Exclusivity in Christ, Yet Not in Christianity
Exclusivity in Christ, Yet Not in Christianity. That is a dangerous title, which could be easily misunderstood. Yet the title addresses a distinction that needs to be made in the modern thinking of today’s ‘Christianity’. May God bless us to see that the exclusivity of Christ even excludes the necessity of Christianity as a means to eternal salvation.
The Bible firmly proclaims that Christ is the exclusive way to eternal salvation. Jesus is the sole way. Jesus is the whole way. Jesus is the only way and the total way to salvation.
Joh 14:5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Joh 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (Emphasis added.)
Act 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Emphasis added.)
If Jesus is the exclusive way to heaven, that eliminates everybody else. One Man—One Name—One Way—Jesus Christ. No other man—no other name—no other way—only Jesus Christ. Nobody will ever get to heaven through the name, Mohammed. Nobody has ever gotten to heaven through the name, Buddha. There is no power in a totem pole or a sacred cow to get anybody to heaven. Nobody who finally makes it to heaven will be there through anybody’s name except Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to get to heaven.
If Jesus is the exclusive way to heaven, then that eliminates not only everybody else, but also everything else. If Jesus is the exclusive way to heaven, then that even eliminates Christianity as the way to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way.” Jesus did not say anything about Christianity being the way. The only way to get to heaven is through Christ, but people can get to heaven without going through Christianity. I believe that Christ can get people to heaven who were never Christian. I believe that Muslims will be in heaven, but they won’t be there through Mohammed. They will be there through Jesus Christ. There is an important distinction between Jesus being the way and ‘being a Christian’ being the way. There is a big difference in Jesus being the way and ‘knowing Jesus is the way’ being the way. I believe Jesus can get people to heaven who never knew He was the way.
Thomas asked, “How can we know the way?” Apparently Thomas did not know the way. If he had known the way, he would not have asked the question. Thomas had been with Jesus for three years, yet he still did not know that Jesus is the way. It is not that Jesus had not taught this already. Maybe some people just don’t listen closely to the preacher. Thomas did not yet know the way, but sensed a need to know the way. Maybe Thomas was concerned about how Thomas could get himself to heaven. If there was a way to get to heaven, then Thomas needed to get on that way. Yet how in the world could he get himself there, if he didn’t even know the way?
Jesus answered, “I am the way.” Did you catch that Thomas? Jesus is the way that you get to heaven. Jesus did not say to Thomas, “Thomas, you knowing that I am the way is the way.” Do you see a distinction between these two ideas? Thomas did not need to know that Jesus is the way, in order for Jesus to be the way. Thomas did not have to know the way to get to heaven, in order for Thomas to get to heaven. If Thomas had died prior to knowing that Jesus is the way, he would have still gone to heaven. Thomas had been willing to die with Jesus in John 11. Surely anybody who is willing to die with Jesus in this world is going to finally live with Jesus in heaven. Surely Thomas was heaven-bound before he asked the question. Jesus is sufficient to take those to heaven who do not know that He is the way. Yet Thomas did need to know that Jesus is the way, in order for Thomas to have peace and assurance about Thomas getting to heaven. Once Thomas came to know and understand that Jesus is the way, he could experience peace of mind concerning his eternal destiny.
In a sense this idea of ‘Thomas having to know the way in order for Jesus to be the way’ is what many proclaim today. Modern preachers go farther than declaring that Jesus is the way to heaven. They go on to teach that you have to know that Jesus is the way before you can get to heaven. I believe there are many people already in heaven who never knew that Jesus was the way. Now Jesus is the way that they got there, because Jesus is the only way that anybody gets there. Yet they never knew that very important point, until they got there. Before the time of Christ or after the time of Christ (BC or AD), Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. Whether an infant or a life-long Christian, there is only one way. Whether the intellectual Bible scholar or for the mentally challenged who lacks understanding, Jesus is the only way. They all get to heaven one way. There is one way for the Baptist, and that same way can get a Hindu to heaven. Am I saying that it is not important whether you are a Baptist or a Hindu? God forbid. Let me walk this tightrope very carefully. Christianity does matter, but being a Christian is not what gets you to heaven. Jesus gets you to heaven. Knowing that Jesus is the way does not get you to heaven. Yet knowing that Jesus is the way gives you peace about the certainty of your getting to heaven.
Jesus is the way to heaven. Knowing that Jesus is the way to heaven is the way to peace. The more you eliminate everything except Jesus in your thinking about how you get to heaven, the more peace you will have. The more you believe that Jesus is the exclusive and sufficient way to heaven, the more peace you will have about heaven. If you believe Jesus to be the way exclusively, without adding anything to Him, then you have a near perfect peace in this world. Anything you add to Jesus being the way, takes away from the peace you experience. If you add something to the exclusivity of Jesus being the complete and only way, then you are adding a loophole where somebody has to do something in addition to what Jesus does. If you just leave it where Jesus left it, if you just assume that Jesus was right when He said, “I am the way,” if you just come to the proper conclusion that Jesus does it all, then you can have complete peace about your eternal salvation.
