That Uneasy Feeling
It was an awkward moment. Religious leaders squirmed in their seats as they stared at the two strangers who were boldly confronting the "system."
"Who are these men?" they wondered to themselves. The leader of the assembly stroked his beard in thought, then said, "By what power, or by what name, have you done this?"
(The men had stirred up the city with rumors of a "miracle healing" and thousands were believing in their power. The religious leaders of the day, in an effort to keep the peace, had called the men in for questioning. There was a heavy silence as the two men contemplated their response.)
A wave of supernatural courage swept over the first of the men and he pronounced: "Elders and rulers of Israel, if you have brought us to trial regarding the crippled man who was made to walk, then let it be known to all of you that this man has been healed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified, whom God raised from the dead...there is salvation in no other, for no other name under heaven has been among men by which we can be saved."
Another pause. The leaders stared at the outsiders all the more, their hearts filling with anger toward this statement of arrogance. "Who are these men to claim the truth as their own? And why this foolish allegiance to a dead man?" Yet they could say nothing, for the healed man stood among them as living proof of the power these strangers claimed to possess.
The council discussed the matter among themselves: "What can we do with these men? It is undeniable that a great miracle has been performed here in Jerusalem! However, we must command these men to never again speak in the name of this Jesus, lest more of our people believe in Him."
They called Peter and John back into the room and commanded that they never again speak the name of Jesus.
To this Peter and John replied , "Which is right, for us to obey you or God? We cannot keep quiet about the things we have seen and heard."
Story taken from Acts 4 in the Bible.
Why do Christians claim that Jesus is the only way to God? The only full truth? Isn't that a little too absolute? What about Confucius, or Muhammad, or Buddha? What about Jews, Mormons, atheists, evolutionists, or even Communists? In all the "ists" and "isms" out there, no one else has it right?
How can someone say that Jesus is the one way, and that all other ways will lead to everlasting hell? Who gave these Christians the right to dictate everybody else's morality anyway?
I'll be up front with you. My attempt here is to show why Jesus is indeed the "way" and the "truth." Of course, I'm not asking you to believe that blindly (as many do). I'd ask you to evaluate the truth of Jesus' claims based on the evidence.
If you consider yourself a seeker of truth, and one who is willing to consider the claims Jesus made, then I invite you to read on. (Fair warning : this is a really long post. A big question deserves thorough treatment, right?)
You might feel like the council members in the story I referenced earlier. You might wonder, "Who is this guy? And what right does he have to be dogmatic about his religion?"
I will gladly affirm to you that Jesus Christ has changed my life and given me peace, hope, and confidence. He has given me true purpose and meaning. It is my prayer that you would read this with an open mind and open heart. The message of Jesus may make more sense than you think. And He may be precisely what you're searching for.
Something to Agree On
It is always good to start a discussion on common ground. There is one similarity between every world religion, every culture, every ethnic background, and every human soul: we all assume there is more to life than what we see. All of us put our faith in something. We know there must be a higher plane of existence, or some sort of spiritual force, or an afterlife. Some have faith in one god, some put their faith in many. I even know people who trust the occultic powers of the spirit world. (Even people who claim not to believe in God at all still search for explanations as to their own existence and purpose).
Why do Muslims pray daily and fast during Ramadan? Why do Hindus bow at the feet of millions of statues across the Indian subcontinent? Why do jungle tribes have elaborate religious rituals and ceremonies? Why do astrologers peer skyward to search for meaning and special knowledge?
Why is it that we all have preconceived ideas about right and wrong? Why do we feel guilty over evil, and what makes us feel good when we do positive things? Why do people believe that Mother Teresa was any better of a person than Adolf Hitler? What makes us think that it is right to protect the innocent? Who told us it is cowardly to run away from battle? Why do we think it is right to tell the truth?
Clearly, our Creator has embedded a common denominator in all of us, a sort of spiritual awareness that the Bible calls "conscience." He has wet our appetite for a higher level of existence, for eternity and for assurance in the afterlife.
Now it seems He has left us to grope through the darkness in a desperate search to find Him. Or has He?
Will the "emptiness" that we experience ever be filled? I can tell you from personal experience that there is good news--these questions do have an answer. But it is an answer that some people are unwilling to find.
