Answers to Skeptics Part II: Is Jesus the Only Way?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” ~ Acts 4:12

In the first post of this series, I gave four evidences for God’s existence. Many people believe that God exists. They just don’t believe that biblical Christianity is true or that Jesus of Nazareth is the human face of God and the Lord and Savior of humankind.

Certainly, Christianity is by no means the only faith that lays claim to having “the truth.” There is also Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam as well as many other religions that claim to hold “the truth.”

All serve a different deity, all have their own sacred writings, and all teach a different path of salvation.

There is the view that all of these religions are true. But I have always found this idea unconvincing as the different religions cancel one another out logically. (For instance, one religion affirms that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah; another says He isn’t. Both cannot be true.)

Here are a few points to consider about the uniqueness of the Christian faith: 

1. Unlike all other faiths, Christianity is based entirely on a Person. 

Every religion is based upon the teachings or the philosophy of its founder. Not so with Christianity. Biblical Christianity is based on the Person of Jesus and not simply His teachings.

Remove Jesus, and there is nothing left to Christianity whatsoever. The entire faith is based on Christ’s incomparable life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His present work on the earth through His Spirit, and His second coming.

Buddhism is not based on the life or death of Buddha. It is based on his teachings. Remove Buddha and Buddhism still survives.

In the same way, Islam stands apart from Muhammad. It is rather built on his teachings. The same with Confucianism. Only Christianity is built on a Person and not on a teaching or philosophy. (I expand this point in Jesus Manifesto.)

In addition, the effect that Jesus had on people . . . both when He was on earth as well as today . . . has no peer.

When people confronted Jesus, one of the three things happened: They either hated Him, were threatened by Him, or they adored Him.

With Jesus, there was and is no middle ground. This is the mark of a unique Person.

2. All other religions point to Jesus, while Jesus pointed to Himself. 

Most of the major religions speak highly of Jesus and point to Him as a “way” to find God. Islam says He was a great prophet. Buddhism says He was a great teacher. Humanism says He was a great moral philosopher. The Mind Science religions say He was a spiritual mystic of the highest order. Even certain segments of Judaism say He was a great rabbi or prophet.

But what did Jesus say about Himself?

Jesus said He was the very Son of God and the only way to God. His exact words were: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father [God] except by Me.”

Every religion points an arrow to Jesus. (Jesus even gets mentioned by Satanists, but that religion makes Him the only enemy.)

So if I follow all the religions of the world, they will all point me to Jesus. But if I go and listen to what Jesus said about Himself, HE POINTS ALL THE ARROWS TO HIMSELF.

So to my mind, every religion confirms that Jesus of Nazareth is who He said He was – the Messiah, the Son of God, the only way to salvation.

Let me put a finer point on it by referring to C.S. Lewis’ famous trilemma. When it comes to the startling claims of Jesus . . . that He is the Son of God, sent by God to save the world . . . we only have three options.

  1. He was either a madman who was under a delusion of grandeur.
  1. He was a bold-face liar who deliberately deceived others.
  1. He was who He said He was . . . the Son of God and the Lord and Savior of the world.

Since all the major religions deny that Jesus was a madman or a liar, they (by their own testimony) show that He was in fact who He claimed to be. For how can a good man be a liar? And how can a man who has had such a positive influence on the world for centuries be a madman?

3. Jesus Christ has had more impact on the world than any other person. 

The major holidays of the Western world are based upon the birth of Jesus Christ (Christmas) and upon His resurrection (Easter). Even the dating system that is used most widely in the world is based upon the person of Jesus. Jesus splits history into BC and AD.

(BC means “before Christ” and AD means “anno domini” . . . Latin for “in the year of our Lord.” )

As Jaroslav Pelikan once observed, “If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of the history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?”  The answer: Not a whole lot.

The testimony of history, therefore, as well as the religions of the world, point to the truth that Jesus is who He claimed to be.

4. Christianity is based upon an innocent man’s death to forgive a guilty person’s sin.

Unlike all other so-called “gods,” the God of the Bible is a God who loves and desires to be loved. The gods of human invention solely desire appeasement, worship, or service.

But the real and true God loves humans and desires to be loved by them. This is why the Bible says that “God is Love.” Yet because God is Love, He is opposed to anything that violates love. This is why God hates sin.

At bottom, sin is selfishness and selfishness destroys relationships. Selfishness is the opposite of love.

According to the Bible, love benefits others at the expense of oneself. Selfishness benefits one’s self at the expense of others.