The Bible teaches that Jesus came to save His people. Jesus finished the job. God is satisfied with what Jesus accomplished. God has justified (that is declared to be righteous) every individual for whom Jesus died. Jesus is a successful Savior. He saved all He came to save. He will not lose one. Now my knowing these truths does not make them so. Neither does my not knowing these things make them not so. Truth is truth, whether I know it or not, whether I believe it or not. Lack of knowledge, or unbelief, cannot change what has already been done. My knowing that Jesus is the way is not what makes Jesus the way. My knowing that Jesus is the way is not what gets me to heaven. My knowing that Jesus is the way is what gives me comfort. My knowing that Jesus is the way is what gives me peace and assurance about me getting to heaven. Whether Thomas or I know these things is irrelevant, as pertaining to whether Thomas or I get to heaven. Yet, whether Thomas and I know these things is very relevant, as pertaining to whether Thomas and I have peace of mind about getting to heaven. If Thomas and I know that Jesus is not only the exclusive way (in that there is no other way), but also know that Jesus is the complete way (in that there is nothing needed in addition to Jesus), then Thomas and I can have peace that passes understanding about our eternal standing with God.
Christ is the way to heaven, the exclusive way that eliminates all other ways. Christ is the way to heaven, the complete way that eliminates all additions. So if Christ is the exclusive and complete way, which eliminates all other and additional ways, where does Christianity fit into the picture? Is the Christian message necessary in order to get to heaven? Is Christ the way? Or does the way include hearing the gospel and coming to know that Christ is the way?
Come let us reason together. The Bible tells me that Enoch went straight to heaven without even having to die to get there. How did Enoch get to heaven? Jesus is the only way. Jesus is the only name under heaven whereby men might be saved. Yet I have no Bible record where Enoch knew the name of Jesus. Now I am sure that Enoch knew Jesus, and praised Jesus, once he got to heaven. Yet, I wonder if Enoch knew that Jesus was the way before he got there.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are in heaven. Jesus said so. From the Old Testament Jesus proved to the Saducees that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were already in heaven. How did they get there? You might say that they were Old Testament Jews, and Jews went to heaven by being God’s chosen people. Enoch wasn’t a Jew. He lived before the time of the Jews, and he went to heaven. The Old Testament Jews got to heaven the same way Enoch got to heaven. They did not get to heaven because they were Jews. Some say that modern day Jews won’t get to heaven, in that they don’t believe in Jesus. I say to you that Jesus can get Jews into heaven. He already has. When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared “in glory”. What was this glory? They came to that mountain in heaven’s glory, because heaven is where they had come from. Well how had they gotten to heaven in the first place? The Bible says that Jesus is the only way. I’ll take that answer. Jesus got them to heaven. They did not get to heaven because they were Jews. They did not get to heaven because they were special Jews, even Moses and Elijah. They got to heaven the only way any sinner gets to heaven. They got there through Jesus. Jesus is all it takes. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the sole way. Jesus is the whole way.
David lost an infant son. He knew the child would not be brought back from the dead, but he found comfort in knowing that he would someday go to be with his son. The Bible says David was a man after God’s own heart. I believe that David is in heaven. I further believe David’s son was there when David got there. That child did not get to heaven by knowing that Jesus is the way. He was an infant. He did not know anything about Jesus. That child did not get to heaven because he was innocent. Please don’t take me wrong. I’m not preaching babies in hell, but I am preaching that the same Jesus that delivers me from hell, must also deliver the baby. It is not that the baby has committed all the personal sins that I have to my account. Yet the baby still has the inherited nature of sin, and all need to be saved from that inherited sin. A baby gets to heaven like all God’s children get to heaven. Jesus is the way. Babies do not have to get to heaven some other way. Jesus is the way. The same Jesus that gets the thief on the cross to heaven is the Jesus who gets ‘innocent’ babies to heaven. There is one way. His name is Jesus. Whether before the time of Christ or after the time of Christ, Jesus is the way. Whether Jew or Gentile, Jesus is the way. Whether babe or ancient, Jesus is the way. Whether one who was privileged to hear the gospel or one who never had the chance, Jesus is the way.
Why do we need to add anything to the simple idea that Jesus is the way? The idea that Jesus is the way will get everybody to heaven that Jesus wants to be in heaven. Yet some are not content that Jesus is the way, but add another word. They say “believing Jesus is the way” is the way. Adding just one word creates the problem of how to save unbelieving babies. If you add an extra word, you must add an extra plan, in order to save all the people that the one added word eliminated. I admit that if the way to heaven is to know that Jesus is the way to heaven, then babies need another plan. Yet if Jesus is the way, whether we know it or not, then babies can get to heaven the same way old folks do. If Jesus can get a hardened sinner like me to heaven, then a baby ought to be a simple case. Neither the baby or I have to know that Jesus is the way. Jesus finished the work of salvation, whether either of us knows it or not. There is one plan. There is one way. Jesus is the way.
