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.

Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part I

September 7th, 2012

A couple years ago I was puzzled by how I could love God more.  I didn’t seem to have the deep vibrant love I heard others talk about.  I wanted it, so I set out to figure out how to achieve that.  Like I usually do when understanding what the Bible says about a topic, I did a word study and pulled together all the verses I could find on loving God.  In the course of that search I came upon John 14:15.  Nestled between a promise of great power, and the promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit is  captivating declaration from Jesus.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In that moment, I found the answer to my search.  I will demonstrate my love for God by finding and cataloging all the commands I can find in the Bible, and do my best to obey them.  I was quickly overwhelmed.  Not only are there a lot of commands in the Bible, but trying to keep them all is… impossible.  Yet again another effort to have a vibrant loving relationship with Christ was proved futile.

Tragically this mindset is encouraged by many Christians.  Not only are we told we must obey all the commands in the Bible, but if you are a truly Biblical Christian you will analyze principles in the Bible and derive new rules which must be obeyed as well.  Because truth is absolute, then if a way of living derived from the Bible is right for one person, then it must be true for everyone.  The logic is simple and therefore believable.  As a result, many things have become taboo for various Christians including drinking, dancing, and eating meat.  Many other things have been required of Christians: strict and comprehensive dress codes, all kinds of rules for what constitutes a “Biblical Courtship,” and enough rules on interactions between the sexes that a person has to constantly think whether what he says or does might be perceived as “immoral.”  Organizations have even been created to make sure Christians know and follow the many Biblical principles.  One of the best known examples is Bill Gothard’s Institute in Biblical Life Principles which was begun when he “wrote his master’s thesis at Wheaton Graduate School on a youth program that eventually led to seven Biblical, non-optional principles of life.”  Whether intended or not, the focus on obeying commands as central to Christianity makes it hard for many to see God as their loving Heavenly Father, and instead leads them to view Him as someone who is standing there waiting to punish them when they disobey, and will only bless them when His commands are obeyed.

Interestingly Jesus reserved His most fiery language for people who approached religion this way.  While Jesus enjoyed exposing the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, He also blasted the way they would derive commands from Biblical principles and require people to obey their commands to be good Jews.  Does this sound eerily familiar?  Jesus said people who do this, “Tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”  (Matthew 23:4)  In Matthew 12 Jesus exposes the problems with Jewish laws concerning the Sabbath.  Among other things, the Pharisees had rules against healing and plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath.  (Anyone familiar with modern commands against cooking, or eating out on the Sabbath?)  In an effort insure the Jews obeyed the 4th commandment, all kinds of rules were added on top of this command.  Jesus went out of his way to expose the Pharisees wrong approach which created these burdensome rules.  He ridicules the “experts in the law” at one point asking them “Have you not read in the Law…” (Matthew 12:5)  Essentially He tells them that their priorities are not His.  “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  (Matthew 12:7)  In verse 12 he accuses them of valuing their own sheep over the health of a sick man.  Shockingly, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”  (Matthew 12:14)

Towards the end of Matthew, in Chapter 23 Jesus goes after even more of the Pharisees rules using very strong language in the process.  Verses 16-22 contain His condemnation of their ridiculous rules about what forms of swearing were binding.  A few verses later He condemns their requirement that people tithe a tenth of every individual herb they grow. (Again this was a derivation of the command to tithe, but once a burdensome and ridiculous rule.)  As a result he calls them “blind guides” who “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”  (Matthew 23:23)  Immediately afterwards Jesus compares them to whitewashed tombs and cups which are clean on the outside but filthy inside.  Concluding, He says the pharisees “Outwardly appear righteous to others, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  (Matthew 23:28)

There are undeniably commands in the Bible which a Christian pursuing Christ should strive to follow.  However, burdening a Christian with commands, and especially with rules derived from Biblical principles has no place in Scripture.  This is the type of legalism practiced by the Pharisees which Jesus vehemently condemned.  In Part II I will explore what the Bible says about obeying commands.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia