Are There Many Paths To God?

Series: Preacher: Date: November 29, 1998 Scripture Reference: John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, John 3:16

John 14:6

6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Acts 4:12

12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6

5 – For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

6 – who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.

John 3:16

16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

When I was a little boy our annual family vacations always involved a long road trip. We’d pile in the family station wagon and drive all the way from our home in Dover, Delaware nearly one thousand miles south to spend two weeks with my mother’s family in Alabama. Then we’d hop in the car again and drive a few more hours south into Mississippi where we would spend two weeks with my father’s family. These were the days long before interstate highways and I remember admiring my father’s ability to find his way from Delaware all the way to Alabama and then to Mississippi and then back to Delaware again. I wondered, “How did do that and not get lost? How did he know which way to turn at all those countless intersections?” Well eventually I discovered my Dad’s navigational secret. He used carefully marked maps to find his way. And since I’ve grown up and made many road trips of my own from Delaware to Alabama and Mississippi and back again, I have become as adept at the use of maps as my dad.

I’ve discovered that there were many different ways to get to and from the deep south. Some were better than others….one might arguably be the best way…but there were many routes one could take to get from Delaware to Mississippi and back again. And you know many people apply this same principle to religion. They sincerely believe that there are many ways to come to know God and be given eternal life. Some may think there are “routes” to God that are better than others….but they still believe that there are many different ways to get there. Of course this is not what God’s word teaches….as we have clearly seen in today’s texts. In a very real sense, the Bible is a clearly marked “road map” that God has provided to guide us to Heaven. And throughout the pages of this “heavenly trip tik” it teaches that God showed His love for the world by sending His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ as the ONLY WAY to salvation.

I remember Dr. Moody in seminary telling us that the word, “begotten” which appears in the King James Version of John 3:16 is not in the actual Greek text. He pointed out that this was a very important word to omit from this verse. Otherwise some might argue that God had other sons that were not yet “begotten” at the time of Jesus’ birth. And all of scripture clearly teaches that Jesus was and is an only child.

This morning we are beginning a series of sermons in which we will deal with five questions that the Christmas story answers. And this first question of whether or not there are many paths or roads to God is one that Christmas settles for us once and for all. Because a study of the Christmas story-which began that first Christmas morning and continued through the first Easter morning-confirms that Jesus is in fact the only path to God….the only way to have our sins forgiven and enjoy a personal walk with God that culminates in eternity in heaven. But you know this bold assertion really rankles people-even some Christians chafe at the idea that Jesus could be the only Way to God. People who embrace this conviction about Jesus are called narrow-minded, bigoted…even snobbish or pious.

This is because we live in a world where there seems to be endless options in virtually every arena of life. And people expect there to be options in this arena as well. But Jesus was telling the truth when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And He said this not out of arrogance but out of great compassion. Think of it-it would be cold-hearted NOT to inform people of this vital truth! Well then, why is it that this claim is so controversial? Why is it so “politically incorrect” these days to say that Jesus is the only way to God?

Lee Strobel was once an avowed atheist and is now a growing Christian and one of the teaching pastors at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. I am indebted to him for his research in this area. Strobel answers these questions by pointing out that the affirmation of Jesus’ uniqueness strikes at the core of three popular myths about religion. And as we enter this Advent season I want us to dispel these myths or misconceptions together because in so doing, we will see how Christmas answers the question, “Are there many paths to God?”

1. The first MYTH is this: All religions are THE SAME.

You see, many people today are upset by the claim that Jesus is the only way to God because they believe that all religions are basically identical…that all spiritual paths lead up the same mountain so to speak. They maintain that while there may be surface-level distinctions between the various world religions, when stripped down to their essentials, all faith systems fundamentally teach the same thing. People who embrace this myth point out that most faiths emphasize the brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women and the universal fatherhood of God, so they say it doesn’t matter which faith you follow. And Christians should concede that there is some common ground shared by many of the world’s religions-especially when you look at their teachings of basic morality. But at the same time, there ARE drastic and irreconcilable differences between Christianity and other faith systems that cannot be papered over.

As C. S. Lewis pointed out, one major difference is that-unlike other religions-Christianity proclaims a gospel of grace and not works. Every other religion is based on people DOING something; adherents struggle to somehow earn the favor of God. Some faiths teach that people have to use a Tibetan prayer wheel, or they have to go on pilgrimages or they have to give alms to the poor, or they have to avoid eating certain foods, or they have to perform a certain number of unspecified good deeds, or they have to pray at a certain time in a certain position each day, or they have to go through a cycle of reincarnations, OR WHATEVER.