The Bible says people are in heaven out of every nation, tribe, family and tongue under heaven. There are families of people who lived and died never hearing the name of Jesus, never hearing the gospel. Think of the Incas or the Mayans who are now extinct, entire nations in history where nobody ever knew Jesus. Yet the Bible says that there are people in heaven from every nation and family. How did they get to heaven? Some will come up with yet another way. They are sure that God has some other plan for these people, because they never had a chance to hear and accept the gospel. They say that God is not unfair, and that God will someway let them in. I say to you that God does have a way for them. It is not Christianity. Christianity never got to them, but that’s okay. Christianity was never God’s way for getting people to heaven in the first place. Jesus is God’s way for getting people to heaven. Jesus is the way. Jesus can get God’s people to heaven, no matter what extinct or remote nation or family they came from.
Some people have a much better chance of believing in Jesus than others. If you grew up in a Christian home and went to a church where you only heard about Christ, then there was a good chance that you would follow Jesus. Yet there are children all over this world, and all through history, who grew up being taught something other than what you were taught, about somebody other than Jesus. They never had much of a chance to follow the Jesus that you followed. So some will say that if the gospel never got to them, then they are again under a different plan. If they never had a chance to hear the name of Jesus, then God will let them in some other way. If that be the case, it would never be good to take the gospel to anybody. The gospel would be a curse, not a blessing. The gospel would be bad news, not good news. If you take the gospel to the ones who are already going to heaven anyway through the ‘never-had-a-chance’ way, then the hearing of the gospel has seriously cut their chances of getting there. What if some inspired preacher goes and tells them the story of Jesus, and what if half believe the story and half reject it, then that preacher has just condemned the rejecting half to hell. They were all going to heaven before he got there, and look what a mess he made by bringing them the gospel. Does such a scheme sound logical? It’s not logical. Neither is it scriptural. Anything man adds to ‘Jesus is the way’ only complicates and confuses God’s simple and perfect plan. If you add to ‘Jesus is the way’, then you end up having to add another way. It would be so much less confusing, and so God honoring, just to praise Jesus for being the way.
Now let me clarify. I believe that it is of utmost importance that we go into all the world and preach the gospel. We should do everything we can to spread Christianity, but at the same time we should realize that Christianity is not a new salvation that Jesus introduced when He came into the world. Through the centuries prior to the introduction of Christianity, Jesus had already saved multitudes without the means of Christianity. Since the introduction of Christianity, Jesus still saves His people without the means of Christianity. Christianity is not a necessity for salvation. Christianity is a revelation about salvation. God saves His people through Christ. Christianity reveals to God’s people the mysteries concerning God saving His people through Christ. Jesus is the way. Knowing His name and His story is a bonus. The revelation that occurs in Christianity allows God’s people to praise God’s Son for His salvation. The revelation in Christianity inspires men to follow Jesus. Christianity does not save God’s children from hell. Jesus, and Jesus alone, does that. Christianity tells God’s children that Jesus, and Jesus alone, has saved them, so that they might praise Jesus, and Jesus alone. The idea that Christ saves without the means of Christianity is a much broader doctrine than all the man-made ways to salvation. Jesus can reach people that men never get to. Jesus plus Christianity for salvation is far more restrictive, than the profound truth expressed in the words, “I am the way.”
Though Christianity is not necessary for eternal salvation, it is still very important to worship the right God. Jesus is God. He should be worshipped. Jesus is the exclusive way and the complete way. Jesus is the sole way and the whole way. He should be worshipped. Yet what about those who do not know that Jesus is the way? I believe that there were Native Americans who worshipped a totem pole sincerely. Is it okay to worship a totem pole? God forbid. I think that there are Muslims who are deep down good folks. Is it okay to worship their god? God forbid. Is it okay to worship a false god as long as you are sincere? God forbid. All men should worship the name of Jesus. No one should worship a false god. Yet I believe that there are children of the true God who are worshipping the wrong things or the wrong names. They don’t know exactly the right God to worship. My job is to get to these people and tell them who the real God is. They are worshipping sincerely, but sincere worship of a false god is still wrong. Christianity’s job is to go into all the world with the gospel of grace and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. This message does not give life. Jesus can do that without the means of Christianity. Salvation is by Christ. Revelation is by Christianity. Christ is the way to eternal life. Christianity is the way to enlightenment about Christ being the way to eternal life. Jesus is the way to heaven. The message that Jesus is the way to heaven is the way to peace.
