Another Look at John 14:6– What Does Jesus Really Mean?


In my last post which wrestles with the difference between Jesus and Christianity, I gave some attention to John 14:6. This is a loaded verse, and unfortunately, because of my lack of clarity and the preconceived notions many people bring to this passage, there’s a lot of confusion about what I was trying to say.

In response to Thomas’ question,

“Lord we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way,”

Jesus responded by saying,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now, I want to restate some things I said before and perhaps make them a bit clearer:

1) Jesus was primarily addressing his disciples. His disciples had yet to fully realize that Jesus himself is the only way, truth, and life they need. There is no other way to God but by him. He goes on to say in verse 7, ” If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” To put it another way, coming to Jesus is the same thing as coming to the  Father because Jesus is the fullest expression of the Father. To know one is to know the other.

2) Jesus was more deeply explaining his seamless connection to the Father. In John’s Gospel, the central message is that the Word, God himself, became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. To know Jesus is also to know the Father. Right after Thomas’ question, Phillip asks, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus responds with, “Don’t you me Phillip, even after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In other words, to see Jesus is to see the Father. That’s why Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. He and nothing else is the fullest expression of the Father. As Paul puts it, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

Now the sticky question is whether or not John 14:6 is applicable to all people, including non-Christians. Certainly, Christians have used this verse to try to convince their non-Christian neighbors that Jesus is the only way to the Father. So, the logic goes, they’d better turn to Jesus and become a Christian or risk damnation. Now, I firmly believe that Jesus is the one through whom God has fully revealed himself. Jesus is the one through whom God has saved the whole world from power of sin and death. He is the hope of the world.

My concern, however, in holding out Jesus Christ for all people, is that we wrongly insist that the religion of Christianity is the sole means through which people come to Christ and are saved. We tell people to come to such and such church or church event, believe such and such words from a preacher, convert and then become a Christian and church member in the mold of who we are.

We’ve made the religion of Christianity the exclusive claim of salvation, not Jesus himself. Now that may sound like splitting hairs, but it’s not. Just ask any non-Christian. We hold up church life and membership, a set of doctrines and rules, traditions, a certain church culture, religious expectations and other norms, package it all up and call it Jesus. That simply will not work for a very large group of people, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the religion of Christianity and Christians.

I think Paul would argue the same from his experience of bringing Jesus to the Gentiles. Jesus was Jewish, his earliest disciples were Jewish, and his message and teaching were from a Jewish foundation. But Paul argued that Gentiles (non-Jews) are not required to be both a disciple of Jesus and Jewish, specifically with regards to the Jewish rites of circumcision, kosher eating habits, and the observance of Jewish holy days and synagogue worship. Yes, Gentiles abandoned their idols to worship and follow Jesus, but their discipleship took on a very different shape than their Jewish neighbors who also followed Jesus.

So… I’m arguing here that we Christians need to be careful to only hold out Jesus as the means of peoples’ salvation. I suspect that people of other faiths, those previously agnostic or atheist, or those from radically different cultures than our own will come to know, trust, and follow Jesus in ways that will not resemble Christianity as we’ve come to know it. They will create communities of the Church that will be very different. But that’s okay. Conversion is to God through Jesus Christ, not our religious system called Christianity.

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40 Comments

Filed under Christian thought, Reflections

40 responses to “Another Look at John 14:6– What Does Jesus Really Mean?

  1. Hi Chris, I enjoyed this post. While clearly coming from a theological stand-point, you seem interested in the wider world and engaging with those outside a narrower or or more restrictive definition of ‘the Christian church’. This is most evident in your conclusion: ‘I suspect that people of other faiths, those previously agnostic or atheist, or those from radically different cultures than our own will come to know, trust, and follow Jesus in ways that will not resemble Christianity as we’ve come to know it. They will create communities of the Church that will be very different. But that’s okay.’ As someone who only had a faith for a very short period of my life, I find this most refreshing and ultimately helpful in our modern, diversified world. Cheers, Nigel

  2. Tom

    very well put. Having traveled and ministered in Ukraine I agree. As long as we together come to Jesus receive forgiveness and salvation the rest is not important. Whatever “expression” your faith takes is not important. Going to church in Ukraine is very different than Canada, and rightly so. I think to many churches have divided on terms of “expression of faith” instead of Jesus and Him crucified and being raised again. We would do better to accept our cultural differences and agree together to follow Jesus simply on the fact that we are all sinners saved by grace. God knows we would be much better off.

