I became a Christian during the Jesus Movement of the early 1970’s. I look back with a fond nostalgia to that time. It was an exciting time to be alive, to be a believer in Jesus. Yes, there were many troubling things happening in our country, in the world. Yet despite the troubles God was moving in mighty and dramatic ways. How many thousands, if not millions, of young people came to Christ during that time? Some of the excitement of that era is captured in the film Woodlawn. (If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out.) At the climax of the movie emphasis is placed on an iconic image from the Jesus Movement—the “One Way” symbol. It was a common emblem in those days. Young believers would hold up their hand with the index finger extended. You would see posters emblazoned with a picture of a hand with one finger raised, boldly proclaiming “One Way.” (I used to draw that symbol on the back of my school notebooks.) It was a simple yet effective statement of faith in Jesus. We all were declaring, “Jesus is the only way!”
But the church has changed since that time—changed a lot. And the exclusivity of salvation in Christ is no longer a given. Indeed, in some circles it is considered almost un-Christian to proclaim that there is only “One Way,” that Christianity is the sole means of salvation. It is viewed as mean-spirited and unloving. This is especially true in the Emerging Church movement. This is a widespread, trans-denominational movement that arose in Australia a couple of decades ago and has spread around the globe. There is a heavy influence of postmodern philosophy in this movement. Thus, absolutes are rejected, and everything becomes relative, subjective and personal. This includes doctrines such as the exclusiveness of salvation in Christ.
Consider a quote from an insider in this movement. Emerging church leader Samir Selmanovic, a “progressive Seventh-day Adventist,” who is active in interfaith dialogue (especially with Muslims), states this about Christ and salvation: “We do believe that God is best defined by the historical revelation in Jesus Christ, but to believe that God is limited to it would be an attempt to manage God… The future of Christianity depends on its willingness to serve something larger than itself… To put it in different terms, there is no salvation outside of Christ, but there is salvation outside of Christianity.” Do you get what Selmanovic is saying? He believes that Christ has provided the means of salvation. Through His work on the cross Christ has truly atoned for the sins of the whole world. But this atonement is not exclusively found within the church. Nor it is exclusive for Christians, or those who claim a personal relationship with Christ as Savior. You can be a Muslim, or a Hindu, or an animist and still experience the saving effects of Christ’s atonement. Christ has saved all men. But you don’t have to be a Christian to experience the benefits of salvation. In fact, you don’t have to know anything about Jesus at all.
I have a very deep, profound and philosophical response to this idea. Huh?
The idea sounds good. It sounds noble and humane. It sounds kind and compassionate. But it is wrong. And it is wrong in a very deadly way.
To see why this is wrong, we have to carefully consider the source for our knowledge of Christ, salvation, and the atoning work the Christ accomplished. That source is the Bible. So what does the Bible say about this matter. First of all, consider the claims of Christ Himself as regards who He is and what He has done for us. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What a statement. Jesus is plainly declaring that He is exclusively the way to God. Noted Christian apologist Walter Martin used to comment on this passage by saying something like this, “Jesus did not say, ‘I am one of many ways, a fraction of the truth, and a part of the life.’ He said, ‘I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life.’” Amen, Brother Martin! However, as emphatic and clear as this declaration truly is, it is still not enough. Selmanovic might actually agree with Walter Martin. He would just think that the exclusive means of salvation is available to all men, whether they know Jesus or not.
But there is another critical point in this verse. Notice WHAT Jesus said was the way to God, the truth of God, the life of God. He said “I am….” It is Jesus Himself. It is not just the work of Christ that provides the way to God. Rather, it is the very person of Christ that provides salvation for all men. Salvation did not come from a man dying on the cross. It came from Jesus Christ dying on the cross. The atoning work on the cross was only efficacious because of the particular Man who was on the Cross. Only the incarnate Son of God, the sinless Lamb of God, could take away the sin of the world. That is why salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ Himself. We are saved if we have a personal encounter with Him. It is coming to know the living Jesus in a personal relationship that means we have everlasting life. It is all about Him, not just what He did. The means (the cross) is meaningless without Jesus. And salvation cannot be experienced by anyone who does not know HIM.
We see this truth in another place in John’s Gospel. In chapter 8 Jesus is involved in a discussion with some Jewish leaders. He is defending his testimony about Himself. In John 8:24 he states, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Notice carefully what He is saying here: You must believe in Me, in who I am. If you do not, you will die in your sins. In other words, you cannot be saved apart from believing in Me, from knowing who I am. Indeed, Jesus went on to say that when He went to the cross not only would it accomplish an atoning work, but it would identify who He was. He said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He” (John 8:28). You see, it is all about Him, who He is.
This is the reason the Apostle Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NLT). That is why Paul would say to the Jews of his day, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39 ESV). It is through this Man, the person of Jesus Christ that we are forgiven. It must be this way, for His is the Door, the only gateway to salvation (John 10:7). To try to enter by any other way is to be a thief and a robber (John 10:1). This is why Jesus asserted that eternal life consists in knowing both the true God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). It is relationship with God through Christ that we have forgiveness of sin and salvation.
This is such an important matter. Suppose we accept this false idea that men may be saved apart from a relationship with Christ. Then why is there any need for evangelism? Missions is pointless, a waste of time. As Christians we may work to better men’s existence in this life. We have grounds in Christ’s message for humanitarian help. But there is no need for telling others the Good News. The end result of our buying into this erroneous idea is this: Men are lost, doomed to hell. However, knowing that salvation comes through Christ and His work on the cross provides hope for all men. And knowing that He is the only way to salvation compels us to evangelism and missions. We are the messengers of this hope. As His church, we are commissioned to proclaim the Gospel. God help us to never abandon this high calling. Lost men, women and children are depending on it. Their salvation and eternal destiny depends on the Good News of the One Way to God!