Is Jesus Christ the only, exclusive way to God and salvation? Churches, cultures and people from many different types of Christianity or other religions have been divided by this question—even history itself. Thus, for some, Jesus has been viewed as a figure that separates and antagonises.
But this was not Jesus’ plan. The Bible tells us he prayed “that all of them may be one” (John 17:21) and acted to remove barriers between people, speaking out in defence of women and children, and treating people from other races and religions with respect. The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 were “love your enemies”.
A meaningful question
So, is Jesus the only way to God? Many, who cite the New Testament passage Romans 10:14, respond with a firm yes: “Jesus is the only way; either you receive Jesus or you perish.” But they have lost sight of the fact that, throughout history, billions of people have never heard of Jesus’ name, or they have in some other way been denied the right to choose.
Jesus asked the blind man He was to heal: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The answer was logical and mature: “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him” (John 9:35-38). The fact that this blind man did not know his Healer did not prevent Jesus from healing him. Jesus was the only way of salvation, regardless of whether the blind man knew Him or not, whether He believed or not.
So, is Jesus the only way to God, and by extension his gift of eternal life? I can freely say a sincere yes. Jesus is the only and exclusive way to God. There is not and cannot be another way. Any person or institution, any philosophical system or any ideology that would take on this role, commits—consciously or unconsciously—a huge fraud. In scripture Jesus says (when speaking about Himself), “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The same testimony was given by the apostles about the Messiah, Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
What about those who have not heard of Jesus?
Some people live in deliberate ignorance: “They deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:5). Or, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). The writer, the apostle Paul, concludes that: “They are without excuse” (verse 20).
But what about all those people who have not had the opportunity to know the only way to God? The answer is that Jesus was, is and remains the only way to the one true God, with or without human knowledge or will. If you lose consciousness and are taken to the hospital and operated on in an emergency, you do not know who is operating on you and, although you do not know it, you might be dying. The doctor is not prevented from saving you by the fact that you do not know her. Whether you know her before or after your operation, you will finally know who your Saviour is and find out the history of your salvation. Only after you wake up—that is, after you are “resurrected” in a way—only then do you find out who operated on you, who is your saviour.
Salvation does not depend, in the absolute sense, on the fact that you know God, but it depends entirely on the fact that God knows you. Our knowledge is deficient, especially when it comes to God. So, knowledge cannot be a means of salvation. Paul corrects himself, at one point, seeking a better expression of the truth: “But now that you know God—or rather are known by God” (Galatians 4:9).
Jesus’ response to fundamentalism
Christian fundamentalism, which is too often a twisted caricature of consistency, exclusivity and faithfulness, condemns to destruction those whom Jesus came to save—“believe in Jesus or burn in hell! ” But Jesus receives every person who comes to Him, and goes to seek and to find each one where they are. Jesus’ humility moves me deeply. Some call Him a prophet, others a good man, others a deceiver, others a devil, others Elijah or John the Baptist, and some Christ, the Son of God. Jesus does not reject any of them, whether they come to curse Him or to worship Him, because, He says, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). This is what sets “the man Christ Jesus”, as the apostle Paul calls him (1 Timothy 2:5), apart from other religious leaders—the willingness to welcome all who desire to follow him, no matter who they are or what they have done.
My niece, Haven, calls me by a name she invented. It’s not my real name, but the name she gave me goes straight to my heart. I’m not going to give her a lecture on my name or how to pronounce it correctly. I’m touched when she calls me this name, because I know how pure and loving her intention is. Similarly, somehow the true nature of God has been lost in history. But that does not change God: “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
As a young man, Paul persecuted those who followed the Way of Jesus, but he ended up pleading, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” What would have happened if Paul had been struck down with lightning from heaven while he was persecuting? He would have been killed in his ignorance, believing that he was doing a service to God. Here is what Paul says about this: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). God knew that a day would come when even the man who was persecuting His church would write 1 Corinthians 13—the ode to love. Just as God sends rain on both the good and the wicked, He makes Himself known to both the good and the wicked: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9, italics added).
God does not speak only in my or your language; He speaks sometimes in one way, sometimes in another. The problem is that we too often do not listen. Only He knows how to address each soul and what is the best way to make Himself known to each. With some people He will work directly, with others He will work from the shadows, but, in the end, there will be no-one left with whom God has not worked in one way or another.
When complicated questions have simple answers
Is Jesus the only way to God? Yes. Will He be revealed by the same method and means to all? No. Will people be saved who worship and serve Jesus without knowing it is Him? Yes. Will there be any among them whom Jesus did not know? No. Salvation is accomplished not on the basis of what we know about God, but on the basis of what He knows about us.
Today, being known by God may seem like a nuisance for some, a kind of invasion or interrogation. But the “research” God is doing on us should be compared to a thorough investigation by the greatest medical doctor. “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind,” was David the psalmist’s invitation (Psalm 26:2). “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).
He knows us from eternity and in the light of eternity. We know Him in part, but He knows us fully. He is not a way, but the Way. He is not a truth, but the Truth. Not just a lifestyle, but Life itself.
Curious about some of the key beliefs of Christianity? Check out the other articles in our Fundamentals series to see if you can find the answers you need.
Nicu Butoi became a Christian as a young man in Communist Romania, where his passion for sharing the message of Jesus with others resulted in arrest, imprisonment and mistreatment. After the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in 1989, Butoi began preaching publicly around Romania and, later, internationally. He now pastors the Dublin Seventh-day Adventist Church in Georgia, USA. A version of this article first appeared on ST.Network. It is reprinted here with permission.