If you ride through the streets of any major city in America, you’re likely to see bumper stickers that signal a message of tolerance and religious inclusivity. In most cases the tolerance and inclusiveness is demanded for other religious views while not truly maintained for Christianity. Our perverse culture insists that Christians should tolerate and accept other world religions at the expense of their own foundational doctrines.
Any serious study of Jesus’ teachings makes it crystal clear that he was not interested in religious ecumenism. Jesus taught his followers that he is the singular means of reconciliation to God and that apart from him everyone would perish. In Luke 13, Jesus directs the Jews to two disasters that had occurred in recent days. In one scene, some Galileans were in Jerusalem for the purpose of worship, and as they were carrying out their sacrifices Pilate gave the order for these people to be brutally murdered. As a result, their own blood was mingled into their sacrifices. In another scene, a tower in Siloam had suddenly fallen without warning, resulting in the death of a number of people. In Jewish thought, sudden tragic death was commonly linked to sinful living.
Jesus pointed to those two tragedies and made a sobering statement. He said, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). Jesus was pointing out that these people who perished in these tragic circumstances were not somehow more deserving of death than the rest of the people in that region. Since the common thought was to associate such tragedies with judgement, Jesus emphasized his point that apart from genuine repentance all unbelievers will perish. They may pride themselves in law keeping or moral living, but upon death they will suddenly find themselves under the wrath of God.
The statement by Jesus was all encompassing and it included everyone in those cities during Jesus’ day as well as everyone who walks the sidewalk of New York or drives down I-5 in Los Angeles. Jesus completely denied the idea that there are multiple paths to God. In an interview with Oprah in 2012, Joel Osteen stated that Jesus was the way to God, but he went on to suggest that there are many paths to Jesus.
OPRAH: Okay, so here’s the big question. Are there many paths to get to the one God?
JOEL OSTEEN: Well, I believe Oprah that there, I believe that Jesus is the way to the one God. But, I believe there are many paths to Jesus. You know, you don’t know how Jesus would reveal himself to somebody. So, I’m not into excluding people. Jesus can reveal himself to anybody.
Compare that with what he said to Larry King back in his 2005 interview where Joel Osteen stated that people from other religions love God and that he didn’t want to exclude them from the equation of salvation.
KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know …
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with 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 don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.1CNN Larry King Live, Interview with Joel Osteen. [Aired June 20, 2005 – 21:00 ET]
Our world has been wrecked by postmodern ideologies and despises any claim to exclusivity and absolute truth—especially from the Bible. Our present world has no problem cherry picking parts of Jesus’ statements that fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but Jesus’ claims of exclusivity are wholeheartedly rejected. Our world is comfortably happy with an “easy-going syncretism”2John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978), 193. as John Stott once labeled it, or as Christian Smith coined the religious views of most teenagers in our day, “moralistic therapeutic deism.”3Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. With Lundquist Denton, Melina. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 166. Such views may fit well within a culture saturated with secular humanism and postmodern thought, but the true Jesus as revealed in Scripture demands full submission from his followers and condemns all other world religions.
Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, the great question regarding salvation of sinners continues to linger in our day: “How can sinful man be reconciled to God?” Many false paths have been blazed through the ages that point people to a pluralistic view of religion that avoids a hard line of exclusivity. Our culture is a melting pot of various religions and approaches to life, but Jesus had a very different approach to this subject. He made it abundantly clear that there is only one way to be reconciled to God.
Jesus has rightly claimed that he is the way of salvation. In other places he points out that he is bread of life (John 6:35), the light of the world (John 8:12), the door to the sheep (John 10:19), the vine (John 15:5), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and resurrection and the life (John 11:25). In each of these “I AM” statements, Jesus reveals his deity and points to the fact that he has the ultimate authority to save sinners. Jesus is not one of many ways, he is the only way.
As we read through the Gospels, we find definitive statements of exclusivity from Jesus in his preaching and teaching ministry. For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7 Jesus describes two gates and two paths. He says:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).
One gate is narrow and the other gate is wide. One path is easy and the other is hard. One path leads to life while the other path leads to destruction. As Jesus preaches this sermon, it should be noted that he doesn’t merely describe these two paths, gates, and eternal destinies in a passive voice. He uses an imperative verb as he commands his listeners to enter into eternal life. He makes it clear that there is only one way and no other alternative.
Notice the construction of the sentence by Jesus in John 14:6. He makes use of the definite article stating that he is the way, the truth, and the life. In other words, Jesus is not one of many ways to God or one of many truths to consider. Jesus is the singular door for the sheep to enter into God’s rest and be saved from their state of rebellion, lawlessness, and ultimate judgment of God (John 10).
The exclusivity of Jesus Christ is a powerful reminder of His unmatched authority over death, sin, and eternal condemnation. No other religious figure has made such an incredible claim; only Jesus holds the power to bring salvation to guilty sinners. As we survey his life, preaching, and ultimately his resurrection from the dead—we are led to trust this bold claim of Jesus. We must recognize Him for who He is—the one true source of hope for all humanity. Only through faith in Christ can we be set free from sin and receive the gift of eternal life.
When faced with this clear teaching from Jesus, it should lead a person to repent of their sin and trust Christ for their salvation.
|1||CNN Larry King Live, Interview with Joel Osteen. [Aired June 20, 2005 – 21:00 ET]|
|2||John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978), 193.|
|3||Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. With Lundquist Denton, Melina. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 166.|