Does The Bible Really Say That Jesus Is The Only Way To Heaven?
Many people (non-Christians and church-attenders alike!) are offended by many statements in the Bible. The Biblical statements that seem to cause the most uproar are those that declare that trusting in Jesus by faith is the only way to heaven, the only way to be forgiven, the only way to have eternal life, etc.
The ensuing post will therefore attempt to answer/respond to the following three questions:
1. Does the Bible actually claim that faith in Jesus is the exclusive way to heaven?
2. Is this an important belief for Christians to adhere to? If so, why?
3. Without changing what the Bible says on this topic, what are some angles from which to view this topic that will help non-Christians to see it more comprehensively?
Does the Bible Actually Teach This?
John 3:16-21 NIV:
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Verse 16 above states that accepting (receiving, surrendering to, submitting to, believing in) Jesus is the way to have eternal life and to avoid perishing (spiritual death, i.e. eternal separation from God).
Verse 18 above states that not accepting Jesus (i.e. not trusting in His death on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sinfulness) leaves a person condemned/unable to share in an eternal life with God.
John 14:6 NLT:
6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
This verse show us that Jesus sees Himself as the (not “a” but “THE”) door, the gate, the road through Whom people must go if they want to get to God the Father (i.e. have eternal life in heaven in an intimate friendship of love with God). Jesus views Himself as the key that unlocks the gates of heaven, He views Himself as the invitation which must be accepted for entrance into eternal life.
John 20:30-31 ESV:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Verse 31 reveals that belief in Jesus as God (not just as a good person, a wise teacher, a holy man, a miracle-worker, etc.) is required to have life–real life, eternal life–and that this life comes through Jesus, because of Jesus, from Jesus, within Jesus (“in His name”).
Acts 4:11-12 The Message:
Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.”
Again, these verses clearly state the Biblical revelation that belief in the name of Jesus is the only way for salvation, that is, for us to be saved from the event when God the Father will judge sin, the devil, his demons, and every human who ever lived on earth.
So, whether one chooses to agree with the Bible’s declaration or not, it is hopefully clear from the verses above that the Bible does in fact claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
Is It Important For Christians To Believe This? If So, Why?
There has been and always will be pressure on God’s people to cut corners regarding our belief in God’s Truth and our obedience to God’s commands. The Bible is clear that there are powerful, spiritual beings in this world who have declared war on God and all those whom He loves (Revelation 12:9, 1 Peter 5:8). Many church-attenders, in an attempt to pacify/comfort those who are offended by this Biblical declaration, have allowed their belief in this doctrine to shift, to adapt, to “evolve” in order to “keep up with the times”. Such people may assert that Jesus is the way that THEY will get to heaven, but they follow up that statement with an appeal to the mercy/grace of God as they assure non-Christians that surely they don’t have to change their religious beliefs in order to get to heaven.
Here are some reasons why it is extremely important for Christians to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven:
A. Disagreeing with God is the same as calling Him a liar. Even though God is love and super super patient and forgiving, it’s probably wise not to willfully slap Him across the face with beliefs that are the opposite of His revealed Truth. We don’t flagrantly mess with people or animals who are bigger than us…why do so with the God of heaven and earth, about Whom the Bible says, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29 NIV) and “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 NIV).
B. We won’t tell others about Jesus’ love/grace if He isn’t the only way to heaven. Jesus is clear (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:7-8) that He wants us to tell others about Him; yet sharing our faith in Jesus with others (especially those who are involved adherents of other religions) is for many American Christians the most difficult/uncomfortable command of God in the Bible. Why would we go through this often agonizing exercise, why would we potentially anger/offend other people if there are other ways to get to heaven?
C. We won’t hang on to Jesus through the trials of life if there are other eternal lifeboats within reach. After seeking out God for a long time, the Holy Spirit helped my wife realize that Jesus is in fact God, the Savior of the world, the only way to heaven. She knew, however, that becoming a Christ-follower would cost her much–she knew her parents would disown her and that she would be unable to see her younger siblings for many years if she converted to Christianity. And knowing all of that, she chose Jesus. If there were other ways to heaven, other options for Sarah to eternally connect with God, other roads for her to take that would have angered her parents less and been less personally costly for her, well, she would have taken one of those other roads. And yet Jesus reveals that it is those who “stand firm to the end” (Matthew 10:22 NIV) who will be saved, that the heaven-bound are those who cling to faith in Jesus even when there are other tempting idols/false gods/belief systems that promise to make their lives easier/more comfortable.
What Are Some Different Angles From Which To View This Doctrine?
Mary Poppins graciously taught us that “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Here are some spoonfuls of sugar that can help us–if we are offended by this Biblical Truth–to digest/accept it:
A. Isn’t it great that God gives humans any way at all to get to heaven? The Bible is clear that we humans got ourselves into this sin, death, hell-bound mess we are in. The Bible is also clear that God chose (He didn’t have to) to provide a way for us to be forgiven/re-united with Him/re-made and that God’s way was infinitely costly/expensive for Him because it involved the suffering and death of His only Son. What more do we want?
B. Isn’t one way to heaven good enough? Are you angry that you don’t have two houses? Aren’t you thankful to have just one? Hypothetically, if you were stranded in the middle of the desert, were dying of thirst, and you came across a bottom-less bottle of ice-cold Aquafina water, who in their right mind would abandon the liquid indignantly because they prefer the Evian brand? If you were stranded on the top of a burning building, would you wait for a SECOND rescue helicopter to fly by? If you won $10,000,000 in a lottery, would you wait for a second winning ticket before you would claim the prize?
C. What was the point of Jesus suffering through execution on a Roman cross if there was another way for humans to be offered forgiveness and eternal life? Christ even asked God humbly if another such option were available. In other words, why would anyone go through the pain/danger/risk of donating a kidney to a sick person if the sick person could be healed in a simpler/less invasive way?
D. An analogy by Lee Strobel: Let’s pretend there are two country clubs. The first one only admits people who have earned membership. To get in, you’ve got to obtain superior wisdom or fulfill a list of demands and fulfill certain spiritual requirements. Despite their best efforts, lots of people just won’t make the grade and will be excluded. Friends, that’s what other religions are saying by teaching that people have to work their way to God.
But the second country club says, “Anybody who wants in can come in because Jesus has already paid for your membership. Rich or poor, black or white, regardless of your ethnic heritage or where you live, we would love to include you. Entry isn’t based on your qualifications but only on accepting Christ’s invitation. So we’ll leave the matter to you.
The Bible is clear that trusting in Jesus is the only way to heaven (please click HERE for a more detailed description of what it looks like to trust in Jesus);
There are important reasons for Christians to “dig in on this hill” and adhere to this belief even though it upsets others;
There are some ways to look at this belief that shows it to be loving, inclusive, and generous.
It is vitally important for Christians to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. To believe otherwise
mocks Jesus’ loving sacrifice on the Cross,
devalues His suffering on our behalf,
and paints the Father as a wanton inflictor of unnecessary punishment.
It might be difficult to digest, but it is foundational to what it means to be a Christ-follower. If you love Jesus but are having trouble accepting this belief, ask the Holy Spirit to help you! He understands our weaknesses and empathizes with our struggles. If we let Him, He will change us from the inside-out to conform our beliefs, attitudes, plans, words, and actions to those of Jesus Christ Himself (Romans 8:29). What a glorious promise! :)