A current maxim of today’s post-post-modern culture is to say that “all religions are essentially the same.” What is usually meant by that statement is that, while many religions may differ in their particulars, they all essentially teach the same thing: love your neighbor as yourself. This is commonly called the Golden Rule, and is supposed to be the center of every religion. Or so it is claimed.
Taking a look at Christianity, this “golden rule” was actually taught by Jesus, so many Christians and non-Christians point to this to back up the contention that all religions essentially teach the same thing. Jesus said, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). Some English Bibles even have as the subheading “The Golden Rule” for the section in which this verse appears.
However, what is mistaken by many of the Christian faith, and outside of it, is that this is the gospel. This, however, is not the gospel. This is one of the greatest commandments that God and Jesus gave his people, but it is not the center of Christianity. The gospel, which is the center of Christianity, is defined in a number of places in Scripture (1 Cor 15:3ff; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:15-21; among others). In this sense, then, all religions aren’t the same, because all other religions deny Jesus as God who died a substitutionary atonement for sin.
The gospel is that we are unable to fulfill the Law on our own strength. We are sinners and we fail miserably. So Jesus condescended himself to the form of a human, lived the perfect life we were unable to live, and then suffered the punishment that we were supposed to receive, so that whoever puts their faith in him receives eternal life. Biblical Christianity, not cultural fundamentalism or right-wing political institutionalism, is about what Jesus did for you–not what you can do for him. All other religions, including distortions of biblical Christianity, are radically different, in that they make you conform to a certain way to earn God’s favor. Biblical Christianity says, God did it for you; and conforming to his way is an enablement by God as a response in faith.
So where does the Golden Rule fit into Christianity? Well, when we put our faith in Jesus and give our life to him, God changes us from the inside out so that in his strength, we are able to now fulfill this Golden Rule. Not to earn anything, but as a reflection of who we have become in him.