The reason: it's too simple, and it costs far too much.
Jesus mentioned this in the Bible when He said: "...wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in..., and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and just a few find it."
What could it possibly cost? Why should attaining the truth require personal sacrfiice? According to the Bible, the one who finds real life is the one willing to forsake all else. Many people don't want to change their lifestyles; they don't want God (or anyone) telling them what to do. So, they'd rather remain in the dark than face the light of truth. The Bible explains:
"Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him." - Eph. 4:18
Could it be that people ignore God because they want to? Because they don't want Him to be a part of their lives?
The Bible Proves Itself
I'm sure that someone will object, "Why am I supposed to believe that the Bible is different than any other book? Why does it matter what Jesus said? Why not quote someone else?"
It's true that I often quote the Bible. I've spent a good number of hours researching the truth-claims of Jesus, and I've found them to be impressive. Not only does the Bible accurately portray reality (truth), but the things it says actually work in real life. To me, this makes the Bible a quotable source that we would do well to take seriously.
In a sense, the Bible is self-proving.
Let's say a boy is looking at an electric heater and sees the glowing red bars. His dad comes over and comments: "Don't touch those--they're hot!"
The skeptical boy decides that he wants proof that the heater is hot. He's not interested in some lengthy discourse about how metallic objects retain heat, etc. He just wants to know if Dad is telling the truth. Plus, he's curious.
The moment his tiny hand wraps around the glowing bar, his skepticism ceases. Suddenly, he not only believes that the heater bar is hot--he knows.
I've come to know the Bible in much the same way. People told me that it is real and powerful and life-changing. They told me that its words are true and its message is relevant. But I only knew after I grabbed it for myself.
You may not be at a point where you're ready to put your faith in the Bible. That's fine. But for the purposes of this discussion, would you be willing to grant that the Bible could be true?
Who Own's This Place?
Many people believe in God, but they want God to meet them on their own terms. They want God to fit into a box. Their box. That is, they want to obey the Creator in their own way, on their own timetable, with their own motives. They aren't particularly interested in the Bible, and actually, they aren't that interested in God. Their interest is personal: "What can God do for me?"
Of course, if the Bible is true in presenting God as the Creator and Owner of the Universe, then we can't pick and choose our own religious preference. God would be in charge of that. He would tell us His preference, and we would gladly submit.
Does God have to bow down to someone else's standards of morality? Of course not. God has already set up a standard of law and order that is perfectly designed to enable His creations to live in harmony. God's not obligated to anyone. He does not have to cater to the whims of public opinion. What an individual thinks about a subject does not force God to accommodate him. God is free to do as He wills.
It is His right as God to determine how He wants to be worshiped and obeyed.
Thus, if we discover that God wants us to come to Him through Jesus, then through Jesus we must come. Determining what religion is right is God's perogative, not ours. Consider Psalm 24:1:
"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him."
Who Has the Solution?
You realize that mankind only faces three problems: sin, sorrow, and death. Those problems lead us to questions like, "How can we deal with guilt? How can we find true peace? How can we know anything about an afterlife?"
While biblical Christianity differs from "religion" for a variety of reasons, there is one glaring difference. Religions attempt to solve the three problems via human effort. The Bible's answer to these problems is to rely upon God. Religion gives people lists of do's and don'ts, rituals to follow, and the right words to say. The Bible calls people to engage in a living relationship with God.
Christians affirm that nothing they do makes them worthy of God's favor. It is not by works of righteousness or baptism or prayer. It's not about memberships or donations. While these things may be good, they can't solve the three problems of life.
According to the Bible, God sent Jesus Christ to save us because we couldn't do the job ourselves.
In heaven, no one will be boasting, "Look how I got here! I prayed 3 times a day and was a moral person! I went to church and gave money to the poor...God is sure lucky to have me on His side!"
There is a solution to our three problems, but it isn't within ourselves. After all, we're the ones that messed things up to begin with. God is the only one with the power and willingness to fix our world.
Some people are convinced that the right morals or the right rituals will satisfy God's demand of eternal justice. They might even believe in Jesus, but their faith does not rest upon Him. Their faith, sadly, is in themselves.