  3. Being a very very important personality and with limited free time available, I read your post rather briefly. So please forgive me if you have answered my question in the body of the post. My Q is this: Is John 14:6 applicable to all people, including non-Christians?

    • Yes. I think Pastor Chris clearly states this. People will come to the Father through Christ the Son, not through a particular set of religious practices and traditions.

    • Hello there- Thank you for your time reading my post and leaving a comment. The short answer is yes, but the application of that yes is a very careful, sensitive application that must allow for the Holy Spirit to work in a variety of ways to bring people to faith. I believe that Jesus Christ died and was risen again for the life, redemption, and saving of the entire world, including each person. I also believe that no one is outside of that grace of God. Again, I trust God’s Spirit to work through each nation, community, faith system, and person to bring them to discover and trust Jesus.

      Chris

  4. I see what you are saying. For me, the church is where I go to get encouraged and equipped. Salvation happens outside of the church. Once you have received salvation, you become part of the Church. The community of believers, church, is important for fellowship, but not a requirement for salvation, Church.

    I don’t believe someone has to go to a local church and be a member of a congregation in order to receive salvation.

    The hard part is going to be for a person to accept that someone else does not hold to the same doctrine(s) as they might. Suicide is a big one along with homosexuality. They are both sins, but do they send you to hell? That is what the western church seems to focus on more than that God has to make the change in someone’s life, not our interpretation of His will.

  5. stan

    no one comes to the Father except through Jesus.

    not my words.

    the centrality and authority of Jesus cannot be diminished. it’s not my business to decide who comes to the Father – that’s Jesus’ work. It is my job to point to the saving work of Jesus who said, “I am the way . . .” I suspect that is why John recorded the words even though they were first spoken for only a roomful. I don’t find this claim exclusive. But I do find it essential. Jesus’ redeeming work offers grace to everybody on the planet. If a Muslim or a Christian or a Wiccan or a . . . . comes to the Father, it will not be because he or she is a good Muslim, Christian, or Wiccan or . . . It will be because of Christ. If there are may ways to come to the Father, then Jesus isn’t necessary and his death was in vain. The cross, that messy cross is always a stumbling block for folk who want to get to God on their own terms.

    It’s not my job to be gate keeper. That’s Jesus’ responsibility. He will judge the living and the dead. He is perfect and just and sees into the heart – the heart of the Muslim, Christian, Wiccan . . . And as CS Lewis expresses so eloquently in the Narnian Chronicles, I will probably be very surprised by who I will be worshiping alongside of for eternity. But this side of heaven, I want everyone to experience grace – pure grace that is in such short supply in our hurting world.

    Christ the Center.

    way too short to capture the depth of this delicate topic.

    • Stan- I’m on the same page with you, brother. As you are, I’m trying to be careful that we offer people Christ and a relationship with Christ, not cultural Christianity with the expectation that they would need to conform to our version of the Christian religion. You’re right, though, that a post like mine can’t cover all the complexities of this issue!

      Chris

  6. Ken

    Bravo, Chris, for wrestling and outlining this non-trivial detail with us! A church certainly brings the support believers benefit from, and provide non-believers a way to learn more about Jesus. But, our actions to Jesus, not a specific religion or denomination, bring us to the Father, as Jesus answers Thomas. Or, I read that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, not just through what we label as Christianity.

    Mankind has done both well and poorly in our religious attempts of Christianity – but it is man made, our attempt at fulfilling God’s word. Whether from a mainline or a non-denominational Acts 2 church, if we bring and proclaim Jesus to the world, that will be a blessing for all.

  7. Thanks for the clarification and fresh insight on this text. I’ve never heard this interpretation and it offers a lot of insight!

    Without a doubt, Paul was a radical by saying that Gentiles did not need to observe Jewish customs in order to embrace the Messiah. Especially when you consider who he studied under (Gamaliel) and that he was at one time extremely strict in his adherence to the Torah.

