There May be More Than One Way to God
by John Hendryx
Today I wish to propose and explore with you the possibility that belief in Jesus Christ may not be the only way to God. Now before you throw me out as a heretic please hear me through. Lets open the Bible together so we can plainly see that Jesus Himself speaks of another way.
But before we do that I would like for us to take a look at a debate that took place a couple years ago on the Donahue show between Phil Donahue and Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary. The context of the debate is the recent move by the Catholic church to no longer evangelize the Jews since they have stated that God has given them some kind of special plan or dispensation. This debate also typifies many of the debates that occur between Christians and non-Christians these days with regard to our exclusive claim that Christ is the only way to be saved for both Jew and Gentile. In Americaâ€™s current climate of postmodern, multicultural, political correctness, the claim by Christians that Christ is the only way gives rise to accusations of hate and intolerance as we shall see in the following excerpts of this interesting dialogue between Donahue, Albert Mohler & Rabbi Shmuley Boteach:
DONAHUE: Well, Dr. Mohler, sir, nice to see you again. Youâ€™re how many strong these days, the southern Baptists?
REV. ALBERT MOHLER, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER: About 16 million members, Phil, and about 40,000 churches. Itâ€™s good to be with you tonight.
DONAHUE: Thank you. Do these 16 million people believe Jews can go to heaven?
MOHLER: Southern Baptists, with other Christians, believe that all persons can go to heaven who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And there is no discrimination on the basis of ethnic or racial or national issues, related to who will go to the Scriptures. Itâ€™s those who are in Christ. The defining issue is faith in Christ.
DONAHUE: So a good Jew is not going to heaven.
MOHLER: Well, all persons are sinners in need of a savior. Jesus Christ is the sole mediator. And the gospel, we are told by the Apostle Paul, comes first to the Jews and then to the gentiles. And salvation is found in his name, and in his name alone, through faith in Christ.
DONAHUE: So if a Nazi killed a Jew, a good Jew, practicing Jew, the Jew goes to hell, but the Nazi still has a chance to get to heaven. That would be the consequence of your position.
MOHLER: Well, the gospel is not just for the worst of us. The gospel is for all of us. And the scripture tells us the hard truth, that all have sinned. And that Nazi guard is going to be punished for his sin, and it will be judged as sin. His only hope would be the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. And the profound truth of the gospel is that the salvation that can come to any person who comes to faith in Christ-can come to that Jew who was killed and to that guard who does the killing. Thatâ€™s the radical nature of the gospel.
DONAHUE: Well, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is with us. Youâ€™re author of â€œJudaism For Everyone.â€ You know, Reverend Mohler, this is such a vast organization. You have so many wonderful members. This just breeds anti-Semitism. I am sorry. You cannot possibly look a person in the eye and say, if you donâ€™t come to Jesus, if you donâ€™t change your faith, youâ€™re not going to heaven. Reeks of prejudice, and also stirs the soul to evil behavior, in my opinion.
MOHLER: Well, if the church had just come up with this in the 20th century as a novel idea, perhaps it should be subjected to such a critique. But this is the gospel that has been received from the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who said he came, first of all, for the people and children of Israel, and then also for the gentiles. And he himself declared that he is the way, the truth and the light, and no man comes to the Father but through him. He spoke as a man born of the Jewish race, but who was also the son of God.
DONAHUE: Well, three cheers for the Catholic bishops. And itâ€™s been a while since anybody has given them cheers. Well, Rabbi, it took us long enough, but we are no longer calling upon our faithful, Catholic faithful, to evangelize and convert the Jews. Praise the lord for that, whichever lord may be your favorite.
RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, AUTHOR, â€œJUDAISM FOR EVERYONEâ€: Amen. John Paul II is one of the great friends of the Jewish people. Christians are our brothers and sisters, but they have to finally acknowledge that there is a 2,000-year repulsive, malignant history of the church, of trying to spiritually annihilate Jews by removing every last Jew on the face of the earth and converting them to Christianity and Jesus. And Reverend Mohler, however intelligent of a scholar he may be, he is a spiritual Neanderthal with repulsive, revolting views. Because we know in history that Christian, anti-Judaism has always led to racial anti-Semitism. This is the modern equivalent, Phil, of spiritual terrorism. ....
OK I think you get the idea...
Today let's consider the Biblical, Theological and Philosophical consequences of Donahue and the Rabbi's position.
Biblical & Theological Consequences
But let's revisit my first comment that belief in Jesus Christ may not be the only way to God. In fact I am going to prove to you from the Scriptures that Jesus Himself spoke of a different way. But let's test this hypothesis to see if this way is open to us. I think Albert Mohler was courageous to go on the Donahue show to take a beating for speaking the truth. He had a good answers to their questions but I hope we can, perhaps, improve upon what he said rather than just sound like a broken record and speak in language that unbelievers do not necessarily understand. I believe it is our duty to take the time to explain exactly what we believe more clearly. Christian jargon and terminology often clouds the issue rather than clarifies it.
