‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’; Is Jesus the Only Way to Life? Yes and No

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

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20 Responses to ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’; Is Jesus the Only Way to Life? Yes and No

  1. Rich says:

    This is my feeling.

    ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

    I interpret this as “Mine is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through my way.”

    If Jesus is focused on God’s character and Jesus is the human reflection of God’s character, then it follows that we should act as he does! We should love one another and love God. We should not turn from those in need, but have compassion. Jesus did not hold his compassion from those who were not his followers or even the followers of Judaism, but rather demonstrated an abiding love for all. As the Gospel of John declares, God is Love, so is Jesus. The character that we should emulate is Love.

    Are there people of other religious backgrounds that know this and live this way without ever hearing the name of Jesus? YES! Have their religious backgrounds given them the knowledge of the true way to the father? YES! Was their teaching as fundamentally pure? Maybe not. Does it matter? ………..

    Jesus is a model. He is a perfect reflection of God the Father in human form. Whether he was more than that will be debated forever. To me “Mine is the way and the truth and the life.” And it is enough. Those who declare that the NAME of Jesus is the proof of faith actually take away from another saying. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    It is in knowing the character of God AND Jesus, then living a life in agreement with that knowledge; it is by attempting to project God’s love in our daily lives, that we can be perfect. We WILL fail out of our humanness and that will be sin. But when that happens ask forgiveness and FOLLOW THE WAY anew.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Well said, Rich! And I like your statement, ‘Those who declare that the NAME of Jesus is the proof of faith actually take away from another saying. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ‘

      Like

  2. I really like the part where you said, “Jesus doesn’t have any secret handshakes.” Very good!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Yeah, Nickel Boy, I know! Doesn’t it seem as though some believers think in terms of secret code words and handshakes? But I don’t think Jesus does.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. newtonfinn says:

    I have always been struck by the teaching of Jesus (which is often overlooked because it is lumped together with many other sayings in one of those long-winded discourses in John) that when one believes in Jesus, he believes not in him but in He who sent him; seeing Jesus, he sees Him. When read with an open and discerning mind, John is a fertile source of such “synoptic” teachings that clarify and amplify the kingdom-centered, as opposed to Christ-centered, sayings and parables found in Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

    It was in this spirit that I rearranged the wording and context of “I am the way and the truth and the life” when I wrote my “Life of Truth” gospel. Instead of John’s Christ-centered announcement, I allowed the saying to operate in a kingdom-centered way by placing it into the context of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Jesus tells Pilate, responding to an allegation that he has been preaching allegiance to a kingdom other than Rome, that his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate laughs at this answer and asks mockingly where his kingdom is, what is the way? Jesus responds: “The way is a life of truth,” and thus the title of my little reworked gospel.

    Pilate’s sneering rejoinder to Jesus–“And what is truth?”–is, of course, rich with irony, in that Pilate, so full of himself and so familiar with the knowledge of this world, what is sometimes called realpolitik, is unable to recognize genuine truth when it is standing right in front of him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. tonycutty says:

    “Jesus has no … secret handshakes…” I love this 🙂 As, I see, does another of your readers aboe 🙂

    I think you have exactly the right balance in this piece, Tim. I especially loved the description of the inclusiveness of Jesus’s words. In fact, it’s the only theory that really makes any sense.

    I am always reminded of the words of the character ‘Emeth’ (whose name aparently means ‘Truth’; I think it mught be Turkish or something like that) in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’:

    “But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me”.” Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”

      Tony, you cannot imagine the tremendous impact this passage made on me when I read it many decades ago. It was a huge turning point for me in dismissing the restrictions fundamentalists put on God. Thanks for sharing it here.

      Like

  5. sheila0405 says:

    I don’t believe “John’s” Gospel should even be in the NT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I agree that John must be read with a measure of discernment. He does de-emphasize the humanity of Jesus and also speaks to John’s particular agenda in places, as I think all the gospel writers do to some extent. But I think we would be quite impoverished without some of John’s contributions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sheila0405 says:

        I completely understand why it’s in the canon. I disagree with that decision, though. If course it gives believers more depth. My question is: is it accurate? That’s all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • newtonfinn says:

          John is a strange blend of the historical and unhistorical. When I was at seminary many years ago, we were taught that while John obviously differed from the synoptic gospels in both the style and substance of Jesus’ teaching, there were little gems of sayings and parables, similar to the synoptics, interspersed among the long, lofty discourses. Indeed, they are easy to find if you know what to look for. Also, the geography of John, we seminary students were told, is uncannily accurate, unlike the other gospels which are somewhat sloppy in this regard. Jesus’ locations and movements make perfect sense in John, given what we now know from archaeology about ancient Palestine and Jerusalem. When John said Jesus went up this way or down that way, even the topography in John is accurate. Perhaps NT scholarship no longer holds this view held some 40 years ago, but if it still does (and I think it does), then it makes you wonder a little more about the uniqueness of the fourth gospel.

          Liked by 2 people

          • sheila0405 says:

            In the debates I watch, both the 4 Gospels & Acts are pointed out as geographically accurate. I believe Jesus lived in the time & places of the Gospels; I don’t believe he was divine.

            Liked by 1 person

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  7. michaeleeast says:

    Merely accepting Jesus or his name does nothing.
    Jesus himself is like a signpost – it is by following his teachings that we are saved.
    Love God and love your neighbor.
    It is love that saves us.
    From ourselves/From evil in the world.
    Because God is Love.
    And love gives us Life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I agree with what you say, but I think Jesus’ resurrection is important to our life here and also after death. I think this is a significance beyond just following his teaching and example, which of course is of great importance.

      Like

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