You see other religious systems are essentially DO-IT-YOURSELF propositions. Follow this way of life, they say, and you stand a good chance of gaining favor with God and eventually achieving salvation. Other faiths are attempts by people to reach out to God. But Christianity teaches that in Jesus Christ God is reaching out to us. Scripture tells us that God’s gift of salvation through Jesus was GOD-given, GOD-driven, GOD-empowered, and GOD-originated. The gift is not from man to God through our efforts. It is from God to man.

You see, Christianity alone is based on grace and not works. It teaches that God reached down to us because we were incapable of reaching up to Him. As it says in 1 John 4:10, “It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us in sending His Son to be the way to take away our sins.” On the basis of this point alone, Christianity is set apart from any other religion in the world. No other system, ideology, or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it and in fact deserve judgement instead. John MacArthur writes, “As far as the way of salvation is concerned, there are only two religions the world has ever known or will ever know-the religion of divine accomplishment, which is biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all other kinds of religion, by whatever name they may go under.”

This distinction is starkly demonstrated by comparing a parable that was taught by Jesus with a similar story found in Buddhist literature. Both stories involves sons who became rebellious and left home in a huff, but who later saw the error of their ways and decided to return home to be reconciled with their families. But it’s the ending of the two stories that so clearly points out the difference between Christianity and all other belief systems. In the Buddhist story, the errant son is required to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds by spending years in servitude. But the Christian Parable of the Prodical Son ends with the repentant son being warmly welcomed home by a loving father who showers him with undeserved forgiveness and grace.

You see, grace-LESS religions are “DO” religions-adherents must constantly DO things to even hope to earn their salvation. But Christianity is a “DONE” religion-it is based on what Jesus Christ has DONE for us in dying on calvary’s cross. Do you remember Jesus’ last words as He hung on that cross? He said, “IT IS FINISHED!” Through Jesus’ death and resurrection love’s redeeming work was DONE! And the message of “DO” religions is fundamentally incompatible with the message of “DONE” religion. Both could not come from the same GOD. After all, God isn’t schizophrenic. Strobel puts it this way,

“It would be unlikely that a God who embodies love and TRUTH would go to one side of the planet and say, ?PSST! Let me tell you how you can become reconciled with Me.’ and then go to another spot on the globe and describe a completely contradictory way for humans to understand and worship Him, and tell yet a third population something totally new.”

It makes much more sense that God would act according to His nature as the author of all truth and provide ONE path for us to follow. And in fact this is what HE did when He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to enter human history.

There are other fundamental differences between Christianity and other faiths. For instance, Christianity says that there is one eternal God who created the universe. But Hinduism says that everything is God…You are god…I am god…this pulpit is god. Christianity says that Jesus was God in the flesh. Islam denies this and that He died for our sins. Christianity’s written source of authority is the Bible alone. We believe this is God’s word. But Mormons use the book of Mormon and Muslims use the Koran. Friends all of these beliefs cannot be true. They contradict each other too severely and so, contrary to this popular myth, all religions are NOT the same.

2. The second MYTH goes like this: It doesn’t matter what you BELIEVE as long as you are SINCERE.

People who embrace this misconception admit that Christianity is different from other faith systems but they feel that it is just one valid philosophy among many. This is the “You have your truth…I have mine.” idea. And this myth is popular today because it reflects society’s pluralistic attitudes in which we are tolerant of other faiths. And…it IS important that we are tolerant of people who believe differently than we do.

The Bible tells us that as followers of Jesus we need to be loving and respectful as we share our faith with all people. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with GENTLENESS and RESPECT.” So tolerance is a good thing….a biblical concept. And…as I am so fond of saying, this IS America…a free country. Our citizens can believe whatever they want. Under the U.S. Constitution, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others, all religious viewpoints should be equally protected.

But some people jump to the erroneous conclusion that because different philosophies are equally protected, they must be equally true. This is not the case. The fact that a belief system is tolerated under the law has nothing to do with whether or not it is based on truth. There’s a saying that goes like this, “If a million people believe a ridiculous thing is true, it is still a ridiculous thing.”

Strobel tells of the Chicago newspaper columnist, Mike Royko, who wrote one of his classic newspaper satires in which he said that he was a member of what he called the Church of Asylumism. He explained that this “church” believes that there was an advanced civilization that lived in a distant galaxy millions of years ago. One day a few hundred of these aliens ate some tainted veggie dip, and as a result, a virus hopelessly scrambled their brains. They tried to treat these victims, but nothing would work. So they decided to take them to an uninhabited planet that would serve as an asylum, and where they would roam free and act as goofy as they like. That planet, Royko said, was Earth. He wrote, “We’re all descendants of these aliens. You want proof? Read history books. Look at the newspaper. Watch the TV news. Then tell me this isn’t one big loony bin.”

Royko was kidding of course with all this Church of Asylumism stuff. But in this country people have the right to believe whatever they want. And, if there was a Church of Asylumism, well then under our constitution, it would be as equally protected as Redland Baptist Church or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Buddhists or the Mormons. But that would not mean that the teachings of Asylumism were valid. You see sincerely believing something does not make it true….as anyone who has ever picked the wrong bottle out of the medicine cabinet in the dark will testify. Faith…no matter how sincere it is….is no more valid than the object in which it is placed. Believing something is true does not make it any more true than failing to believe something that is true makes it false. Facts are facts, regardless of people’s attitudes toward them.

Well, what are the facts when it comes to the object of our Christian faith? What is the truth when it comes to Jesus Christ who claimed to be the only path to God? Well the reality is that Jesus Christ has unique credentials that make His claim to deity uniquely credible. Only Jesus both claimed to be God and then proved that claim by living a perfect life, by embodying the attributes of God, and by fulfilling every single prophecy of the coming Messiah written hundreds of years before He was born. You know everyone has a different fingerprint….and whenever you touch something you leave behind residue of that print. And the Messiah’s coming was foretold in 60 specific prophecies….and when you put them together they make a “fingerprint” of sorts that the true Messiah would have to perfectly match. Well, Jesus Christ did!

And at Christmas time we always recall these prophecies. We remember that the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be born of a virgin and JESUS WAS. The prophet Micah pinpointed the exact place of His birth: Bethlehem. Genesis and Jeremiah specified His ancestry: He would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the tribe of Judah, the house of David. JESUS WAS ALL OF THESE! The Psalms foretold His betrayal, His accusation by false witnesses, even his manner of death: The Messiah was to be pierced in the hands and feet—-crucified…..this was specifically detailed long before crucifixion was even invented! Psalm 16:10 also predicted His resurrection.

So the fact is that in His birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ fulfilled each and everyone of the 60 specific prophecies of the coming Messiah. He is a perfect match in the same way that your finger perfectly matches the fingerprint you left on the hymnal you used this morning. Of all the people down through the ages who have lived, only Jesus Christ fulfilled every prophecy concerning the coming Messiah. The odds against any one person fulfilling all of these prophecies is astronomical. One statistician figured out the probability of one person fulfilling just 8 of these prophecies as one in one hundred million billions. He calculated that if you took this number of silver dollars and spread them over Steve’s home state of Texas they would cover it from border to border up to a depth of two feet.

Now, let’s say you did this and then you took one of those silver dollars and marked it and put it down and then stirred it up amid all the other silver dollars. Then you blindfolded Tom Anderson and gave him one chance to reach into all these silver dollars and pick out the marked coin. Well the odds that he would select the correct one would be the same odds that anybody in history could fulfill just eight of these prophecies of the coming Messiah….and Jesus’ claim to divinity is valid because not only did He fulfill 8….He fulfilled all sixty of them!

Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus also authenticated who He was by performing miracles in broad daylight in plain view of His skeptics. He demonstrated His power over sickness and death and nature itself. In the most spectacular demonstration of all, Jesus fulfilled His prediction of His resurrection from the dead in a historical event that was witnessed by more than 500 people and in so doing He sparked a spiritual revolution that has been unparalleled in the history of the world.

You see, Christianity is not just another religion or philosophy. It is a reality. Jesus didn’t just claim that He was the one and only Son of God. He validated that claim with convincing evidence. So our belief that He is the only way to God is well-founded. While other religious leaders can offer wise sayings and helpful advice and insights, only JESUS CHRIST, because He is the perfect Son of God, is qualified to offer Himself as payment for our wrong-doing. No other religious leader can even pretend to be able to do that. Theologian R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “Moses could mediate on the law, Mohammed could brandish a sword, Buddha could give personal counsel, Confucius could offer wise sayings. But none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world.” As the only Son of God, Jesus alone qualified. So it DOES matter which route you take in your spiritual journey. The Bible clearly teaches that all other routes ultimately are dead ends. Only Jesus Christ is THE WAY that leads to God. Only He is the TRUTH….Only He is the LIFE.

3. The third MYTH is this: Christians who believe that Jesus is the only way to God are just being PIOUS and HOLIER-THAN-THOU.

Now, I’d agree that Christians are being narrow-minded or holier-than-thou if there really were many roads to God and we were saying that our road was the best. But this is not what Christianity says. We know that the Bible teaches that there IS only one truth—not many. And the truth is that all of us have sinned and if we are going to get to Heaven, Someone has to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing. And Jesus, by virtue of His sinlessness and divinity, is the only One qualified to do this….to be our substitute. This is true. This is factual…and it is not narrow- minded to act in accordance with the evidence.

