When we met for the first “Grace at Night” event on 5:00pm February 28th we discussed the question of “Why Jesus?”
i.e. Why do Christians insist that Jesus is the only way to God? Isn’t that a bit eXtreme?
We very briefly talked about some of the objections made to this idea and provided some food for thought in response.
1. All religions are the same and teach the same thing
On a very superficial level this might appear to be the case. Rather than being an objection to Christianity it is a dismissal and refusal to consider and discuss the claims of Christ. No one, thinking seriously, is going to assert that suicide cults or groups that sexually molest children are equivalent to nominal Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or any other main stream religion today. They are vastly different in their beliefs and practices. However even for those religions that do have some commonality there are still huge differences. Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic (believe in and worship one supreme God). Yet they have vastly different and contradicting views about God’s character, attributes and form. Christians understand that Jesus was in fact God born in flesh and that he died in our place. Islam does not accept that God could assume human form, let alone, die physically. If we look further afield, Buddhism does not even recognize the existence of a God, personal or otherwise. So Religions are not the same nor are they teaching the same thing.
2. Each religion sees part of the spiritual truth, but no-one can see the whole truth
This is an appeal to a well know anecdotal account of the Wise King, Four Blind men & the Elephant – However it misses the undeniable logic that understanding the parable requires an omniscient perspective. How else could you know that the blind men only experienced part of the elephant unless you are in a position where you claim you can see all it. It sounds like a protest that spiritual truth is beyond our ability to grasp. Yet, using this logic, that becomes arrogance. What is the superior vantage point that you alone posses to see the inadequacies of everyone else? The only way you can insist everyone has a part of the truth is if you have all of it or are in a position superior to everyone else.
3. There is no such thing as Universal truth
There are conditions and dependencies in where we live and how we’re raised that influence our beliefs. The argument goes that because we are all to a certain extent affected by our history and geography we can’t claim to compare or judge against others in differing circumstances with opposing beliefs. In other words, Truth is relative. But, if you don’t draw a distinction, relativism itself is relative and therefore not applicable – which leads to nonsense. All of us make a decision about what affirmations about God, human nature and spiritual reality are true and what are false and we base our life on that decision. You cannot say, no-one is able to objectively determine what beliefs are right and wrong unless you also admit that of your own. We all make truth claims that are exclusive and we all compare them to others and judge against their validity.
So where does this leave Jesus and Christianity?
As Tim Keller notes in “The Reason for God“:
A Christian has the strongest possible resource for practicing humble, sacrificial, generous peace-making. At the center of our view of reality is a man who died for his enemies and paid the price for their forgiveness. Genuine reflection upon that leads to a vastly different way of dealing with those who are different. As and when you follow Jesus you are not going to act in violence and oppression towards those that oppose you. Now, many calling themselves Christian have done just that. But their inconsistency does not undermine that the strength of Christianity’s core beliefs is a powerful motivation for peace-making.
The central problem of man kind and Why Jesus deals with it
Christians accept the Bible’s diagnosis that our main problem is sin. Other religions agree with that – yet that does not compel them to Jesus. Why not use another religion or my own ideas about God to address the problem?
The difference is subtle. All religions (and so-called non-religions) have the tenent that their leader/teacher/guru/guide/etc shows them the way of salvation. Keeping commands, following rituals, absolution, mental ascension etc.
Whereas in Christianity, Jesus IS the way of salvation.
Religion / irreligion both teach the way of salvation is self-improvement. What that looks like and how it is achieved differs from group to group – but that is the essence of it. Despite all your attempts at personal morality, keeping the rules, recycling your waste, changing your light bulbs, reducing your carbon footprint, donating a fortune to charity – you are relying on your efforts to be good enough and to outweigh anything you might have done wrong.
The inevitable result is pride and arrogance towards those who don’t follow the same set of rules and you chose to separate yourself from God’s offer of grace in Jesus.
The attacks and riots recently against Christians in India and Malaysia or the attacks and riots in Denmark recently when a newspaper cartoonist satirized Mohammad typify the extreme of a prejudice against those who don’t follow the same rules. Just like the criticism and attacks against Christianity in Western media either in the guise of comedy or current affairs – what they say is “If you don’t agree with me, you are stupid“.
Regardless, Jesus offers Himself as our saviour – that’s what Christianity is all about. Stop trying to save yourself from yourself and put your faith in Jesus alone. To do anything else will damn you, because your sin, instead of being dealt with, has increased and become worse. God wants, through Jesus, to exchange your sin for His life.
That is why we have statements like this in the Bible:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36
If you exclude salvation through Jesus – you damn yourself, because you and I cannot possibly attain God’s perfection.
Keller refers to Victor Hugo’s ‘Le Miserables’. Jean Valjean steals silver from a Bishop, is arrested and brought back. The Bishop gives him even more silver and releases him from arrest. That pardon transformed Valjean from self-pity and bitterness to graciousness and generosity. Javert, the policeman is the rule keeping moralist intent on hunting down Valjean. Through the twists of the story, it is Javert who falls into Valjean’s hands. Instead of killing him, he lets him go. Javert can’t deal with this change in Valjean – it doesn’t fit his picture of what a criminal is like and so he kills himself.
God gives us his grace through Jesus and IF we receive it, it so transforms us that we are unrecognisable. The religionist will freak out in despair, because this contradicts their rules. Religion is all about – do this, don’t do that and sooner or later you will reach heaven. Jesus says, you don’t need to try to get yourself to heaven, I have come down from heaven to give you life.
Christians insist that Jesus is the only way to God, because no amount of belief or religious practices will ever deal with the problem of our sin and pride. Jesus alone, is the way of our release and rescue.
The Christian who tries to live his life otherwise is living a lie. Christians need Jesus just a much as everyone else. Paul tells us that through Jesus we live and unlike Jean Valjean we don’t receive a bag of silver, we receive forgiveness and new life.
the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me – Gal 2:20