Saturday, June 01, 2013

A Way or The Way?

          Galatians 1:1-12
1:1 Paul an apostle--sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead--

1:2 and all the members of God's family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

1:4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

1:5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--

1:7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!

1:9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

1:10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

1:11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;

1:12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

  Do all roads lead to God?

Are all people saved?  Does everyone get to heaven?

Does it matter what religion you embrace?

That is an interesting question – does faith make a difference?

            I found that answer on a web not long ago.  The question had been posted on one of those sites in which anyone can join the discussion. 

            And the answers on that web page were mostly – no.  It makes no difference.

            One response had this to say, and it was fairly typical of the discussion:

“I think that as long as you are a good person, don't hurt animals, molest children, murder, get the idea and be kind to mother earth...there is room in heaven for you regardless if you go to church or not. It is between you and who you believe to be higher power above. God will accept everyone - Christian, Jew, wiccan, atheist, muslem, ....everyone.”


Actually, that statement is widely accepted in our culture today.

But is that true? 

Do all roads lead to heaven?

Paul, in our New Testament lesson is upset.  He is shocked!  He is astonished to learn that people in Galatia have deserted THE Gospel, for some other Gospel.  To Paul, it mattered what your faith us. 

Paul spoke as a man who changed his faith.  He went from being a devout Jew who persecuted Christians, to becoming the leader of the Christian Church. 

Paul would have been especially astonished at our culture today.

This week the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USA, issued his annual report on the membership of our denomination. 

            It is not good news.
We’ve lost over 100,000 members. 
            In fact, for the past ten years, we have had a net loss year after year.

            Presbyterians are not unique – this same statistic is reported from almost all Christian denominations.

            People are leaving the church.

            They are forsaking the Gospel and turning to other faiths.

            So let’s ask the question – so what?  What’s the big deal about people leaving the faith?  Does it really make a difference?

Is Christ THE way? 

Or is Christ one of many ways?

Now in John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I am THE way, THE truth, THE life.  No one comes to the Father, EXCEPT through me.”

Now if you accept that as true, then you have a couple of problems.  First of which is this – what about all those were born, lived and died, without ever having even heard about Jesus?  Are they doomed to hell because they never heard the words of the one who said he THE way and the only way?

That doesn’t seem fair does it?

In fact, some people would say that it is arrogant of Christians to say they are the way and the only way.

We all have loved ones and friends who are Jews.  Or Muslims. Or Hindu.  Or who have no faith at all.  Or who are simply confused about their spirituality and have not yet taken the time or opportunity to make a decision about what they believe.

It is hard to look at people we know and arrogantly say, “I know the way.  It’s the only way to God.”

Some Christians resolve this by adjusting their theology in such a manner that they refuse to believe that Christ is THE way, but rather simply A way to God.  In our multi-cultural community, it is comforting to many to believe that all roads lead to God.

Jews are God’s chosen people.  The Bible says so.[1]  Therefore surely they are saved.

Muslims worship the same God we worship.  Historically speaking at least, Muslims and Christians and Jews when speaking about God are talking about the God of Adam, Noah, and Abraham. One of the bedrock principles in Islam says, “There is One God.”  Therefore surely anyone who worships the one God will be saved.

Hindu, Buddhists, all of those folks seek to develop their spirituality.  Won’t God honor their search?

And what about people who are just plain good and descent people?  Aren’t they saved?

The Uniqueness of Christ

But if you resolve the problem of the arrogance of Christians in this way, all you have succeeded in doing is depriving Christ of His uniqueness. 

Or as Paul would say in our New Testament Lesson – you are forsaking the Gospel for another Gospel, and there is no other Gospel but Christ’s.

The cornerstone of the Christian faith is that Christ died for our sins. 

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)

And of course, what is probably the most familiar passage of Scripture teaches us in John 3:16, “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.”[2]

The belief that Christ is the only way to salvation has historically been a cornerstone of the Presbyterian faith.[3]  But some people in our culture are now saying that “all roads lead to God.”  They suggest that it is time to put apparent arrogance aside and say, Christ is not the only way, but one of many ways.

But ----

When you say that, you strip Christ of His uniqueness. 

If all roads lead to God, then why send the Son of God to suffer and die for our salvation?

If all roads lead to God, then why not just send the Son of God to teach us and inspire us and leave it at that? Let’s skip the nails the cross and the grave.

So is Christ really the ONLY way to God?

All Roads DO Lead To God – But…

Actually, the truth of the matter is that the Bible does teach that all roads do lead to God.

Jesus did not say, “No one comes to God except through me.” 

What Jesus said in John’s Gospel was, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Did you hear the difference? 

Jesus did not say, “No one comes to God except through me.” 

He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

All roads lead to God.  The Christian road.  The Jewish road.  The Muslim road.  Even the Atheistic road. 

Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel that there will be a time when all people will end their journey and come face to face with God. 

However, while all roads lead to God, it is not necessarily what we all people might hope for. 

Jesus puts it this way:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him.”

Well, so far, so good.  All roads lead to God.  “All nations will be gathered around him.”  But, Jesus continues.

“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Now, as Jesus explains it, He will say to some, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

But then, Jesus looks at the others and will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”[4]

All roads lead to God, but at the end of most roads, people encounter God as a judge. 

We read about this final judgment often in Scripture.  In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we read, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  II Corinthians 5:10

In Revelation, there is a stunningly visual account in which the writer says, “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”  (Rev 20:12)

A Road To God The Judge, Or To God The Father
Well, if all roads lead to God and that at the end of that road we find a judge, why say there is anything unique about Christ and Christianity?

It all goes back to what Jesus said and didn’t say.

Jesus did not say “No one comes to God except through me.”  He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If all roads lead to God anyway, then at the end of that road I would rather face God my Father, rather than God my Judge.

I want to approach God as one of his children.

Now how do we become children of God – rather the accused in the courtroom of God?

St. John said it plainly at the beginning of his Gospel: “to all who received Christ, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12-13

Or as Jesus put it, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What about the non-Christians?  Will they have eternal life?  It’s best to let God be the Judge. 

James warned us in his epistle (James 4:11-12), “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it … There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-- who are you to judge your neighbor?”

And Jesus said (in Matthew 7:1), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

All of the people in our community, whatever their faith, will be led to God.  We let God judge them.  It’s not our place to judge.

But never forget there is a uniqueness about Christ that allows us to approach God as His children.

To forget that is to forget Christ’s own words when he said, “I am the THE way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” 

And to forget that, is to run the risk of being guilty of what so astonished Paul in this morning’s New Testament Lesson – to forsake the Gospel for another, when in fact there is no other Gospel at all.

Copyright – Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

[1] This concept appears several times in Scripture, including Isaiah 65:9:  “I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live.” (NIV)

[2] Other texts for consideration: Isaiah 53:6 – “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  I Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  I Peter 2:24,  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

[3] In the Presbyterian Church, we have several statements of faith that we have collected in our Book of Confessions.  In that book there are clear statements of what we believe and teach.  One of these statements of faith is called the Second Helvitic Confession, and it has this to say:  “Jesus Christ is the only savior of the world.”  (Second Helvitic Confession, Chapter 11). 
[4] Matthew 25