It has been rightly said that, in spite of the numerous religions present in the world today, all of them can be reduced to one of two lines of thinking. There is Christianity, which teaches that no work of man can earn his salvation or allow him to stand blameless and righteous before the holy God of the universe, but that man must turn to Christ to be saved. Then, there is every other religion, teaching that man must do something, or a series of works, to secure his own salvation. The latter is on display at every turn, whether it is in churches that profess to be Christian, yet require that men add their own works to that of Christ’s to gain salvation, or whether it is in the mind and actions of the professing atheist who strives to “be a good person” just in case there may indeed be some sort of afterlife.
Rarely is the mindset of salvation by works on such clear display as it currently is in India, where a massive gathering of Hindus finds the devout engaging in an extreme ritual in an effort to wash away their own sins.
The Blaze reports on this gathering:
Millions of devout Hindus led by naked ascetics with ash smeared on their bodies plunged into the frigid waters of India’s holy Ganges River on Monday in a ritual they believe can wash away their sins. The religious spectacle, starkly different from the method that other faiths use to cope with personal sin, is a massive gathering.
The ceremony in the northern city of Allahabad took place on the most auspicious day of the Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings that lasts 55 days.
It is noted that over 110 million people are expected to participate in this bathing ritual. The ceremony takes place at the Sangam, which is where the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati rivers all meet. “There are six auspicious bathing days, decided by the alignment of stars, when the Hindu devout bathe to wash away their sins and free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth.”
The article continues, explaining the belief behind this ritual:
According to Hindu mythology, the Kumbh Mela celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a furious battle over a nectar that would give them immortality. As one of the gods fled with a pitcher of the nectar across the skies, it spilled on four Indian towns — Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar. The Kumbh Mela is organized four times every 12 years in those towns. Hindus believe that sins accumulated in past and current lives require them to continue the cycle of death and rebirth until they are cleansed. If they bathe at Ganges on the most auspicious day of the festival, believers say they can rid themselves of their sins. Source
It may perhaps be this last sentence that most grieves the Christian, namely that these devout Hindus believe “they can rid themselves of their sins” if they bathe in a certain river on a certain day in a certain year. This dedication is simultaneously impressive yet sobering and grievous to the believer who knows that such devotion to a system of lies will still result in one’s eternal condemnation. Why? Because man cannot rid himself of sin.
All men have sinned against God, the Creator of the universe. All men are destined to stand before Him condemned unless they can somehow become clothed in righteousness. One problem remains, though, and that is that no man can be seen as righteous before God on the basis of his own merits.
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Rom. 3:10–12
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Rom. 3:23
Even those who believe themselves to be a “good person” cannot perfectly keep God’s law, and to fail to keep even one point of the law is to be “accountable for all of it” (Jas. 2:10). Further, God’s Word clearly states that the wages of this sin is death (Rom. 6:23) and that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22).
What then? Are all men doomed? Based upon the words of Scripture, even this extreme ritual of the Hindus will fail to save a man from being judged for his sins. Thus follows the good news of the gospel. Jesus Christ, the God-man, came to earth, lived the sinless life that man cannot (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), was crucified as the perfect sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:11–14, 26) and was raised again, defeating death, sin and Satan and demonstrating that His sacrifice had been accepted by God (Heb. 10:12–14).
Man’s works, no matter how extreme, never can atone for his sins. Yet if a man will repent of those sins and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15), trusting in Christ and His work alone for salvation, then that man will be saved. When a man believes, he is regenerated and clothed in the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Those seeking to “wash away their sins” can only do so by bathing in the blood of the Lamb.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Heb. 9:11–14
and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood… Rev. 1:5
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Pet. 1:18–19
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
And, once washed and regenerated, sinful man may stand before the holy God justified, not by his own works, but by the work of Jesus Christ.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4–7
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Rom. 3:21–26
All of salvation is a free gift of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Eph. 2:8–9). So while millions of Hindus stand desperately deceived, striving to scrub away the dirt of their own sins, let this pagan ritual be a reminder to the Christian of the urgency with which he must share the true and saving gospel of Jesus Christ. While most believers likely will never encounter one of these devout Hindus, it is nevertheless true that one’s atheist neighbor or Mormon coworker or agnostic family member are just as deceived and are engaging in similarly hopeless efforts to save themselves. Let the Christian then always go about with the name of Jesus Christ, His work and His salvation freely and joyfully escaping from his lips. Let him gratefully follow the command of his Lord to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:47).