“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, highlighting the wonder and the scandal of the gospel. The wonder is overwhelming if we can truly grasp even a part of it: that God the righteous and holy, the loving and compassionate, has sent His own Son to us, and that in Jesus Christ we can return to the Father. We can be forgiven all our sins and receive the gift of eternal life. How can we grasp the unfathomable mercy of God?
But the scandal comes because we can have a very difficult time accepting the truth about the holiness and righteousness of God. Jesus is the way of salvation, and Jesus is the only way of salvation. That is a scandalous teaching in our (post)modern world, with its special brand of tolerance. And, in keeping with this spirit, there are those who claim a Christian identity but don’t accept the truth that just as God has made a way of salvation, so also there is condemnation for those who do not receive Jesus Christ.
The refusal to acknowledge the stern reality of God’s wrath can come as a direct embrace of pluralistic universalism, the idea that all religions and none lead to the same ultimate destiny: all roads go to heaven. But it can also come in a more subtle way, and one that skirts some of the rather exclusivist biblical passages. That is, some professing Christians contend that, indeed, Jesus is the only way, but that people will have an infinite opportunity in the afterlife to receive Jesus.
One such argument was made a couple of years ago, by none other than William Paul Young, whose bestselling novel The Shack presented such a distorted view of God. Young suggested that the idea that a person must accept Christ in this life or be condemned is acting “as if death is the final arbiter”.
That’s not really the case. Orthodox Christian teaching is that God is the final arbiter, and death is the limit He has set for man’s repentance: “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Young proceeds to back up his case with exegetical shenanigans:
“Romans itself says that death can’t separate you from the love of God [see Romans 8:31-39, in particular,” he argued, insisting that the verse applies to all people, including those who haven’t accepted Christ.
Ah, the power of insistence. But insisting is not enough to overturn the basic hermeneutical key of context. Who is the apostle Paul talking about in this passage? All humanity indiscriminately? No, he is speaking about believers, those who belong to Jesus Christ, as the context makes quite clear.
Young does not rest his case there, but proceeds to make an argument from Greek vocabulary:
“And every time the New Testament talks about the issue of judgment, it talks about crisis—the Greek work [sic] for judgment—and it’s a crisis. You’re going to enter a crisis—and I don’t think the story is over; I don’t think death is our damnation,” he continued.
“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” the saying goes. But, in this case, beware of inexpert use of Greek in argumentation, which can be a Trojan horse for all sorts of nonsense. Yes, the NT uses the Greek word krisis for judgment, and other variants related to the noun krima. Yes, krisis would seem to be the etymological origin of our English word crisis. But no, that doesn’t mean we should just read krisis as a crisis in any sense we want to; words have to be understood in context. When the translators of English Bible versions render krisis as “judgment” (e.g. Mattew 10:15), they do so for good reasons. This crisis is the crisis of coming under God’s judgment (krisis).
At the bottom, there is nothing more substantial than Young’s opinion. He doesn’t think death is our damnation, by which he presumably means anyone’s damnation. What does he think?
“I think that Jesus is both our salvation and rightful judge but that judgment is intended for our good, not our harm…I think there is an ongoing relational confrontation between the One who knows you best and loves you best. Potentially forever and, potentially, you could say ‘no’ forever. How someone could do that I don’t know, but definitely that tension is held in Scripture for sure,” he positioned.
Jesus is the way of salvation for all who will come to Him. Jesus is the rightful judge. But this idea that “judgment is intended for our good, not our harm” is to say that judgment isn’t judgment. Judgment is a decision; in this case, it is a decision of whether someone will be acquitted or condemned. Since all of us deserve condemnation, the only question is whether we have had our sins washed away by the blood of Christ. And on that judgment day, the verdict will be final.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And 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. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
A potentially eternal tension of “ongoing relational confrontation” is not held in Scripture, however sure Young may be of its presence. What is held forth in Scripture is the radical confrontation of the gospel, where we must choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ:
“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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” (John 3:16-18).
In the end, we have to decide whose word to trust: God’s, or William Paul Young’s. If we trust God, then we will run to the cross now, recognizing that this is our one offer to be saved from the wrath that is to come.
And what an offer!
God has done all the work to offer us redemption. The Father sent the Son by the Spirit for our redemption. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and rose again to accomplish our salvation. The Spirit comes to convict us, indwell us, and unite us with the Son and the Father. And God will bring His plan to fulness in due time.
Those who come to Christ in faith receive meaning and purpose for life, moral and spiritual transformation, the forgiveness of sins, adoption as a child of God, and eternal life in the coming new creation. The gospel is wonderful in its accomplishment, in the marvelous scope of redemption, and in the free offer to all who will receive it.
Jesus is the way.