Because sin is a violation of love, God condemns it. Again, sin destroys relationships and that is why God hates it.

This brings us to the question of our need for salvation. Among other things, salvation is a restored relationship to God. Because we are all born sinful, we commit sin. It is part of our fallen nature.

As a result, we are born disconnected from fellowship with God. Thus we are in need of salvation and restoration with our Creator.

In virtually every other religion, salvation is based upon our good efforts to merit God’s favor. In all other religions, God is exclusively merciful and unrighteous or He is unmerciful and righteous.

Let me unfold that.

Some religions portray God as a God who forgives us mortals at a whim, but sets aside His own standards to do so. This makes Him merciful, but unrighteous. (Righteousness is upholding a moral standard.)

Other religions portray God to be someone who refuses to forgive certain sins because of the purity of His moral standards. This makes Him righteous, but unmerciful.

But the true and living God is absolutely righteous and absolutely merciful. Because God is righteous, He cannot simply overlook human sin; He must judge it. Because God is merciful, He desires to forgive and restore us to Himself.

Therefore, in order to solve this dilemma, God took on human flesh and became a human.

By an act of pure love, Jesus of Nazareth (who is God made flesh) descended to this earth and shared our humanity to pay the penalty for our sins. He did so by allowing Himself to undergo a horrid, gruesome death. This was the required price to restore you and me to God and to forgive us of the sins we have committed.

Jesus Christ came to die in our place. He – an innocent man – tasted a death He did not deserve to restore the broken relationship between us and God.

(Note that I’m presenting one model of the atonement of Jesus among others that are found in the Bible.)

Through Christ’s sacrificial death, God can forgive us in such a way that He shows Himself to be both merciful and righteous. Jesus Christ laid His life down knowing that we would rebel against Him and perhaps doubt His existence. Such a love is truly unfathomable.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

Perhaps an analogy will help. Suppose that you destroyed some property. You are then arrested and taken to court for your crime. The judge fines you $20,000 to pay for the damages, but you cannot pay it. You are flat broke.

You throw yourself on the mercy of the court, admitting that you cannot pay the fine.

Suddenly, the judge stands, removes his robe, descends from his seat, stands beside you and declares, “I will pay the fine for you in your place!”

The judge has shown you great mercy. Yet the judge has also been righteous in his decision, for he did not carelessly or flippantly set aside the law. The damages were paid for.

This is precisely how God saves us. He does so righteously and mercifully. As the Psalm says, “Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

In all other religions, there is no notion of sacrificial death to save humankind. The gods of other religions are either unmerciful or unrighteous and humans must strive to reach God. But in Christianity, God has reached down to us helpless mortals, lifting us up to His place.

In other words, in all other religions, we try to reach God. In Christianity, God reaches us.

The true and living God desires relationship with us so much that He was willing to pay the ultimate price to secure it. Followers of Jesus call it “amazing grace.”

If salvation could come by any other means, then Jesus was crucified in vain.

5. The claims of Jesus are verified by His resurrection.

While Buddha, Moses, and Mohammad are all still in their graves today, Jesus is alive in heaven with God the Father . . . for He has risen from the dead.

Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus.

If the resurrection did not occur, then Christ was not who He said He was. However, if Jesus did rise again, as He predicted, then He is indeed the Son of God—the Savior of the world.

Consider the fact that many of the eye-witnesses of Christ’s resurrection were willing to die for their firsthand testimony that He was resurrected.

It is unthinkable to imagine how virtually all twelve disciples willingly gave their lives to be martyred because of their belief in Christ’s resurrection if it were a hoax or if they were lying.

Perhaps we can believe that one person would die for a lie (a lie that they themselves knowingly fabricated). But not all of them.

In addition, history shows that Christ’s physical body was never found. If He did not rise again, surely the opponents of Jesus would have produced the body to dispel the rumor that He had risen. Well, they never found it. This is compelling evidence that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.

Finally, there are hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born that were perfectly fulfilled in the Person of Christ. (Leonard Sweet and I trace many of them in our new book, Jesus: A Theography).

His birthplace, where He would grow up, how He would be betrayed, the way He would die, and His resurrection were all predicted thousands of years before they happened.

I’ve heard people say, “To say that Jesus is the only way to receive salvation and eternal life is arrogant and narrow-minded at best.”

My response: “I didn’t say it. Jesus did. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”

It’s a known fact that my physical body needs water to live. If I go without water for more than three days, I will die. Is it arrogant and narrow-minded to say that in order to live, you must drink water and without it you will die?