You do not have to look far in this world to find ‘good folks’ who are not worshipping Jesus Christ. They may even be worshipping somebody other than Christ, but they very much appear to be deep down good people. Jesus taught that we could tell a good or an evil person by their fruits. I have known people who are not Christian by name, but they appear to be more Christ-like than many who claim the name of Christ. The Bible explains what is required in order to make people to be ‘good folks’. Concerning man in his carnal nature, the scriptures declare, “There is none good, no, not one.” This is a universal statement for all mankind in their natural condition. Yet when Christ speaks spiritual life into that carnal man, something wonderful happens. That born again man is a new creature with a new nature, even a nature of goodness. He still has the old nature to contend with, but Christ now dwells in that newly enlivened heart. That man now has new desires. His mind is no longer focused only on evil continually. He now thinks in a new way, a better way, even a good way. He is different than before. He no longer lives just in the realm of the ‘evil folks’. Christ has made him into one of the ‘good folks’. This changed man begins to do good things. By their fruit you can know them. They aren’t totally perfect folks, but they are ‘good folks’. This goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, a work of God in the heart. This goodness shows itself by the way the individual lives his life.
I often see ‘good folk’ fruit in people who aren’t that ‘churchy’. I even believe that you can see ‘good folk’ fruits in people who are not Christian and wrongly serve a false god. My Mom (who is probably dying of cancer) is being treated by a physician who is non-Christian in his beliefs, but not in his kindness and compassion. I really believe he is a ‘good folk’ made to be that way by the Jesus, he is yet to serve. A few years ago I preached a man’s funeral who had been my friend since childhood. Some were very concerned as to whether the man had ever ‘accepted’ Christ. One individual pleaded with him and convinced him to ‘say the words’ on his death bed. Yet I was not concerned about the man’s eternal status, even prior to his confession. Thanks to an inside connection with a lady who works in an office that helps poor children, I had been told of this man’s notable charity. He was just a common working man, but he made regular and large donations to help the poor in our community. I am sure he did not want people to know what he did. He didn’t do it to be seen of men. He did it because deep down he had a good heart. He was pretty crusty on the outside, but full of love on the inside. To me, these kind and Christ-like actions are stronger evidence than a death bed confession made to a loving friend. Now there is no doubt that faith is a fruit of the Spirit, placed into a child of God at the time of the new birth. Yet the Bible tells me love is also a fruit of the Spirit, even the first in the list (Galatians 5:22-23). If you see an outworking of love for others, it is evidence of the prior in-working of the Spirit of God. You can tell if the Spirit is on the inside by the fruit on the outside. I feel sure that my friend was one of the ‘good folk’. I saw the fruit. The same Spirit that produces the fruit gives the eternal life. I believe my friend is with God in heaven.
I want you to see a New Testament pattern. In Acts 8, we find an Ethiopian eunuch who was going home after having been to Jerusalem for to worship. The Holy Spirit directed a preacher named Philip to catch up with the eunuch’s chariot. As Philip drew near he heard the man reading from Isaiah. (So far, we have seen two ‘good-fruit’ signs. The eunuch had been worshipping, and he was reading the Bible. These are ‘good-fruit’ signs that come from people that God has made to be good by the new birth and its resulting good nature. This eunuch was one of the ‘good folks’, even before Philip got to him.) As we return to the story, we find that when Philip came onboard the chariot, he asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch confessed that he needed somebody to guide him. He indicated that he did not know if Isaiah was talking about himself or some other man. Philip went to the very place where the eunuch was reading and preached to him, Jesus. When the man heard the story of Jesus and came to know the name of Jesus, he liked what he heard. He confessed that he believed in Jesus and that he wanted to be baptized. Was Philip’s preaching what put the man through? Was Philip the way or is Jesus the way? This eunuch was already going to heaven before Philip ever got to him. The Holy Spirit had already put something in the eunuch that prompted him to read the Bible and to worship. The man was already worshipping God; he just didn’t know His name. Then came the preacher who told the man about Jesus. The eunuch did the right thing when he confessed his belief in Jesus and was baptized, yet he was already born again before he did these things. He had God’s nature in him before the preacher got to him. He was going to heaven before the preacher got to him. The preacher was not the way. Jesus is the way, whether Philip had ever gotten there or not.
In Acts 9, Jesus encountered a Jew named Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a bad man, a criminal, a man-killer, a persecutor of Christians. Saul was on his way to more slaughter, but Jesus found this man. Jesus stopped him in his tracks, but not to destroy him. Jesus gave him eternal life. What mercy! At this point this Christian-killer not only acknowledged that Jesus was Lord, he acknowledged that Jesus was his Lord. He said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” He submitted his whole life to Jesus. Submission of a life to Jesus sounds like a sign of being a ‘good folk’ to me. Notice that Saul was yet to meet the preacher. It was not until after Jesus’ personal encounter with Saul that Jesus directed Saul to go into the city. There Saul encountered the preacher, Ananias, and was baptized. It is important to see that Jesus came to Saul before the preacher. That is the pattern. That is the way it works every time. In Acts 8 the eunuch was already worshipping before the preacher got there. In Acts 9 Saul was already bowing to Jesus before the preacher got to him. Do you think Saul of Tarsus would have gone to heaven when Jesus got through with him, or did Jesus need an addition to the way in order to get Saul in?
