Objection: What about other religions?
If God is all-powerful, can’t He just wipe out our debt? Why does it have to be through sacrifice?
Salvation through Works is a theory for entering the Afterlife proposed by Muslims -- you earn your place in Paradise if your good deeds outweigh the bad. If it is a close call, maybe Allah will be merciful and forgiving and allow entry anyway. Under this system, how would you feel if you had been a victim of a misdeed perpetrated by someone who was allowed entry into Paradise through Allah’s mercy and forgiveness? Wouldn’t you feel cheated? Don’t they have to pay for what they did to you?! Where is the justice? Even Allah can’t just wave a powerful hand and wipe out the negative credit in the Universe with no substitute to pay the price.
Jesus’ death atoned for our sins. Atonement is a fancy way of saying that sin is dealt with. It is not dealt with by the person who deserved the punishment, but it is dealt with by God Himself. The sin is taken seriously and there is a need for someone to pay the ultimate price for it. How will Allah allow repentant abusers and murderers into Paradise? Nothing has been paid to counter-act their evil deeds – the victim will forever feel cheated. Allah wasn’t prepared to deal with the cost himself. If he merely accepts their apology, all that does is assume that the sin never really mattered. Only in Christianity is sin atoned for and dealt with in a way to satisfy the victim who suffered, but also in a way that allows the genuinely repentant to be saved.
In order to counteract this criticism, Islam proposes a third option: Barzakh, which is similar to Purgatory. This is an intermediary place for people who are too good for Hell but not ready for Heaven. The Catholic notion suggests that here you are refined (painfully!) and the consequences of your unredeemed actions will be dealt with, which may then allow you entry into Heaven. The Islamic view is more like a place of limbo between this life and the next. This is similar to ‘The Medium Place’ that Eleanor argues should exist in Netflix’s ‘The Good Place’ for mediocre people to see out Eternity. There is no Biblical evidence for such a place existing, except a few dubious verses in the Apocrypha which many Christian denominations do not accept as reliable enough entries to be included in the Biblical Canon.
This life is where the stage is set to either attempt to earn your way to a favourable Afterlife; reject the possibility of an Afterlife altogether or accept Jesus’ offer as the “narrow door”. Why propose a third place? If this life failed to achieve entry into an Afterlife, what makes you think that Purgatory would? Why not just send everyone to Purgatory in the first place and forget this Universe altogether? Belief in Purgatory can’t adequately explain what life is for this time round. I believe in this Universe because I live in it and I believe in the Afterlife because Jesus came back from there in a resurrected, glorified body. What evidence is there for Purgatory, other than a few scriptures in contested books to make the theory fit that god is merciful, just and deals with sin adequately? Not as thoroughly as Jesus deals with it!
Buddhism teaches an ‘abandon-ship’ Philosophy. The aim is to try to escape this world’s suffering by training yourself to become indifferent/detached from it. Physics teaches us the Law of the Conservation of Energy; no energy is ever lost, it just changes form. Similarly, spiritual and mental action is never lost; it is transformed. Thus Karma is the law of the conservation of moral energy. Buddhists see endless rebirth into a suffering world as something to be overcome, so strive towards attaining Nirvana. This enlightenment process prevents the build up of new Karma which is responsible for keeping you tied to the cycle. To achieve Nirvana you have to defeat all your worldly cravings through detachment. Enlightenment such as this can set you free. You can help others escape too, but the problem of suffering is never dealt with. The Universe continues to exist in all its sorrow (Dukkha). Christianity ends suffering once and for all by conquering death and “making all things new” in the New Creation. This is not escapism for the few – this is redemption for the whole Cosmos.
Hinduism focusses on salvation by good works in a similar vein to Judaism and Islam. The difference is the end goal which is more similar to Buddhism:
Hindus believe time is cyclical and all life is stuck in an endless cycle of reincarnation (rebirth)
your future lives are determined by the Karma you built up doing good deeds
if you build up plenty of Karma, you achieve a favourable rebirth
if your karma account is 'in the red' then you are reborn as a lower life-form (possibly as plants and animals)
the best hope for an Afterlife is to achieve Moksha: an escape from endless reincarnation in a suffering world and instead, an impersonal absorption into the one Spirit
These beliefs led to an awful hierarchy with Dalits (Untouchables) at the bottom. The Dalits were not even considered human, as their ‘evil’ past deeds had determined they be born into this lowly position. While the Caste System is now illegal in India, there are many Dalits who are still mistreated in Indian villages as they are forced to wash the clothes of everyone in a higher Caste and they receive leftover scraps of food from their plates, due to their unworthiness. This is what ‘Salvation by Works’ gives you – a hierarchy where humans rank themselves against each other. It encourages pride and mistreating the lowly because they deserve it, right?!
The Law of Non-Contradiction states that two opposing ideas cannot both be true. How can all religions lead to same goal if they teach contradictory ideas of how to get there? These are the opposing options for your consideration:
Atheist annihilation: may be a nice concept for yourself to drift into nothingness at the end of your life, but what about imagining your loved ones lost in this way, particularly if they died at an early age? What was their life for? They are now just a figment of your memory, never to exist again. How do you explain Near-Death-Experiences and the historical documents that attest to the reliability of the resurrection accounts of Jesus? What is the proof that annihilation is the only version (i.e. a non-existent one) of an Afterlife you should expect?
