As we covered in another article, it is popular today to believe that multiple religions offer equal access to God. Consequently, many people question whether Christianity can really be the only way to experience salvation. Christians are often thought of as narrow-minded or self-righteous for believing that their religion is the only “right one.”
Ultimately, “Is Jesus the only way to salvation?” is a very important question that Christians and non-Christians should ask. But how should we go about finding the right answer?
The Root of the Problem
First, if we are going to talk about which religion(s) can effectively offer salvation, we have to identify from what we are being “saved.” Practically all religions recognize some doctrine of sin. Simply put, “sin” is any form of disobedience to God.
The problem is that all of us are guilty of sin. Some are more guilty than others, but as Paul states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even if you haven’t committed a “major” sin like murder, we have all told lies, disobeyed parents, or stolen proverbial packs of gum.
Regardless of what sin someone has committed, he/she is guilty of disobeying a holy and just God. While we like to think about God’s love and mercy, His holiness and justness are equal parts of His nature. In fact, God’s holiness will not allow Him to tolerate or co-exist with any sin (Habakkuk 1:13). And His justice requires that sin not go unpunished (Romans 6:23). Consequently, God’s standard is absolute perfection, without any sin at all (Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 1:15-16).
To further illustrate, God views our sin much like a type of debt. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus directly compares the two (Greek “opheilema” means “debt” in the original text of Matthew 6:12) and He again makes the comparison in the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18). Since God’s holy nature demands perfection, we must be completely “debt free” to be saved. How then can we have any hope?
The Nature and Purpose of Salvation
It is regarding the nature of salvation where non-Christian religions make their fatal error. They basically teach that salvation results from doing enough good deeds or worship to pay-off our own sin debt. While God is pleased with and expects our worship and obedience, in terms of settling our debt, they are worthless (Isaiah 64:6, Hebrews 2:8-9). But God does offer an alternative.
Since our sin debt is owed to God, He decides the terms of payment. Fortunately, He is willing to let someone else pay it on our behalf. However, the only way this can happen is if the person is sinless and debt free themselves. Given God’s standard of perfection, He is the only one capable of achieving that.
So God Himself came to earth in human form, lived a perfect, sinless life, and offered salvation by trading places with us, bearing the penalty our sins deserved. In other words, He volunteered to pay the debt we owed because He was the only one that could. Since Jesus, as God incarnate, is the only one qualified to pay our debt, salvation can come only through Him.
Now that we understand the nature of salvation, we also need to understand its purpose. We tend to think that salvation is intended to get us into Heaven and avoid God’s judgment. In reality, this is merely a “side effect” of salvation. The real purpose is to make us like Christ so we can enjoy a close, intimate relationship with God. This fact is clear in numerous Bible verses (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 5:1-2, Romans 6:3-10, 1 Peter 2:21, among many others). Therefore, if becoming like Jesus is the purpose of salvation, we have further evidence that it can only come through Him.
What Does Jesus Say About it?
The fact that Christ is the only means of salvation is very clear in the Bible. Jesus Himself in John 14:6 says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Peter is quoted in Acts 4:12 as testifying “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Paul declares in 1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” These statements are clear. Combined with the powerful evidence we’ve discussed in previous posts that Jesus is who He claims to be, there is no room for debate about other religions.
Finally, as a practical point, if there were other ways for people to be saved, why would Jesus have endured the cross? The eternal, omnipotent God of the universe took on human form and suffered degradation, humiliation, torture, and death. If He had provided other means of forgiving us, why would He have done any of that?
The question “Is Jesus the only way to salvation” is a legitimate one and is important to ask. But if we presume that God should have offered multiple ways of being saved, we make the mistake of assuming that God “owes” us salvation.
Since we willingly choose to sin, God is not required to give us any offer of forgiveness. His love and mercy compel Him to do so, but He is under no obligation. Consequently, our opportunity for salvation is purely a function of God’s love and mercy. It has nothing to do with whether or not we deserve it. Because we don’t!
Unfortunately, many of us do not want to admit our sin or God’s judgment of it, so we convince ourselves He is too loving to hold us accountable. Or that He will simply forgive anyone that sincerely follows a religion or “believes in God.” But this mindset is simply wrong. Our sin is the problem, so God does not grant salvation based on sincerely held religious beliefs (Acts 17:22-31) or belief in Him (James 2:19). Instead, we must have our sin completely erased. That only happens through Jesus.
Finally, if God had offered 5, 10, or 20 ways of salvation, we would complain that He didn’t offer 6, 11, or 21. But instead of debating whether God should have given more paths to salvation, we should be grateful for the one He did provide and accept His gracious offer.