With these facts in mind, it would be safe to say that in actuality, there are only two world faiths: faith in self or faith in God. We can choose between trusting in what people do or trusting in what God has already done.
If you choose to trust in yourself (or in someone else, like a priest or religious institution), you will never be able to find confidence or peace. What if you were not quite good enough? What if a person is slightly less than perfect? What if you forget something?
This is one reason why many people don't like the Bible. They want to fulfill a list of duties. They want to think they can work their way out of their guilt, as if good deeds could somehow outweigh sins. They want a religion that rewards them for a job well done. The Muslim Koran teaches this. So do the eastern religions, and even some "Christian" (in name only) denominations. They are attempting to satisfy justice and thus be assured of heaven via ritual, personal commitment, good morals or good deeds.
Yet God's offer as recorded in the Bible is anything but a pat on the back. His call is to trust in Jesus Christ and what He did, and to forsake yourself. The Bible tells us that we must rely on God's work, not our own. No efforts. No charades. No rites. Only Christ.
So, a quick recap so far: All of us have a sense that there must be something "more" to life. We each face three problems; sin, sorrow, and death. Human efforts can never overcome these difficulties, so we must rely on God for "salvation." According to the Bible, Jesus is the way God has provided for our rescue from a world of evil. And of course God, being the "owner" of the world, has every right to dictate what "one way" we must accept. He is the Creator, after all!
There was once a meeting of Christian thinkers and theologians who were discussing religious concepts. The question came up: "What makes Christianity different than all other faiths?" After a period of discussion, one man walked in on the conversation and said: "That's easy...the difference is in the grace of God."
Grace. Grace is something we cannot earn. We certainly don't deserve it. It is simply God's favor toward us. Even while we humans blaspheme, rebel, and disobey, God continues to love us. He gives us chance after chance after chance to repent and trust Him.
The Bible records in Psalm 103:
The LORD is merciful and gracious;
he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He has not punished us for all our sins,
nor does he deal with us as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens...
He has removed our rebellious acts
as far away from us as the east is from the west.
The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he understands how weak we are;
he knows we are only dust.
That's well put, isn't it? God knows we are "dust." He knows we can't save ourselves. That's why He's willing to extend mercy to those who ask Him for it.
The Apostle Paul makes this point in Ephesians 2:3-9:
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead...
God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
What's the Big Deal Here?
"Come on, now. What's the big deal anyway? Isn't God loving? Won't he overlook my mistakes?"
For myself, I've stopped trying to minimize my wrongdoing by calling it a "weakness" or "just a mistake." God gave humanity clear standards to live by, and even those who haven't read the Bible know in their heart what right and wrong looks like, at least generally. So I should just call it what it is -- sin. I've broken God's law and I need God to forgive me.
We know God is a "good" judge, which means he won't let lawbreakers off the hook. He won't ignore the demands of justice. So the real question becomes, "Do I measure up to the perfect standards of the Creator?"
Thankfully, God summarized his moral laws in ten simple statements, which is great for people like me, who have trouble reading though long articles (like this one). Here are those "Ten Commandments:"
#1 -- You shall have no other gods before Me [God].
This command is simple, but certainly not easy. God is to be the first and most important part of your life. Ask yourself the question: "Do I love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength?" If your purpose in life is not first and foremost to serve and worship God, then you are guilty of violating the first commandment. You have another god in your life that is more important to you than your Creator.
#2 -- Don't worship idols or make "images" to honor.
An idol is any object, idea, or pleasure that we hold onto more tightly than God. In addition, idols can also be man-made things we worship in the place of God (as if a statue or icon could actually be worthy of representing the eternal God of the universe!) Some people "worship" (give their highest honor to) money, friends, sports, career, education, relationships, entertainment, food, drugs -- you name it. Anything that people honor more than God (as evidenced by the way they live) is an idol.
#3 -- Do not use God's name in vain.
How often is the sacred name of God or Jesus Christ repeated in personal anger or fear? Have you broken this commandment by spitting out God's name in a disrespectful way? (I think some people even break this commandment by saying they are Christian but not acting like Christ.)