    A friend of mine once shared that as a missionary to a remote tribe they struggled with how to deal with polygamy among new (for lack of a better word) converts. Polygamy was acceptable among this tribe. How could you or would you make a man leave his other wives and children once he followed Jesus? Forcing men to forsake their family certainly wasn’t Christ like. But how would you change years of culture? Was an end to polygamy an unnecessary circumcision or was it a gentile idol that needed to be removed? Needless to say, we had an insightful discussion.

    Our Western Christian (church) culture should not be mistaken with Kingdom culture. However, learning to recognize the differences can be quite a challenge. I’m certainly still learning and unlearning.

    • Hi Chris,

      Another interesting post. I like the way you try to be very inclusive. Your message is almost Buddhist in its lack of compulsion, with an underlying foundation of tolerance. Yet I ask you, what of the person who is decidedly athiest or agnostic, yet follows all moral (Biblical) precepts except faith related precepts and without a God/Jesus as guide/inspiration?

      Non-thiests or secular people need to understand faith, and it needs to be a two-way street. I think you understand this.

      I will never be Christian. I imagine your equivalent would be ‘I will never be Hindu’ or ‘I will never lose faith’. I marvel at how someone can have faith when there is no chance that it is possibly true, just as you might marvel at how anyone cannot have faith when it is so obviously true (if that is, indeed, your position). Yet, somehow, I feel included or considered in your post. Should I feel this way? (No prayers, please, no prayers)

      Regards,

      C

      • Hi there- I would say that the one thing that a moral non-theist lacks is the life-giving treasure of grace (unconditional forgiveness, redemption and renewal). For me, following Jesus is not just changing up my life to pattern after his. That’s certainly part of it. But there’s also a redemptive part of the relationship. In other words, Jesus was crucified and raised again, and all of that for the rescue, the redemption, and the healing of the whole world, including you and me. So, I follow him, becoming a better person, and I also follow him and base my life on his, drinking in the grace and life and love he pours into my life which makes it possible for me to fully follow him. Obviously, there’s a theistic element in this that you may or may not embrace, but it’s far more than mere adherence to a religious belief or conforming to a religious system. Does that make sense?

        Chris

    • Hello Joy- A missional situation like the one you described is certainly a hard one that would raise a lot of debate. It reminds me of the consternation that went on over the Gentiles’ standards in the Jerusalem council meeting in Acts 15. Bottom line: this needs to be a very sensitive, Spirit-led conversation!

      Chris

  8. MH

    Peace be with you, Chris:

    I enjoyed this ecumenical post. I agree 100% with this and hope our fundamentalist brothers and sisters will see that the church is not EQUAL to the kingdom of heaven, but rather only a beginning or seed of God’s kingdom here on earth. Plus, I believe that means others outside of our respective churches can receive God’s grace even if they don’t necessarily believe the same things we do.

    This week marks the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity…may we all be one.

    • Hello Mike- Thanks for your encouragement… Yes, the Church is one part of the unfolding of God’s Kingdom and not necessarily the only means God uses to bring people to him through Jesus Christ. I think the Magi would agree with that…

      Chris

  9. Dear Pastor Chris

    I thank you for this blog. A follower of the Lord Jesus should be like Jesus. The Holy Spirit is living in us. So we have the opportunity to do the same things like the Lord Jesus did and more.

    We have a order received:

    Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16:16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 16:17 These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages;10 16:18 they will pick up snakes with their hands, and whatever poison they drink will not harm them;11 they will place their hands on the sick and they will be well.”

    Let us do what Jesus did. God is with us. We know Jesus, so we know the Father. The Holy Spirit is in us, so the heaven is in us.

    • Hello Brigette- Keep up doing what you’re doing, please! Be who Christ is with the Holy Spirit in you and share who you are and whose you are with the world around you. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that!

      Chris

  10. Just had a conversation with a local pastor about this very topic. He was asking how to reach some of our local tribal families. Sell Christ, not Christian Culture. Or don’t sell anything at all, but share the love of Christ and His Joy. :)

  11. So what happens when a group of people find Jesus? Casting out the normal Sunday meeting, what do they do?

    There will be worshipping of some sort. I am assuming this wont take the form of orgies or blood sacrifices, since that is contrary to biblical teaching. They are called together to fellowship as a group and to teach each other. There is an outline for a form of leadership of the group. These are not western ideas.