So the real issue comes down to this question: Did Jesus really say that He was the only way to salvation and was He correct?

I believe the answer is yes to both questions. (In my next post, I’ll share the evidence that compels me to believe that the words of Jesus in the Bible are authentic and reliable.)

The Beauty of the Jesus Story

Let me close this post by giving you a summary of the good news of Jesus Christ as I know it.

The power of the narrative—the story of Jesus—is incredibly powerful.

At the beginning of the first century, there lived a man sent from God named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a working man – an artisan —  but no ordinary one. He was divine as well as human.

Jesus taught people about God’s free love for them and He expressed that love in visible action.

He especially expressed that love to the insulted, injured, excluded, and oppressed.

He denounced greed and religious and moral self-confidence as barriers to receiving God’s free gift of love.

Strikingly, the religious and political leaders found His message of God’s freely-given love so threatening to their power over others that they decided to crucified Him.

Jesus, however, triumphed over their plans by making the cross the instrument of God’s love for us.

The cross became the conduit for God’s total gift of Himself to humanity. That gift was so overwhelmingly and powerfully effective that three days later Jesus was alive and brimming over with a new quality of life which death could not touch.

This new quality of life—divine life—is utterly free to love others unconditionally. And death cannot touch it.

This life is available to all who entrust their lives to Jesus. Amazingly, this life will indwell such people. A life that is eternal, divine, and whose nature is love. That life is Christ. And that is genuine Christianity.

As the famed scholar John Stott once put it,

Let me call three witnesses to confirm this: one from Africa, one from Europe, and one from Asia. Professor John Mbiti from Kenya writes, “The uniqueness of Christianity is in Jesus Christ.” Or here is Bishop Stephen Neill, “The old saying that Christianity is Christ is almost exactly true. The historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth is the criterion by which every Christian affirmation has to be judged and in the light of which it stands or falls.” But better, I think, even than those two testimonies is one of that great Indian mystic, Sadhu Sundar Singh who had been a Sikh and then became a follower of Jesus. He was asked once by a Hindu professor what it was that he had found in Christianity, as he put it, that he had not found in his old religion. “I have found Christ,” said Sadhu Sundar Singh. “Oh yes, I know,” said the professor rather impatiently. “But what particular doctrine have you found or principle that you did not have before?” “The particular thing I have found,” replied Sadhu Sundar Shingh, “is Christ!” It’s Jesus Christ himself and our personal knowledge of him that is the distinctive mark of the followers of Jesus.

I close with the words of Jesus Himself:

“And this is life eternal, that they might know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You [Father] have sent . . . I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly . . . But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst . . . I am the bread of life: he that comes to Me shall never hunger; and he that believes on Me shall never thirst.”

Answers to Skeptics Part I: There is a God

Answers to Skeptics Part III: Is the Bible Reliable?

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Comments

  1. Iliesa says

    Sometimes its a bit awkward when you are trying to quote the bible as your only source of everything you are saying about Jesus, and in the end you come out really frustrated because people just do not want to believe the bible about Jesus.Usually I have developed a strategy to listen attentively to people of other religions before responding calmly with the truth about Jesus and trust the Holy Spirit to do His work of convicting and convincing the people of their sins.

  2. lauraselvak says

    Hi Frank
    Great series. I’m enjoying.

    I have muslim friends and there overwhelming conviction is that Jesus was not crucified or raised from the dead, not the son of God (how can the One God have a son) although he was born of a virgin and is coming back again. So some of these arguments won’t make sense to their worldview/how they have been taught. I would be interested in seeing if you have the Islamic perspective in this series.

    • says

      The arguments for the death and resurrection of Jesus are attested in many books. N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” is one that is very detailed. There are many others. If someone is open minded to consider contrary evidence to their tradition, it will help. If not, it won’t.

  3. Bryan Ruffin says

    I thoroughly enjoyed the post! I agree with all the points you made, and I liked the example you used for redemption. Judge stepping down? That was really good. There is one thing, though; I don’t have a problem getting an arugment for Christ, and getting into an argument with people about it is really pretty simple! Thing is, how to present Christ to these same people without causing as many questions as I answer! Paul said it best:”it is foolishness to those who perish”. I have also heard it said (and I can’t remember who), “for those with Faith, an explaination is not necessary; for those without Faith, no explaination will suffice!” There is a gap that we as Christians need to fill, but I don’t think facts will fill it. I am of the mind that only Grace can. God will heal our hearts, but not our memories! If we forget where we’ve been, we’ll forget the Grace that brought us out! THAT Grace is what I speak of.

