Do people of other faiths have to believe in Jesus to go to heaven?
Earlier this morning I had a video up of Joel Osteen’s response to this question on Larry King Live. Resurgence had asked me to comment on Osteen’s answer. A couple hours after the post went up the folks at Resurgence contacted me saying they found out Osteen issued an apology several years ago for the statements made on Larry King. You can read about the apology here. It is a clear, humble apology for which Osteen should be commended. As I remarked in my original post at Resurgence, “It’s not easy to winsomely answer a question about the eternal fate of billions of people and do it on live television before the next commercial break.” I’m sorry the clip went up, even for a short time, because it does not accurately reflect what Osteen believes.
Very little of my post at Resurgence actually focused on Osteen. Mostly I imagined what I would have said (if I were thinking clearly and quickly on national television, which is a big “if”!). Here’s my answer:
“You know, Larry, that’s a huge question. On one level it’s hard to answer because it feels like a trap. ‘Will he or won’t he condemn everyone to hell?’ Well, it’s not my place to give the final evaluation for anyone. And I don’t want to sit here and say that I deserve to go to heaven more than someone else.
“Because the fact of the matter is none of us can merit heaven. God is holy and we are not. No matter how sincere we are or how many good things we do, we can’t begin to approach the purity and perfection of God. So we need a Mediator, a go-between.
“The Bible teaches that God sent his Son to be our Mediator. He lived the life we couldn’t and died the death meant for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says he was counted as sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. This great exchange is only possible by faith. Even Jesus said that those who don’t believe in him stand condemned already.
“And not because they don’t believe. God doesn’t punish people for not hearing about Jesus. He punishes us for being sinful sinners, for twisting what he has revealed to us in creation and what our own consciences tell us we should do. Without Christ, there’s no bridge between God and man, there’s no hope for a personal relationship with God, there’s no chance of being forgiven.
“Look, I realize that’s offensive to many people. But our desire is not to exclude anyone. That’s why Christians believe in sharing their faith and starting new churches. We want everyone to put their faith in Christ and be his disciples. That’s what Jesus told us to do before he ascended into heaven. But I can’t accept that good Buddhists or sincere Hindus are doing just fine, because I don’t believe Jesus is someone’s personal God. I believe he is God. He is more than a personal Lord. He is the Lord over everyone and everything whether they recognize it or not. I can’t fully honor Christ if I pretend he is just one option among many. To say what I think your viewers want me to say would be to deny all that I believe is glorious, precious, and unique about Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.
“See, the good news is Jesus is not just my personal Savior. He is the Savior of the world. That means he’s not my possession that I try to monopolize. No, he possesses everything and will gladly forgive all who turn to him in faith and repentance. Apart from Christ, no one can be right with God, no Hindus, no Buddhists, no Muslims, least of all this sinful pastor. There is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved. But in Christ, there is salvation, joy, and new life for all who believe.