    I am curious as what your vision of these people outside of Christianity will look like, religious trappings aside.

    • Xander, it all depends on the community, and like the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, we need to wrestle with that and what is in and out for true discipleship in their community. I do believe that those who come to faith in Jesus become a part of his Church and must organize in some way to be the Body of Christ. But, given the diversity of people there are out there, that Body will take on all kinds of different forms and shapes, even as they seek to live a biblical faith in Jesus as his disciples. Something that might interest you is taking a look at some of the new church plants going around the world among communities of non-Christian, secular people. It’s simply incredible to see how discipleship is carried out!

      Chris

      • I have seen those and my church actually does stuff like that, just to introduce people to the idea of God. It is nice for people to see that you can have fun and still be in the presence of God. Plus you actually get to put your faith into action which is good for people jaded by Christianity to see.

        My concern and thought was along the line that you were trying to get Wiccan Christians or Buddhist Christians. Merging the two religions together. I couldn’t possibly see how it would work.

  12. Thank you for this post. I believe that we find the Truth through Jesus in the sense that we look for ‘God within’ the way he achieved it. In that sense non Christians can find their Truth too as they go through a Christ-like journey of love and forgiveness even though they do not call it by that name. Does that make sense?
    Blessings to all!

  13. oldbrusharbors

    I enjoyed the posts and the comments… Very nourishing… God Bless… Bro Pat

  14. E.G.

    Hi Chris,

    I’ve been reading your last few posts with great interest. It’s rare to find a pastor or church leader who’s willing to grapple with these issues, and I salute you.

    I’m not questioning your personal conviction that you were a sinner saved by Grace and your faith in Jesus Christ–that, at least, you were very clear on. I just think your posts regarding the Jesus/Christianity dichotomy can come off as confusing to new believers or non-believers. I believe each post ought to be able to stand alone, so even though you’ve clarified some things in this follow-up post, it doesn’t change the fact that your previous post has parts that are (unintentionally) misleading, like the way you interpreted John 14:6.

    I’ve been a Christian for years (and believe me, I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs and faith-related hiccups), but if I try to place myself in the shoes of a young believer or even a non-Christian, then your proposal–to get Christ, but not Christianity–may seem like a fuzzy and watered-down approach at best. (Sorry to put it so bluntly.)

    I think you would’ve come across more clearly had you defined the terms “Christianity” and “religion” before going on to try and convince the world why they are so “problematic” in the first place. True, much stigma is now associated with these terms, and I don’t mind deconstructing the terms and dismantling the misconceptions spawned by centuries of abuse and misrepresentation (no thanks to us Christians). But I fear that your post may have (again, unwittingly) abetted these wrong stereotypes instead of correcting them.

    Instead of running as far away from the term “Christianity” as your legs can take you, why not try to REDEEM the word and (through your own deeds, preaching, and interpretation of Scripture) bring it back to its true, intended meaning?

    The Oxford Dictionary of English defines these terms:

    “Christianity: the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices.”

    “religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God.”

    “faith: strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

    So, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and follows His teachings IS a Christian, and a practitioner of Christianity–whether you like it or not. =)

    I agree with you, though, that religiosity, religious affiliation and denomination have no bearing on salvation. (I was raised in a very legalistic Fundamental Baptist environment, but I now worship at a church under Every Nation Ministries, where I feel that the openness and brotherly love is more genuine, more heartfelt. I’m only mentioning this to show that I would be the last one to base salvation religiosity or denomination!)

    Christianity is not “churchianity,” but I’m afraid that both your posts may only have caused the demarcation line to blur all the more.

    E.G.

    • Hello E.G.- I very much appreciate your comments and constructive criticisms. Admittedly, I’m exploring some different concepts that can be (and have been!) unsettling to many Christians. However, the Christians who have had the most difficulty with my last couple of posts have been long-time Christians, not new Christians, agnostics, or unbelievers. They understand where I’m coming from and have found an entry point to perhaps explore Jesus Christ again. For example, I shared this post with my brother who is an agnostic and highly suspicious of church. He loved it and is discovering a new way to explore Jesus Christ without having to muddle through the religion of Christianity as it is now.

      I do hold my ground, however, that Christians have done violence to John 14:6, using it as a hammer over non-Christians. I do believe that this verse sets up Jesus Christ as sole means through which God redeems and saves the world. I looked and looked again at my posts, and I affirm that.

