It is becoming more and more awkward and difficult for Christians to assert that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. There are so many other viewpoints. Has that teaching become obsolete or unacceptable in our current culture? Should we push it to the back burner and ignore it? Is it too distasteful to embrace today? And if we do embrace it, how then should we live?
Historically the church has asserted that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. The Moravian faith statement, The Ground of the Unity, says, “There is no salvation apart from Him (Jesus Christ).”
This seems very narrow. In a world in which everyone makes up his or her own belief system, we might consider it to be inappropriate and unacceptable to be so exclusive. But as Christians we don’t create our own belief system. It is revealed to us by God. We don’t have the freedom to change it to suit our preferences or cultural norms. We need to interpret it as accurately as possible, but the foundation is God’s revelation, not our preferences.
So what is revealed to us by God in the Scriptures? God’s call for exclusive loyalty goes all the way back to the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 NIV). Several passages in Isaiah stress that God is the only way of salvation. “I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11 NIV See also Deuteronomy 4:35; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 44:6,8; 45:5-6, 21-22; Hosea 13:4).
When we come to the New Testament Jesus himself makes the well-known assertion: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV). When Peter spoke to the Jewish council he said, “There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them” (Acts 4:12 NLT). And there are several other Scriptures that affirm, implicitly or explicitly, that Jesus is the only way to God (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 5:5, 12; Matthew 11:27; John 3:36; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 John 2:23).
Those texts may make us uncomfortable in a world where tolerance is supreme and everyone’s world-view is considered equally valid. We may begin to question whether we should even affirm these scriptures any more.
A while back, while reading the account of Jesus’ suffering, I had a powerful insight that helped me appreciate and understand that Jesus is the only way. It is hours before the crucifixion. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with the inner circle of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. Terrible suffering is looming on the horizon. The gospel writer says, “He began to be filled with horror and deep distress. He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.’” (Mark 14:33-34 NLT). Jesus is in agony. He is sweating blood, literally. Dread is almost killing him. “He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by” (35). Do you hear what he is saying? “I don’t want to do this! This is too terrible!” “’Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me” (36). He is begging the Father, “If there’s any other way, let’s not do this.” He’s saying, “Father, you can do anything. Please find another way. I don’t want to go through with this. Save me from this terrible ordeal.”
He is begging the Father to take this horrible cup of suffering away. He doesn’t want to do it. But, he is willing to subject his own desires to the Father’s will. “Yet, I want your will, not mine” (36).
And what is the answer he receives? Silence from heaven. Nothing.
Consider this now from the Father’s perspective. Your beloved Son is begging you, pleading with you to save him from the horror he is about to face. It breaks your heart. You have all the power in the world to do whatever you want. If there was some other way, wouldn’t your heart be moved to save him from this suffering? If there was any other way at all, why would you let him go through with it and not intervene?
Or can you imagine the Father letting the Son go through this horrible ordeal and then, later in heaven saying, “Well, Son, it was nice that you did that, but I’ve decided I’m also going to accept people who come to me in other ways too. If they’re good people, that’s enough. Or if they choose some other spiritual path, that’s fine, as long as they’re sincere.” What an incredible insult that would be to Christ’s obedient sacrifice on the cross! I believe God was silent when Jesus asked for some other way because there really is no other way.
We should be clear. Scripture doesn’t say Christianity is the salvation of the world. There are people who call themselves Christian who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. And there are people with a Muslim background who follow Jesus. There are Jews who follow Jesus. There are believers with a Hindu background. The key issue is not one’s “religion;” it is one’s relationship with Jesus. “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Fortunately we are not the ones who determine the eternal fate of others. That is God’s job alone. We can hope that God will make Jesus known to people in ways we aren’t even aware of now. We can hope that everyone will have the opportunity to receive God’s grace through Christ in some way. We know God is ultimately and eternally fair.
But given what we do know, how then should we live? Certainly it should not be with an attitude of “I have it and you don’t!” That is disgusting and repulsive. None of us is saved by our own achievements or goodness. So I can take no credit. It is all a gift.
Rather this should motivate me to share the amazing message of God’s love with the world. I need to respect other people’s religious (or non-religious) views, just as I want to be respected. I will treat them with dignity and value who they are. But at the same time, in my heart there is always a desire for them to meet Jesus.
Will my words and my actions reveal Him to them in some way? Will I represent Him well? If Jesus is the only way to God, then it is important for those who know Him to share Him with those who are yet to know Him. Will I humbly and lovingly lift Jesus up as my Savior and the Savior of the world? n
The Rev. Darryl Bell is a retired Moravian pastor. He most recently served The Promise congregation in Ohio and served as the Northern Province’s church planters’ resource advisor.