The Cure for a Lost Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
Two weeks ago a dear friend told me this deeply spiritual story. It seems a lady phoned a Baptist pastor to say that she’d been visiting and wanted to join. “That’s wonderful,” he replied. “Yes, but first I’d like to ask you something. My dog just died, and I’d like to bury him at the church.” The pastor was shocked: “Ma’am, we don’t do such things in the Baptist church. Maybe the Methodist church down the street would do that for you.” “I’m so sorry,” she replied. “I was thinking of giving half a million dollars to the church.” The pastor immediately answered, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a Baptist dog.”
Being Baptist or Methodist has never mattered less than it does today. A new study reports that for the first time in American history, Protestants will soon comprise less than 50 percent of the total population. The proportion of Roman Catholics in the general population will remain stable at 25 percent. But the group growing the most quickly is those who declare no religious affiliation at all.
The watchword in our culture today is “tolerance.” After 9-11, for three years we heard from every side that adherents to Islam and Christianity worship the same God, that we must learn to respect and affirm each other’s faiths. To claim that Jesus is the only way to God is to persist in the kind of intolerance which led to 9-11.
Most Americans believe that. Many Christians believe that. Perhaps some of you believe that this morning. But should we? And what difference does the answer make?
The claim to Christian uniqueness
Let’s begin with a quick review of four facts Jesus claims in our text today. I’m not assuming we all agree with these facts, but at least I want us to understand what Jesus actually claimed for himself.
First: he is God (v. 1). “Believe in God; believe also in me” he says. In v. 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Earlier the authorities tried to stone him to death “because you…claim to be God” (John 10:33). Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.
Second: he is preparing heaven for us (v. 2). “Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others. Other religious leaders told their followers how to get to heaven; Jesus is preparing heaven for us.
Three: he will take us there himself (v. 3). “Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Other religious leaders pointed the way to heaven; Jesus will take us there personally.
Four: he is the only way to God (v. 6). His Greek was emphatic: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Later he was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one in all of human history ever made this claim. Other religious leaders said, “I know the way, truth, life;” Jesus claimed to be the way, truth, and life.
Are we clear on these claims to uniqueness?
I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there.
Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The Bible clearly claims that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, the only way to heaven.
The case for religious relativism
Now, this claim to absolute truth flies in the face of contemporary culture. These statements are politically incorrect, to say the least.
93 percent of Americans say that they alone determine what is moral and what isn’t in their lives.
Only 13 percent of us believe in all ten of the Ten Commandments.
Only 2 percent of Americans are afraid of going to hell.
62 percent of us say it doesn’t matter what we believe about God, so long as we’re sincere.
Here’s the result: I can claim that Jesus is my way to God, and find little or no resistance in the public square. But the moment I tell this culture that Jesus is their only way to God, I am immediately branded a radical, hypocritical, judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant fundamentalist. People think that for three reasons. Those who believe John 14:6 is true have three opponents in the debate.
The first is called “relativism:” truth is subjective and personal. No “objective” absolutes exist. Everyone “knows” that’s so.
We don’t know reality, only our perception and experience of it. Words do not describe reality, but only our version of it. There can be no objective truth claims, only subjective experiences.
And so it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere, and tolerant of the beliefs of others. I heard recently about an Ivy League school whose promotional video shows a student saying, “The greatest gift this university has given me is the ability to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist.”
Richard Dawkins of Oxford even claims that “religion is a virus which has entered the human software and somehow must be expunged.”
Most people we know wouldn’t go that far. But neither do we necessarily believe in our hearts that every person who has not accepted Christ as Savior and Lord is destined for an eternity in hell, because all truth is relative.
Our second opponent is “universalism,” the idea that we’ll all end up in heaven. A loving Father could not condemn one of his children to hell. Could you send one of your children there? The idea is abhorrent. We’ll all be in heaven, no matter what we believe, because God loves us all.
Our third opponent is “pluralism,” the notion that all religions lead to the same destination anyway. 64 percent of us say that all religions pray to the same God. And 56 percent say that you can work your way to heaven by being good, no matter what religion you claim.