Living in southeastern Ohio if I want to head towards Cleveland, which is to the north, there are several ways in which I might get there. For instance, my mode of transportation I might choose to drive my car or our family SUV. I could head to the local bus station and buy a ticket to catch a ride to Cleveland. Or, if I was needing life flighted to the Mayo Clinic because I was involved in a tragic accident I would be transported by helicopter. Flying a plane I suppose would be possible, but first I would have to get to Columbus, which is northwest of my position, and the I might have to fly to Chicago’s O’Hare International airport (ORD) first before heading off towards Cleveland, since a direct flight from Columbus to Cleveland probably isn’t available (maybe it is, but I don’t know). The point is there are several options when it comes to the way in which I will travel to get there.
Say that I just chose to drive there…what then? Well, I still have quite a bit of options. I could look for the most direct route north which would have me driving on mainly state routes—possibly even township roads—and thus through a variety of small towns. If I wanted the more scenic route and I was just going for a leisurely trip, then that might be okay. Another option would be for me to hit the interstate system. If I drove to Columbus first (remember its still going north at a slightly westward angle), then I would eventually jump on I-71 towards Cleveland. If I drove towards Cambridge, Ohio (north east of my location and closer), then I could eventually jump on I-77 towards Cleveland. The point being that there are several roads and/or byways that I might choose to get to Cleveland, Ohio.
To put that into perspective I could rightly say, “there are many ways that lead to Cleveland, Ohio. It doesn’t really matter which route I take to get there. As long as I am heading north with that location in mind, then I will eventually find my way there.
Confusion of the Masses…
What I often hear from people that I come into contact with is that there are many ways to get to heaven—to get to God. It doesn’t really matter which way I take to get there (i.e., what religion). As long as I am heading in the general direction (presumably north) sincerely in my mind, then I will eventually find my way there. In short, all ways eventually lead to eternal bliss.
Ravi Zacharias offers some sobering thoughts to this popular, though falsely held, assumption:
“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 at its core is exclusive…And no religion denies its core beliefs.”[i]
In terms of religion, there is great confusion over the word “way.” Just as every religion is decidedly different at base in regards to their core tenets, they all teach different ways to get to their perceived notion of god and eternal bliss. Contrary to the commonly held, but rarely investigated, opinion in our pop-culture all religions (i.e., all ways) are not equal.
Something all other Religions share…
I won’t take up much of your time explaining all the variances that exist within the truth claims of all other religious systems. And yes, before you say it isn’t, atheism is a religious system.[ii] It may not be a unified system with its own set of scriptures, or share various divisions within its participants like denominations/sects, nor will you find a roll call listing all members of their faith, but it does share one unifying thread with all other religious thought. “Well, what is it?” you ask. That the individual in question is capable of making themselves better.
- (Clarification: This “unifying thread” as I call it is in principle, not in practice. Practice would be the very different ways that each religious system teaches the right “way” to make oneself better. Principle speaks of a supposed ability on the part of the practitioner—i.e., “I’m able to do it!” Something all other religions teach.)
Doesn’t matter the brand name of the religion—and yes, we are including those who deny sharing in any brand (atheism/agnosticism/secular humanism)—all other religious beliefs are unified on this one core teaching. Salvation is possible by the one who wills to do better. And yes, this would include what some “ways” merely call enlightenment; for to be enlightened is to be elevated to a status that is above what you formerly possessed.
What offers division…
Oddly enough this core teaching of all other religious systems (i.e., ways) is what offers positive proof that separates it from the Christian way. Christianity teaches that the individual is not good enough. In fact, the Holy Scriptures (Gen-Rev) of the Christian faith teach that there is “no one good” (Psa 14.1-3; 53.1-3; 3.10). Nothing good can come from that which is corrupted to the very soul of its makeup (Job 15.14; 25.4), and so all of mankind (male and female) falls short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23).
The understanding, at this point, offer the following lamentation:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7.24).
And lest you think that this is just the mere twisting of the former Pharisee from Tarsus, the Jew known as Paul the apostle Jesus Christ, then I would merely turn you to what God said in times long before Paul existed:
“I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. ‘Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and Savior; there is none besides me. ‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isa 45.19b-23).
Why do the nations (the people in this world) need a savior? From what do they need to be delivered? Sin which is unrighteousness. Righteousness (right living or living the right way) comes from God the Creator and no other. He is mighty to save so says the Lord of Hosts through the prophet Isaiah. And He who saves also promises…
“I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior…there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isa 43.11, 13; italics mine).
What Christianity teaches…
So, the Christian faith says that man is not capable of saving himself, he (or she) is not good enough to do it. For man it is impossible, but for God it is possible (Luke 18.27). And how does God propose to do this? By sending forth His one and only Son (unique, none like Him) Jesus as a sacrifice, a substituting atonement what Scripture calls a propitiation[iii] for the sins of His people:
“Therefore he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2.17; cf. Rom 3.25)
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1John 4.10; cf. Matt 1.21).
And thus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.2) rightly says of Himself:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).
Jesus makes a universal categorical truth claim that is saturated in exclusivity. He says that the only way to God and eternal bliss (what we might call heaven, but which means dwelling with God) is through Him. One way, not many ways. One gate, not many gates. One passage, not many passages.
Offering some needed clarity…
Unlike a journey to Cleveland from southeastern Ohio, there are not many options north…there is only ONE. The journey starts and ends with Jesus the Christ. Any other route leads to separation from God. It is the wrong way.
The Christian faith teaches that in Christ is life, because He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He gave His life so that we might live. And the promise is that those that hear His voice and follow Him, not only will He save them, but none will ever be able to be removed from His hand (i.e., power) for He and the Father are one (John 10.27-30; cf. John 5.18). And to Him we are told that every knee shall bow and confess is Lord over all (Phil 2.10-11; Rev 4.10; 5.13-14). Jesus is the only way.
Unfortunately, the Christian faith is often so watered down as to not offend the rest of the world that this core teaching is seldom pushed to the forefront. Some of this is due to a corrupting of pelagian thought (that man is good enough to do what is right), but that is a subject for another day. Today I just wanted to offer some clarity to the word “way.”
[i] Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000), 7.
[ii] Atheism and its sister agnosticism are sometimes difficult to speak about in a general fashion because those that share the same core beliefs often want to highlight their vast differences. And yes, they do have differences. However, there are some core beliefs that unify them, and they do hold tenaciously (dogmatically?) to those teachings. Like? There is no god…or there might be no god…you’ll have to prove to me there is a god…even though I doubt I will accept your proof for god’s existence. There is no heaven or hell…and yet life is what you make it…either heavenly or hellish. There are no ethical norms that govern the affairs of people…and yet, goodness and not harming others is the chief among all ethical standards. There are not overarching beliefs that people must believe in… “don’t shove your teachings down my throat” … “you Christians need to stop teaching your beliefs.” Life has happened by accidental chaos…we must be logical and rational in our thinking (which is the opposite of chaos). Etc.
[iii] The term propitiation speaks of the all-encompassing satisfaction that Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice fulfilled for the sins of His people (cf. Isa 53). In technical terms the word means, “the turning away of wrath by an offering…While God’s wrath is not mentioned as frequently in the NT as in the OT, it is there. Man’s sin receives its due reward, not because of some impersonal retribution, but because God’s wrath is directed against it (Rom 1:18, 24, 26, 28) …The consistent Bible view is that the sin of man has incurred the wrath of God. That wrath is averted only by Christ’s atoning offering. From this standpoint his saving work is properly called propitiation.” L. L. Morris, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 962, “propitiation,” s.v.