      My concern however is in wrapping up a cultural expression of Christianity and calling that the means through which people are saved. That’s at the crux of what I’m arguing. As Christians, we need to share and live a far, far more genuine, authentic expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ and majorly reform how we carry on as his Church. So in those ways, yes, as a pastor, I am seeking to redeem Christianity. But let me tell you: it’s a long, painful process, and I’m not going to allow the length and difficulty of that process be a barrier to anyone coming to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s why I also argue that some of us must uphold Jesus Christ apart from the established Western religion of Christianity so that many more have a chance to explore Jesus, explore faith in him, and become his disciples, forming a different version of Church than what you and I are doing.

      So again, the people having difficulties with what I’m saying are long-time established Christians who think that I’m attacking Christianity. That’s not the case at all! I’m a reformer of it, but I’m also apostolic enough to take Jesus Christ beyond the realms of established Western Christianity in order to make new disciples. Those folks, primarily agnostic and on the fringes of faith, get and appreciate what I’m saying.

      But, I will continue to listen and evaluate the thoughts of all my fellow Christians, you included, on such a delicate, controversial topic as this one!

      Chris

      • E.G.

        Hi Chris,

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comments. If it’s the Western cultural framework imposed on Christianity (with its parochial interpretation of Scripture, cultural intolerance, and cast-iron methods of worship) that you take issue with, and not Christianity per se, I’m all for that. And I hope your growing readership will be able to understand this distinction, as well.

        More power and may God continue to bless your Kingdom work.

        E.G.

  15. Jonathon McCue

    Well said, very refreshing! Blessings unto you brother Chris

  16. Pingback: 2010 in Review | Pastor Chris Owens – - Musings, Rants, and Reflections

  17. Enoch

    Great article. I know it’s over 12 months old but still great to read. A friend of my wifes died. It effected me profundly causing me to question what I believe as a Christian. Thanks again.

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  19. Malka

    Chris,
    This might be a late response, but I just happened to see a billboard in my neighborhood over the weekend with the quote from John 14:6 and, as a non-Christian, I have to admit that it did not instill love in my heart. So I researched it and this comment was the only one that I came upon that told me that there is someone out there, and a Christian, who recognizes why I would feel this way… and I quote your words:
    “I do hold my ground, however, that Christians have done violence to John 14:6, using it as a hammer over non-Christians. I do believe that this verse sets up Jesus Christ as sole means through which God redeems and saves the world. I looked and looked again at my posts, and I affirm that.”
    As an example, if Judaism was the foundation for Christianity, why would a Jewish person have to go through Jesus Christ in order to know God?

    • Hello Malka-

      I really appreciate the time and effort you took to read my blog- however painful or refreshing that might have been- and to leave a response. I think this topic is an example of the principle, “it’s not so much the truths we hold, so much as what we do with those truths.” We Christians do actually joyfully believe that we have met, encountered, and experienced the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, in fact King of Kings and Lord of Lords. From the beginning people have scorned and ridiculed Christians for that claim. That’s why the cross is such an ironic symbol of victory and hope. This once feared, reviled instrument of Roman torture upon which Jesus was crucified at the hands of those who condemned him to death, has been hope for us and for the world. Call that idiocy and foolishness. I call it the most profound truth I know, and I say that as someone who spent half his life not believing it.

      So when Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, the one through whom we come to God, he was simply once again affirming his identity to his troubled disciples. When one knows that something is the truth, it’s inauthentic and even dishonest to not live it and share it with humble strength and with love for those to whom the truth is shared.

      I do not believe that my faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world condemns other faiths. He is who he is regardless of what people believe or don’t believe. And something that is rarely said enough: people who don’t affirm Jesus in this way are not anti-Christ! I say that with as much fervor as my other argument that John 14:6 is not an exclusivist banter against people who do not embrace Jesus as their Savior. I don’t know how all of this works out for everyone, and I think we Christians have been far too rash to make simple conclusions about this.

      More later if you’re still interested…

      • Lynn

        Pastor,
        I’m in a senior bible study, and a member asks the question: If Jesus is the only way to heaven, what about the children who are murdered before they come to know Jesus? Do they have any chance for heaven?

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