Lisa and John Robinson live in Munford, Tennessee, a town north of Memphis with a population of 6,027. Lisa works at a dermatologist’s office; John works at a maintenance distribution center.
Last Wednesday he stopped at a grocery story on the way home from work to buy four lottery tickets, one for each member of his family. There were 635,103,137 tickets sold; their odds of winning were one in 292.2 million.
But they did. They came forward to say that theirs is one of three winning tickets. Their lump-sum prize is $533 million.
Why didn’t everyone get to win? Because that would defeat the purpose. The more people win, the less everyone wins. Exclusivity is the appeal.
It’s the opposite with the Christian faith. One of the questions I’ve been asked most often through the years is, Why is there only one way to God? Jesus commanded us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Note the word “all.” Clearly we are to make the Lord our only God, our only Master and King.
Why? Isn’t this unfair to those who never hear the gospel? One third of humanity has never heard the words, “Jesus Christ.” What about them? Isn’t this unfair to those who live in places where Christian faith is severely punished? For instance, converts from Islam living in Saudi Arabia can be beheaded.
Why would God make only one way to heaven, anyway? How does this align with the claim that he is love (1 John 4:8)? And why is this issue relevant to you today?
What the Bible says
Let’s begin with what the Bible actually says on this subject. If God is God and heaven is his home, he has the right to decide how we can go there. Our opinion doesn’t change his decision or the reality of the situation. What does his word tell us?
Jesus was explicit: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He prayed to his Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life comes in no other way but this.
Why would this be true?
Jesus is the only person in history to have come from heaven to humanity: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13). He is the only person to live a sinless life: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus had no sins for which to atone, so he could atone for ours. If I have $1,000 in my bank account and owe $1,000 in bills, I can’t help you pay your bills. Jesus had no sins in his account, so he could die to pay for yours and mine.
That’s why Paul could say, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). That’s why Peter could proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Why there is only one way
Consider a parable. You’re all invited to lunch at my house today. We’ll hang a key outside the door, so you can all unlock it and come inside.
For you to join us, four essentials must occur:
- You must know that we’re having lunch and you’re invited.
- You must decide to join us for lunch, believing that what we’re serving is better than your other options.
- You must set aside your key.
- You must use our key.
Let’s think about these essentials together.
One biblical metaphor for heaven is a “feast” (Matthew 22:2). However, a third of the world doesn’t know that they’re invited. They’ve never heard the gospel. And another third lives in a place where it is very difficult to accept the invitation.
However, this is not God’s fault. He calls us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). If I were the only Christian on earth, and I shared Christ with you today so that you became a believer, there would be two of us. If the two of us shared Christ with someone tomorrow so that they became believers, there would be four of us. The next day four could become eight, then eight sixteen, and so on.
By this simple process of multiplication, how long would it take for the entire world to receive eternal life? Thirty-three days. On that day, 8,589,934,592 people would be Christians, a number exceeding the planet’s population. You might say, But I can’t win one person to Christ every day. Could you win one a year? In thirty-three years the entire world would be saved.
So people need to know they’re invited—that’s our job. Next, they need to decide to come. That’s the issue for most people in our culture: They don’t want to give up their lunch to join God’s feast. They don’t believe that his will for them is better than their will for their lives. They don’t think that they need what he offers.
So we need to show them why they need God, by showing them the difference he’s made in our lives. When they see the fruit of the Spirit in us—God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—they will want what we have. This is why I became a Christian—I saw something in Christians I didn’t have in my life.
St. Francis suggested that we “preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” It is always necessary to use words. But first it is necessary to live what we preach, to show what we believe to be true. Ken Medema was right: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”
So people must know that they’re invited, and choose to come. Next they must set aside their key, their attempts to save themselves. I once read that seventy-eight percent of Americans think “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. Actually, Ben Franklin said that, not God.
Scripture is clear: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a result, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). But here’s the good news: “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23b). God promises: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Why does God offer only one key? Because one key is all we need. If one chemotherapy cured all cancer, we wouldn’t need other options. If one drug could prevent all heart disease, we wouldn’t need other therapies.
This key works for everyone who tries it. To seek heaven through Islam, you must believe that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is his prophet. Then you must pray five times a day facing Mecca, make a pilgrimage to Mecca, fast during Ramadan, and give to the poor. Even then you cannot be sure of heaven.
To seek salvation through Buddhism, you must renounce all desires and commit yourself to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path. To seek salvation through Hinduism, you must worship the thousands of Hindu gods and commit yourself to ascetic disciplines through multiple reincarnated lives. To seek salvation through orthodox Judaism, you must commit yourself to keeping the 613 laws of Judaism. To seek salvation through Christianity, you need only trust Christ as your Lord.
So we know we’re invited to God’s feast, we accept the invitation, and we stop trying to use our key to open the door. Last, we use the key he provides for us. We ask Jesus to forgive our sins and become our Savior and Lord. And he makes us the children of God and gives us eternal life.
What does our conversation mean for you personally? First, you need to accept your Father’s invitation to spend eternity with him. If you’re not sure you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Lord, be sure today.
Second, you need to share his invitation with those you influence. You can give them no greater gift. When our son had cancer, if you had a pill that would cure him, we would have been grateful beyond words. But he will die one day unless Jesus returns. Eternal life is the greatest gift in life. You have the privilege of sharing it with those you know.
But there’s a third consequence of our conversation. We’ve been asking why there’s only one way to God in heaven. Here’s an even better question: why is there a way to God in heaven? Why would the perfect Lord of the universe make a way for sinful, fallen people like us to spend eternity with him?
The answer is simple: He loves us that much. He made us, knowing our sins would cost Jesus his life. He made us, knowing we would reject him. He made us because he loves us. And he made a way for us to be with him in paradise because he loves us eternally.
Why do you need to remember that fact today? What in your world is causing you to question the unconditional love of your Father for you?
On the walls of a Nazi concentration camp cell there are scrawled these words, “I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine; I believe in love, even when it is not shown; I believe in God, even when he does not speak.”
One of my favorite songs has this chorus:
God is too wise to be mistaken,
God is too good to be unkind.
So when you can’t see his hand,
When you don’t see his plan
And you can’t understand
Trust his heart.
Why do you need to trust his heart today?