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.