One of the most often quoted verses in the New Testament is John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This text makes specific what was implied in John 13:36 and again in John 14:2. The journey with Jesus takes one to the Father. This is where Jesus was going and those who follow him will go there as well. But how do we reach the Father? The answer is clear. We reach the Father by believing in the Son. This statement is another one of the “I Am” statements in John. (There are seven and this is the sixth!) The point here is clear, at least to me. Not all roads lead to God regardless of what men may think. The claim to exclusivity here is very clear. And Jesus is plainly inviting his hearers to accept or reject him. His self-description plainly invalidates other ways to the Father.
Before you say this view is too restrictive consider the human condition. The fact that there is any way to God’s grace and love is astounding. When we say such a claim is unfair are we not in danger of saying I am drowning, or better yet I have already drowned, and now I can refuse the offer given to me and swim to shore in any way I please?
But does this claim mean all religions are completely false and everything they teach is opposed to Christian truth? This is another question and a question far too few evangelicals have thought about properly in my estimation. I found it more than interesting that the African Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 2006) raised the question on this verse as to whether or not the ancestors of Christians all perished because they had never heard about Jesus? (One of the values of reading such a commentary is the writers really do ask the question, not simply speculate about it.) The commentator on John answers:
When pondering this question, we need to remember that there is room in God’s judgment plan for judging cases on the basis of people’s response to general revelation (Romans 2:12-16). But it is also clear that no cases will be considered outside of Christ. He is God’s Anointed and each individual’s response to him, whether in the context of special or general revelation, will be central to the judgment. Those who have tried to please God, despite not having heard of Christ, will be accepted, for Jesus has been sent by God, and the one who pleases the Father has already passed the test of obeying the message of the Son (1283).
The commentator goes on to say that for most of us this is not the question that arises in our lives but rather, “What will we do with the Christ we have heard about?”
I agree with this perspective. I do not know the way God will judge all men in the last day but I know Christ is the judge. I do not know how he will sort everything out but he will and he will be equitable and completely just. Jesus is the one, true God. There is no other way home for sinners. He is the way, the truth and the life.
But does this conclusion mean that we are warranted to tell the world that unless every man, woman and child has specifically trusted in Jesus they went straight to hell? And does this mean that there is not truth of any kind in any other expression of faith in God?
Tomorrow: What About Other Religions?
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No doubt, it’s true that no one can be saved apart from the work of Christ. But the “through” in John 14:6 means “through faith in me.” The whole gospel is an apologetic for conscious faith in Christ, faith that affirms certain propositions about Jesus.
Unless we believe that Christ is “he,” the long awaited Messiah and heaven sent Son of God, we will die in our sins (8:24). Jesus could not make the point any clearer. “Through” means “through faith.” Inclusivism and John 14:6 cannot be friends.
The first comment under the post you linked to destroys that thesis.
The entire theory that “through” means “through faith in Me,” and that “through faith in Me” means explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ would suggest that the following groups could never be saved:
(2) The severely mentally disabled,
(3) the Jews before Christ, or who lived in the far-flung expanses of the Empire before the Gospel arrived;(Needless to say, this can’t be right. Jesus depicts Abraham and Lazarus in Paradise in Luke 17, and they obviously didn’t explicitly know Him),
(4) Anyone else who lived before, or never heard of, Jesus Christ, but sought for Him (like Socrates, who died for the idea of a monotheistic God, and refused to worship the pagan gods, yet never heard of the Lord).
The early Christians soundly rejected this marring of Scripture. St. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, argued that Christ, being the Logos of God, was known to many who we might not consider “Christians”:
“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious.”
John – The first thing that came to mind in reading your post is that Paul states that God has been reconciled to humanity through the death of Jesus Christ. Accompanying this fact, Paul also calls people to respond to the Gospel by being reconciled to God, which puts a crimp on any unqualified notions of universalism. The central idea is that in the relationship between God and humanity the chief agent, God, has already been reconciled to us, but we, who are living wayward lives need to be reconciled to God on the foundation of God’s reconciliation toward us.
With this in mind, I imagine that come judgment day, many will excuse themselves from this reconciliation, because their pride will drive them to to stand upon something other than the free, but humbling reality that we, from the very bottom, can offer nothing to right ourselves, or gain favor with God. To make this concrete, I can picture Jesus standing at the entrance to heaven saying to all present, “You may come in, but you need to leave all the stuff by which you have established a sense of dignity, worth, and righteousness in this garbage can.” Many will say, “sounds good to me! It wasn’t worth much anyway.” Unfortunately many more will say, “How dare you ask me to trash this! I worked so hard to gain it, to gain my proper place. I will not suffer the indignity of going naked into your Kingdom. I will keep my stuff and go elsewhere.”
In writing this, I see how crazy it would be to refuse Jesus’ gracious offer, but, as scary as this is, I also see within me an insane impulse that remains, that would actually be tempted to join the latter group, because grace is inherently humbling.
H.C. – I don’t think the passage you referred to obviates what John said in the post above about our not knowing how God will specifically respond to people of other religions. In that passage John is clearly developing a polemic against the Jewish leaders who thought they were right with God by virtue of the Mosaic covenant, and their biological relationship to Abraham. Jesus’ critique of the Jewish elders is that they failed to see that both Abraham and Moses looked forward, in their own way, to the coming of the Messiah. Saying the same thing from a different perspective, Jesus’ critique of the elders was that they absolutized what was provisional, and consequently, because the Jewish leaders failed to let go of the provisional for the final (the coming of Jesus) they would die in their sins. This passage is specifically about Israel’s response, or better yet, lack of response to the completion of God’s work in Jesus.