This year evangelicals have discussed and debated the exclusivity of Christ more intensely than in recent years, incited by books, personalities, and conferences. The Evangelical Theological Society recently held their annual meeting in San Francisco on the issue as well. For scholars, pastors, and engaged Christians, belief that Jesus is the only way changes the way we live and interact with others. It may be helpful to reflect on a few ways the belief in the exclusivity of Christ affects our lives.
First, if Jesus is the only way, we must be courageous. We must not flinch from telling others that Jesus is the only way, even if it means we are rejected by others.
Consider the blind man Jesus healed in John 9. He boldly testified to what he knew about Jesus, even though it cost him social standing and acceptance. He forfeited his place in the synagogue, and thus lost the approval of those with power and influence in the community. He was faithful to what he experienced, repeating over and over again that Jesus healed him of blindness. And when Jesus revealed himself as the Son of Man, the man who was formerly blind worshiped him.
But the Pharisees reviled the man as an ignoramus, criticizing him for trying to teach them and characterizing him as one entirely born in sin. And his parents showed they were cowards, for when they were asked about their son, they said:
We know this is our son and that he was born blind. . . . But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he’s of age. He will speak for himself.
His parents protested ignorance since they didn’t see first-hand what happened. They gave an answer that would preserve their social standing. They put their finger in the wind and concluded it would be too costly socially to stand up for Jesus.
How about you? Do you shrink back from saying what you believe to gain the praise of others? Scholars, do you modify your words and even your convictions to ensure your social standing at academic societies like ETS, IBR, or SBL?
I am always struck and convicted when I read why many did not believe in Jesus, according to John 5:43-44. Jesus says:
I have come in my Father’s name, yet you don’t accept me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.
The fundamental reason for their disbelief, despite their words, was not intellectual or theological. They lusted for praise from others, and therefore they failed to believe. It is right for us to regularly ask ourselves: Am I captivated by fear of what others think? Am I holding these beliefs to get praise from others whom I respect? Or am I living as if Jesus is the only way, so there is nothing sweeter to me than receiving the glory that comes from God? May God help us to stand firm so that we live to bring honor and praise to him.
Arrogance and Truth
Many today think we are arrogant if we believe Jesus is the only way. How can we, finite and limited, claim to know the truth? Such a view contradicts what we find in Scripture, i.e., we know the truth because the Holy Spirit has revealed Christ to us. Paul makes this plain in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.
But here I quote the prophetic words of G. K. Chesterton:
Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction—where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. . . . the new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn.
If we live like Jesus is the only way, we will be courageous. We will testify to the truth in Christ. We will not trim our convictions to please others, but in our teaching, preaching, and writing we will be faithful to our Lord.
We will remember the words of Paul to Timothy: “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8).
Don’t Detract from Truth
That leads me to the next point, which is related to the first one. Living like Jesus is the only way also means that we will be humble. Our Lord calls on us to courageously and boldly testify to the truth, but sometimes the way we testify to the truth detracts from the truth.
I remember when I was a young scholar, and some of the most prominent defenders of evangelicalism were known for their brilliance and their boldness in fighting error. But they were also known for their arrogance and egos. There is no excuse for departing from the truth of the gospel, but surely some have left evangelicalism behind because of the spirit with which we have defended the truth.
When we are contending for the truth, we must not forget Paul’s admonition to Timothy:
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
It is hard for people to hear the truth that Jesus is the only way if we speak with an arrogance that suggests that we are the only way. We must be firm in contending for the truth, but Paul also commands us to be gentle and patient and to proclaim the truth with gentleness to those who disbelieve. Gentleness doesn’t mean that we are wimpy. There is a gentle firmness, a gentle sternness. But we must beware of anger, for it so often stems from the flesh.
And those who oppose us are watching us, wondering if we are genuine or if we pontificate about truth to exalt ourselves. If they see anger, they conclude that we are defending ourselves rather than the Lord. They suspect that we defend certain positions to advance ourselves rather than Jesus. So we may proclaim that Jesus is the only way but actually live as if we are the only way.
My third point reveals itself when we draw attention to ourselves rather than the way, Jesus. We aren’t living as if Jesus is the only way if we focus on ourselves in conversations. Like everything else in life this is a matter of spiritual wisdom. There are no formulas here. If you have opportunity, it isn’t wrong to talk about your writing projects and speaking opportunities. In fact, not sharing what we are working on may be a form of false humility. But we aren’t living as if Jesus is the only way unless we obey Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If we are promoting our own name, we are not doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” If we are living to impress others, we are not living for the glory of God, and we are not honoring him by depending upon him. If you dominate most conversations and don’t really listen to others, then you aren’t living as if Jesus is the only way. If in most situations, you are the big cheese, and you are critical, cynical, and negative, then your pride is motivating you rather than the glory of God.
Do we listen—really listen—to others? We demonstrate our love for God as 1 John says by loving our brothers and sisters. We don’t truly love others if we don’t listen to them respectfully and seriously. One of the dangers of being Christian leaders is that we may listen to fewer and fewer people as we get older. And we may fall into the trap of having all of our prejudices confirmed, so we don’t really see ourselves as we are.
That’s one reason it is a good idea to listen to our critics, for even if they exaggerate their critiques, they almost always see something that is true about us, something that we need to repent of.
Finally, we live as if Jesus is the only way if we are thankful people. As Psalm 36 says, those who know God “feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Believers drink from the living water that Jesus gives us; we feast on the beauty of God; we find him to be our joy, our meat and drink; we are happy and thankful because of his love. We know that there is nothing greater than knowing Christ. Everything else is dung in comparison.
And you know what? People will know, no matter your personality, if God is your portion. That can’t be hidden. It will be evident. And they will be reminded by your joy and contentment that Jesus is the only way.
This article has been adapted from an address delivered for B&H Publishing Group during the last annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Click here for the full audio.