You know often babies are born with a condition known as jaundice. It is caused by a disorder of the liver and it causes the infant’s skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow. This is a potentially devastating disorder but it has a simple cure. These babies are put under a special light which somehow stimulates the functioning of the liver and corrects the problem in a matter of hours. If you’ve ever visited the newborn area of a hospital then you have probably seen jaundiced newborns being treated. They wear little sunglasses to protect their eyes and they lay there under that light with just a diaper on, looking like they are on the beach wearing their speedo catching a few rays.

Now, suppose you had a child born with this disorder…and the physician urged you to allow him to treat your child with this light. You could respond by saying, “That sounds too easy…in fact it’s downright silly! Put the baby under a light? I think it would be better if we scrubbed him with soap and water and dipped him in some bleach instead. Certainly if we worked hard enough to scrub him in this way, we could get the normal coloring back.” If you did this the doctor would look at you and say, “No, you don’t understand. There is only one way to cure your son.” You could still refuse his guidance and say, “How about if we just ignored all of this. You know the jaundice is your truth doctor. It’s not our truth. If we sincerely believe our truth, then things are going to turn out for the best.” The doctor would counter by saying, “You’re going to jeopardize the life of your child if you do that. There is only one truth in all of this….only one way to cure him. It may sound too easy but look at the credentials on my office wall. I’ve studied at medical school. I’ve used what I learned to treat and cure countless babies. Trust me on this.”

Would anybody accuse you of being narrow-minded if you looked at those credentials and decided to trust the doctor and purse the only course of treatment that would cure your son? Of course not! That is not being narrow-minded. That is acting rationally in accordance with the evidence.

Well, the fact is every human being on this planet has a terminal illness called sin. And the reason that followers of Jesus cling to Him so tightly is because they have discovered that He is the great Physician who has the only cure. We could try to scrub away our sins with good deeds but that would not work. We could sincerely believe that there are other ways of dealing with our sin but we would be sincerely wrong. The truth is that only the Great Physician offers a treatment that will erase the stain of sin. Only He has the credentials and the credibility to back it up. So when we turn to Him, we’re not being narrow-minded. We are simply acting rationally in accordance with where the evidence points.

In addition to NOT being narrow-minded, Christians are not snobbish or pious when they say they believe that Jesus is the only way to God. To illustrate this, let’s pretend that there are two country clubs. The first country club only admits people who have EARNED their membership. In order to get into this country club, you have to obtain superior wisdom. You’ve got to fulfill a long list of demands. You’ve got to advance spiritually in some way. You’ve got to go through cycles of reincarnation. And despite their best efforts, lots of people just do not make the grade. In the end, the door is going to be slammed in their faces. They are not going to be good enough.

They are not going to make the qualifications to get into this country club. This is what other religions are saying when they teach that people have to work their way to God. But Christianity is different. Christianity is like a second country club that says anybody who wants in is invited, because Jesus has already paid for their membership. Rich or poor, red, yellow, black, or white, regardless of your ethnic heritage, regardless of where you live, the doors are wide open. Entry is not based on your qualifications. It is only based on your admitting your sin and accepting Jesus’ invitation.

This is what Christianity is like. Now let me ask you, WHICH FAITH SYSTEM IS BEING SNOBBISH? Certainly not Christianity! We know we are not better than anyone else. Our own experience with God’s grace has taught us that we have no right to be pious or holier-than-thou. Mature Christians agree with the prophet Isaiah who said that “our best efforts at righteousness are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 54:6I) As D. T. Niles put it, “Christians are just like beggars trying to tell other beggars where they can find food.”

So, what is the answer to our first question? Are there many paths to God? No, there is only ONE. Salvation is found in Jesus and Jesus alone. Contrary to popular myths, all religions are not the same. Sincere belief in something is not enough. Only Jesus Christ is worthy of our eternal trust. And Christians are not being pious or holier-than-thou to believe all of this.

You know, I remember that there were times on our family road trips to Alabama and Mississippi that Dad would ignore the map. For some reason he would decide that he knew a better way to go than the map advised. When he did this we would inevitably get lost. He and mom had some interesting “discussions” in times like these. And you can ignore the instructions in God’s road map….but if you do you will be lost on the road of life. This morning if you are lost you can leave this place headed in the right direction.

All you have to do is follow the directions in God’s word and confess your sin, accept God’s forgiveness through Jesus alone and commit to follow His directions throughout your life. If you do this today you can walk out of this place with a new sense of direction and purpose. I would love to talk to you about this decision. Come and speak with me as we sing so we can share it with everyone here.

If you are here and are a Christian then listen….as we begin this advent season, why not let the fact that Jesus is the only way to God i

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