“Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).
How can there only be one way to God? If God is love, shouldn’t he make it easy for people to find the way to heaven? And what about those who’ve never heard the gospel? Why is Christianity so exclusive?
The best answer to whether there could be more than one way for humans to be reconciled to God is to look at Jesus. God the Son became human, lived a hard, poor, oppressed life, died a horrible death, and experienced the wrath of God. If there were any other way, would he have done that? Of course not.
It’s really a matter of truth. What actually works? Medicine is a far better analogy. To say that penicillin is the proper treatment for a disease isn’t to say that I like penicillin better than saline; it means penicillin will actually cure the disease whereas saline will not. To say that Christianity can save and Hinduism can’t is to say that Christianity has the cure for sin (Jesus) and Hinduism doesn’t. Jesus and the apostles repeatedly taught that there is no hope for mankind apart from Jesus, and that’s why they risked their lives to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and told us to do the same. “Singular problems need singular solutions.”1 Sin is the most singular of problems, and trusting in the death of the God-man is the only solution. For people to get to heaven without trusting in Jesus requires salvation by works. But our works are pitifully inadequate.
“Why can’t God just be happy that they believe?” Some people want to think being a faithful Hindu or Muslim should be enough to please God. But that’s watering down “believe” into the worst of modern terms. It’s not enough to believe that God exists. “Even the demons believe that—and tremble” (James 2:19). Biblical faith requires depending on Christ alone for your righteousness, something that is anathema to every human religion.
“Do people go to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus?” No. They go to hell because they have committed treason against their King. Not believing in Jesus is simply failing to take advantage of the offer of amnesty.
But what about those who’ve never heard of that offer of amnesty? That’s an issue that has caused a lot of ink to be spent. First, some hard truths: We’re all sinners who deserve the just punishment of God. No one is owed grace — by its very definition, grace is what we do not deserve. The people who’ve never heard the gospel still sin willingly.
Second, some comforting truths: God is God. The universe is not run by the temperamental Allah of Islam nor the petty gods of the pagan pantheons. The world will answer to the holy loving justice of the God who describes himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished ...” (Ex 34:6-7).
And this God is sovereign. He doesn’t just oversee the universe; he runs it. In Acts we read how Philip was sent to meet an Ethiopian official who was seeking after God. After that he was physically relocated to where God wanted him to preach next (8:26-40). We also have the story of Cornelius being told to seek out Peter (10:1-8). In the modern world, similar things happen. There are many stories today of people having dreams telling them where to go or who to seek out to find out about Jesus. God can get the gospel where it needs to go. But most people, whether in the jungles of Africa or the cities of the West, simply don’t want to bow their knee to the true God.
“Why can’t God just forgive everybody?” That would send the message that sin isn’t a big deal, and it is. It’s treason against the King. It also harms people. When we suggest that God should just forgive, we don’t really mean he should forgive everyone; we know some people are murderers or harm children. But everyone hurts other people with their sin. When we steal or lie or gossip, we’re hurting other people. We don’t want people who harm us to get away with it; we can’t be allowed to get away with it either. The crime must be paid for. Or it must be atoned for.
Those worried about the fate of people who’ve never heard the gospel should make it their mission to see that they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. “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).
1 Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality
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Part of Christianity 101