Is Jesus Really the Only Way to Heaven?

John 14:6

Kathleen Parker isn’t a big fan of Franklin Graham.

She made that perfectly clear in her recent column criticizing the popular evangelist (and son of Billy Graham) for saying that Muslims need to be saved. Mr. Graham’s bold assertion got him removed as the speaker for the National Day of Prayer service at the Pentagon in early May. This is how Kathleen Parker frames the question:

Graham’s offense was expressing his belief that only Christians have God’s ear, that Islam is evil, and that Muslims and Hindus don’t pray to the same God he does.
“No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me,” Graham said in a USA Today interview, referring to one of the five main Hindu deities. “None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world. It’s not going to get better.”

She points out that Graham’s views “don’t sit well with secular Americans or even non-evangelical Christians,” a fact I do not doubt at all. I also am 100% certain that Franklin Graham knows that as well. Parker states categorically that “Evangelicals under 30 believe there are many ways to God, not just through Jesus.” She quotes a survey showing that nearly two-thirds of evangelicals under 35 believe that non-Christians can go to heaven.

The clincher comes near the end of her column where she says that “transcending the notion that only some prayers are the right ones might get us closer to the enlightenment we purportedly seek.”

Enlightenment. That’s a nice word, very chic, very contemporary, very hip. We all want to be enlightened, don’t we? The word suggests the light of truth breaking into the darkness, driving away the old superstitions. And what would those superstitions be? Chief among them would certainly be the notion that there is only one way to God. We can’t believe anything as old-fashioned as that.

Meanwhile, Franklin Graham didn’t back down from anything he had said earlier. In an interview with Newsweek Web Exclusive (May 5, 2010), he restated his position:

“I am who I am. I don’t believe that you can get to heaven through being a Buddhist or Hindu. I think Muhammad only leads to the grave. Now, that’s what I believe, and I don’t apologize for my faith. And if it’s divisive, I’m sorry.”
“Muhammad only leads to the grave.”

A few weeks after the National Day of Prayer, I took part in a radio interview with Franklin Graham where he forcefully restated his belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven. He also talked about current world events in light of the Second Coming of Christ. You can listen to the interview online.

Distinguished theologian Al Mohler weighed in on the whole controversy in an article called All Roads Lead to Heaven?  This excerpt gives a flavor of his response:

Kathleen Parker’s column is indeed revealing. But the most revelatory aspect of her essay is its unmasked hostility toward any belief that there is only one way of salvation. . . . The column by Kathleen Parker is yet another signpost of the current age and the worldview of the secularized classes. In their view, what evangelicals believe about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is just out of bounds and embarrassing.

Al Mohler is no doubt correct. The message of salvation only through Christ has never been popular, but today those who hold this view face fierce criticism for daring to say that Jesus is the only way to heaven. And it’s true that among many younger evangelicals, there is a kind of doctrinal squishiness on this particular point.

Is Jesus the Son of God? Yes, no problem there.
Did he die on the cross and rise from the dead? Yes, indeed.
Is he is the only way of salvation? We’re not so comfortable with that idea.

We Live in a Shrinking World

Why are we uncomfortable with the exclusive claims of the Christian faith? There are many reasons, but I think the Internet has changed the playing field in a big way. A generation ago, if you grew up in Cleveland or Jacksonville or Spokane, you might never meet a Muslim and you might never have a conversation with a Hindu. The Internet has changed all that. Through Facebook and Skype and Twitter and instant messaging, through millions of websites and online discussion groups, you end up meeting people whose backgrounds are very different from your own.

Given the mobility of modern life, especially in large cities, you probably have people from Japan and India and China living in your neighborhood. There was a day when we could talk about Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam in a detached fashion because those religions were “over there,” across the sea, thousands of miles away. Just as Christianity has moved into those distant lands, in the same way those unfamiliar religions have come to our doorstep. You certainly work with people from many different backgrounds and religious preferences. As the world has grown smaller, some of the barriers that separate us have come down.

But it does leave us in an embarrassing situation. How can we possibly believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only true way to God? That’s a very “unenlightened” point of view in today’s world. It’s definitely “out of bounds” in polite company. Christians in the workplace or in social settings often feel on the defensive about this issue. No one likes to be called a hatemonger or arrogant or intolerant. We can say it doesn’t bother us, but it does.  

No one likes to be called a hatemonger or arrogant or intolerant.

Certainly we have all become aware of the spread of Islam in the last few years. I mention the changing face of America because the social culture we grew up with is rapidly disappearing. We have no choice but to learn how to get along in a nation where our neighbors follow religions vastly different from our own. As America changes, we face the danger of reducing the genuine religious differences to a kind of bland, lowest common denominator, “all religions are equal” approach. But when you hear people say, “All religions are equal,” you can be sure of two things:

    A) They don’t know what they are talking about, and
    B) They haven’t really studied anyone’s religion very closely.

