Have you ever been asked by someone, “Do you believe Jesus is the only way to heaven?” Or, “what about that person in the remote jungle who has never heard about God, are they going to hell?” These are awkward questions to answer. Any time someone is asking you to pass judgment on another persons soul, albeit a hypothetical one, we can feel like we are in an awkward position. The root of this question is in Christians and preachers who feel compelled to preach condemnatory sermons about other religions and they usually root their rants in a verse found in John’s Gospel that says that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. John Franke has an article up on Christianity Today about Jesus as the Way, Truth, and the Life that does an excellent job explaining what each of these things means.
Here are some highlights:
In the midst of a world teeming with religious diversity, what does it mean to say that Jesus is the Way? Simply put, it means we should look to Jesus to discover how God acts in the world. As the divine incarnation of God’s love and mission, Jesus exemplifies the Way of God in the world. He was with God “in the beginning” and was sent into the world not only to tell us about God but also to demonstrate how God wants us to live.
The affirmation of Jesus as the Way, then, means to acknowledge that he shows us who God is and how God acts in the world, and the unique nature and character of the divine mission. All roads do not lead to God. The Way of Jesus is not simply about an inwardly focused or otherworldly spirituality, or a social activism that is often viewed as its alternative. Rather, it is the Way of humility and self-denial for the sake of others. Denial of the unique nature of Jesus compromises the redemption accomplished through his life and death as well as the Way of life he models for us and calls us to follow.
Truth is not finally to be found in abstract notions or theories, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God and the living embodiment of truth. From this perspective, knowing truth depends on being in proper relationship to this one person who is divine truth….this affirmation that Jesus is the Truth is a stark challenge to abstract ideas of truth. As noted above, in Jesus we discover that truth is not merely intellectual or even moral, but personal and relational—truth for Christians is very much woven into the theme of love.
The fullness of Life in Jesus is found in proper relationship to the Father through the person of Jesus. This life is not simply an escape from the divine judgment of death and destruction, but also a quality of life, in particular, a life lived in fellowship with the triune God through Jesus.
The church, the community of Christ’s intentional followers, is called to be a foretaste of this life, this relational fellowship of love, a provisional demonstration of God’s will for all of creation. We are a people who, because we share in the Holy Spirit, participate in the eternal love of God. As such, we represent God in the midst of a fallen world through lives that reflect God’s own loving character. Only through relationships and in community can we truly show what God is like, for God is the community of love, the eternal relational dynamic enjoyed by the three persons of the Trinity.
It seems to me that the reason Christians tend to limit “Truth” to doctrine, “Way” to exclusion of other religions, and “Life” to post-mortem judgment is because it makes being a Christian easier. Following Jesus in his way of Love as expressed by sacrificial service to one another is really, really hard. It’s messy and more ambiguous. But it is more authentic, and it’s makes for a much more compelling witness to the world. When those around us see the way we love each other through service, they get a glimpse of the Truth of God.