In Acts 10, we find a Gentile named Cornelius. The passage begins by saying that Cornelius was a devout man. He and his family feared God. He gave much alms to people. He prayed always. That sounds like a ‘good folk’ to me. I would have trouble preaching this man into hell. God sent an angel to Cornelius with a message that his alms and prayers had come up as a memorial before God. The angel told Cornelius to send for the preacher, Peter. Yet Peter had to be convinced before he was willing to come preach to a Gentile. What if Peter had refused to go preach to a Gentile? What if Peter had dilly-dallied? What if there had been a ‘train wreck’? What if Cornelius had died in his sleep? What if a million other things might have happened to keep that preacher from that hearer? Would Cornelius be burning in hell if Peter had not gone to him? Does heaven depend on Peter or any other preacher? My goodness no. Cornelius was going to heaven without Peter’s help. He had shown a lot of signs that he was a born again child of God with a Christ-like nature long before Peter ever got to him. Peter did not have to get to Cornelius in order to make him a child of God. Peter came to Cornelius to tell him the story of Jesus. Cornelius and his family believed and were baptized, but that is secondary to eternal salvation.
There is an exclusiveness in Jesus for eternal life, but not in the route of Christianity. There are people in heaven who did not believe in Jesus while they were in this world. Belief is not a necessity in order to get to heaven. “For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Romans 3:3) What if somebody doesn’t believe? Maybe they didn’t get a chance. Maybe nobody ever got Jesus’ name to them so that they might believe. Maybe whoever told them the story was so confused in his own beliefs that the story did not make much sense. Maybe whoever told them the story was so far off in his beliefs that his version was more wrong than right. Maybe they sensed confusion with all the different stories floating around. Maybe they had a sense of wanting to believe, but were unsure which version to believe. Maybe they had seen enough Christian hypocrisy to turn them off to the whole thing. Maybe they heard the name and rejected it, because they just decided to stick with what they had previously been taught. Maybe they believed in their soul, but refused to publicly profess. Maybe they felt too unworthy to confess, yet sensed guilt for not confessing. I don’t know what goes on in somebody else’s heart and mind. Yet I do know the answer to the question, “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” The Bible answers, “God forbid.” Man’s unbelief cannot make God ineffective in His faithfulness to His plan of salvation.
Paul said to Timothy, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) Whether we believe or not does not change what is already true. Unbelief cannot undo what has already been done. Christ died for every one of His children, a vast host that no man can number. This is a number far beyond anything Christianity has ever reached. Christ paid for the sins of every one of them. That has been done. God saw that it was done. Christ said, “It is finished.” God knows that Christ finished salvation, whether you and I know it or not. Jesus was the way. Jesus is the way. Jesus has done the way, whether anybody ever knows it or not. Salvation is accomplished. My accepting or believing that salvation is finished does not make it true. It is true already. Now my accepting and believing does make me feel good about my chances of getting to heaven, but my belief is not necessary in order for God to be faithful to His plan of salvation. Even if I believe not, yet He will never deny what Christ accomplished in my behalf. “He cannot deny Himself.” He will not deny what Christ did. Christ removed all the sins from all His people. God saw that, and God justified everyone that Christ made sinless. God will never deny that. If nobody ever believed it, God would never deny the death of His Son and what that death accomplished. Now belief is very important in that it gives contentment to the believer, but belief is not what gets the believer to heaven. Jesus does that. Christ is the way for the Native American, the Old Testament Jew, the man on the uncharted island, the infant who never believed and the devout believer. Jesus is the way for all His children, and He needs nobody’s help in order for Him to be the way.
Until recently I had not realized the importance of making the distinction between exclusivity in Christ, yet not in Christianity. A few days ago a friend shared with me a boxed set of recorded sermons preached by a renowned evangelical preacher. In the beginning of the series the preacher seemed to claim that there is one way to heaven, and that that way is Jesus Christ. Yet before long it became apparent that the preacher was adding something else to the exclusiveness of Christ for salvation. He did not truly believe that Jesus is the exclusive way, but that ‘faith in Jesus’ is the way to heaven.
I would like to take some excerpts from this preacher’s sermon series. I will purposely avoid giving his name or the group with whom he is affiliated. I want to be kind. My desire is not to speak negatively of a fellow servant. My desire is to preach Christ as the way. I am trying to preach that there are some who get to heaven without knowing Christ is the way. I say again that it is better if you know and believe that Christ is the way. Lots of good feelings and good worship come from your knowing and believing that Christ is the way. Yet Christ is still the way, whether you know and believe it or not.
In one of the early sermons in the ten sermon series the preacher quoted from an interview of Joel Olsteen conducted by Larry King. The preacher of the series was very critical of Olsteen. He seemed to think that Olsteen had let down the cause of Christ. I transcribed the words of the preacher, as he quoted the words of the interview.