Saying “all religions are equal” insults thoughtful followers of every religion. Talk to your Muslim friends for a while, and you’ll discover that their beliefs and our beliefs are radically different. But talk to a Buddhist, and you’ll discover that their beliefs are different from ours and from the Muslims. The same is true for followers of Judaism, Hinduism, and so on. It’s easy to say, “All roads lead to heaven” when you haven’t studied the map carefully. What we need is an accurate road map that tells us which road leads to heaven. Find that road and you will end up in the right place.

Saying “all religions are equal” insults thoughtful followers of every religion.

Some years ago the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches was asked to name the #1 theological issue facing Christians worldwide. His answer was unequivocal: “The uniqueness of Christ.” If Jesus is not unique, there is no gospel and we have no Good News to preach to the world.

So we face questions on several fronts in this message:

1)  What does the Bible actually say about this?
2)  How do we communicate this to others?
3)  How should we live in an increasingly pluralistic world?

I. What Does the Bible Actually Say?

Consider the words of Jesus in John 14:6. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If words mean anything, this is an utterly exclusive claim by our Lord. Without him, and apart from him, there is no way to the Father in heaven. If you decide Jesus is not for you, God doesn’t have a Plan B.

Note how personal this is. We are not saved by religion or by the church, but by Jesus himself. Jesus didn’t say, “I know the way” but rather, “I am the way.” Jesus never gives us a formula to follow. Instead he calls people to follow him personally because he himself is the way that leads to the truth that leads to life with the Father in heaven.

If you decide Jesus is not for you, God doesn’t have a Plan B.

Add to that the words of Peter in Acts 4:12. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Then you have the words of Paul in I Corinthians 3:11. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

These three verses seem to be absolutely definitive.

No other way.
No other name.
No other foundation.

Jesus didn’t say, “I know the way” but rather, “I am the way.”

Finally, consider I Timothy 2:5. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." The whole gospel boils down to this truth. Because our sins have separated us from God, we need a “mediator” to bring us back to God. Because the “sin gap” is eternally wide, we need someone from heaven who is himself eternal to bridge the gap for us. Jesus is the only one who could bridge that gap. By his death, he paid for our sins and bridged the gap that separates us from God. By his resurrection, he proved he is the Son of God.

No other mediator is necessary.
No other mediator is possible.

Only Jesus, the perfect Son of God, could offer himself for our sins. He did what no other religious leader could ever do. In the words of R. C. Sproul:

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 (Reason to Believe, p. 44).

Only Jesus could offer himself as the divine sacrifice for our sin so that we could be saved. “This is real love-not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins" (1 John 4:10 NLT).

We could add dozens of verses to this list. The God of the Bible is an utterly exclusive God. He has no competitors. He is the living and true God and there is no one like him in the universe. He will not share his glory with any created being. He alone deserves our worship and our praise. And when his Son declares, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he means it.

The God of the Bible is an utterly exclusive God.

The issue is not our emotions or our preferences. The issue is truth. Sincerity in religious matters is never enough. We do not doubt the sincerity of those who follow Islam or Hinduism. We admire them for their dedication to what they believe. But sincerity only matters when it is applied to the proper object. You can be sincerely wrong and you will still be wrong. You can sincerely drink rat poison and you will be sincerely dead. Believing the wrong thing doesn’t make it right. All truth is narrow. Years ago we all learned that 2 + 2 = 4. It doesn’t equal 5 or 3, no matter how sincere you are.

II. How Do We Communicate This to Others?

The problem is not with what we believe or what the Bible teaches. Christians have always believed that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We haven’t always expressed it with equal forcefulness, but the teaching itself is not new. As our world grows smaller and we rub shoulders with people from different religious backgrounds, how do we explain what we believe in a way that they can understand? The most fundamental answer is, don’t be afraid. Too often fear makes us defensive about our faith.

Don’t be afraid of someone who doesn’t share your point of view.
Don’t be afraid of your Muslim co-worker or your Hindu neighbor.
Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a student who has no religion whatsoever.

Too many Christians fit the stereotype of being all mouth and no ears. We talk but we don’t listen. Or we listen just to have an excuse to talk some more. It’s not a sin to let someone else explain how they view the world. It’s not a sin to listen to someone explain their own religious practices. In fact, it’s simple human kindness to show some interest in the backgrounds of other people. How will you ever befriend someone if you don’t get to know them first?

Too many Christians fit the stereotype of being all mouth and no ears.

Close your mouth, open your ears, listen intently, and let God lead the conversation. Pray as you listen. But not just for an “open door” so you can share Christ. Listen and learn. Ask questions. Seek understanding. Find whatever common ground you can. You aren’t compromising your Christianity by showing kindness to followers of other religions. It’s okay to enjoy a friendship with a non-Christian for its own sake. Show yourself friendly and God will open doors for you that you could never open on your own.

III. How Should We Live in an Increasingly Pluralistic World?

There is no turning back the clock to the “good old days” when the world was still “over there” on the other side of the ocean. Frankly, I like it much better this way. I prefer living in the unpredictable ferment of a world where a thousand different viewpoints jostle for a place at the table.

