What If It’s True — A Thought on Exclusivity

People are often surprised when a Christian is honest enough to declare that Jesus is the only way of salvation. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their tones. They ask incredulously, “Are you saying that, unless I believe what you believe, I’m going to hell?” For many, the offense is not in whether or not Christianity is true, but whether a Christian would have the audacity to suggest that someone outside the faith could be lost. Many treat Christians as if we delight in demanding that others adopt our own ideas or else.

The thing that we need to consider as we look at the exclusive claims of Christianity is this: Is it true? Of course it is offensive for a person to look at you, say you are wrong, and say that your beliefs and commitments are damning. Nobody wants to hear that. If a person says to you that their beliefs are better than your beliefs, it is hurtful and frustrating. But the bigger question is whether or not your beliefs, my beliefs, or another’s beliefs are true. The bigger question is whether or not our beliefs have truth as their foundation.

Consider this passage in Isaiah:

Isaiah 43:10-11

10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
11 I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
The Lord here makes a simple claim. It is not a claim of opinion, but of pure fact. And the world changes based on whether or not it is true. If these words are false, then all that Christianity claims must be false too. If this claim is true, regardless of how offensive the claims of Christians may be, they are true.

What does the Lord claim? There is no god before him. There will be no god after him. There is only one true God. And as the one true God, there is only one way of salvation.

Can you stop for a moment and think about this without emotion? Stop and consider the repercussions of this claim if it is true. What if there really is only one God? What if that God is clear that no sinful human being is rescued apart from him, his way, his standards, his plan? What if no other god exists before him or after him? Is it really an offense for a person to say that all must come to that God according to his word in order to be saved?

Imagine a house with only one door. Also imagine that it is about to rain. I tell you that you should get in out of the rain, or you will get wet. I tell you that the only way for you to get in out of the rain is to enter through the one door of the house. Have I belittled you? Have I been cruel? Or have I simply offered you the truth. There is one door and one dry place. I cannot change that, no matter how much you want for there to be other doors, other houses, or other circumstances.

The reason a claim of exclusive salvation by grace through faith in Christ is offensive to people has to do with the fact that it is in opposition to a primary worldview doctrine of our modern society. Many pride themselves on the belief that there are many ways to spiritual goodness, whatever that means. Many have, as a core belief, that no one religious road is better than another. These same folks fail to acknowledge the contradiction at the core of their beliefs. They demand that all belief systems are equally right. They are upset, however, by a belief system that says that all are not equally right. But one cannot be consistent, claim all views to be equally acceptable, and then be offended by another belief system because it disagrees.

Even more important than the logical inconsistency here is the question of truth. Is God telling us the truth? If he is not, then he does not matter, and we should not concern ourselves with his claims. If he is telling the truth, then he is the only one that matters, and our entire existence is for him.

There is one God. He has made one way of salvation. That way of salvation is provided by the one, true, holy, triune God. The way of salvation is that our sins must be forgiven in Jesus. We must come to Jesus in faith and repentance to be saved.

No, I am not smug in that claim of exclusivity. I do not claim to be better than anyone. Nor do I claim to be smarter than anyone. I am simply in agreement with the claim brought to all by holy Scripture.

Children of God

Who is a child of God? All human beings are created by God, in God’s image, and for God’s glory. But this is not the same as being a child of God. To be a child of God, to be a part of his family, is something much different than simply being created in his image.

John 8:42a – Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.”

In a conflict between Jesus and the religious teachers of his day, the issue of being children of God comes up. The Jewish leaders claimed that they were children of God. Jesus let them know that, no, in fact they are not.

According to Jesus, there is a simple way to know who is a child of God. Loving Jesus is a mark of being a child of God. Not loving Jesus is a sign that a person is not a child of God.

Is that exclusive? Yes, indeed it is. To be a child of God is to be adopted into God’s family. You see, we all start off as enemies of God because of our sin natures. God adopts people into his family. But none are adopted into his family who do not come to him through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus is the only way to be a child of God.

Be aware, then, that many will claim to be children of God. If they mean that they are creatures of God, they have a bit of truth in their words. But if they mean that they are Ok with God, or if they mean that they are part of God’s own forgiven family, they must have something more than creation to claim. Those who are part of God’s family love Jesus.

Do We Worship the Same God?

How many times have you heard differences between religions shrugged off by people declaring that, after all, we all worship the same God? I recall that phrase being significantly present after 9-11 as anger toward Islam grew. I also recall multiple conversations I have had with Jehovah’s Witnesses in which the person at my door worked to make sure I knew that we might differ on a couple of things, but we worship the same deity.

