When we read of the teaching and actions of Jesus, it becomes clear that Jesus is nothing if not inclusive. He is free with forgiveness, healing, and acceptance and is not at all the sort of person who creates barriers. It is Jesus who ate and interacted with those that many considered unsavory—women (even women of doubtful reputation), tax collectors, lepers, the mentally ill (demon-possessed), common sinners, and even Pharisees!
It is Jesus who went outside of Judaism altogether to interact positively with a Samaritan woman, a Canaanite woman, and a Roman Centurion—people of different religions. Last time we talked about Jesus and other religions.
It seems that Jesus had no restrictions; Jesus was totally inclusive. Yet some believers insist that Jesus really IS exclusive and sets firm boundaries between those who choose to follow him in the right way and those who do not or who might not have even heard of him. And they offer proof-texts to prove it!
Does the Bible Say Jesus is the Only Way?
The favorite and most mentioned proof-text is found in John 14:
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
“There you have it! Jesus is the only way to God.” Perhaps the next most popular proof-text is in Acts 4:
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
“There you have it! Salvation is found in no one else.” But hold on just a minute! Let’s look more closely at these passages.
The context of John 14 is that Jesus is about to be arrested and executed. Jesus assures his disciples that he is preparing a place for them in the Father’s ‘house’ and tells them they know the way to where he is going. Thomas objects that they do NOT know the way, to which Jesus answers ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
I can accept that. Jesus has told them of the loving Father/Mother and now informs them that he, Jesus, is the way to that source of great love. As God’s uniquely appointed representative, Jesus teaches us the most important things about God—his/her desire to bring us personal peace, heal our brokenness, and reconcile us to God, ourselves, and others.
Interestingly, Jesus does not say much about other aspects of God such as his/her metaphysics or mode of existence. Jesus focuses on God’s character—and he does so like no other religious teacher can because he knows God.
The second proof text (Acts 4) is part of a speech by Peter after being questioned about his authority to heal a lame man. Peter replies:
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed…Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
Peter focuses on Jesus and his resurrection to life, but how is Jesus the only way for us to be saved? In fact, I would ask: ‘Saved from what?’ Many would say we are ‘saved’ from ‘hell’ so we can go to ‘heaven’ when we die, but I suggest that what we are saved from is the ultimate power of evil and the finality of death. Jesus being raised from death by God demonstrates our possibility of avoiding the finality of death as well.
Are Those of Other Religions Excluded from Eternal Life?
Going back to the original question in the title, “Is Jesus the Only Way to Life?”, I conclude that the answer is ‘Yes’. Jesus is the only one who secures eternal life for us. But many believers argue that accessing eternal life requires understanding what Jesus has done and personally responding by going through a ritual of ‘repentance’, ‘confession’, ‘accepting’ Jesus in our heart, and becoming a ‘Christian’–and that we must do this before we die. Otherwise we are still doomed to eternal punishment in ‘hell’.
So is Jesus the only way to eternal life, or is ritual the only way to eternal life? Let us revisit the question in light of these assumptions. “Is personally accepting Jesus in this way the only way to eternal life?” I say ‘NO! Jesus never indicates that one must go through some fabricated ritual to receive eternal life; Jesus has no tricks, secret handshakes, or obscure conditions to receiving eternal life; and Jesus never suggests that we must commit to some specific system of beliefs (or doctrine) in order to have eternal life.
But John 10 reports something interesting that Jesus DID say:
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Who are these mysterious sheep that are not of this pen? Other Jews? Other nationalities? Other religions? Jesus does not explain further but, as always, he demonstrates an attitude, not of exclusiveness, but of inclusiveness. He offers eternal life without rigid and arbitrary conditions.
Will Everyone Have Eternal Life After Death?
I believe eternal life after death is available to everyone; so is this, then, Universalism? Will everyone who ever lived have eternal life after death? Not necessarily. I think free will is an issue; there may be some who don’t want eternal life for certain reasons, and I don’t think God overrides a person’s free will to impose eternal life on them by force. We will talk about that next time.
Articles in this series: Jesus, World Religions, and Eternal Life
- Do All Religions Lead to the Same Place? Not Really
- ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’; Is Jesus the Only Way to Life? Yes and No
- Will Everyone Live Forever with God After Death? Not Necessarily!
- Hell? Conditional Immortality? Something Else? What Happens to Those Who Reject God?
- If Most Everyone Will Have Eternal Life with God Anyway, then Why Do We Need to Share the Good News of Jesus?
- 3 Reasons Why Loving Others is Not All There Is to Following Jesus