Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Narrow Way - narrow minded?

"Jesus said unto him, 'I am the Way...'" (John 14 v 6)
He was a colleague of mine - a fellow civil engineer, and he was telling me about the voluntary work he had been doing in Guinea. He told me he had been staying with an American missionary couple. His problem was this - the people in the country weren't eating their young, beating their wives or mistreating their elderly or anything like that, so why did these Americans feel they had the right or the need to go to their country and interfere with their beliefs? My friend isn't the only one who has raised this issue. It just seems so unfair and intolerant – no matter what kind of a life you have lived, no matter how good you have been, how hard you have tried, you get these Christians telling you that unless you believe just like they do you are going to hell. Surely if God is at all fair He's not going to exclude people from heaven over some point of doctrine, after all, how you behave is bound to be far more important than what you believe.

This objection seems perfectly reasonable and totally unanswerable, but is it? Was the Lord Jesus being egotistical when He said He was the only way? Where His apostles being bigoted when they said that there was salvation in none other than Christ? Are Christians today narrow minded or arrogant when they say you will perish if you aren’t a Christian? Let’s just back up in our thinking, because it seems that the outrage people have over Christ’s exclusive claims stems from them getting off on the wrong foot.

When people hear Christians say that Jesus Christ is the only way they assume this is some sort of arbitrary requirement and imagine it something like this: God is in heaven looking down at all the different religious groups, they all teach pretty much the same in terms of morality, but despite that, God picks His favourite, and He says, ‘I am choosing Christianity. If you’re a Christian you can come to heaven, and the rest of you, quite literally, can go to hell.’

Now the problem is it's not an accurate representation. It's not the case that God looked down on all the different religions and picked His favourite, but rather He looked down on all the people of the world, and saw that, irrespective of their religious label, they had all sinned against Him; they were all guilty of breaking His law, and they all deserve to be punished for those crimes against Him. Yet in His boundless, causeless love, He sent His beloved eternal Son into the world to go to the cross at Calvary and there, as a willing Substitute, He bore the punishment due to human sin. The substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ puts God in a position in which He can righteously offer forgiveness to the guilty, and righteously grant that forgiveness to those who repent and turn to Christ. Hopefully it can be seen now why salvation is in Christ alone, why He is the one Mediator between God and mankind – He is the only One who has paid the penalty for sin, and so He is the only One who can bring guilty sinners into a right relationship with a righteous God. It is not the case that refusing the Lord Jesus puts us on the road to hell – that is where we already are because of our sin. But God has provided a Saviour and He offers a Substitute. If this Saviour is refused then you remain on the road to hell; and if this Substitute is rejected then you will have to answer for your own sins – there is no other option.

By the way, my friend added this important postscript after we had discussed the issue - he said that the chief of one of the tribes said to one of the missionaries, "Why did it take you so long to come and tell us this message?"