Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, December 21

Why is Jesus the only way?

We have been talking about how we can discuss core Christian beliefs without “Christian” language. Before moving off this topic, I want to ask your help on one more thing.

Jesus says that God loved world and gave his only Son (Jn 3:16). Is the “only” important, and how do you explain it?

The premise I am working from is that if we have explained the gospel properly, the uniqueness of Christ doesn’t need to be an issue that takes up a lot of time. If we have talked about the issues of our separation from God, the consequences of living and dying separated from God, and our inadequacy to do anything about the separation, then most people are going to understand that the rift between God and us can only be bridged by God. Certainly not by us. If we have adequately explained the atonement, then discussions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Spiritualism, or any other “-ism” are unnecessary, at least at first.

Now, please do not misunderstand. I do believe in the uniqueness of Christ. My question has to do with how we present the gospel in a limited time frame with limited vocabulary. I am wondering if it would be better to explain the issues above and allow them to lead inexorably to the conclusion of the uniqueness of Christ

How does this sound?

We were created to be in fellowship with God. Because we have violated the relationship, we live separated from God and from true life. But because God is loving, Christ has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, and that is to take the initiative to repair the relationship. Only Jesus has done this.

Is it fair to conclude that it isn’t necessary to simply assert the uniqueness of Christ in evangelism, but it should be the natural conclusion to a balanced presentation of the facts of sin, separation, and the human inability to do anything about this? Of course, if the person asks about Christ’s uniqueness, then we discuss it.

Comments

In my opinion trying to explain what Jesus did for us without also explaining that Jesus was more than just a man, but the creator of the universe would not be very effective.

Bill You have a nice succinct statement here. I also really like your exploration of how to present the gospel in a relevant manner - the Spirit of God has been dealing with me regarding the same issue - when and how, etc. As well as to simply be aware of obvious opportunities to simply serve people who are seeking to understand or experience more about who the Creator is. To be honest, I do not even think the "sin" issue is relevant - simply "are you in relationship with God" "do you see God working in your life" leading to "would you like to be in relationship with God" "would you like to see God working in your life" Then - how do you think this can happen? When God broke through into my life, I was an atheist, I knew nothing of the Gospel, had no contact with religious people or texts - did not even want Jesus after I recognized some sort of Creator. However, I did want the Creator - and He inexorably led me to bow the knee to Jesus within four months. He filled with me His Spirit even before I knew what the Spirit was - and had not even obtained a Bible (no - no babbling involved...:-) ). At no point was I ever introduced to the concept of sin - there was simply a desire to walk with God. I have since had a couple of occasions where I have failed God - "sin" - based specific direction I had that I had failed to follow through. Yeah - I hate what happened and do not even entirely understand. BUT all that happened long after the salvation event. My point is that there key issues in each culture and for each individual. Simply the existence of God - and acknowledgement of Jesus as a part of the experience of God - was what was need for a 20thC Atheist. I find that much of evangelicalism is in fact more of a distraction than anything else to this walk with God in Christ. Systematic theology is some of the worse direction someone can go as it provides human frameworks rather than letting the Spirit of God direct a soul. Etc. Greg Logan

I think the exclusiveness, and uniqueness, of Jesus Christ, and what he accomplished on the cross, are profound theological points. However, there are many, very important, theological points that do not need to be brought up in evangelism, unless we encounter resistance to them. Paul limited those theolgical points to the basics in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,". While defining the gospel Paul did not bring up the virgin birth, sinless life, eternal sonship, crucifixion, the cross, the blood, and many others. Paul stuck to the essentials of the gospel. Whenever someone objects to the basics of the gospel then I'll elaborate with apologetics in defense of the truth of God's Word.

If one reads the early Holy Church Fathers, it is quite clear that Jesus Christ, being the God-Man, the union of God with Man through the incarnation is the only way, path, means, etc. that God can heal the our wounds and sickness (Sin) caused by our turning away from Him. It is our only way to achieve theosis/deification and become the fulfillment of God's supreme creation -- Man.

When one understands that Jesus is God’s only son. It helps to relate just how much he loves us to give up His one and only beloved son for us, who are sinners.

