ones, result in a per-
son accumulating bad karma, which inhibits the person’s
ability to break free from ignorance and illusion.

Buddhism In Buddhism, sin is not viewed primarily in ethical Humans are presumed to be within a recurring cycle of birth, death, and
terms, but as ignorance of the true nature of reality. rebirth. The body in which one is reincarnated is dictated by the karma
Since all existence is one undifferentiated unity, evil from one’s previous life. Karma is the sum of a person’s actions in a pre-
and good are ultimately the same. Nonetheless, indi- vious life (or lives). Good karma assists one in receiving a body con-
viduals are responsible to have a proper sense of ducive to attaining enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of rein-
virtue and decency, and acting in a vicious manner carnation, which bad karma can result in a person being reincarnated
will inhibit one’s movement toward liberation. Rather into a lower form of existence. Escape from the cycle of reincarnation
than the absolute sense of right and wrong, good and can be achieved by taking the steps on the Eightfold Path:
evil found in some religions, Buddhist ethics seeks to 1) Right views, belief in the Four Noble Truths and rejection of false
avoid moral extremes which cause struggles and to views concerning one’s person and destiny; 2) Right resolve, ridding
avoid viewing the world as a reality that is independ- oneself of improper thoughts; 3) Right speech, speaking clearly and
ent from oneself. The Five Precepts are the manner truthfully; 4) Right conduct, performing proper actions; 5) Right liveli-
of life that adherents are to follow, including com- hood, living simply; 6) Right effort, working to achieve detachment
mandments not to kill, steal, lie, or be unchaste, and from the world; 7) Right awareness, understanding the nature of oneself
to avoid alcohol and drugs. 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.