Tag Archives: non-Christians

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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The Difference between Jesus and Christianity

a Jewish JesusOn the night before he was crucified, Jesus said something to his disciples so beautifully profound that it changed their lives. Ironically, this same statement has also been badly misused by future generations of Christians. It began when Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, asked him this question: “Lord, you say you’re going back to God. How can we find our way back way to God, too?” [John 14:5, my paraphrase]

In response, Jesus said,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).

To put it another way, Jesus was trying to say, “Thomas, I am the way to God, and the truth and the life you seek. I’m the way because when you know me, you know God, and when you look at me, you’re also looking at the face of God. Since I am he, don’t look anywhere else for what you seek. You’ve found him already.” That was Jesus’ way of assuring Thomas and countless other disciples, myself included,  that in Jesus is the way, the life, and truth we’ve always been looking for.

But many Christians have taken hold of this beautiful verse and have used it to say quite emphatically to our non-Christian neighbors, “Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life, and the only way to the Father. You can’t come to God unless you come to him and convert to Christianity.” I join a lot of people in shuddering at the way some people misuse Jesus’ statement about himself.

As a disciple of Jesus, I believe he is God who has come in the flesh, both fully God and fully human. So I believe what Jesus is saying about himself when he invites his disciples and anyone else to come to him and to discover the life, the way, the truth and the fullest expression God. I mean, just give a fresh read to the gospel accounts of Jesus from the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll find the reason why billions upon billions of people through the ages, both Christians and non-Christians alike, have flocked to this man and love him.

But many, very understandably, have stopped short at the doors of the Christian church and have said, “No, thank you.” One such prominent example was Mahatma Gandhi who once said,

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it’s not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.

The problem is Christianity has often done Jesus a great disservice. Some of you reading this post already have a bad taste of suspicion or even disdain in your mouth because of the ways Christians have betrayed the true spirit and person of Jesus. (I have to admit that my life has at times betrayed him, too. I’m very much a work in progress!) Christianity is a diverse culture and organization which has a long history of being both faithful and unfaithful. Christianity has spawned and revolved around God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ is not Christianity.

So, I want to make a very clear distinction for both my Christian and non-Christian readers. There is and always has been a clear line of demarcation between what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ and the religion of Christianity. If Christianity can remember this principle, then it will always remain in a constant state of reform in order to be more faithful to Jesus. If non-Christians can understand this, they might have the freedom to explore and believe in Jesus without the worst of Christianity to to contend with. Perhaps non-Christian believers in Jesus can be Jesus Christ’s Church (the community of his disciples) in a way that might shine the light of Christ into the Christian world and into their version of the Church. Wouldn’t that be a sight to be behold??

I’m not saying here that Christianity is all bad or that it’s wrong to be a disciple of Jesus as a Christian. Christianity and Christians come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are more faithful to Jesus than others. There have been and continue to be Christians who are model disciples of Jesus. Without deceiving myself, I hope to be one.  There are wonderful Christian congregations out there who truly embody what it means to be the Church, the community of Jesus’ disciples and his Living Body and presence in the world. As a pastor in a Christian church, I work to make my congregation more faithfully one of those.

But let’s be clear: there is a major difference between believing, trusting, and giving our lives to Jesus and converting to the religion of Christianity. The former may happen within the later, but it doesn’t have to and it won’t for a great many people, including, in many instances, people of other faiths.

Will much of the world come back to its Creator through Jesus Christ who died and rose for the salvation of the world? I believe so, yes. The grace of God leaves out no one. Admittedly, I don’t know how that will happen; I simply believe it will. And yes, some will inevitably reject God and his Son and lose out on life. However, not all those who come to know and follow Jesus will be of the Christian religion, and that’s fine by me! I welcome them as my brothers and sisters in one common faith…

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