I have heard some people who believe that Jesus is associated with American culture and morality while Confucius is associated with Chinese culture and morality. As much as I wish American culture and morality followed Jesus, it sadly does not. Both American and Chinese cultures are based on the desires of sinful men. This is why Jesus of the Bible is my God, not America or the Constitution. My goal today is not to look at cultures because I believe that culture is mans attempt to offer what only God’s Kingdom can. While culture does offer us many great traditions and teachings, it is no replacement for knowing Jesus and His Heavenly Kingdom. While all cultures will pass away, God’s Word and Kingdom will not, (Luke 21:33). I will always be a Christian before I am an American.
I do want to talk about Confucius though because he has had a large influence on many people in China. Now I do not claim to know everything about Confucius or his teachings, but I have read a few books, (one of which written by a Chinese scholar), and done some other online study of this teacher of morality. While I believe Confucius did have many good moral teachings to share, (like being content, rejecting materialism and serving society), I also believe that much of what Confucius said is anti-Biblical and thus sinful and wrong. I want to look at the person and teaching of Confucius and compare it with the person and teaching of Jesus Christ to show that not only were their teachings different but they themselves are quite different.
First, Confucius’ main focus was built on ethical and moral teaching in order to better oneself and society. He advocates a type of humanistic morality in order to do this. Things like hard work and living a righteous life are taught with great importance in Confucius’ teaching. While these things are good and evident in a Christians life, they are not the ultimate goal of our existence. Herein lies the first problem I have with Confucius. His whole system is built on works righteousness. It is the idea of “If I work hard and am moral or good, I will have a happy life and go to heaven.”
The Bible, on the other hand, teaches us that we are all sinners and that even the good things we do are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and that “None is righteousness, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). It is like even on our best days God looks at us and says its not good enough. Jesus teaches us that it is not what we do that makes us “good” but rather what Jesus has already done for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). While Confucius teaches that we must do good things in order to be happy or good, the Bible teaches us that we already have joy and are made good because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The good works Christians do are not to gain happiness, but because we are already joyful and want to show gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ and follow his example.
This idea of works righteousness is an obvious creation of man. Think about it. If I were going to create a religion or philosophy that I wanted people to follow this is what I would say. We all love when the moral person triumphs and has happiness. The reason people follow Confucius’ teachings is not because Confucius has any sort of authority, but because people like what he said. We are often most willing to follow teachings that most closely agree with what we already believe or what we want to believe.
Jesus, however, says things that didn’t really encourage people to follow Him. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39). This does not sound like some seeker friendly, man-made belief system. Instead it sounds like complete submission to God.
Secondly, Confucius’ teachings focus greatly on this idea of self-cultivation. I know this is one of Confucius’ main teachings because when I ask people why they want to learn the Bible, I often hear the answer of self-improvement. Confucius said things like the friends we choose, the jobs we take and the study we do should all be seen with the idea of self-cultivation. While much of this sounds good on the surface, if you dig deeper you find a strong sense of selfishness under it all. Confucius’ main idea’s were built around finding happiness for oneself and possibly for others. But even providing happiness for others was still a tool for our own happiness.
Jesus, however, teaches the idea of sacrifice for others. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Paul also says in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” The Bible continually tells us that our lives should have the following priority: First God, second others, (including strangers and enemies!), and then last ourselves. While Confucius encourages us to put society before ourselves, Jesus takes it even further and asks us to be willing to lay everything down first to God and second to other people. Jesus talked about loving God and loving others, but not so much about loving ourselves or self-cultivation.
Finally, while some still debate this today, it does not seem that Confucius was proposing any kind of religion or God. Confucius only claimed to be a good moral teacher, and seemed to leave the question of heaven and God open to interpretation. This is in stark contrast to Jesus. I hear so many people tell me that Jesus was a great moral teacher, (like Confucius), but he was not God’s Son. If that is your belief than I can tell you have never opened a Bible in your life. Also, think about the amount of followers Jesus has today. Usually, people want to follow a great warrior or leader. Jesus was a homeless man who was murdered as a criminal. I don’t see any other philosophy’s or religious beliefs that have decided to put their hope and trust in a man who had no home and was killed as a criminal. While Confucius never claimed any authority of deity, Jesus did over and over again.
One example is in John 8:58 where Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This is significant for two reasons. First, Abraham had been dead for hundreds of years. For Jesus to say that he was before Abraham was quite an extraordinary claim. This would be like me saying “Before America was a country, I existed.” Now if you heard me say that, would you think I was a great moral teacher or a lunatic? The second is that Jesus uses the words “I am.” To us these words means very little today, but to Jews they represent God. In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses to tell the people that God’s name for Himself is “I am.” That is why in John 8:59 the Jewish people wanted to kill Jesus. People don’t want to kill a good moral teacher, but people do what to kill a man who claims to be God.
This is why I love this quote from C.S. Lewis from his great work “Mere Christianity”:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
So that is ultimately the question. What will you do with Jesus? Please stop trying to tell me Jesus is some Western version of Confucius. Rather you have a choice. Call him crazy, call him the devil, or fall down and worship Him as God. So may we all stop trying to seek humanism and moralism as our meaning in life. May we see that our life is not found in self-cultivation or good morality, but rather is found in the sinless perfection of Jesus alone. May we all stop trying to find happiness in what we do and rather find joy in what Jesus has already done for us.