Can we accept that Jesus is the only way people can be saved? The New Testament authors are not bashful about this reality. Peter unashamedly says “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It’s challenging. It’s offensive. Let it sink in for a moment. Think about how it is such a stark contradiction to our culture.
People like to say that Christianity needs to keep up with the times. Christians just can’t make exclusive claims like this anymore. The reasoning goes “things are different now and Christians need to adapt their beliefs to be more palatable for a modern, pluralistic society of many values and beliefs” and “making exclusive universal truth claims like Peter is doing here is arrogant, and intolerant.”
Let’s press into this a little more:
One thing people like to say is “It’s okay to believe in Jesus. But all religions are equally valid.” But there is no way to believe in Jesus as if he’s just the same as any other religious teacher in any other religion. He says things like “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also said “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58) which to Jewish ears was a blasphemous claim of being preexistent and equal to God. No other religion contains claims like “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Jesus’ own words and claims are astounding, and unrivaled among other religions.
In these claims, Jesus was either right or he was wrong. There’s really no middle ground. One way or the other, he’s not the same as other religions. That’s the challenge. If he’s wrong, and he made claims to be the Son of God and claims of exclusivity in the realm of salvation, then he’s worse than other religions because he’s misleading people. C.S. Lewis has famously said that in this instance Jesus is either a lunatic or a liar. He would be wrong, and dangerously wrong. But if he’s right, then his claims set him apart from other belief systems. Lewis says that in this scenario Jesus must be Lord. It is lunatic or liar or Lord, those are the options with Jesus.
Now, when it comes to the offense of exclusive truth claims, here’s the thing: everybody makes exclusive claims. Atheists make exclusive claims. Hindus make exclusive claims. Buddhists make exclusive claims. And people who say all religions are the same make exclusive claims, and people who say “Don’t push your beliefs on me or anybody!” make exclusive claims.
To say all religions are the same is to exclude one religion being distinct or universally true. To say “Don’t push your beliefs on me or anybody!” is an exclusive claim that you’re actually pushing onto somebody else. Ironically, the very thing you’re saying not to do you’re doing!
The exclusivity of Jesus’ claim, if we’re honest, isn’t the only thing that offends us. What’s the other offense? We need to be saved.
We don’t want to be in that position, so we find ways to ignore address it.
When Peter said “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” he was also defending the resurrection. He was testifying to the fact that Jesus really did get out of the grave, and that it really does make a difference. A healed man stood beside him as evidence. But the leaders who put Peter on trial, they couldn’t accept it. They acknowledged the reality of the miracle, but they couldn’t follow where the evidence was leading.
We see there is an intellectual issue at play. They use their intellect to avoid the issue of needing to be saved. The leaders had presuppositions about the resurrection that they weren’t willing to let go. Some, the Pharisees, thought it was going to happen at the end of time. Others, the Sadducees, didn’t believe in it altogether. The only thing they shared in common were two things: together they believed the resurrection couldn’t have happened within history, and together they are “deeply agitated.” Luke shows us that there was also an emotional issue at hand. Their deep agitation was a barrier that was clouding their judgment. For the leaders in this story, the evidence was all pointing towards Jesus. But they didn’t want to follow where it led: bending their knees to Jesus, accepting him as Saviour.
Whatever intellectual presuppositions you have about the world, whatever negative emotions you may have towards the church and it’s people, whatever it is, don’t let it cloud your decision about who Jesus is. Look to the evidence, follow where it leads. Ask the questions you need to ask, but don’t use them as a shield to never address your heart. Because if you reject the resurrection of Jesus, if you reject that Jesus is the only name by which people can be set right with God, then you will find yourself opposing God. That’s the challenge, and that’s the offense.
A friend of mine made a good point about this post: There is a difference between asking someone not to push their beliefs on you and telling them not to push their beliefs on anyone. I did not make this distinction, but I agree with it. Personally, I have no desire to push my beliefs on people. I want to share them with people, but in a way that represents Jesus’ commitment to truth, love, grace, mercy, and compassion. If someone asked me to stop, I would because we can’t push someone into a relationship with Jesus, we can only invite them.