During my time (10 years) as a Young Life leader in the Boston, MA area, we focused on explaining what sin is, and how we couldn't do anything about it. This seemed to be the larger stumbling block for the American suburban high schoolers that we were reaching. In mainstream culture, we are told that nothing is wrong. It's OK to follow whatever desires we have. This idea that we are all alright creates confusion. In our hearts, it is obvious that something is indeed wrong. Some have negative reactions to the idea of sin, but some find great comfort. For some, there is finally a reason why life is so messed up! It's like finally finding a diagnosis for some unknown disease. I never used the phrase "uniqueness of Christ". We would talk about that Jesus is 100% human and 100% God. We would talk about how the Cross is the solution to the sin problem. Without the cross, we are still separated from God. Maybe I have been leading people astray, but I assumed they understood that Christ was unique because there is nothing that we can do about our own sin. *The ideas are all linked together: If we can't do anything about our sin, and Jesus is the solution, then Jesus is the only one who can do something about our sin.* At a very basic level, we would be pleased if someone understood more the true character of Jesus. A non-christian seems to think either nothing of Jesus, or that he was some bland religious person. He is anything but bland. He is passionate. He is so passionate, that he sacrificed his own life for our sake.

I think Bill if we proclaim the Gospel as you so very clearly illustrate, then we won't have to spend any preparatory time trying to drive home the concept of Christ's uniqueness: the comprenhesion of it, aided by the gift and working of the Holy Spirit, will naturaly follow as the end result. Good point!!!!!!

Bill, I agree! God made us (and liked what he made), God made the rules of relationship, Adam broke the rules, God continued to love us and he paid his own penalty(death for pushback (sin)), no one else has done that, "No one comes to the Father but by me!" Good thinking!

Respectfully, the new believer’s difficulty in accepting the uniqueness of Christ is part of the pain of the cross. You can’t ease the pain by a subtle choice of words.

Very profoundly written. It makes since to me in a way i can explain to others. Thank you for your insight. I enjoy your dialogs.

Hi Bill, If you're talking about short gospel presentations constrained by time, then I think what you've outlined is adequate. However, the person must understand that this is a summary of the gospel and there is more. Jesus explained the least that one needed to know in order to come to faith when He shared the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). The tax collector said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." So, what was the content of his understanding? He recognised he was a helpless sinner (the context of the parable would indicate this). He recognised he had offended the Creator God of the Bible (and not some other god) and that He had to trust in the Creator God's mercy to solve the sin problem. That I think, is the least a person needs to understand to be saved. What you have proposed, while accurate, is very brief. If a few minutes is all one had, then one could at least share what you've proposed. But I would add, "But there is more to explain." What we need to avoid is giving the impression that the brief gospel presentation is all the truth there is. Sometimes, people will walk away, not really understanding because they have too little information to work with but they think they've heard the gospel and it didn't make sense so it's not for them. They become inoculated to the truth. The tax collector in the parable is assumed to be Jewish, meaning he would have basic knowledge and understanding of the Creator God, of sin and of the need for a Saviour. In today's world, all three basic elements are often missing in a person's mind so a brief gospel presentation ends up "hanging on nothing". It has no background knowledge of God to attach itself to. That is something believers must be aware of when making brief gospel presentations. I hope that makes sense!

Firstly, Bill asks if 'only' in Jn 3.16 is important or significant. We know that Jesus is God manifested in the form of the objects whom he came to save - fallen humanity, so there can only be one, and when there is only one, then 'only' is entirely appropriate. If God had manifested himself in more than one form, then Jesus would not have been able to claim his uniqueness - that only through him, can we be saved. Now, I don't think I've used 'Christian' language in the above, and I believe the Gospel can be explained and taught in simple, everyday terms. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 exhorts us to go and teach those things that Jesus taught his disciples; that is, the Good News; the Gospel. And it is simple: 1. God exists; God is real. 2. Historically, God appeared in the form of a man called Jesus in the first century, who walked and talked among the people of his day, teaching the things of God. 3. Jesus did everything that required of him, and was not worthy of the punishment and brutality that was inflicted upon him, but he willingly submitted himself to this because he wanted to take upon himself the penalty that we all deserve; so he was killed and damned. 4. The Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, to live for evermore. If we believe this Gospel, the Word of God tells us that we are saved from suffering the penalty for our sins, because Jesus has done it for us. The Gospel is so simple; so simple, in fact, that many choose not to go along with it, and that is sad. Of course, in presenting the Gospel in its simplicity, questions are sure to arise, such as, "What is this penalty that I deserve?" As Bill states, it could probably be a good thing to present the Gospel in its simplicity, and allow the opportunity for them to ask their questions. The bottom line is that God loves us so much, he wants us to spend eternity with him, but that can only be possible if we are in harmony with him. Jesus shows us how that is possible; only Jesus shows us this; there is no other way.

