Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

John 14:6 Part I: The Necessity of the Exclusivity of Christianity

October 25th, 2012

John 14 begins the Upper Room Discourse, Christ’s last message to His disciples before His death. At the very beginning Thomas asks Christ to tell them the way to the father. Jesus response is found in John 14:6.  I would like to begin today a two part series on this verse.  In this first article I will argue that the exclusivity of Christianity is not intolerant, but a necessary extension of a proper understanding of man’s nature.  In the second part I will show how this verse serves to unite the church and give joy to the believer.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 ESV)

This verse undeniably teaches the exclusivity of Christianity.  It is not just one of many religions that all lead to God. Many people in the ancient world liked to believe that everyone could “tailor” his religion, choosing to worship the assortment of gods that suited his fancy, his ethnic background, or his trade. Today, we like to display a “tolerant attitude” towards all religions, insisting that they are all of more or less equal truth value. However, Christianity does not permit the idea that there are many ways to God, or many ways to achieve salvation. Jesus here is making the bold claim that he is the way, the truth, and the life. The thrice-repeated definite article denotes exclusivity.

Jesus could have stopped right there, and His point would have been clear. However, He knew how much His disciples (then and through the ages) have needed important truths hammered home. To make it abundantly clear, He told them that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This language leaves no room for other ways. Christ could have said, “Most people will come to the Father through Me.” He could have said, “The best way to the Father is following me.” He could have said a number of different things, but instead He chose to state in unmistakable terms that He is the only way to the Father. “No one” leaves no other way. Not for a single person, a dozen, or even elite spiritual 1%.  Christ makes it indisputably clear that there exists only one way to God and that is through Him.

This is not the first or only time Christ explains this concept. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ uses the analogy of a path and gate to describe the way to eternal life. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)  This passage describes two paths.  One path is wide and broad.  Presumably this path could include many paths, or is at least a broad minded and tolerant enough path to include many gods, and philosophies.  This is an easy path.  The gate at the end of it is wide which enables the many people who travel it to quickly pass through the gate However, while this gate is easy to pass through, destruction waits on the other side.

The other gate is narrow, it’s path is hard, but it leads to eternal life.  When examined in conjunction with John 14:6, the gate is clearly Christ Himself.  There is a clear and obvious parallel between the “Me” which we must go through to come to the Father in John 14, and the gate by which we access eternal life in Matthew 7.  That all humanity travels on one of the two paths is clear from the contrast in Matthew 7.  Either enter by the narrow gate, or face destruction.  There are no other paths or gates presented, and only one has a destination that is truly desirable.

Many are offended by the exclusivity of Christianity.  This flies in the face of the modern idea of tolerance.  If this is you, I ask you to listen to what I have to say in these next sentences, and in the spirit of open-mindedness and tolerance simply seek to understand the perspective Christianity comes from.

Imagine with me that you are sick.  You suffer from an unknown and incurable disease.  What began as a seemingly normal illness developed into something which has you bedridden with terrible pain.  For years you have been suffering.  In the beginning you tried simple prescriptions, but as the disease worsened you began visiting specialists all over the nation.  While they all seemed wise, they each gave you a different diagnosis and different medicines, workouts, or diets to cure you.  Every single one of them was confident that their remedy would cure you, but as faithfully as you stuck to their various programs you only saw temporary improvement at best.  The search for a cure has been long, discouraging, and futile.  You go to your doctor because you noticed a slight increase in the pain.  He runs the tests.   Instead of the desired calming response, you find yourself rushed out the door on a stretcher onto an ambulance.  In that moment of confusion you are told that your disease has taken a turn for the worse and your body is beginning to shut down.  You then hear that unless you are cured, you will not make it to the end of the week.

What do you want most in that moment?  One more experimental remedy?  No.  You’ve tried all of them.  One more confident doctor?  No.  They’ve already made you lose faith in the medical community.  What you want most in that moment is a doctor who walks in and says I will cure you, and actually does.  You need someone with the truth.  You need someone with a profound and accurate understanding of science who has studied your condition and will cure you.  You don’t have time for any other proposed cure.  Without the truth you will die.

While this may seem a bit far-fetched, the Bible describes our souls as being in just this position.  In Matthew 9:12 Jesus describes Himself as a Physician who came to heal the spiritual sick.  This was the reason for the many miracles performed by Christ throughout His ministry.  They reflected the fact that God brings people from spiritual death to spiritual life.  “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”  (John 5:21) The Apostle Paul puts this idea in a very stark contrast in Romans 6:23.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Apart from Christ every human lies on that ambulance stretcher facing imminent eternal death.

When viewing yourself the way the Bible describes you, the exclusivity of Christianity is not intolerant, but your salvation.  If Christianity simply offered a way to inner peace, it would be brutally intolerant to insist we should all follow Christ.  If hell only existed for the worst of sinners, murderers, rapists, etc…, or if hell didn’t exist at all, then the exclusivity of Christianity would be mean spirited.  Even a Christianity centered on a promise of prosperity would have no reason to claim exclusivity.  Others could find a more effective path to prosperity.  However, because Christianity offers the only cure to a deadly disease claiming exclusivity becomes not only good but natural.

The Sin of Partiality: A Devotional

September 20th, 2012

Last Saturday I gave a devotional on The Sin of Partiality based off James 2:1-13.  The following is not a transcript of what I said, but just the outline and notes I used for my talk.  Some of the explanation that may be needed to flesh out the points are not written since I would just say it as I elaborated on the points.  As I lead other devotional groups and bible studies, I may post my notes periodically.

