If you’re in the mood to start an argument, especially among men of a certain age, all you have to do is say these words: “The best way to get to ___________ is ____________.” You can fill in the blanks with the destination and directions of your choosing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that regardless of what you say—even if it involves giving directions to your own house—another man will have a better way. It may take you through three industrial parks, down two blind alleys, and across the practice green of a golf course, but he claims it will be better because it shaves seven and a half seconds off your travel time. And he’ll be prepared to defend that claim tooth and nail.
Imagine what the reaction would be if you claimed to know the only way to get somewhere!
Yet that very claim of exclusivity lies at the center of the seventh core belief of Christianity: salvation. Remember that Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus was clear: He is the only way to heaven. He left no room for other ways, truths, religions, or paths to eternal life. That’s why the biblical concept of salvation is perhaps the most controversial of the 10 core beliefs of Christianity.
1. Understanding Salvation
- The Definition of Salvation
In theology, we call the study of salvation “soteriology.” That word comes Greek word for salvation is “soterion,” which means to rescue from danger or to escape destruction.
- The Three Aspects of Salvation
2. The Biblical Words Describing Salvation
Throughout the Bible, different words, in addition to salvation, describe what God offers to us.
- “Atonement” (Genesis 3:21; Leviticus 16:15-22)
- “Reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
- “Redemption” (Galatians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
3. The Exclusivity of Salvation
- The Old Testament Pattern of Exclusivity
God doesn’t keep an open mind to a multiplicity of ideas. He doesn’t reward creative alternatives to His plans. Sin caused a devastating rift in our relationship with Him. As a result, God is specific and exacting in His demands of us.
Consider the instructions He gave to Noah in Genesis 6:14-16 for building the ark. The most expertly crafted seaworthy vessel would not have saved the human race from the flood if not constructed from the exact materials, made to the precise size, and included the number of decks and doors God required.
The message that comes through loud and clear throughout Scripture is this: if you want to be in the right relationship with the one true God, whom you have alienated by your sin, then you must reconcile with Him on His terms, not yours. God is, by His very nature, exclusive.
- Four Objections to the Exclusivity of Salvation
Jesus’s claim to be the only way to God and the only means of salvation for humanity provokes strong objections in our increasingly inclusive culture. If you’ve engaged in conversations about the exclusivity of Jesus’s sacrifice, you’ll likely recognize four of the most common objections.
First, if you claim that Jesus is the only path to God, you’re being intolerant. The word “tolerance” has undergone a radical transformation in recent years. A generation ago, “tolerance” meant respect for people’s right to believe whatever they wanted. Being “tolerant” meant acknowledging that people have the right to be wrong or believe a lie if they choose.
Secondly, if Jesus is the only way to be saved, many people face eternity in hell. Billions of people throughout history never trusted Christ as their Savior. Instead, they followed the path of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or some other religion. How can so many people be so wrong? That question has particular weight in Western culture, which accepts that the majority is usually right and the minority is generally wrong.
Thirdly, Jesus’s claim of exclusivity doesn’t make sense because all religions teach the same thing. At the heart of this objection is the notion that all world religions spring from people’s sincere desire to seek God. People with this objection say that individual experiences and cultural realities cause people to pursue different paths. They say God cares only about the sincerity that fuels a person’s journey to Him, not the path that person chooses.
Finally, it’s unfair for God to send people to hell just because they haven’t believed in Jesus. After all, not everyone has heard the gospel message. Some people have never heard of Jesus. How can they be expected to believe? Acts 17:26 seems to bolster the objection. One of the bedrock principles of Scripture is that God will reveal Himself to those who want to know Him.
- Communicating the Exclusivity of Salvation
The foundational Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation sets God’s people apart from every other religion. To share the good news behind this doctrine, we must go against the grain of our culture and risk the accusal of intolerance, hatred, and prejudice.
- “Your argument is with the Bible, not with me” (John 14:6; Romans 10:9).
- “God wants to save as many, not as few, people as possible” (1 Timothy 2:3-4; Luke 19:10).
- “The fact that God has provided one way of salvation demonstrates His love, not His hatred” (Romans 5:8).
4. The Availability of Salvation (1 John 2:1-2)
The word “propitiation” means “satisfaction.” Christ’s death satisfied the payment demanded by a Holy God. Christ’s death was sufficient to cover the sin debt incurred by anyone who has ever or will ever live.
Does that mean that everyone gets saved automatically? No. Although the gift of forgiveness is available to everyone, it only applies to those who receive it. Here’s a phrase I use to explain that truth: Christ’s death was sufficient for all but efficient for believers.
I use the same illustration every year at VBS to explain that truth. I invite Shelly Taylor to the stage and express appreciation for her work. Then, I take a big gift box beautifully wrapped and explain it is an expensive gift we’ve purchased for her. I then ask Shelly if she believes this gift is for her. She says she does, but I question the children, “Is the gift hers while I’m holding it?” “NO,” they yell. I explain that it becomes hers only when Shelly reaches out and receives the gift.
And so it is with the gift of salvation. God has paid an enormous price to purchase our redemption for us. But that salvation is only available to those who receive it.
Full Passage: John 14:6