King: “Well what if you are Jewish or Muslim and you don’t accept Christ at all?”
Olsteen: “Well you know, I’m very careful about saying who would and who wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know.”
(My thoughts): I like Olsteen’s answer. I think it is an appropriate answer.
King: “Well if you believe you have to believe in Jesus: They’re wrong—followers of other religions?”
Olsteen: “Well I don’t know if I believe they are wrong. I believe this is what the Bible teaches, and from the Christian faith this is what I believe, but I believe that God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion, but I know they love God. And I don’t know—I’ve seen their sincerity. So I just don’t know. I know for me and what the Bible teaches; I want to have a relationship with Jesus.”
(My thoughts): I believe Olsteen is right about God judging a person’s heart. I believe God is the one who made the person’s heart good at the time of the new birth, and I believe God knows He did that. I further believe that God judges the heart that He made good to be good. Concerning the love for God that Olsteen thought he had observed in India, I feel sure that his observations were correct. God has His people in every nation, kindred, tribe and tongue under heaven. Now in their ignorance they might have been worshipping a cow, but I believe that if God had by the miracle of grace put His nature into their hearts, then they would have had a nature of love that could be observed. It almost seems that Olsteen knew what he had seen in India, but did not know exactly how to fit what he had seen into his concept of Christ and Christianity. If you believe that Christianity is the way, then you will have problems with your theology that won’t fit what you observe in the world. It just won’t tie together. Yet if we just take Jesus’ words without adding anything to them, then it all fits nicely together. If Christ is the way, as opposed to Christianity being the way, then it is not hard to see that Jesus was already in India before the preacher ever got there. Jesus got there first. It is just like the pattern in Acts. Unlike the preacher of the series, I like what Olsteen said.
Preacher of series: “I find it interesting that even a non-Christian like Larry King sees the inconsistency in saying that you believe Jesus is the way to salvation, but there may be other ways as well. You know if the best answer a prominent, evangelical, mega-church pastor can come up with when asked about other religions is ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just don’t know,’ are we surprised that people in the pew don’t have an answer to that question, as well.”
(My thoughts): Number one: It is okay to say I don’t know. Number two: The preacher of the series is mixing truth with something he has added, and from that comes the confusion. The truth is that there are lots of things about God that we do not know. Furthermore, God’s people don’t have to know about God in order to get to heaven. God’s children need to know that Jesus is the way, in order to have peace, and in order to worship the Jesus who saves them. Yet knowing the way is not the way. Jesus is the way.
Preacher of series: “You may be saying, ‘Well, so what? I mean, as long as I believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, what difference does it make if in fact there are other ways to heaven?’ Here’s the difference it makes. What you believe about this issue of exclusivity of Christ for salvation—What you believe about this issue determines whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell!”
(My thoughts): I want to make it clear that I am not saying that there are other ways to heaven. Jesus is the only way. The distinction I want to make is that we do not have to know that Jesus is the way in order for Jesus to be the way. The preacher said that what you believe about the issue of the exclusivity of Christ for salvation determines whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Jesus simply said, “I am the way.” Thomas had previously said that he did not know the way. Jesus answered Thomas, “I am the way.” Jesus did not say, “Thomas, you believing that I am the way is the way.” Jesus did not say, “Thomas, what you believe about this determines whether you spend eternity in heaven of in hell” Jesus just said, “I am the way.” The preacher’s statement takes the way away from Jesus and gives it to the ‘believer’. The preacher’s exclusivity is not in Jesus, but in believing in Jesus. If his statement is true, then the vast majority of mankind is eliminated from heaven, both historically and right now. If God has to use men like me in order to get people to believe in the exclusivity of Jesus, in order to get people to heaven, then God has a very limited and weak plan.
Let us now look at another excerpt from another sermon by the preacher of the series:
“You see the eternal issue for mankind is will you accept God’s way of forgiveness through Christ? Or will you try to find or manufacture your own way to God? …You see, ever since the fall when Adam and Eve fell in sin in the garden, the choice has been, how will you cover over your sin? …They tried to manufacture their own covering of fig leaves…God came to them. He killed an animal…took the skin of that animal and offered it as a clothing for Adam and Eve…They had a choice. They could keep their own self-manufactured covering, or they could accept God’s covering…Adam and Eve accepted God’s covering for their sin.”
My first thought is that I don’t know whose Bible the preacher is preaching from, but what he said is not in my Bible. It seems that the preacher may be the one who is trying to “manufacture his own way to God.” The Bible says that God told Adam not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree. Eve added something to God’s word in her conversation with Satan. Eve told Satan that God said not to eat the fruit or touch it. Satan added his words to what God said, even words that enticed Eve to eat of the fruit. Then God came and spoke words of judgment to Satan, Eve and Adam. At this point we find the one statement, “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) This is the only statement in the entire passage that pertains to God covering Adam and Eve with clothing. From the limited statement we learn that God made the coats from skins, and that God clothed Adam and Eve. There is no mention that Adam and Eve accepted anything, or that they might have rejected anything. I find no record where they made any choice. There is nothing about God asking them if they wanted the covering or not. The preacher added all these ideas to his version of the story. When you add to God’s word (about which God said not to add to it or take from it), you add confusion and will begin to spread confusion. I am unsure where the acceptance and making a choice came from, except from the preacher fitting his scheme into the Bible, instead of letting the Bible be his scheme.