Close your mouth, open your ears, listen intently, and let God lead the conversation.

We do have to think about the challenge of sharing Christ in a pluralistic world. Here are a three suggestions about where to begin:

A. Ground Yourself in the Word of God.

Make sure you know what you believe. Don’t just read the Bible. Study it. Learn it. Memorize it. Find out what it teaches. Learn the doctrines of our faith. Let the Word of God be the firm foundation for your own life and also for your family. Buy a good study Bible and then use it! Do what 1 Peter 3:15 says and be ready to give an answer for what you believe and why you believe it. Read some good books on Bible doctrine like The Good News We Almost Forgot, Grounded in the Gospel, Basic Christianity, and Know What You Believe. You might also want to check out my book Credo: Believing in Something to Die For.

B. Be Bold About Your Faith with a Smile on Your Face.

Many of us fail right at this point. We get angry and bothered when someone disagrees with us and the joy of the Lord is replaced with the wrath of God on our countenance. No wonder some people don’t want to talk to us. If we sound too much like Jonathan Edwards preaching Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (a magnificent sermon, by the way), we shouldn’t wonder that we make some people fearful and the rest angry.

Buy a good study Bible and then use it!

If people get angry, let it be because of the truth we proclaim, not because of our angry words.
If they reject us, let it not be because we treated them rudely.
If sinners reject Christ, let it be because they truly reject him, and not because we lost our temper.

Remember that "a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). You can’t argue a person into the Kingdom of God. And you can’t insult them into believing in Jesus. If you get really angry, you’ll discover that swearing at lost people doesn’t make them want to “run to the cross.” Salvation is a miracle of God that takes place in the human heart. Only the Holy Spirit can convert the soul. It’s not our arguments that win the lost. Unless the Lord works on the heart, our words will make no difference.

Therefore, we must be gentle under pressure and kind even when pushed to the limit. We must be patient toward those who oppose us and we must, with meekness, tell them the truth. If we lose our temper, we may win the verbal battle, but we will not win them to Christ.

Speak the truth without feeling you have to pressure others into agreeing with you. If you can speak the truth with a smile and with the joy of the Lord, all the better. And if smiling seems impossible, at least don’t lose your cool. Speaking the truth in love is always the best rule.

C. Realize that there is a tremendous spiritual hunger in our generation.

That’s why Islam is on the rise in America. That’s why people turn to New Age shamans. That’s why Eastern religions attract so many people. The incredible religious diversity testifies to the hunger inside every heart. We were made to know God, and if we do not fill the “God-shaped vacuum” with the truth, we will fill it with whatever substitute we can find.

If sinners reject Christ, let it be because they truly reject him, and not because we lost our temper

I think we are living in the greatest days of human history. It may well be that we are the final generation before the return of Christ. That would explain why Satan has made such an energetic effort to spread his lies. But where sin abounded, grace super-abounded. The very fact that we live in such spiritual darkness means that when the light shines, it really shines. Let us not be discouraged by the difficulty of the task. Let us instead be encouraged by the opportunities of this hour. There are two things we must not do:

1)  Attempt to convert others by force or threat or intimidation.
2)  Stand by and refuse to speak up for what we really believe.

If Jesus is truly the only way, the unkindest thing would be keep it to ourselves.
If Jesus is truly the only way, the most loving thing is to share it with others.

Let’s suppose that you and I are standing 50 feet away from the edge of a cliff. If you fall off, you will drop 1800 feet before you hit the jagged rocks on the canyon floor. There are no guard rails to keep you from falling. As we stand there chatting, we see an old man walking slowly toward the edge. As he nears the edge, we realize that he is blind and has no idea of the danger he is in. Suddenly he calls out, “Which way should I go?” What would you think if I yelled out, “It doesn’t matter. Go any way you like"? Would I not be criminally negligent when he falls to his death? If I care about him at all, I will call out, “Don’t take another step. I’ll come and get you.” And then I will take him by the hand and lead him to safety. Love compels me to speak the truth and to do what I can to save his life.

If Jesus is truly the only way, the most loving thing is to share it with others.

God’s heart is wide ... the way to life is narrow. Both are true.

There are many religions, and many good things to be learned from the religions of the world, but there is only one way to God. Jesus is the way.

Here are five words that will take you all the way to heaven. If you understand what these five words mean, you can spend eternity in heaven with the Lord. And these five words contain enough truth to save the whole world.

Only Jesus and Jesus only.

I encourage you to say those words out loud right now:

Only Jesus and Jesus only.

If you want to find your way to the Father’s house, you have to travel the course Jesus laid out for you. Other roads may look attractive. They may seem like shortcuts but only one road leads to where you want to go. Jesus is the only way to heaven. May God help you to put your trust in him. 

2010-06-17-Is-Jesus-Really-the-Only-Way-to-Heaven

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