When Donahue said, "So a good Jew is not going to heaven." Instead of answering, "we are all sinners in need of a savior," as Mohler did, perhaps an even more memorable answer may have been "Yes, all good Jews will go to heaven, and not only Jews but all good people of all races will go to heaven. If they can live a good life, obey all the commandments, they will live (see Rom 2:6-8). When asked what must he do to gain eternal life by the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus said the same thing: "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." Matt 19:17
Let's take a closer look at that passage -- an exposÃ©:
Matt 19:16-26 The Rich Young Man
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
18"Which ones?" the man inquired.
19Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' "
20"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me."
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"
26Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
When Jesus says, â€œwhy do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good,â€ He is driving the point home right away that no one even approaches Godâ€™s holy standards. Someone might think he means by this verse that He Himself is not good but when weighed against other scripture (He who was without sin, became sin for usâ€¦He was tempted in every way as we were yet without sin and He says to the Pharisees Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?â€) it is obvious He had specific intentions in mind. His point here was to get the Rich man to see his own failure. Then He tells him â€œIf you want to enter life, keep the commandments.â€ Jesus is serious here I believe. He does not merely say believe in me and you will live since He knows his hearts' disposition and tailors the message specifically for him. He is saying if you can keep the commandments perfectly then you will live. But His point in doing so was to use the law to reveal his shortcomings. The object of these words is to expose the pride of his heart, and to reveal his absolute need of a Savior from sin due to the impossibility of keeping the law. The Rich man obviously didnâ€™t get it for he answered? Which ones? Jesus is showing unregenerate man that if he is to recover himself in this way he must perfectly keep the commandments without stumbling.
Next the rich man asked him which commandments to keep --- Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' " ---- Notice that Jesus mentions all the commandments in the second table of the law except for the last one (though shall not covet) since Jesus has in mind to expose his failure at this point. The man replies that he has keep all these commands since youth, which means that he still doesnâ€™t get it. But he feels there must be something more (which is right) so he asks what he still lacks. Jesus here finally pierces his dark soul where it hurt the most by telling him to sell everything and follow him. Jesus knew the man loved money and would be unwilling to let it go. His sin was exposed and he went away sad.
When Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." He is merely exposing this one man's vice. His disciples understood the ramifications of His statement that none can be saved when they asked, â€œWho then can be saved?â€
In other words the way to heaven is blocked for all men. The angel with the flaming sword has barred the way to the tree of life. Our spiritual condition before God is utterly bankrupt. There is no hope for a man to do anything that will win him acceptance with God. We are in God's debt; He is not in ours. But that which is impossible with man - salvation, is possible with God. We can contribute nothing and deserve God's wrath just like the next guy.
So now lets review my original statement once again that belief in Jesus is not the only way to God. We have discovered that there is indeed another way: Obey the commandments and you will live. The difficulty arises however, in that there is no one who fits that description. This little passage demonstrates the folly of any person who thinks they can reach God through obedience to His commandments, since our fallen condition leaves us spiritually impotent. To tell our fellow human beings that it is folly to trust in their own efforts to attain heaven, is not only the opposite of intolerance but is the most considerate thing we can do for them. We often fail to communicate that we also are sinners saved by grace and are not morally any better than they are.
Those who believe they are good enough to be pleasing to God have a low view of Godâ€™s holiness. If God can forgive sin and injustice without payment then He would have to commit an unjust act. One sin against an infinitely holy God is such an offense against His Person that it must be met with the outpouring of His fierce wrath if justice is to be satisfied. He is pure justice and for Him to accept anything less than sinless perfection from us would render Him less than God. Therefore, the question from the world should not be how could a just God send anyone to hell; it should be how can a just God send anyone to heaven and remain just? Those who believe that if we live a relatively good life can win Godâ€™s acceptance/approval have a god that is too small; a god that is not perfectly just and a god that is not holy. In other words, it is a sad excuse for a god: A man-made god. But God owes no man anything. He is no manâ€™s debtor. Anyone who says that God should reward those who are good are actually saying that God owes them. Their decent, moral life has placed God in their debt. Furthermore, those who believe that God wonâ€™t judge sin are pinning their hopes on an unjust god. Donahue's only real hope is that God will overlook all injustices. This god is neither holy nor just, therefore it is a corrupt god. If God is not perfectly holy and just then He is not God and has horrible imperfections.
So then why is Jesus the only way?
Where Adam failed Jesus succeeded. Where Adam disobeyed, Jesus obeyed. God required of us a perfect obedience to His law and we all failed. But God looked upon us in mercy, became flesh in order to fulfill the covenant from our side.
As a human being Jesus was the second Adam. While we justly deserve God's wrath for breaking the law of a holy God, Jesus obeyed God's commands perfectly, the only human being ever to do so. At every moment of his life he fully obeyed the ten commandments and the highest ideal to love God with all His heart, mind, soul and strength and love His neighbor as Himself. He was tempted in every way as we were yet without sin. Temptation is a neutral term meaning to test. He never internalized nor desired sin ever in His life, thus God was fully pleased with Him. He took every thought captive and made it obedient to God. He did all this for us so that He might bear the wrath of God on our behalf. God's wrath is now turned aside from us.