Let us look at yet another excerpt from the sermon series, concerning a man named C. S. Lewis, whom I consider to be a giant in modern day Christianity. But before we get to the words of the preacher concerning Lewis, let me share with you some personal thoughts about the man. Lewis’ understanding of God’s word and God’s principles far exceeded most. I do not agree with everything Lewis wrote, but I have utmost respect for a man who could tell the story of Jesus with such variations of style. I find it amazing that the same man who gave us the intellectual masterpiece, Mere Christianity, could also tell the same story of Jesus in the child-like adventures presented in The Chronicles of Narnia. The depth of emotional understanding presented in The Four Loves is equaled by the depth of wisdom in the silliness of The Screwtape Letters. The illustrations could go on, but my point is that C. S. Lewis was a Christian literary genius who was exceedingly gifted by God, and who faithfully served His Lord through the gift he had been given. I would have difficulty imagining that C. S. Lewis is not in heaven, and if by God’s grace I get there someday, I look forward to making Lewis’ acquaintance.
The preacher of the series said:
“The question is, ‘Are there many ways to get to heaven when you die, or is there only one way to get to heaven’…How do I go to heaven when I die? Well that is what we are looking at in this series…Fifty-seven percent of Christians say there is more than one way to heaven other than faith in Jesus Christ…Even some renowned Christian theologians believe that. For example, even C. S. Lewis, whom we all read, believed that heaven will include people who have never heard of or trusted in faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote, ‘I think that every prayer that is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God, and that Christ saves many who do not think that they know Him.’ Now if a renowned theologian can get it wrong, do we need to rethink this issue about the exclusivity of Christ? Are we being too narrow when we insist that there is only one way to God through faith in Jesus Christ?”
The preacher said, “Fifty-seven percent of Christians say there is more than one way to heaven, other than faith in Jesus Christ.” In a previous quote he said, “What you believe about this issue of exclusivity of Christ for salvation—What you believe about this issue determines whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell!” So if what you believe about the exclusivity issue determines whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell, and if fifty-seven percent of Christians say there is more than one way to heaven other than faith in Jesus Christ, then the preacher of the series has preached fifty-seven percent of Christians out of heaven and into hell. The preacher even went so far as to put C. S. Lewis on the side of the fifty-seven percent who are not going to heaven. “Even some renowned Christian theologians believe that. For example, even C. S. Lewis.” I very much believe that C. S. Lewis made it to heaven. Now I don’t believe C. S. Lewis got to heaven by writing books, but I believe that a life-long work for the cause of Christ is certainly evidence of being a heaven-bound child of God. C. S. Lewis got to heaven the only way anybody gets to heaven. Jesus is the way.
The preacher twice said that “faith in Jesus Christ” is the way to heaven or the way to God. Firstly, “Fifty-seven percent of Christians say there is more than one way to heaven, other than faith in Jesus Christ.” Lastly, “Are we being too narrow when we insist that there is only one way to God through faith in Jesus Christ?” Jesus said, “I am the way.” Jesus did not say that faith in Jesus is the way. The preacher has added something. It is inconsistent to claim the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and then to add something else beyond Christ that is needed for salvation.
The preacher’s words that most reveal his true beliefs are, “Even C. S. Lewis…believed that heaven will include people who have never heard of or trusted in faith in Jesus Christ.” Did you catch his words? He did not say “faith in Jesus Christ”. He did not say “trusted in Jesus Christ”. He said, “trusted in—faith in—Jesus Christ.” The preacher’s trust is not in Jesus. He is trusting in his own faith. Jesus said, “I am the way.” This preacher is making up his own way. His religion is not focused on a trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Instead, it is focused on a trust in ‘faith’ for salvation. Should my trust be in Jesus or in my myself? In Jesus or in my faith? My experiences have shown me that my faith is weak, but that my Jesus is strong. I think I will trust in my Jesus to get me to heaven, as opposed to trusting in my faith.
The accusation was that C. S. Lewis “believed that heaven will include people who have never heard of or trusted in faith in Jesus Christ.” I say, “Amen!” Babies who never trusted in faith in Jesus Christ are in heaven. People from before the time of Christ who never trusted in faith in Jesus Christ are in heaven. Many of the vast host from every nation, tribe, family and tongue who never trusted in faith in Jesus Christ are in heaven. Many of God’s people whom the gospel never gets to will end up in heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way.” He did not say ‘knowing I am the way’ is the way. He did not say ‘trusting I am the way’ is the way. He especially did not say ‘trusting in your own faith’ is the way.