But do we? Do we really worship the same deity? Do Christians and Muslims or Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christians and adherents of other religions actually worship the same person? No, we do not. Though it is not popular to point out, we do not worship God, the same God, just in different ways. God has revealed himself in Scripture. He has identified himself as the one God, the triune God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three in one. If someone says that they worship the same God as Christians, but then they redefine God as not triune or define Jesus as a god rather than God in the flesh, we are not worshipping the same God.

Imagine that you and I are talking, and we have a conversation about our favorite movie. You tell me that your favorite film of all time is “Rocky.” I respond to you with a big grin and say that I really like “Rocky” also. Then I go on to tell you that my favorite part of that movie is when the main character has his leg swept, it looks like the bad guys are going to win, and then Mr. Miyagi gets him back out there to win the tournament. Would you agree that we have the same favorite movie?

If you know your movies at all, you will know that I was talking about “The Karate Kid,” not “Rocky.” Yes, both movies have something to do with fighting. Both have an underdog accomplishing something cool against tough opponents. But these are not the same movie. And no matter how much I want to say to you that we are talking about the same movie, we are not.

If that does not ring any bells for you, try this. If you and I talk about our favorite foods, and we both agree that we love burritos, we might think we have something in common. But if you define a burrito as long pasta noodles on a plate with red sauce and meat balls, we are not talking about the same thing. Perhaps we are both talking about food, but not the same food.

I understand that those who claim that Christians and people from other religions worship the same God often do so out of a desire for peace. In many ways I agree with the motivation. There is no room for violence or cruelty to one another because we disagree about religion. I would not at all support people being nasty to their Muslim neighbors because of the actions of other Muslims. There is no justice in punishing your neighbor because someone else of their religion did something evil. Nor is there value in someone punishing a neighboring Christian because of the nasty attitudes of others who claim Christ. But it is dishonest to say that we have no differences of substance.

What made me think of all this? Interestingly—to me at least—it was Ezra chapter 4. As the priest, Ezra, records the history of the people of Judah returning to their land after their exile in Babylon, he tells of the reestablishing of Israelite worship. But Samaritans who had settled the land wanted to participate, claiming to worship the Lord just as did the people of Judah.

Ezra 4:1-6 – 1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they carried off many from the land. Then the king of Assyria returned some from that kingdom and forced them to inter-marry with people of other lands in order to create a new ethnic people. In that process, this mingled people also intermingled religious beliefs and practices. Thus, the people of Judah were correct in saying that these people had nothing to do with the house of the Lord or his worship. Even if the people in the land said they had been sacrificing to the Lord for years, they were wrong, they had not.

Take note, by the way, of the responses of the people who were enemies of the Jews. They did not like being told that they were not worshipping the Lord. They argued. Then they began to try to discourage the worship of the Jews. Finally, the opponents of Israel went to the government to try to put a stop to the religious practices of the Jews. The Samaritans were making it clear that if the Jews would not declare the Samaritan religion the same as the religion of Israel, the king should not allow them to worship at all. The Samaritans saw it as dangerous for a people to have a faith that is exclusive.

Christians, there is something here for us. We worship the God of the Bible. We worship Jesus as God the Son. We worship the one, true, God who is triune—Father, Son, and Spirit. We do not assume that others should be forced to agree that we are correct. But we do agree with the word of God that there is no God other than the Lord. WE agree with Jesus that there is no way for anyone to come to the Lord except through him. We agree with the apostles that there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved except for the name of Jesus. We agree with the reformers that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone as revealed in the Scripture alone.

And because we believe the Bible, we have to say,” No,” when someone claims they worship the same God we do and then defines God differently than does the word. This will not be popular. It may bring persecution. It may lead to the government attempting to prevent us from continuing to worship biblically. But it is true.

Yes, there is room for us to see people as believers who differ on significant issues with you. You might disagree on baptism or church government and be a solid believer in the same God as all genuine Christians. But if you believe that God is not triune, not eternal, not holy, you and I do not worship the same God. If you do not believe Jesus is God, we do not worship the same God. If you believe that the Father is the Son in a different form, we do not worship the same God. If you believe that the God of the Bible is also the deity of some other religion under a different name, we do not worship the same God.

God’s word tells us who God is. We cannot say that a being who is not the Lord as revealed in the word is the same as the Lord who is revealed in the word. Rocky is not Daniel LaRusso. A burrito is not a plate of spaghetti. And a deity that is not the triune God of the Bible is not the same God that I worship.