John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the Way and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
In the spring of 2001, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, was asked to host the local high school’s baccalaureate service. The congregation readily agreed because this had become a tradition for the community. Mt. Bethel had hosted the service in their sanctuary for the past seven years. But that year something different happened. The organizers of the event expressed their desire to include speakers representing Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and even Wiccan religions. On top of that, several students expressed their wish that the name of Jesus not be mentioned during the service because they felt it would be offensive.
The pastor at Mt. Bethel, Randy Mickler, responded that it would be a dishonor NOT to mention the name of Christ in His own house and suggested the service should be moved to a neutral location if they wanted to include these other religious groups.
Well, like sharks responding to the smell of blood, many major newspapers and media outlets picked up on this story and added their own spin. Reporters wrote articles vilifying the pastor as being naive, narrow-minded, and intolerant.
Let me read you part of Rev. Mickler’s response: “My single purpose as an ordained minister is to preach Christ. Political correctness is not a deity here. In the past few weeks, I have been asked to pray in this church and not use the name of Jesus Christ. I’ve been asked to cover the crosses in the church because they might be offensive to non-believers. I’ve said ‘no’ to each one of these requests. It’s absolutely amazing to me how people who push tolerance will push anything except tolerance of Christian faith…even when it is expressed within its own church.”
I share this story because unfortunately it is indicative of the mind set in our world today. In fact, in my opinion things have gotten much worse since 2001 and sadly this is especially seen at Christmas. Do you remember a few years ago when Wal-Mart said that in order to be more tolerant of other faiths they would avoid using the word “Christmas” in any of their holiday marketing efforts? For similar reasons, back in 2005, the city of Boston. Massachusetts, decided to call their official decorated tree a “holiday tree.” I love the response of the New England farmer who donated the tree. He said he would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a “holiday” tree. Another example of this mind set is seen in all the stories about nativity scenes no longer being welcome at county courthouses where they once stood for many decades of Christmases. It has even gotten to the point that we fear offending a stranger if we wish them a “Merry Christmas.”
Well, all this intolerance of the Christian faith stems from the commonly held belief in our culture that all religions are equal and that when it comes to Heaven “all roads lead up the same mountain” — different roads…same destination…so to speak. This brings us to an issue that we must deal with if we are to know all we really need to know about Christmas because the Bible’s very clear teaching is that the baby born that first Christmas night is God’s ONLY Son…that faith in Jesus is indeed the only way to know God…the only path to Heaven—and Jesus’ words here in John 14 aren’t the only place we find this in the Scriptures. In Acts 4:12 Peter said, “There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” In John 3:36 the Baptist said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” In 1st Timothy 2:5 it says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, [and that Mediator is] the Man Christ Jesus.” In 1st John 5:11-12 it says, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
I could go on and on quoting verses because the entire focus of the Bible from the very beginning to the very end…is the sending of Jesus as the only way to save sinners like you and me. To study the Scriptures from any other frame of reference is to miss the entire point. This morning I want to deal with four questions that surface around this controversial issue…and I must tell you that I’m using material from a book I’ve used before when preaching on this topic. I’m referring to Lee Strobel’s book, God’s Outrageous Claims. I recommend it highly. I’ve already inferred to the first question.
(1) People ask, “Aren’t all religions the SAME?”
And the answer is NO—all religions are NOT the same. Here’s a quick run through of just SOME of their differences. Christianity says that there is one eternal God Who created the universe. Hinduism says that everything is God. You are god. I am god. Doug’s string bass is god. Christianity says that Jesus was God in the flesh. Islam denies this. It also denies that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Christianity’s written source of authority is the Bible alone. We revere it as God’s Word. But Mormons revere the book of Mormon and Muslims the Koran.
Another difference is seen in the fact that religions don’t agree on their teachings of what the after-life is. You can’t say they lead to the same “mountain top” because they don’t agree on what the top of the “mountain” is. For example, Hinduism teaches that we don’t go to Heaven but rather are reincarnated over and over again on earth. Whether you come back as a stink bug or the President of the United States depends on how you’ve lived your life. Islam teaches that Heaven is a paradise of wine, women, and song. And the way to achieve this blissful paradise is ironically to abstain from these things in this world. Our faith teaches that Heaven is where we are with Jesus face to face praising Him alongside other Christ-followers for what He has done. Do you think a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew would consider that paradise?
