Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
What difference, if any, does it make whether one is a Christian or of some other faith? Aren’t all faiths the same and don’t all ways lead to God? Aren’t we judged ultimately on how sincerely we take our own chosen path or what a good life we’ve led?
These aren’t just academic questions. They matter more than other questions we ask. If we look at what Jesus said about it, we’ll discover that it’s the central question of our lives. Going back to his encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus claimed that unless some fundamental, God-created transaction takes place in the core of our being, we’ll be eternally shut out from the only kingdom that counts (Jn. 3:3).
Now, of course, our first question, “Why be a Christian?” means far more than what label I put on myself (or others). If “being a Christian” means little more than what organization I’m part of, or belief system I identify with, then it really is one of the most trivial of all questions. And I’m afraid this is what most people think it really means.
When over 2,000 persons boarded the Titanic in the month of April 1912 they sincerely believed they would end up in New York. Now they could have taken a routine voyage on just about any steamer across the Atlantic, and they had every reason to believe that they would cross the Atlantic in the greatest safety and comfort. It looked like a sure thing. It was unsinkable. But as sure as they were, most of them were plunged into a very deep and dark abyss.
So it really does matter what ship we board, just as it really matters what faith we follow. Jesus’ message to us is that if we try to make it to the “other side” by whatever means we imagine is best, no matter how much of a guarantee is attached to it, we’ll never get there. This message is not whatever trend of the day the church uses to get more members on its rolls, rather, it’s the straightforward statement of the only one in human history who knew the right answer. Jess, the divine Son of God, came from the “other side” to take us with him to our intended destination. He demonstrated his authority to make such claims by his resurrection from the dead. He meant what he said: there is no other way to God except through him.
Being a Christian means that Jesus dwells in us and therefore equips us by putting “eternal life” in us. This new quality of life begins now and never ends, sustaining us and making us fruitful all through this life, enabling us to fulfill God’s purpose, and causing his gift of joy to be the characteristic mark of our lives (Jn. 15:1-11).
All this brings us in the end to full humanity, God’s plan from the beginning (1 Cor. 15:46-49). To many, it’s a double scandal: Jesus is both the only way to God as well as the only way to our full humanity. Without him, we don’t get there.
So why be a Christian?
Because unless Jesus’ Spirit dwells inside us and performs this very specific transformation, unless he puts his stamp of approval upon us, and empowers us to get to where we want to go—in other words, unless he personally outfits us for the journey—then our fate will be as decisive as those who boarded the wrong ship to New York.
Even though the church doesn’t talk much about it anymore (except those odd Christians who seem to talk of little else), there really are only two destinies, and only one way to the right one. Life or death, paradise or destruction, light or darkness—or any other way it could be put. Since his kingdom will be the last one left standing, either we’ll be part of his kingdom or we won’t be part of anything at all.
Jesus comes to tell us that everything that needs to be done to get us home has been done. He’s completed the work, paid the ticket, paved the way, and announced it widely. His invitation is simply this: let all who are thirsty come and drink from the water of life given away freely (Rev. 22:17).
Questions for Discussion
- Why do you think our sincerity carries no weight with God when it comes to our eternal destiny?
- Do you have a problem with the idea that there is just one way to God, salvation, and full humanity? Why?
- Think through and discuss the problems that arise in your mind if every faith could lead to the same end.
Photo by Sonja und Jens via Flickr