Friday, October 2, 2009
The JESUS Question...Is Jesus the Only Way?
After last Sunday's sermon "Why (choose) Christianity," I received several questions from persons that can be summed up in this question that was texted to me:
"If Jesus is the only way...what happens to those who don't hear about Jesus?"
A related question asked, "What about those who lived before Jesus was born?"
And of course, the most direct question like this, simply put, is this, "Isn't saying that Jesus is the only way of salvation descriminating against those who believe something else, or practice a different religion?"
These questions all arise out of our desire to be fair, to appear open-minded, and to not be seen as intolerant by others. ("Tolerance" has become THE highest virtue in our culture today! But, as we see in our society over and over again, "tolerance" can be pretty intolerant of the views of others when it becomes the supreme value to which we must bow. More about this later in another post.)
So again, our question:
"If Jesus is the only way...
...what happens to those who don't hear about Jesus?"
Christians believe that God loves all that he has created, and it is his desire that all persons come to him through his gift of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. (Most other religions also believe in the need for 'salvation' and offer some 'way' to achieve it.) But many persons were born before Jesus ever lived, and there are many more who have been born since Jesus lived who have never heard of him (after all, we haven't always had You Tube!).
God loves all these persons, but they haven't heard the gospel message of Jesus. How can they know of God's gifts of love, grace and salvation?
The reality of our human condition is that we have ALL sinned. Every person who has ever lived "falls short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). None of us have met God's perfect, holy standard. We have all lived less than perfect lives; we're selfish, we gossip, we steal, we lust, we want what others have. If we're being honest, we all know that we're imperfect; we know we are without excuse...and this will become painfully true for each one of us when we stand before our holy, perfect Creator.
So we all need forgiveness. Every person needs God's gift of grace through Christ to redeem our less than perfect lives.
The New Testament tells us how persons will receive this chance to hear the good news even if they are not reached in this life. In 1 Peter 3:18-20 we read:
"For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water."
When it says Christ "went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison," some scholars believe this is a reference to Christ sharing the good news of salvation so that they will have an opportunity to respond. This is further supported by Peter's words a few verses later in 1 Peter 4:5-6:
"But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does."
God's desire is that we would "live in the spirit as God does." He will provide every person a day for salvation as well as a day for judgment. This is the righteous, perfect God that we worship!
In Romans 14:9 Paul writes:
"For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living."
Jesus will reign over the living and the dead. (James says that even the demons believe that he is Lord, and they shudder in fear [James 2:19].) He is Lord of all, those who receive him, and those who reject him. There are persons who hear the good news but reject Christ; God gives us this freedom and this choice. God will not force anyone to worship him or spend eternity in his presence. But God's desire is for every person to receive Christ's gift of forgiveness and salvation.
For this reason, and based on the texts above, I believe every person will have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.
But how much better for us, and for every person, to know we have eternal life today, right now? For this reason the church - and every member of Christ's body - must share his message, so that all can receive this Good Gift!