A reporter for one of the network news programs called to ask me about the resurgence of interest in spirituality around the country. We had an amiable chat for a while — until I mentioned that it was my hope that all those who were experimenting with various belief systems would eventually meet Jesus.
Instantly the conversation turned cold. “Are you telling me that two-thirds of the world is going to hell because they’ve never heard of Christ?” he angrily demanded. The tone of his voice made it clear: he was accusing me of being narrow-minded, bigoted, and snobbish.
He didn’t linger long enough for me to defend myself, but ultimately his argument isn’t with me. It’s with Jesus. Because in the single most outrageous claim he ever uttered, Jesus announced, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Out of all the incredible statements by Jesus, this exorbitant assertion has the greatest tendency to outrage people. Many consider it arrogant, intolerant, and politically incorrect. Even Jesus’ claim to being divine doesn’t upset people the way this declaration does. In fact, while I was in India, I had an encounter that many other Christians also have experienced there: I told some Hindus that Jesus was God, and they replied, “No problem!”
I was perplexed. “You’re saying that you accept the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” I asked.
“Sure,” they said. “We have millions of gods. There’s no problem adding Jesus.”
But when I said, “No, you don’t understand — Jesus said he’s the only Son of God, and the only path that leads to eternal life,” that’s when they got indignant and drew the line.
One reason Jesus’ exclusivity claim is so controversial is because it contradicts the popularly held viewpoint that all religions are basically the same. In other words, there are a variety of paths that people can take in their spiritual journey, and they all eventually lead to the same God. When you strip them down to their essential beliefs, every religion is similar, although they may use different languages and rituals in teaching God’s universal nature.
However, Jesus’ outlandish claim to being the only way to God puts Christianity in a class by itself. By contending that he is the only route to God, Jesus is alleging that Christianity is unique and that it therefore cannot be reconciled with any other religion in the world. For example, it has been said:
- Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to find truth,” but Jesus says, “I am the truth.”
- Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I’ll show you the way to salvation,” but Jesus says, “I am the way to eternal life.”
- Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to become enlightened,” but Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
- Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I’ll show you many doors that lead to God,” but Jesus says, “I am the door.” Then Jesus says, “So follow me.”
Do you see the difference?
For a long time people have tried to harmonize the various religions of the world. In fact, that’s what one faith, Baha’i, is all about. However, there are drastic and irreconcilable theological conflicts between Christianity and all other faith systems.
To use a popular illustration, all other religions are spelled “D-O.” That is, they are based on people doing something, through their struggling and striving, to somehow earn the good favor of God. Adherents must go on a pilgrimage, give alms to the poor, scrupulously maintain a diet, perform good deeds, chant the right words, use a Tibetan prayer wheel, go through a series of reincarnations, or faithfully follow some other religious drills. These are the attempts of people to reach out to God.
By contrast, Christianity is spelled “D-O-N-E,” because it’s based on what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. The Bible teaches that we’re all spiritual rebels and that nobody can do anything to merit heaven, but that Jesus died as our substitute on the cross and is offering forgiveness and eternal life as a gift of his grace. Christianity, then, is God reaching out to us.
Other religious leaders can offer pithy and helpful insights, but only Jesus — because he is the unique and perfect Son of God — is qualified to offer himself as payment for our wrongdoing. No leader of any other major religion even pretends to be able to do that. “Moses could mediate on the law; Mohammed could brandish a sword; Buddha could give personal counsel; Confucius could offer wise sayings,” said theologian R. C. Sproul, “but none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world.”
This element of grace is unique to Christianity. As one scholar pointed out, the contrast becomes stark when you compare a parable taught by Jesus with a similar story found in Buddhist literature. Both stories involve sons who became rebellious and left home but later recognized the error of their way and decided to return.
In the Buddhist story, the errant son is required to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds by spending years in servitude. But the Christian parable concludes with the prodigal son receiving a warm welcome from his father and being showered with undeserved forgiveness.
The message of grace — “done” — and the message of working off past wrongs — “do” — are fundamentally incompatible. It wouldn’t make sense that both could come from the same God. After all, God isn’t schizophrenic. It would be unlikely that a God who embodies love and truth would go to one side of the planet and say, “Pssst! Let me tell you how you can become reconciled with me,” then go to another spot on the globe and describe a completely contradictory way for humans to understand and worship him, and tell yet a third population something totally new.
Instead, it seems logical that God would provide one path for us to follow in finding him and that he would reveal that path in an extraordinary and unprecedented manner — which he did by sending Jesus Christ to enter human history.
So it does matter which route you take in your spiritual journey. As incredible as it sounds, Jesus is saying that all other routes are ultimately dead ends, but his is the way to God.
Statistics show that 84 percent of Americans already believe in the credentials of Jesus Christ. They’re convinced that he’s God or the Son of God. Maybe you’re part of that majority. But if you’ve never acted on that belief, it’s my hope that you’ll let him rescue you from your otherwise hopeless situation by praying to receive Christ as your forgiver and leader.
Excerpt from God’s Outrageous Claims by Lee Strobel
Copyright © 2005 Lee Strobel. Published by Zondervan, used with permission.