John MacArthur once said that there are two religions in the world: human attainment and divine accomplishment. All other religions in the world trust in some degree in human merit for salvation. Christianity alone understands we have fallen short of God's demands and can find life only by trusting in the only one is history to have obeyed the covenant.
There is an element of human pride in all other attempts. The Donahue's of the world who think good intentions will get us to heaven are like the Pharisee who prays in the temple, "thank you God that I am not like other men; adulterers, thieves and like this tax collector over here. I obey and give a tenth of all I have. In Donahue's case, "thank you God that I am not like this Nazi." Do you see the connection/ He is boasting in his relatively decent life and thinks that now God somehow owes Him heaven. He is trusting in his own merit but forgetting that he falls woefully short of God's demands on his life. The tax collector understands his own spiritual bankruptcy however. He looks down and beats his chest saying, "forgive me Lord, the sinner. Jesus said it was he that went home justified.
As Christians this should be our character. We should always keep in mind in every situation that but for the grace of God we would be lost. There is nothing to boast of in ourselves or our good works. We are not in God's favor because we are any better than the pagans and may I suggest that, in many instances, pagans may have lived a more moral life than you or I.
Brokeness before God is his requirement for us and it is only by grace that we even have this realization. All trust in our merit, flesh or abilities will fail. So when Donahue asks if a good person will go to heaven, the answer is the same one Jesus gave. Yes he would - obey the commandments and you will live, but there is no one who is good but God alone. This devastates any hope of heaven through self effort. The Law drives us to God's mercy and it is found in Jesus alone.
We must first be totally convinced of our woeful condition and Godâ€™s holy perfection. If people better understood the inconsistent position they have in believing in a less than holy God and that the true God is holy and just then our position before Him becomes more clear. We also need to do a better job explaining what fallen or natural manâ€™s condition is. Christian jargon that we are all familiar with needs to be defined, explained to an unbeliever. "Pretend" they have no knowledge at all of Christianity and start from the beginning rather than first saying that that God loves them but they are sinners and need Jesus. Such a statement would be meaningless, or worse to someone who has never been to church. I believe it is important that we go into detail about manâ€™s spiritually bankrupt state and our present condition before God. Explain it.
But we can tell people that if you are confident that they have never sinned against God's revealed law, then of course they don't need Jesus. Jesus is for sinners not for people who are good enough to please God on their own.
â€œNatural religion in all its forms presupposes holy character and conduct as the essential antecedent condition of God's favor. Christianity in all its genuine forms presupposes the favor of God as the essential antecedent condition of holy character and conduct.â€ - A.A. Hodge
"The idea that there are really no substantive differences between religions needs to be held up to careful scrutiny and declared fraudulent. For example, Islam says that Jesus was not crucified. Christianity says He was. Only one of us can be right. Judaism says Jesus was not the Messiah. Christianity says He was. Only one of us can be right. Hinduism says God has often been incarnate. Christianity says God was incarnate only in Jesus. We cannot both be right. Buddhism says that the world's miseries will end when we do what is right. Christianity says we cannot do what is right. The world's miseries will end when we believe what is right" - Alistar Begg, Made For His Pleasure , 126
There are other problems of a philosophical nature to consider with Donahue's position...
The position is basically that Christianity is not true because it is intolerant and judgmental. The problem with the position is that even those who deny truthâ€™s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. They are themselves taking a position of truth â€¦ a belief that all ways are true as long as they do not claim exclusivity, but in doing so it establishes its own truth claim which excludes others who do not believe all ways are true, thereby canceling itself out. They say "stop being intolerant by claiming Christ is the only way" while their very statement has intolerantly imposing its own values on Christians with the intent that they will conform to their political correctness. They have become their own worst enemy, in other words...self-contradictory. Christians know they are claiming Jesus to be exclusive and must always bring truth and love together. Historically we have certainly been guilty of losing balance to one side or the other and we must always remain vigilant to never lose sight of both. But post-moderns often fail to see their own hypocrisy since their tolerance; their highest virtue is often used as a weapon of intolerance.
Lets look closer at the well-known parable of the elephant as described by John Bowen: â€œBlind men are trying to discover the nature of an elephant. Yet each offers a different description, according to the part of the elephant he touches. The one who feels the head concludes that an elephant is like a pot; the one with the ear says, `An elephant is like a winnowing basket;' the one feeling the tusk argues that an elephant is like a plough share; and so on. The conclusion is obvious: religious views are different because each grasps only a portion of the truth. The differences are more apparent than real. The truth is only to be found in taking all the parts togetherâ€¦[but] how do the observers come to be in a position of omniscience, able to survey the whole scene, superior to everyone else, sighted while others are blind? By what right do they say, `This is how things really are'? The parable claims to show that nobody has `objective truth'. Unfortunately, the story itself claims to be the objective truth about world religions and Ultimate Reality! â€œ
â€œWhat initially appears to be a benign and liberal analogy proves in fact to be just as intolerant of diversity as the views it seeks to relativize maybe more so because it appears at first sight to be so broad minded.â€
To conclude, let's have a closer look at a part of the Westminster Confession. It shines a light and clarifies what we just considered.
Note: The Westminster Confession Chapter 7 Of God's Covenant with Man. States:
II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.