It all boils down to the golden rule, or does it?

Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.

It’s a suggestion I have heard repeatedly, and just last week I heard it again; this time from a well-known Canadian media personality. “Every religion is the same; it’s all summarized in the golden rule, ‘Whatever you want that people should do to you, do so to them.’ Or the reverse, ‘Don’t treat anyone in a way that you wouldn’t want to be treated yourself’.”

I disagree. While almost all religions have a version of the so called “golden rule”, Jesus is uniquely different. The golden rule is sometimes called “the ethics of reciprocity”, and you’ll find it in the Bahai faith, Confucianism, ancient Egyptian religion, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, native American spirituality even ancient Roman religion. From Zoroastrianism to Taoism, from Sikhism to Shintoism, yes, my friend had a point; all religion contains some version of the golden rule, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that’s a whole other matter. 

The Gospel proposes it is humanly impossible to live up to the golden rule – no one can consistently and from the heart do unto others as they would want to be done to themselves. Jesus spoke the golden rule, but He did it in the context of a sermon for self-righteous religious leaders, who thought they were able to live up to God’s holy and righteous standard. Anyone scrutinizing the golden rule will recognize that we fall short, it is humanly impossible to attain. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about a doomed human effort to live up to the golden rule. Rather it is the Good News that one person has been able to keep the golden rule and live up to its demand, Jesus Himself. He fulfilled the requirements of his own admonition and having done so, He absorbed the failures and sins of those (the rest of us), who are not able to live up to the golden rule.

Every religion can be boiled down to the golden rule except the Gospel. Religion is man’s attempt to bridge the chasm between God and man. While man is the highest of God’s creation, God, who is eternal, is in a separate category from His creation. Many make attempts to bridge that gap from the created to the Creator, but the only way that bridge can be built is in the opposite direction. That’s the Gospel message – the bridge from the Creator to His creation has been built, God did it without human help for our benefit.

What about the golden rule? It is certainly an ideal statement. If we could live up to its requirements it would be wonderful. Have you tried? Do you like to be slandered, lied about, or be the object of gossip? Of course not. Let’s turn that around. Have we ever gossiped, slandered or lied about another person? Have we ever attempted to make ourselves look better at someone else’s expense? Of course we have. The problem with the golden rule is the mere statement of the rule, or the noble intention to follow the rule, does not have within itself the power to make one actually do it. The Gospel promises an inward miracle; when we believe in Christ, His life comes into us. It is only by drawing on that inner spiritual life that we will have any success in living righteous. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Living by a rule is difficult; living by who you are on the inside, now that’s possible.

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