#4 -- Keep the Sabbath day holy.
God expects us to reserve one day out of seven exclusively for His use. For most of us, that day is Sunday -- a day when we can (should) set aside our work to do other things: rest, spend time with our families, perhaps go to church or do something to help others, etc. People who say they don't have time for God need to pay special attention to this commandment.
#5 -- Honor your father and mother.
Do you treat your parents with high value? Do you listen to them? Have you always obeyed them? According to God's Word, dishonoring our parents is a sin, just like lying or killing or blasphemy.
#6 -- Do not kill.
The Bible says that if you hate another person or harbor unrighteous anger, you are committing "murder" in your heart. Who of us can say we've never broken this law?
#7 -- Do not commit adultery.
Just like the sixth commandment, this isn't just about the external act of sexual immorality. Jesus said, "Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). God wants us to be pure inside and out.
#8 -- Do not steal.
Have you ever taken something that isn't yours? Have you ever stolen time from an employer, or even little things from a business? God isn't impressed by the value of the thing we steal -- it's the principle. Have I always been completely honest?
#9 -- Do not lie.
Right. No comment necessary. I'm guilty.
#10 -- Do not covet.
Coveting is being jealous of what other people have. It might be someone's spouse, someone's house, job, car, even their looks or abilities. Covetousness is the lust for more, a lack of gratefulness for what we do have.
When I look at the heart behind the Ten Commandments, I have to confess that I'm guilty at every point. I haven't lived up to God's standard. In fact, the Bible assures us that no one ever has.
King David of Israel once asked: "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? He that has clean hands and a pure heart." (Psalm 15:1) Wow. I don't know if I'm ready to "ascend" the hill quite yet. The fact is, I've broken God's law countless times and I'm going to have to face him on Judgment Day. I'm not going to kid myself here -- I'll be declared guilty. That's what justice demands.
It is said that the word "sin" literally means "missing the mark." Humans could never approach the holiness and perfection of God, which is precisely why our own efforts and rituals could never bring us close to Him. Because He is so good, sin cannot be tolerated in His presence. Lawbreakers will be punished, and rightly so.
Deal With It!
Somehow, our sin must be dealt with if we are to become friends with God, part of his family, etc. Something has to change if we expect to go to heaven when we die, or even live lives of purpose here on earth. We stand guilty before God. Our own consciences even condemn us.
Most people don't even match up to their own standards for themselves...why should we think they would be able to match God's perfect, eternal standard?
Biblical Christianity is the only faith-system that can offer real removal of guilt -- true forgiveness. It's not a band-aid. It's based upon justice. And it changes people's lives.
How has God made forgiveness available? Is it possible to get my sins erased so that when I stand before God, I'll be declared "not guilty?"
Here is the Bible's "Good News":
...the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it.
But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight--not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.
For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us (Rom. 3:20-25).
The "law" had no ability to rescue us from the curse of sin. It reveals our problem but does nothing to solve it. Being a "good person" can't erase our past. Without some sort of miracle, we'll be left alone to face the pure justice of God on Judgment Day.
The book of Revelation in the Bible, a vision of future events, provides us with a terrifying glmpse into the fate of those who stand guilty before God. "And the dead were judged according to the things written in the books, according to what they had done... And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:12-15).
God doesn't want people to face wrath and judgment, but he won't deny justice either. That's why Jesus came. He was sent to earth to die as our substitute -- he came to pay our debt of justice for us.
We are the ones who sinned, so therefore we are the ones that should pay the penalty for sin. However, because of God's great love, He made it possible for us to be forgiven based on the sacrifice Jesus made. God is the only one with the the legal ability to forgive and erase sin. All who come to God in faith can be saved because of what Jesus did.
So The Real Issue Is...
If a Savior is necessary, the issue of debate is really "Is Jesus is that Savior? Is Jesus God?" Many religions, such as Islam, merely take Jesus to be a good teacher or an important prophet. However, it is not logically consistent to believe this way, for Jesus himself claimed to be God. This means that Jesus was either:
Perhaps He was just a regular man and lied outright hundreds of times as He told people to follow Him and allowed them to believe He was God. Such a deception, if true, would certainly be the greatest lie of history. Those who say Jesus was only a good prophet are calling Him a liar--because it was Jesus who said: "The Father and I are one " (John 10:30).