I'm certain "Only" can be found in the "limited vocabulary" lexicon! We don't need to refute all of the isms, unless they were brought up in the conversation, but as a minimum we should assert the uniqueness of Christ! Why? Because when they walk away from us they'll encounter a world of isms and philosophies that offer different solutions to mankind's controversy with God. Father God offering His ONLY Son, emphasizes His love and commitment to His creation's redemption.

If I understand the question, it's kind of like asking if you have to describe the marrow whenever you describe a bone. It's an interesting question to chew on. Let’s walk a little bit. I agree that properly explaining the true Gospel will by default include describing the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to Salvation, even in the quick version. I think that distinctive is significant to the Gospel, regarding your words that "only Jesus has done this"; it's not just that Jesus HAS done this but that only Jesus CAN do this. For what indeed is the Gospel? That is at the heart of it all. He that has not the Son has not the Father, and so on. Even Gandhi said, "I like your Christ but not your Christians" and believed that the Christian path might be one of many ways to enlightenment. Defining what the Gospel is will tell you how much information you need to present. Now, do you have to dwell on this uniqueness of Christ? Is it essential to explain all the reasons in order for someone to be saved? No, we don’t even find that in Scripture. Church history shows that it can even lead to some heavily debated issues regarding the nature of Christ (Docetism, Ebonism, Arianism, etc.). Generally, that's not the case when simply presenting the basic Gospel to the average person, but it does depend on your audience. Trying to give too much detail all at once can lead to confusion and rabbit trails. So many things could be dissected in John 3:16 alone ("For/Thus/In this way...", "one/one and only/only begotten...") that can distract and detract. I don't think it's necessary to explain every detail at first. But there's nothing wrong with just giving that verse as a springboard. However, I rarely leave it up to people, like sheep, to come to the right conclusion. Interesting you mention Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., because people today do seem so indoctrinated by society's New Age/Eastern belief style of finding your own way, speaking your own truth, what is truth to one person might not be someone else's truth, etc. And especially in the United States is a permeating arrogant attitude of doing everything yourself and your own way--"I don't need anyone else's help"; "I do things my way"; "You can like it or not, take it or leave it"; "Accept me as I am or you can leave"; etc. So, this can make it difficult for people to come to the conclusion on their own that they need only Christ alone and can't just do it all themselves. People by nature want to do something to help, to contribute, to participate and feel included so they feel good about themselves. The Gospel is often difficult because it's so simple. Even among Christians is the debate about how much we participate in Salvation (baptism, Eucharist, etc.). I think the uniqueness of Christ should be a clear line item in presenting the Gospel, but not necessarily with subheadings and further bullet points unless it's questioned further. If you're in a hurried situation (airport, grocery store, etc.) and just want to give the quick version, simply stating that Christ is the only way without further detail is at least enough to convey the message. We must all have that faith in Christ whether we fully understand it or not. And that is enough information for the person to explore further to find out why Christ is the only way. I think we see that even in the examples we have in Scripture by the disciples of Christ. Perhaps at the root of the question is the fact that to be saved, you don't have to understand everything about how or why Christ is the only way if you at least believe and accept that fact, our depravity and Christ’s atonement. There is much we don't understand about the truths laid out in Scripture, but we walk by faith and not by sight. That is the Gospel. And ultimately, it is the Spirit who convicts the heart, the Word that divides the psuche and pneuma. We cannot but can only point the way. Sorry for the lengthy commentary, but when you give a preacher a soapbox...lol. Blessings to you!