- S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “I think that every prayer that is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God.” I say, “Amen!” Lewis’ words are not only true for the non-Christian who prays, but they also fit even the best Christian who prays. Anybody who prays is praying to the God that they really don’t understand. Life-long Christians are probably not far ahead of pagans in real comprehension of the true God. We are blessed that God hears prayers, even when uttered with very little true understanding of the God who is prayed to. I am thankful that my prayers are not accepted according to how much I know.
Lewis is further quoted as saying, “Christ saves many who do not think that they know him.” I again say, “Amen!” They may not think that they know Christ. They may not know His name. Yet if Christ has moved His presence into their hearts through the miracle of the new birth, then there is something in their souls that knows His ways. Jesus is the way to heaven. Jesus knows the way to get His people to heaven, regardless of what they know or don’t know. Jesus did not say that you have to know Him or know the way. Thomas was already a heaven-bound child of God before he knew that Jesus was the way. I am thankful that my salvation is not based on how much I know.
There is a lot about God and His Bible that I do not know, but I do know that the Bible proclaims a simple plan of salvation that is all of God. Before the beginning God planned eternal salvation. On the cross God paid for eternal salvation. At the new birth God gives eternal salvation. At the end of time God will bring to heaven everyone He planned to save in the beginning. God’s plan of eternal salvation does not require anybody but God. God just does it all, and Jesus is the way.
The preacher’s voice is not the way. Jesus’ voice is the way. Jesus speaks to those who are dead in trespasses and in sins and gives them eternal life. Jesus speaks to those who are dead to the spiritual realm of existence and gives them spiritual life. They hear the voice of the Son of God. They that hear shall live. The preacher’s voice cannot give life to the dead. Only Jesus can speak spiritual life into those who are spiritually dead.
At one point in the sermon series the preacher used an illustration of a stewardess in a smoke-filled plane. He claimed that she knew where the only door was. She knew the only way out of the burning plane. She was crying out for everybody to come. She was waving her flashlight pointing to the only way out. The preacher said that everybody had a choice. You can sit where you are. You can try to find another way, but there is no other way. The stewardess knows the only way. You can burn with the plane, or you can choose the only way to live. You can choose to save yourself by going through the way she is pointing to, or you can perish in the fire.
That all sounds good on the surface, but the illustration is not true to scriptural teaching. I assume that the stewardess represents the gospel preacher. I assume that people are to hear the voice and choose to live instead of die. Yet the problem with the illustration is that the Bible describes humanity as being in a state of deadness, a state where you are incapable of response. If all who are in the plane are dead, then the stewardess will get no response from anyone. They are all dead. They cannot see a light. They cannot hear a cry. You have to be alive in order to hear a cry or see a light. The Bible describes the vast host of unborn again humanity as being dead to spiritual things. The Bible says that the voice of Jesus gives life to those who are spiritually dead. Until Jesus speaks life into the spiritually dead, they cannot hear the preacher’s cry. They have no spiritual ears. They cannot see the light. They have no spiritual eyes. The voice of Jesus first gives life. Then the voice of the preacher can be heard. Then the gospel can give enlightenment. The voice of Jesus first speaks life-giving words, at which time the one who was dead hears Jesus’ voice and lives. At that point. the one who has heard Jesus’ voice can hear spiritual things. The one who has already heard Jesus’ life-giving voice can now see spiritual things. Except a man be born again, he cannot see. The only ones who can respond to the stewardess or to the preacher are the ones who have life. The gospel does not give life. The gospel gives light. The true gospel preacher does not preach himself as the way. The true gospel message is that Jesus is the way—the sole way—the whole way.
Jesus said, “Ye must be born again.” All of God’s children must be born again. Yet not a one of them knows how to do it. You did not born yourself naturally. You cannot born yourself spiritually. “Ye must be born again” is not a command for you to do something. It is a statement of fact concerning something that God must do according to His eternal plan. You do not do it. God does it for you. God does His part, and His part is to do everything necessary to get you to heaven. As a preacher, my part is to preach to you that God does His part and will one day get you to heaven. As a hearer, your part is to believe that God does His part, and that God will one day get you to heaven. Your hearing and believing is not what gives you the life. By the time you get to the point of hearing and believing, Jesus has already given you the life. Your hearing and believing is not the way to heaven. Jesus is the way. Your hearing and believing is the way to peace. The preacher’s job is to guide your feet to the way of peace.
It is all very simple. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the successful Savior of every one of His people. Call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. Jesus is sufficient. He can find those that we could never find. He can save those that we never know. Jesus can save those who never knew Him. ‘Knowing Jesus’ is not essential in order to get to heaven. Jesus, and Jesus alone, gets everyone to heaven that gets to heaven. Jesus is the way—the sole way—the whole way. Christ is the exclusive way to heaven, but there will be many in heaven who never followed the way of Christianity in this world.
Exclusivity in Christ, yet not in Christianity.