So the fact is there are many differences between the major world religions. And—as we say a lot here at Redland—the greatest difference is that—unlike all other religions—Christianity proclaims a Gospel of GRACE and not WORKS. In every other religion in the world, adherents struggle to somehow EARN the favor of their version of God, in the hopes that they will get to their version of Heaven. Other faiths teach that adherents work their way to a happy afterlife by using a Tibetan prayer wheel, or going on pilgrimages, or giving alms to the poor, or by not eating certain foods, or by performing a certain number of unspecified good deeds, or by praying at a certain time in a certain position each day…or whatever. In short, OTHER faiths are basically DO-IT-YOURSELF propositions. But not Christianity. We believe it’s not what we do—but rather our faith in what God did when He sent His Son to die in our place on the cross. Think of it like this: Other faiths are attempts by PEOPLE to reach out to GOD but Christianity teaches that in Jesus Christ God is reaching out to us. The Bible says that God’s gift of salvation through Jesus was GOD-given, God-driven, GOD-empowered, and GOD-originated. And Christianity alone teaches this fact…that in His amazing grace, the Holy God reached down to sinners like you and me because we were incapable of reaching up to Him. As it says in 1st 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.”
There’s a story told of a man who died and went to heaven. When he got to the pearly gates St. Peter told him his life would be reviewed and his good deeds would be added up. To be granted admission into heaven he had to have earned 1000 points. The man said, “That should be easy. I taught Sunday School every Sunday for 40 years.” Peter said, “Okay, that’s worth one point.” The man was a little surprised and then said, “Well, I was also a faithful and loving husband as well as a dedicated and nurturing father.” Peter said, “Okay, That’s worth one point.” The man was becoming concerned. So he blurted out, “I tithed all of my income!” Peter said, “Okay, that’s worth 1 point.” Now the man was worried. He said, “I was a deacon in my church and served on the church council.” Peter said, “That’s only worth a half point.” After the man had gone through the entire list of every good thing he had ever done, he had only 12 points. Finally, in exasperation, he said, “I give up! The only way a guy could get in here is by the grace of God.” Peter said, “That’s worth 1000 points! Come on in!”
Well, on the basis of this point alone—GRACE and not works—Christianity IS set apart from any other religion in the world. It’s unique. It’s different. 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 judgment instead.
And that leads me to mention another difference. In other religions there is no ASSURANCE of a blissful afterlife. In other belief systems adherents don’t know until they die if they did enough of the required things. Paul Little writes, “I have often asked Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists whether they would achieve nirvana or go to paradise when they died. I have not yet had one reply in the affirmative. Rather they referred to the imperfection of their lives as being a barrier to this realization. There is no assurance in their religious systems because salvation depends on the individual’s gaining enough merit.”
Not so with Christianity. We KNOW we will get to Heaven because of what Christ did—His all-sufficient death and resurrection. As Paul put it in 2nd Timothy 1:12,“I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
Well, I’m sure you will agree that these vastly different teachings could not come from the same GOD. After all, God isn’t schizophrenic. Lee 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.” Of course this wouldn’t happen! 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.
So, the answer to this first question is “no.” As Ravi Zacharias puts it, “All religions are NOT the same. All religions do NOT point to God. All religions do not SAY that all religions are the same. At the heart of EVERY religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not and accordingly, of defining life’s purpose. Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones. Every religion is at its core exclusive.”
(2) Here’s a second question people ask when this issue comes up. They say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are SINCERE…right?”
I mean, many people admit that Christianity IS different from other faith systems but they feel that it is just one valid philosophy among many. This is the relativist mind set…the “You have your truth. I have my truth.” way of thinking. And this is a very POPULAR philosophy because it reflects our society’s pluralistic attitudes in which we are encouraged to be tolerant of other faiths.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me here. 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. 1st 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 and this is just 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. As the old saying goes, “If a million people believed a ridiculous thing to true, it would still be a ridiculous thing.”
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. I mean, if you were to jump off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge sincerely believing you would not fall—you still would—that’s the truth and—truth is always intolerant of error. Facts are facts, regardless of people’s sincere 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?