It is possible that Jesus was a crazy man under a powerful self-delusion. If you don't believe Jesus was a liar, but you don't believe what he said, then you must think he was self-deceived.
The third and final choice, and the most sensible, is that Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be--the Son of God. When Jesus stood trial for claiming to be the Messiah, the high priest ordered Him to answer the question: "Are you the Son of God?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is as you say." (On Judgment Day every human being will stand before Jesus, including that high priest, and the tables will be turned. We will be the ones answering the questions then.)
So, as you evaluate what your belief will be about Jesus Christ, keep in mind that these are the only three valid choices: he was a liar, he was a lunatic, or he was the Lord.
The Gospel of John was written to prove who Jesus is. Before making your final decision, try reading that section of the Bible.
The Victory Has Been Won
There is another glaring difference between effort-based religion and Christianity. Humans have no power of death! We can prolong life a little, but we can't stop death.
That's why I'm thankful that we can look beyond ourselves, to Him who conquered death once for all. Think about the great religious and philosophic leaders of long ago. Buddha--he's dead. Mohammad--same deal. Confucius--dead. These guys may have offered good advice or inspired their followers, but they don't have an answer to our biggest concern. They, like all other human beings, are dead.
But that's not the case with Jesus Christ. The Bible proclaims and supports with evidence the resurrection of Jesus. He died, and he rose again. Death had been part of the human world since the first sin of Adam and Eve, and Jesus finally stopped the cycle. Because of his resurrection, we can believe in Jesus' promise of eternal life for those who have faith in Him. Here it is from Jesus himself:
"I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish" (John 11:25-26).
I like what the Apostle Paul said to the great philosophers of Athens:
"Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious, for as I was walking along I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it--`To an Unknown God.' You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him.
"He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't live in man-made temples, and human hands can't serve his needs--for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
"His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him--though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As one of your own poets says, `We are his offspring.' And since this is true, we shouldn't think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone. God overlooked people's former ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone everywhere to turn away from idols and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:22-31).
God is not a piece of silver or gold. God doesn't dwell in a physical man-made temple. Nor is God satisfied with man-invented worship. God has commanded that all men everywhere repent (turn from) such ideas about religion and turn to Jesus Christ. The proof that this is valid is in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (In the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15 provides an excellent study of the evidence related to this.)
Perhaps you are much like the philosophers of Athens, always searching and wondering who the true "unknown" God really is.
Jesus is the answer.
He is the only one who holds the power over sin and death.
He is the Creator, the Lawgiver, the Judge, the Savior, and the Master of eternity. There is no one like Him. He is the great "I AM" to whom Moses spoke in the Old Testament. He is the "Light of the World" who came to shine truth upon our darkened hearts and lives. He is the "Lamb of God" who died as a perfect sacrifice for all sin. For those who are lost, He is the WAY; for those who are deceived, He is the TRUTH, and for those who are dead in sin, He is the LIFE (John 14:6).
The grace of God is available to you.
"For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right" (Titus 2:11-14).
Jesus can set you free from the bondage and guilt of sin. God's love and mercy can give you grace and power to begin a new kind of life. You see, Jesus isn't just interested in forgiving your sins, he wants to transform you. He wants to change you into the person you were created to be.
I can tell you from personal experience that the process isn't easy. Following Jesus is often difficult. It involves sacrifice. It involves change. It's turning away from a self-focused life and beginning to love and obey Jesus first. But being a part of God's "family" is what you and I were designed to do. It is our destiny.
And it is the greatest experience imaginable.
Do you feel like God wants you to take a step of faith towards Him? How will you respond?
Remember the first story I wrote about, at the beginning of this article? It was about Peter and John boldly proclaiming (at great risk of persecution) the reality of Jesus' teaching, miracles, and power. They had seen him rise from the dead, and they were determined to tell the whole world. Here's a statement Peter made sometime after the confrontation:
All honor to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is by his boundless mercy that God has given us the privilege of being born again [as a part of God's family]. Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad!" (1 Peter 1:3-6).