Buddhist/Hindu escapism: from a suffering Universe which doesn’t ever tackle the root of the problem (i.e. dealing with a decaying, death-filled Universe once and for all). Sounds peaceful being subsumed into an impersonal Spirit, but you wouldn’t even feel at peace – there is no individual ‘you’ to feel anything! This is not much different than annihilation; loved ones would cease to exist in their individual form. Even more worrying is that evil people just keep being reborn and hurting everyone who remains behind for all eternity. Maybe it is better to be evil in this scenario because then you get to live forever as an individual consciousness, even if it is as an animal! Whereas if you do good and escape the system, you wouldn’t retain the awareness to even know you’d achieved it!
Assuming their theory of the Conservation of Moral Energy is correct -- it is never lost, just repurposed -- then why does Enlightenment/Moksha break this Law to avoid rebirth? Nothing breaks the Law of the Conservation of Physical Energy according to Physicists. What's so special about Karma that it can be overruled? How does it happen? Especially when Buddhists are taught to follow the Five/Ten Precepts (moral laws, which surely accrue moral energy Karma, thus forcing a new rebirth?) and Hindus are taught to follow their Dharma (moral law/duty) through the four stages of life (ashramas) so they have the same issue - this would also build new Karma, not end it.
Muslim/Jewish Paradise: where you earn entry based on your good deeds. How is this not a selfish pursuit? How do you avoid doing good deeds on Earth solely from the motive that you want the best afterlife possible? If that is your motive, are the deeds you do really that good? Plus, who is good enough to enter an eternal paradise? You still enter that dimension as a flawed creature with some bad parts lurking. What’s to prevent you from tainting the new reality? How is sin dealt with forever in a way that satisfies the victims? The sin is forgiven with a wave of a divine hand and no one pays the price or you are refined through suffering in Purgatory until you are purified to enter. But if you didn’t achieve sanctification in this lifetime, why will Purgatory be more successful? It doesn’t really answer what the purpose of this life was for, if those who fail the test get to make up for lost time in Purgatory. Sort of defeats the point!
Also, will Paradise be boring? Muhammad taught of the everlasting pleasures available there in the form of female spirits at your service! This sounds more like a human fantasy/wish-fulfilment than a heavenly dimension that has been revealed by the Creator of the Cosmos. In Netflix’s ‘The Good Place’, after the characters have existed for eons having as much fun as they could possibly want, they all choose to walk through the door that leads to a Buddhist/Atheist Nirvana-type annihilation. Endless pleasure rots the brain and will not satisfy for Eternity. Adam and Eve were in a paradise garden but were seemingly unsatisfied which led to them being tempted to commit the first sin. Paradise is lost – we are being saved for something greater than paradise. Humans could feasibly invent a paradise-type afterlife from their own imaginations – the Christian idea is much stranger, much more unexpected.
The Christian New Creation: with free entry (‘Salvation by Grace’) gifted to everyone who wants it, so no one can boast in their own righteousness. This means you have nothing to prove on Earth (no selfish desire to build up a big account of Karma/good deeds). When you do good deeds, it is from the overflow of a thankful heart towards your Creator, who paid the ultimate price so you could live forever with Him and other resurrected humans in a personal, physical Afterlife. This existence will be fulfilling, with roles to perform which have been designed in advance with you in mind. Yes, there will be work to do -- no getting bored! Only redeemed/transformed humans are allowed entry as they can be trusted to keep this New Creation from getting tainted by sin. We will be assigned the greatest roles and responsibilities that God can give us. We will be in unity with each other – no marriage – no loneliness – no one excluded.
Which option do you wish was real? Which do you think is real? God has tried to convince you that the New Creation is the ultimate goal at the end of your life:
He raised Jesus from the dead;
He performed mighty miracles (and still does today);
He prophesied His coming 351 times and fulfilled it to the letter;
He answers prayers (‘no’ is still an answer!);
He inspired the writing of the 66 books of the Bible to teach you about Him;
Some of which were eye-witness testimonies of miraculous events;
He fine-tuned the universe to such improbable odds that it is like it has been ‘written in the stars’ that He exists and created you for a purpose;
He’s given you freedom and rationality to weigh this all up for yourself.
Deuteronomy 30:19: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
References  2 Maccabees 12:46  Luke 13:22-30, John 10:7-9  Rev 21:5  “Verily, the companions of Paradise that Day will be busy in amusement, they and their spouses in shade, reclining on adorned couches.” Surat Ya Seen 36:56; “Verily, We have produced the women of Paradise in a new creation and made them virgins, devoted and matched in age, for the companions of the right.” Surat Al-Waq’iah 56:35-38  1 John 5:2; 2:5, James 2:14-26, Eph 2:8-10, John 13:35  See my series of posts on: Does the Universe Have a Purpose?  See future series of posts on Miracles  2 Tim 3:16-17  Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:18-20, Ecc 3:11, See my series of posts on: Does the Universe Have a Purpose?