Here goes: Jesus Christ has unique credentials that make His claim to deity uniquely credible. For example, only Jesus both claimed to be God and then proved that claim by living a perfect sinless 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, including the manner of His death—and His resurrection. Billions have claimed to know Him personally. I do!
So, 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 like calming storms and healing the sick and raising the dead. So our belief that He is the only way to God is well-founded. Let me put it this way: 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. That’s the truth and it doesn’t matter how sincerely you believe otherwise. I’m saying, it DOES matter which route you take in your spiritual journey because the Bible clearly teaches that all other routes are ultimately dead ends. Only Jesus Christ is THE WAY that leads to God. Only He is the TRUTH. Only He is the LIFE.
And—you know—we can argue all day about whether or not this claim has an intolerant spirit about it. But the real issue is whether or not it is true. I mean, tolerance is a non-issue if Christianity is really the only true religion. In fact, all religions cannot be true since, as I said a moment ago, they contradict each other on too many levels. They cannot at the same time all be true.
In our culture there is this misconception that to be narrow-minded is automatically wrong. Well, the fact is you can be narrow-minded and right or you can be narrow-minded and wrong. The issue is not whether you are narrow-minded or not—the issue is whether or not you are right. The fact that one plus one always equals two is very narrow, but it is also very right. When we board an airplane we want the pilot to land on the runway not the highway. When we fly to the DR in January, I want my pilot to be narrow-minded.
Now, I’d agree that Christians are being narrow-minded 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. As I said earlier, 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—the only ONE Who could be our substitute. Yes it is narrow-minded but it is also true—factual.
Last year I read a historical novel that focused on the kind of warfare that raged during the middle ages—when men fought in armor and chain mail. One of the characters received a horrible sword wound to his arm. He was given two options for treatment. Back then conventional medical “wisdom” said to just bind the wound. Physicians also advised that the wounded should have a vein opened up to allow blood to flow from the body. The idea was that this was how you got the sickness out—but letting large amounts of blood out. But…this wounded knight had another option given him. A monk who had seen many soldiers wounded in battle said conventional treatment didn’t work. He warned that the knight’s arm would become infected and gangrenous if they just bound it up. He said “bleeding” would only weaken his condition. The monk said the only treatment he had seen actually work was to wash the wound thoroughly with warm wine and then bind it in clean clothes—clothe that had been boiled for several minutes and kept clean. The monk said he had seen this treatment work time and time again…that this had validated the fact that this was the only thing that would work. The knight chose to be intolerant of the monk’s guidance. He chose the conventional treatment and his arm became gangrenous and had to be amputated. Today we would call this knight a fool because we know the truth when it comes to treating wounds. We know there is only one way…a narrow way…but that’s the way truth is. It’s always narrow. Listen—every human being has been wounded by sin. The reason Christians like myself cling to Jesus is we know He offers the only cure. We could sincerely believe that there is another way of dealing with our woundedness but we would be sincerely wrong. The truth is that only the Great Physician—only Jesus—offers treatment that will heal us.
And this is one area in life where you can’t afford to be wrong. Your decision here affects eternity. Greg Koukl writes,“If issues of religion have eternal consequences, then errors in thinking are infinitely tragic. To rephrase Karl Marx, FALSE religion is the opiate of the people. It soothes but it does not cure.”
(3) Here’s a third question that comes up whenever this issue is raised. People ask, “Aren’t those Christians who believe Jesus is the only Way being a bit holier-than-thou?”
Many people think that Christians are in essence saying they are better than people who don’t and of course nothing could be further from the truth. As people who have experienced the grace of God, we know that all people have sinned. We know the ground at the cross is level.
Like Chris Stracener and Brian Hoogerwerf, my son Daniel worked for a Country Club in Rockville as a valet. He got to drive a lot of fancy cars short distances for several years. Country clubs can be very exclusive. They require their members to pay a certain amount of money to get in—usually tens of thousands of dollars. On top of that they charge expensive monthly fees. Country clubs have strict dress codes and page after page of rules. Often potential members must go through a rigorous interview process—and the fact is, in the end some applicants are just not going to make the grade.