  4. Joey says

    Hey Frank,

    I’ve thought about C.S. Lewis’ trilemma for a while and I am not convinced that it is truly a ‘trilemma’ for the skeptic. Many skeptics will see the verses you quote from the Gospel of John and point out that the gospel was probably the latest of the four canonical gospels, and that it seems as if (at least to a large portion of scholars) that it went through a multi-layered process of refining, adding, and editing by a believing community. It certainly portrays Jesus as pointing to himself more than the synoptics, and therefore becomes suspicious to the skeptic. Many skeptics believe that Jesus may have considered himself the Messiah, but only later did believers tag on the title of Son of God (which was a pre-existing term used for Roman emperors).

    So, maybe a prerequisite for the trilemma to work is for one to accept that the Gospels are pretty accurate. But, the problem is many skeptics don’t believe this to be true, and thereby can believe that Jesus wasn’t a liar or lunatic, but rather a great religious teacher who pointed to God but was later worshipped himself by the believing community. I think this is how many skeptics believe that Jesus was a good teacher and yet not the Son of God (as thought of in the Trinity).

    What are your thoughts about this?

    Thanks,

    Joey

  5. Jeff Klein says

    Being a follower of Jesus who comes from Jewish decent I find myself a bit perplexed over the inclusion of Judaism in your list of religions that worship a separate god. For years I struggled with my dad’s refusal to see Christ. It’s a form of blindness that God warns is a consequence of not recognizing Him. Like Paul that blindness falls away. My dad came to Christ in a very similar manner and following Christ became the fulfillment of what Judaism is.

    The Jewish scriptures are part of our cannon. Christ is clearly seen as an active part of the old testament story. Paul preaches to the Jew first because he longs for the vail to be lifted that his own people may see.

    • says

      Jeff: I’m perplexed by your comment. Only Messianic Judaism accepts Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. All other branches reject Him. That was true in the first century as it is today (it’s all over the New Testament). That’s the discussion of this post regarding religions — who receives Jesus of Nazareth. I thought that was pretty clear.

      Regarding the Old Testament pointing to Christ, you’re preaching to the choir. That’s exactly what my new book — Jesus: A Theography — demonstrates in 400+ pages. See http://frankviola.org/jesuschrist

      • Jeff Klein says

        Well, we’ve perplexed each other. I’ll try it this way. Yahweh in the Old Testament is pleural. As such we see many theopanies of the pre-incarnate Christ. Then Christ comes, Yahweh in the flesh. Emmanuel. Paul didn’t see this until he was knocked down to the road. For my dad it was a heart attack and a visit by Christ to him in the hospital room. Paul’s great desire was for all of the Jewish faith to see this.

        So with the exception of the Messianics, is it really a different Yahweh? Or is a incomplete revelation at this time, because it is written that one day they shall look on Him and mourn?

        • says

          I really don’t understand what you’re arguing about or against. Nothing in this post or in the comments has said that the God of the OT is a different God than Christians worship. Again, this is addressed in detail in “Jesus: A Theography.” Jesus is all over the Old Testament, but not by His earthly name. God bless.

          • Jeff Klein says

            Then I’m probably misreading this:

            “Certainly, Christianity is by no means the only faith that lays claim to having “the truth.” There is also Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam as well as many other religions that claim to hold “the truth.”

            All serve a different deity, all have their own sacred writings, and all teach a different path of salvation.”

            I took this to mean Christians and Jews are worshiping a different deity.

          • says

            Yes, Jesus said that those who reject Him don’t know the Father and reject the Father and those who receive Him receive the Father who sent Him. So that statement is correct. By “Judaism,” we mean the religion that rejects Jesus as the Messiah and is still waiting for the Messiah to come. However, that’s not the main point of the post by any means. Take care.

  6. says

    Great post Frank. Really appreciate these 5 points. Especially concerning God being both righteous and merciful, according to the Bible (and thus Christianity). If God were only righteous, He could simply condemn us all to hell as we justly deserve. Or if He were only merciful, He could simply forgive us all at a whim and leave that whole sin problem alone anyway. Praise God for the beautiful story of Jesus! Our righteous and merciful God was incarnated to redeem us, give us His life, and even make us His bride. Jesus is the only way for THAT to happen.

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