“One Option or the Only Way?” (John 14:1-6)
We live in an age of religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is the belief that there are a plurality of religions, many religions, that can work. No one religion has a corner on the truth. All religions are equally valid. What really matters is you being a good person, however that is defined. So whatever religion you choose, that is your choice, and that’s fine for you. Your religion is just one option among many equally valid options. All roads lead to heaven.
And going along with that idea, then, is this: You can’t tell me that my religion is wrong. You cannot say that one religion is right and all the rest are wrong. There can be no such thing as exclusive truth claims for any one religion. No, that would be intolerant, and that’s the worst thing you can be.
So this religious pluralism raises the question about Christianity: Is Jesus just one option among many? Or is he, instead, the only way to God, the only way to eternal salvation? To put it more briefly: Is Jesus just “One Option or the Only Way?”
In Bible class these days, we’re studying the book, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? 12 False Christs.” And one of those false christs that are popular in our culture today is that of Jesus as just one option among many. The author tells the story of a young man, Tamar, he met in a coffee shop who held this view. Even though Tamar had been brought up in a Christian household, nevertheless he held this belief in religious pluralism. He is quoted as saying: “You know, I have this gut feeling that all the religions of the world lead to the same place.” Your religion is “one of the many avenues and ways to heaven, or nirvana, or the pearly gates–whatever you want to call it.” And about Jesus? “Jesus? He is for sure the real thing, just like all those other spiritual gurus. The way that I see it, all those dudes like Jesus, Muhammad, and Confucius are superspiritual guys who have their own spin on the human experience and the way to the afterlife. Jesus is just one option among many.”
And so Tamar has to construct a Jesus in his mind who goes along with what he, Tamar, thinks, even if that’s not the Jesus we meet in the Bible. Tamar would say: “People forget that Jesus is all about tolerance and not hate–after all, that’s what he taught. So, yeah, I guess I subscribe to the non-hater Jesus who accepts everyone.” To Tamar, for someone to make an exclusive truth claim about his particular religion–that is being intolerant, and it qualifies as hate speech.
Well, there you have it, religious pluralism in a nutshell. Any religion–including Christianity, the Jesus religion–any religion is just one option among many. You can’t say there is only one way. This viewpoint is very common in our culture today; it is political correctness applied to religion. And you may have friends and neighbors and family members who feel this way.
But how does it square up with the Jesus we meet in the Bible? Is this kind of religious pluralism that Tamar imagines Jesus taught–is it what the real Jesus really taught? Or did he teach something else, something different? Let’s find out.
In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Whoa! That sounds pretty exclusive! Surely you don’t mean that, Jesus! You must mean, “I am a way, one of many ways that lead to God. I am a truth, one facet of the multifaceted variety of truths that all religions contribute toward. I am a life, one possible lifestyle to choose, if that works for you. Isn’t that what you meant, Jesus? And this ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’? Gee, isn’t that being rather narrow-minded, to think that you, and you alone, are the only way to God? Come on, Jesus, get with the program! You can’t go around talking like that!”
Well, Jesus can, and he does. You see, John 14:6 is not the only place where Jesus makes this sort of exclusive truth claim about himself. Elsewhere you’ll find the same kind of talk. In John chapter 5, Jesus says that the Father “has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” And in Matthew 28, the risen Christ says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me.” These are pretty exclusive claims that Jesus is making, and more could be added.
Likewise, the whole rest of the New Testament speaks the same way. In 1 John, the apostle writes: “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” And again: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” These are strong, exclusive claims. They exclude all those religions that deny that Jesus is the one and only Son of God, and those religions are many. They may pay some lip-service to Jesus, but they would deny that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God come in the flesh, the only way to know God, and the only way to have eternal life. But that is precisely what Christianity teaches. They cannot both be true.
In the Book of Acts, the apostle Peter was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, because he had been teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus–whom that same Sanhedrin had gotten crucified. But Peter would not let their intimidation stop him. In Acts 4:12, he tells them straight out about Jesus: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” No other name! You can’t get any more exclusive than that! No other name! Not Allah, not Mohammed, not Buddha–no other name than Jesus that can save you.
And really you cannot reconcile Christianity with, for example, Islam. They cannot both be true. The Muslims will say, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” But Christians must say, “There is no God called Allah. He is a made-up, false god, an idol, who does not line up with the God of the Bible, the one true God, who made the heaven and earth. There is no God called Allah, and Mohammed is his false prophet.”
You cannot reconcile two very different religions with exclusive and yet contradictory truth claims. It may be a good thing if their adherents can coexist in the sense of living together on this planet without killing each other. But they cannot coexist in the sense of both being true.
So Christianity, which is all about the real Jesus, is a very exclusive religion. It admits no other way to God and salvation. There is no other way, other than Jesus. But here’s the thing: Christianity is totally exclusive, but at the same time it is totally inclusive, as well. Meaning, it is for everybody. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the one and only Savior, but he is the one and only Savior for all people. That is God’s will. That is God’s plan. God, who created us all, all people of all times and all places and all races–the one true God has sent us the one true Savior to be the solution for our one common problem, which infects all of mankind. And that problem is sin. Jesus is the Savior from sin, and thus from death, for all people.
In 1 Timothy 2, we read that God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” This passage captures both the exclusivity and the inclusivity of God’s will and God’s plan. The exclusivity, in that there is only one God, not many gods. There is only one mediator, not many mediators, between God and men, and that mediator is Christ Jesus. He is the only go-between who can bridge the gap.
The gap was there because of our sin. That is a universal problem, affecting–and infecting–all mankind. One common sin infects us all. All men sin. All men die. All of us–you and me and the man in Saudi Arabia and the woman in Southeast Asia and the child in South America–all of us alike have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
So we need a Savior, to save us from our sin and death. And here is where we see the inclusivity of the gospel! For God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” All people! Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.” For all! All are included in the redemption Christ won for us on the cross. Jesus gave himself as the sacrifice for all sins of all people in all times and places. His holy blood covers us all. No one is left out! God wants all men everywhere to come to faith in Christ, the one Savior for all people.
So the gospel is both totally exclusive and totally inclusive at the same time. It is totally exclusive: Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. Contrary to the religious pluralists, Jesus is not merely one option among many. And the gospel of Christ is also totally inclusive: He died for all, all people everywhere, including you! This same Jesus now lives and reigns forever, and the good news of Christ is going out into all the world, calling all men everywhere to faith and life in him.
The good news of Christ–the real Jesus–has come to us, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. And so we pray to our Lord:
You are the way, the truth, the life;
Grant us that way to know,
That truth to keep, that life to win
Whose joys eternal flow.