Is Jesus Really the Only Way to Heaven? Part II
Americans in particular are freedom junkies. We don't like government, employers, teachers, or almost anyone in authority, telling us what to do. So the idea of willingly submitting to the authority of God, which will govern both our outward and inward morality, feels way too restrictive. But to be a Christian means just that, pledging your highest allegiance to Jesus and his teachings. Which is why the Bible says in no uncertain terms, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20
If you're a true Christian, you are not your own anymore. You actually belong to God, even your body. You were bought by Christ. Pre-salvation that thought scared the daylights out of me! I didn't want to be owned or controlled by anyone. The week after I surrendered to Jesus, it became my greatest source of peace.
Back to the skeptics, I often remind them that we (Christians) did not invent the claim of Jesus being the only way to God. Jesus himself said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6 And this, "If you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins." John 8:24. Then Peter echoed that same truth, with these words, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12. So, true Christians have no choice but to accept those claims as exclusive and arrogant as they sound, or we'd have to admit either Jesus, or the Bible was wrong.
Liar, lunatic or God?
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, "For Jesus to make the claim that he was God and the only way to God, you can only come to these three conclusions; Either he's a liar, or he was a lunatic (deluded), or he actually was who he said he was. He can't simply be a “good teacher,“ if in fact he really was crazy or a liar." So it's a fair question to ask. Which one of the three do you think Jesus was?
You may run into a Christian who believes Jesus is the only way, but has an alternative explanation for Jesus 'words. They believe Christians have long misinterpreted the "I am the way..." passage. "You, (the rest of you Christians) have mistakenly assumed that Jesus was pointing to himself as the "only" way." Instead he was actually saying that his way - that is his life, his teachings, the way he thought and lived - those ideas are The Way to heaven, not Jesus himself.
Whenever I hear that explanation, I just have to ask this question, "If that's true and we go to heaven by living by Jesus 'philosophy of simply being kind, forgiving and generous, then what was the point of the cross and the resurrection?" The night Jesus was betrayed he commanded us to remember forever, in communion, the price he was about to pay on the cross for our sins. His death appears to be irrelevant and totally unnecessary if a person can get to heaven by just living out his philosophy.
The Apostle Paul, said this to drive home the importance for Christians of Christ's death and resurrection. "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15:13, 14, 17
As "unfair" as the "Christ is the only way" appears to be, Christians have to be careful about watering down the gospel just to prevent us from looking narrow minded. True Christians believe Christ is the only way.
Holy books and Tour Books
I once used this illustration when asked the "aren't other religions just another way to heaven?" question. I brought four travel books to a meeting. "Here's a travel book that will tell you all about China, what that country is like, it's laws and customs and actually how you can get there from here. The other three travel books are written about France, Russia and India. All these books have this in common; they are all travel books. However, each describes a completely different destination and different instructions on how to get there. Nobody believes the book about China describes India, or the way to get to India, or that the book about Russia describes France.
Likewise, when you read the Bible, the Qur'an (Koran), the Torah/The Old Testament and the five classics of Confucianism, they not only describe completely different “heavens,” they each describe, or proscribe a different, and "only way" to get there.
So it appears to me, that an agnostic has to admit that only one of the following statements can be true; Only one of these "holy books" can be true and therefore that alone is the way to the after-life, or none of them is true. But they can't all be true.
I've had this observation put before me. "But if you were born in a Muslim country, and had Muslim parents, you'd probably believe Islam was true." I readily admit that's probably true. Children generally believe what their parents have taught them to believe. Unless. Unless I met a Christian who was kind thoughtful, generous and loved everyone in a way my parents, or their friends did not. At some point I then might start questioning a religion that "doesn't work" and begin looking for another.
It's been my observation that people tend to adopt the worldview of others they respect and admire. None of us were raised in a petri dish. Teenage boys and girls didn't wake up from a thirteen-year coma, and decide to dress in all black, spike their hair and pierce their noses. Most likely they've seen a rock group they admire, or have friends who dress that way and therefore dress to emulate them. Students often adopt the world-views of professors they admire. The same is true of religions. We tend to adopt the religious beliefs of people we admire.
To whom do you belong?
The Continental Divide is the imaginary north/south line running through the Rocky Mountains. All rain fall and snow melt flows either to the Pacific, or to the East. Christianity has a "continental divide" as well. There are Christians who believe God is their King, Christ is their savior and they belong to God therefore they generally try to live in obedience to his teachings and therefore the flow of their life is toward living for God and for others.
On the other there are "Christians" who give lip service to God and Jesus, but indicated by the “flow“ of their lives, they actually live for themselves. Could they simply be spiritually immature Christians? Sure. But Jesus gave us this test, "By their fruit, you will know them. Not everyone who says, 'Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven." Matthew 7:20, 21
I once had a neighbor, an architect who grew up in the church, but was now done with Christianity primarily because so many "Christians" he knew behaved badly. So I asked him, "Ted, do you know any really bad, or incompetent architects?" “Of course I do," he answered. "There are some I'd not recommend to design a doghouse!" I then asked this question. "Then why don't you give up being an architect?” “Because I decided I would be better than that.” Exactly!
So if you’ve been shocked by supposedly, born-again Christians, on T.V. carrying signs that read, "God Hates Gays," or appear to support violence, or bigotry, stay silent in the face of injustice, while over-weight pastors with 12 lb. Bibles pray on the sidelines, I am to! If you don't want any part of that kind of Christianity, then there's hope for you. Join the club! But not that kind of club!
The most convincing argument for Jesus is the only way, is the life and witness of his true followers.
Chuck Colson, President Nixon's attorney, who went to prison for covering up Watergate was convicted to believe in Jesus by this thought. Almost all Jesus' disciples died a martyr's death. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, his disciples who claimed he did would never have been willing to be put to death for what they knew was a lie. Of course there have always been men and women willing to die for a cause they believed to be true, was not. however how many people are willing to die for something they knew was a lie? That was powerful evidence for Colson. Only five people in the White House inner circle knew the Watergate coverup story given to the public was a lie and as soon as one of them John Dean was faced with prison, he confessed and soon everyone confessed to save their own skin.
The truth is, there's no human argument that has ever convinced anyone to believe. Christians have only the responsibility of explaining the gospel and living it out. It's the Holy Spirit's job to convince people it's true. So, to that end, if you are unreligious rather than live in spiritual no-man's-land, at least consider doing this;
Let God "speak to you directly." Try reading the Book of Luke, or any of the other four gospels, one chapter a day for roughly a month. There are 28 chapters in Luke and it takes less that ten minutes to read each. Each day before you begin to read, pray this prayer, "God if you really exist, please teach me everything I need to know, help me to believe it and and live out what you're telling me." He's waiting to answer that prayer.
Additional Reading: I highly recommend two resources from Pastor Tim Keller:
The "Questioning Christianity" podcasts (just google it)
His book, “Reason for God.”
How would you describe yourself, spiritually? How did you come to that position?
Do you believe there are many ways to God? Why?
If you're not yet a follower of Jesus, what turns you off, or frightens you about becoming one?
if you are a follower of Jesus, what is there, or was there, about your "outer" life than may have been a hindrance to someone not yet convinced, "Jesus is the way."
What argument made by the author was to most compelling? The least compelling?
If you're unreligious, what Is it that caused you to move in that direction?
If you're a Christian, what convinced you that the gospel was true?