Only ONE way?

267 only one wayPeople sometimes object to Christian doctrine that salvation is to be had through Jesus Christ alone. In our pluralistic society, tolerance is expected and demanded, and the concept of religious freedom (which allows all religions) is sometimes misinterpreted in the sense that all religions are somehow equally true. All roads lead to the same God, some claim, as if they had all gone and returned from their destination. They do not show tolerance towards the little people who believe only in one way and, for example, reject evangelism as an insulting attempt to change other people's beliefs. But they themselves want to change the beliefs of people who believe only in one way. How is the Christian gospel really teaching that Jesus is the only way to salvation?

Other religions

Most religions have an exclusive claim. Orthodox Jews claim that they have the true path. The Muslims claim to have the best revelation from God. Hindus believe they are right and Buddhists believe in what they do, which should not surprise us - because they believe it is right. Even the modern pluralists believe that pluralism is more correct than other ideas.
All roads do not lead to the same God. The different religions even describe different gods. The Hindu has many gods and describes salvation as a return to nothingness - certainly a destination other than the Muslim emphasis on monotheism and heavenly rewards. Neither the Muslim nor the Hindu would agree that their path ultimately leads to the same goal. They would fight rather than change, and the Western pluralists would be dismissed as condescending and ignorant, and would be an impetus to those beliefs that the pluralists would not insult. We believe that the Christian Gospel is right while at the same time allowing people to believe it. In our understanding, faith presupposes that people have the freedom not to believe. But while we give people the right to believe according to their decision, that does not mean that we believe that all beliefs are true. Giving other people permission to believe at their discretion does not mean we stop believing that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

Biblical claims

Jesus' first disciples tell us that he claimed to be the one and only way to God. He said that if you do not follow me, you will not be in the kingdom of God (Mt 7,26-27). If I reject, you will not be with me in eternity (Mt 10,32-33). Jesus said that God has given all judgment to the Son, so that they all honor the Son as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (Joh 5,22-23). Jesus claimed that He is the exclusive means of truth and salvation. People who reject him also reject God. I am the light of the world (Joh 8,12), he said. I am the way and the truth and the life; nobody comes to the father because of me. If you have known me, you will also know my father (Joh 14,6-7). People who claim that there are other ways to salvation are wrong, Jesus said.

Peter was equally clear when he said to the leaders of the Jews: ... in no other is salvation, nor is there any other name under heaven given to men by which we shall be saved (Act 4,12). Paul also made it clear when he said that people who do not know Christ are dead in their transgressions and sins (Eph 2,1). They have no hope and no connection to God despite their religious creeds (v. 12). There is only one mediator, he said - only one way to God (1Tim 2,5). Jesus was the ransom that every human needs (1T in 4,10). If there was any other law or any other way that offered salvation, then God would have done that (Gal 3,21).

Through Christ, the world is reconciled with God (Kol 1,20-22). Paul was called to proclaim the gospel among the Gentiles. Their religion, he said, was worthless (Act 14,15). As it is written in Hebrews, Christ is not simply better than other ways, He is effective, while other ways are not (Hebr 10,11). It is a difference between all or nothing, not a difference of relative utility. The Christian doctrine of exclusive salvation is based on the statements of Jesus and the teachings of the Scriptures. This is closely related to who Jesus is and our need for grace. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Son of God in a unique way. As God in the flesh, he gave his life for our salvation. Jesus prayed for another way, but it did not exist (Mt 26,39). Salvation comes to us only through God himself, who comes into the human world to suffer the consequences of sin, to take the punishment, to free ourselves from it - as his gift to us.

Most religions teach a form of work as a way to salvation - to speak the right prayers, to do the right things in the hope that this will suffice. They teach that people can be good enough if they work hard enough. But Christianity teaches that we all need mercy because we can not be good enough no matter what we do or how hard we try. It is impossible for both ideas to be true at the same time. Whether we like it or not, the doctrine of grace states that there are no other ways to salvation.

Future grace

What about people who die without having heard of Jesus? What about the people who were born before the time of Jesus in a land thousands of miles away? Do you have any hope?
Yes, precisely because the Christian Gospel is the gospel of grace. People are saved by the grace of God, not by pronouncing the name of Jesus or having special knowledge or formulas. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, whether people know it or not (2Kor 5,14, 1Joh 2,2). His death was an expiatory sacrifice for everyone - in the past, present, future, for the Palestinian as well as for the Bolivian.
We are fully confident that God is true to His word when he says He wants everyone to repent (2Pt 3,9). Although his ways and times are often invisible to us, we still trust him to love the people he has created.

Jesus said clearly: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but to save the world through him (Joh 3,16-17). We believe that the risen Christ has conquered death, and therefore even death can not be a barrier to his ability to lead people to trust in him for salvation. Certainly we are not aware of the how and when, but we can trust his word. Therefore, we can believe that in one way or another he will ask every person who has ever lived to trust in him for salvation - be it before they die, at the hour of their death, or after they have died. If some people turn to Christ in the Last Judgment in faith and, in the end, learn what He has done for them, surely He will not reject them.

But no matter when people are saved or how well they understand it, it is only through Christ that they can be saved. With good intentions, good works will never save anyone, no matter how sincerely people believe they can be saved if they work hard enough. What ultimately comes down to grace and Jesus' sacrifice is that no amount of good works, of religious deeds, will ever save a man. If such a way could have been devised, then God would have done it (Gal 3,21).

If people have sincerely tried to obtain salvation through works, meditation, scourging, self-sacrifice, or any other human means, they will find that they have no merit in God through their works. Salvation comes by grace and grace only. The Christian Gospel teaches that no one can deserve salvation, and yet it is accessible to all. No matter what religious path a person has been, Christ can save him from it and bring him on his path. He is the only Son of God who offered the only reconciliation sacrifice that every human needs. He is the unique channel of God's grace and salvation. That is what Jesus Himself taught as truth. At the same time, Jesus is the sole and inclusive path, the narrow way and the Savior of the whole world, the only way of salvation, yet accessible to all.

God's grace, which we see most perfectly in Jesus Christ, is exactly what each person needs, and the good news is that it is freely available to all people. It's great news, and it's worth sharing - and that's something worth pondering.

by Joseph Tkach


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