Is Jesus the Way?
More Christians than ever are befriending advocates of other religious traditions. And many more Christians are learning about the beliefs in these religions. In light of this, Christians must clarify their claims about salvation.
Summarizing what Christians think about salvation is not simple! Views about salvation vary in the Bible and in the Christian tradition.
“I am the Way”
One of the most poignant biblical passages about salvation comes from John’s gospel. John quotes Jesus saying these words, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
Christians have interpreted these words to mean various things. I believe, however, they provide a helpful basis for affirming Jesus as the way of salvation. Explaining in detail what I mean when I affirm that Jesus is the way goes beyond the scope of a blog. It would take at least one book!
I do want to make some general observations on this crucial issue. I hope my observations can help Christians understand the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for salvation, while also making sense of the broader biblical witness about salvation. And I hope to clarify to nonChristians how at least some Christians — especially me — think about salvation.
Jesus, Not Religion, is the Way
Many Christians rightfully distinguish between Jesus being the way and Christianity being the way. The most important theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth, rightfully distinguished between placing our trust in religion and placing trust in Jesus.
As important as Christianity is as an institution, community, historical trajectory, and set of ideas, we should not equate Christianity with Jesus. As a religion or institution, Christianity sometimes does not reflect well the love of Jesus Christ or the will of God.
Some Are Saved Who Have Never Heard of Jesus
It may surprise some, but the Bible frequently talks about salvation for those who do not know the name of Jesus. For instance, Paul writes:
“When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all” (Rm. 2:14-16).
The story of Cornelius being “an upright and God-fearing man” (Acts 10) despite having no knowledge of Jesus seem to illustrate this passage in Romans. This incident prompts Peter to say, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (34). Peter goes on to proclaim that in Jesus Christ, God sent a message of peace.
Biblical writers regard many who did not know Jesus — especially people in the Old Testament — as saved, righteous, and/or holy. Their salvation does not depend upon their conscious awareness of Jesus.
Prevenient Grace Says God Offers Salvation to All
My Christian tradition – the Wesleyan theological tradition – stresses a view called “the doctrine of prevenient grace.” This idea is derived from the Bible, although the words “prevenient grace” are not found in scripture. It says God acts first and provides the possibility of salvation to all people. If people respond appropriately to God’s empowering and inspiring provision, they can experience salvation.
“The grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed on all people,” says my denomination’s statement on prevenient grace, “enabling all who will turn from sin to righteousness, believe on Jesus Christ for pardon and cleansing from sin, and follow good works pleasing and acceptable in His sight.”
Given these preliminary comments, I move to my two main points. These two points support my belief that Jesus is the way and that no one comes to the Father except through him.
A helpful and decidedly biblical approach to understanding’s Jesus’ words comes from the Christian creedal confession that Jesus is the “God-man” – both divine and human. Looking at both aspects of this confession brings light to my belief that Jesus is the way.
1. As the Christ, Jesus is the Source of Salvation
As divine, Jesus is the source of salvation. I strongly affirm the oft-repeated idea in the Bible that God alone is the author of salvation. No one can find salvation outside God.
When Jesus says, “I am the way,” we might best interpret this declaration as identifying the divinity of Jesus as the God-human.
Of course, we may not always be aware that God is the source of our salvation. And there are advantages to having that awareness. But all who experience the good life of salvation have God to thank.
2. Imitating Jesus’ Love Provides Salvation
As human, Jesus’ love is the means and purpose of salvation. We cannot find salvation outside love – God’s love for us and our response to God by fulfilling the greatest commands to love God and others as ourselves.
Jesus’ life, words, actions, death, and resurrection proclaim the supremacy of love as the key to salvation. The Apostle Paul says it well: “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
This does not mean that our love earns our salvation. God loves us no matter whether we love in response. But we must respond to God’s gift of salvation and live lives of love. If we do not, we cannot experience the good life God wants for us.
A Wesleyan View of Religions
Al Truesdale has written well about how the Wesleyan tradition generally thinks about Christianity in relation to other religions. I want to offer a few quotes from an essay he wrote for the book Postmodern and Wesleyan? Truesdale writes…
“A Wesleyan answer regarding Christianity and other religions contains four elements. First, we affirm the New Testament’s witness to Jesus Christ as God incarnate.”
“Second, we affirm that the promised Spirit of God unfailingly and creatively acts in the world. The Spirit seeks to draw all people to eternal life in Christ and prepares the way for the gospel’s proclamation. We must seek to discern and cultivate the Spirit’s work.”
“Third, we affirm that religions can become vehicles the Holy Spirit uses to draw people to Christ. But religions are at best incomplete anticipations of the fullness of God manifest in Christ.”
“Finally, we Wesleyans abhor mean-spirited opposition to other religions. Instead, we seek to understand and dialogue with those from other religions. We dialogue because we want to serve, not obstruct, the Redeemer’s prevenient work.”
Of course, we both could and should say more about these important issues than what I’ve offered in this blog. But let me simply say that I find the classic Christian view that Jesus is divine and human helpful.
Christians would be wise to remain Christocentric: they should keep Jesus at the center of how they understand salvation. God is the source of salvation, and we experience salvation when we follow Jesus’ example and love.
To the question, “Is Jesus the way?” I answer, “Yes!”