Some are going to be turned down either because they didn’t make enough money or because they don’t wear the right clothes or because they don’t know the right people. Well, in a very real sense other world religions are like a country club of sorts. They say that to get in…to embrace their version of faith…you have to obtain superior wisdom….or you’ve got to fulfill a long list of demands. You’ve got to do a specified number of good deeds. You’ve got to become a better person by going through a cycle of reincarnations…and so on. But despite their best efforts, lots of people just do not make the grade. They don’t do enough. They don’t get good enough. This is what other religions are saying when they teach that people have to work their way to God.
Well, Christianity is not like that at all. It’s just the opposite. The message of the Christian faith says that ALL are invited to join! Anyone who wants to get in can—because on the cross, Jesus paid the membership fee for the whole world. Rich or poor, red, yellow, black, or white, regardless of your ethnic heritage, regardless of where you live, regardless of your sin, the doors are wide open. Entry is not based on your qualifications. It’s only based on your admitting your sin and accepting Jesus’ invitation. Now—which form of faith sounds snobbish or holier-than-thou? Certainly not Christianity. As Christians, 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. Mature Christians agree with the prophet Isaiah who said that “our best efforts at righteousness are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 54:6) As D. T. Niles put it, “Christians are just like beggars trying to tell other beggars where they can find food.”
The fact is…telling people Jesus is the only way to have eternal life…the only way to have a relationship with God…this is not holier-than-thou. It’s not arrogant. It’s compassionate! I mean, it would be cold-hearted NOT to inform people of a truth like this that affects their eternal destiny.
Okay…we have time to answer one more question that tends to surface whenever this issue comes up and here it is.
(4) People often ask, “If Jesus is the only Way, what about the people who die without ever hearing about Him? What’s going to happen to them?”
This is one of the most commonly asked questions about our faith — and, frankly, we don’t have the complete answer. God hasn’t explicitly told us all we’d like to know about this. But we do know a few things. First, we know from the Bible that everybody has a moral standard programmed into their thinking by God and that everybody is guilty of violating that standard.
As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has set eternity in the human heart.” That’s why our conscience bothers us when we do something wrong. I mean, people who ask this question infer that people who don’t hear about Jesus are innocent victims. Well, the Bible teaches that no one is innocent. All of us are sinners. All of us willfully disobey God’s eternal standard and when we do this, we know it and as such we are responsible for our actions.
Second, we know that everybody has enough information from observing the world to know that God exists and what He is like, but people suppress all that and reject God anyway. Romans 1:19-20 says, “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Third, we know from the Bible that those who sincerely seek God will find Him. In fact, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is seeking us first, making it possible for us to seek God. And this suggests to me that people around the world who respond to the understanding that they have and who earnestly seek after the one true God will find an opportunity, in some way, to receive the eternal life that God has graciously provided through Jesus Christ. I’ve heard about this happening in seemingly impossible circumstances. This week I read about a man who had been raised by gurus in an area of India where there were no Christians. As a teenager, he concluded there were too many contradictions in Hinduism for it to be true. So he called out to God for answers — and in a remarkable series of events, God brought people into his life who shared Christ’s message with Him. Today he’s a follower of Jesus. I’ve also heard of Muslims responding to dreams that led them to Jesus…and of children raised in atheistic nations seeing something in nature that led them to believe in God and seek Him out.
There’s a fourth thing we know that is reassuring as we wrestle with this issue. We know that God is scrupulously fair. GENESIS 18:25 asks, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” It’s comforting for me to know that each person will be judged uniquely and justly, according to what they knew and what they did about it. After being judged by a loving and righteous God, not one person will be able to walk away claiming that he or she had been treated unfairly. We can trust our loving Heavenly Father to deal fairly with people who never hear of Jesus’ love.
But you know, for you and me, the issue isn’t ignorance. It’s obedience. We’ve heard what Christ has to say — even today— we have access to the evidence, and it’s clear we’re responsible for our decision on how we respond. If you’re not a Christ-follower, what will you do with what you know about Jesus? Will you accept God’s Christmas gift this morning? Will you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and commit to follow Him as Lord?
And—what about Christ-followers present? Will you be obedient to the Great Commission God has given us? I think Christmas is a great time to renew your commitment to evangelism…to go and tell it on the mountain over the hills and everywhere that Jesus—the Savior—has been born.
Let us pray.