Friday, February 4, 2011

Reclaiming the Exclusivity of Jesus Christ

Reclaiming Jesus as the ‘Only Way’
Dr. Kevin Shrum

The Christian claim that Jesus is the exclusive and unique way to know God has been, is, and will continue to be an on-going discussion both within the church and outside the church. Within the church the issue of exclusivity makes some Christians cringe because they do not want to appear to be narrow-minded, unloving, disengaged, arrogant, parochial, and isolated from culture. Outside the church the claim of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to know God comes off as prideful, uninformed, and sophomoric. How can the Christian message claim to be ‘the’ exclusive way to know and experience God in a personal, saving way? What hubris! What spiritual bigotry! And yet, this is the historic claim of Christians.

Sadly, as a pastor, I see many Christians unable to explain in substantive terms the reasons for this claim. The truth of ‘Jesus is the Only Way’ has simply been passed down from one generation to the next, often times without thought or reflection. The results of this kind of unthinking Christianity are devastating. When pressed about his/her beliefs in such assertions, the unthinking Christian will either a.) abdicate their position by claiming that Jesus is ‘a way’ but not ‘the way;’ or b.) they will defensively retort to their inquisitor with equally unthinking terms such as ‘just cause’ or ‘the Bible says so.’ Yes, the Bible says so, but where does it say it and why does it say it?

So, let me be elementary in restating just a few reasons why Christians can confidently claim that Jesus is the exclusive way to know and experience God in a saving way.

First, Jesus claimed exclusivity. The critic will often respond to the claim of exclusivity with comments like, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion.’ They will act as if it’s a claim Christians thought up just to aggravate people. The problem with this response is that it is ignorantly void of understanding the source of the exclusive claims of Christianity. In other words, the Christian does not have to bear the weight of being the source of this claim. Why? Because it was Jesus Himself who made such exclusive claims. Numerous times either directly (John 14:6) or indirectly (John 5:16-18) Jesus claimed that He alone was the exclusive way to know God (see also Acts 4:12; Gal. 1:6-10; John 8:48-59; John 10:30-33; Phil 2:5-11). The critic may argue with you about this claim, but she will not be able to do so based upon hearsay or personal opinion. They will have to take up their case not with you but with Jesus. Yes, we speak this truth. But let Jesus bear the weight of this claim – He can handle it.

Second, Jesus Claimed to be God. As if claiming to be the exclusive way to God is not enough, Jesus goes one step further by claiming to be God. The religious leaders of His day picked up on this even when His own disciples remained clueless. In fact, John 5:18 states that they understood Jesus words and deeds as “…making himself equal with God.” Such a claim dovetails with other core Christian doctrines such as the trinity. Let it be stated clearly then: Jesus did not become God at His birth, He was not adopted as God at His baptism, nor did He gain that title/position through His crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus’ claim is larger. He claimed to have always been God – pre-incarnate God come in the flesh who now reigns eternally as a part of the Trinity - Father, Son , and Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14).

Third, Jesus Forgave Sins. But Jesus not only made outrageous claims, He did outrageous things that only God can do – He forgave sins. Case in point: In Mark 2:1-12 a lame man was brought to Jesus by four of his friends. After having dismantled the roof of the house, they lower their ill friend before Jesus. They wanted a healing service, but Jesus gave them more than they bargained for. He not only healed the man physically, He forgave his sins. To demonstrate He had the power to heal, He both healed (the temporal need) and forgave (the eternal need) the paralytic. This act stunned the religious-minded who were crammed into this small house with dozens of other seekers. They knew that such an action was none other than an implicit, yet bold claim to be God. In fact, Mark 2:7 records what was going through the minds of the religious leaders, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus forgives sins. Only God can do this.

Finally, Jesus Accepted Worship. This point is not discussed enough, yet is as powerful as any supporting the exclusive claims of Jesus. Stated clearly – Jesus never refused the worship of people. This takes the cake! To ‘say’ you are the only way to God could be understood as mere words that can be dismissed as arrogance. And, the claim to be God could put Jesus in the class of a lunatic as C.S. Lewis noted. Further, to forgive sins could be understood as simply the therapeutic act of a religious sage for the wounded soul. But Jesus’ acceptance of worship as God is over the top. This means that Jesus not only talked like God, He acted like God because God alone is jealous for worship and worthy of worship.

I wonder what the response of the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at Jacob’s well would be if we asked her if the exclusive claims of Jesus are true and if worship of Jesus is a misdirected and/or ill-advised act? I think her response would be – you may not believe Jesus is God, but I have met Him, I have experienced His forgiveness, I have heard the truth because He is the truth, and I have found the true place of worship at His feet (John 4:1-45). Let us then boldly and humbly claim what Jesus claimed – He’s the truth, the way, and the life!