  1. The Seriousness of the Sin of Partiality
  2. The Reason why we should not show partiality.
  3. Application: Two Types of Partiality Condemned by Scripture

1. The Seriousness of the Sin of Partiality

Definition: Looking down on someone or treating someone as having less value.

Context: This is the first sin in James in a list of sins that the first chapter tells us to “put away” (v.21) and ways in which we must be “doers and not just hearers.” (v.22)  For some reason partiality was a sin that was a higher priority for James to address than the dangerous tongue which he discusses in depth in the next chapter.

Seriousness: James takes partiality much more seriously than probably most of us take it.  If most of us were making a list of sins, partiality probably wouldn’t make it on the list.  In v. 4 he says the person who does it “judges with evil thoughts” and in v. 6 he describes the partial person as “dishonoring the poor man.”

In our view of sin that includes “white lies” and “the seven deadly sins,” one would think showing partiality would barely make it to the status of a white lie.  However, in verse 8-11 James equates partiality with adultery or murder.

2. Reason for the Seriousness of Partiality

At a fundamental level, partiality denies the power of the cross.  The cross is the great leveler of humanity.  Without it we are all sinners, regardless of what we have done.  Only because of it are any of us redeemed.  Partiality is a way for humans to make themselves elevate themselves or others.  It does it by allowing us to create tiers of people who are holier than others, and tiers of people who are worse sinners than others.  When I claim to be more holy or righteous because of externalities than another believer, I am denying that it is only the cross that accomplishes this.  When I claim someone is a worse sinner for x reasons, I deny that God has saved me from the exact same place through the death of His son.  When we see each other for who we are in light of the cross, partiality becomes quite petty.

C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory made a powerful and poignant quote about who we are in light of eternity.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…  It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

If we truly see each other in this light, how can we show partiality to each other?

Closely related to this is that very simply, we have no justification for partiality.  We had nothing in us that warranted our salvation, yet Christ saved us.  Whatever we can think to hold against someone, God can hold much more against us.  He chooses continually not to.

3. Application: Two Types of Partiality in Scripture

A.  Partiality Based on Appearance or Title

This is the partiality specifically addressed in this passage.

  • rich v. poor
  • good clothes v. bad clothes

In a school setting or any other setting we should not show partiality based on the many socioeconomic reasons we contrive to divide ourselves.  Race, fashionable clothes, income, education, etc… Why you may be more inclined to be friends with people you are more similar to, there is no justification or reason to look down on someone for these kind of external reasons.

Tragically this occurs far too often in many churches.  How often have you seen someone get weird looks because they did not dress well enough for that churches standards, or when was the last time you saw someone being kept at a distance or avoided because they did not meet that churches standard of modesty?  We may not show partiality by bringing the person with the good clothes to the front of the room, but how often do our churches exclude whether directly or indirectly because someone isn’t dressed well enough?

B. Partiality Based on Sin

Jesus regularly interacted with tax collectors and sinners.  Tax collectors were the worst form of the greedy bureaucrat.  They were known as thieves and extortionists, and they were viewed as traitors who were agents of Rome’s effort to subjugate the Jews.  The word “sinners” is largely a euphemism for prostitute.  It could also refer to people who lived such generally evil lives that they were known by all to be living lives of sin.

Matthew 9:10-13 describes the conversion of Matthew/Levi and his subsequent eating and drinking with Matthew’s friends who are described as “tax collectors and sinners.”  This story is told in both Luke and Mark as well.

Matthew 11:19 it appears that Jesus was known by the people at large as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

Luke 15:1 Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son after “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”

These were the people who were attracted to Jesus and who he came to preach to.  Much like the pharisees did, it is far too easy for us to look down on and disassociate ourselves from someone because they are a “worse sinner” than we are.  Jesus would have none of that.  If a pastor spent his time with and ministering to cheats and sexually immoral people, would we be able to view him as following the pattern of Christ, or would we criticize him for “putting himself in the way of temptation” or for “not having enough hedges in place to guard against temptation?”  Do sinners at least think that they are welcome at our churches, or do they know they will be looked down on and judged instead of loved?  Jesus rebuked those who looked down on others as being worse sinners than ourselves.  Do we as modern Christians need to be similarly rebuked?

In closing, I read a post from another blog which I edited slightly.

“Now, if Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in order to preach to them, the Pharisees would not have fussed. After all, who would have objected that tax collectors and sinners were forsaking their sinful lifestyle, making restitution, and seeking a life of righteousness? The Pharisees believed that God offered forgiveness when sinners repented. They could even rejoice that a wretched sinner saw the light and was converted from a life of debauchery.

But what infuriated the Pharisees was that Jesus was not explicitly or directly asking tax collectors and sinners to do any of this. Some of them no doubt did repent, such as Levi (Luke 5:28). But Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were and was freely having dinner with them without requiring that they first clean up their lives.

Of course, Jesus did have a message to proclaim to them. But his message was not, “Straighten up your life and keep the law.” Rather, his message was, “The kingdom of God is open to you; you are welcome to join.” By eating with them, he was extending to them the kingdom of God.

When we read about the protest of the Pharisees, we are quick to condemn them and to side with Jesus. But if Jesus were physically present in our world today, would we as church people be comfortable if he spent his time with cheats and swindlers, sexually deviant individuals, gays and lesbians? Would we not be infuriated if he constantly went to their dinner parties and didn’t come to ours?”

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia