Monday, February 20, 2017

Are there many ways to heaven?

Does it matter what I believe? Do all roads lead to God? These are critical questions to ask because, if all roads lead to God, then it does not matter what I believe. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2008, which found that 70% of those affiliated with a religion did not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. These are not atheists or agnostics, but people who believe religions other than their own can lead to God. Of those religions which base their faith on the Bible, 66% of Protestants and 79% of Catholics agreed that many religions can lead to eternal life.[1]    

What does the Bible say?
According to the Bible, are there many ways to heaven?  No, the Bible clearly teaches only one way for one to be saved. Some claim that Christians are intolerant of other religions, but modern Christians did not devise the way to salvation, God did. Jesus Christ was very exclusive concerning the road to eternal life. He stated, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6) and “unless you believe that I am he (sent from God), you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).  Peter also preached the exclusivity of Jesus Christ when he said; “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Paul affirmed the same concept when he stated, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).  If the Bible is not true and not from God, then there may be other ways to be saved.  However, if the Bible is true, other roads to heaven are necessarily excluded.  It is logically permissible to state that either Christianity or another religion contains the way to salvation, but it is illogical to believe that Christianity and another religion can both lead to God. 

Why is Jesus the only way to heaven?
Why is there only one way to be saved? So the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, but isn’t the way to heaven like the way to Chicago?  You can take a plane, car, train, bike, or even walk if you wish.  And, there are many different roads:  Interstate 94 from the North or East, Route 65 from the South, Route 90, and so on.  Or, to use another analogy, isn’t religion similar to ice cream?  One person thinks the best flavor is Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, while another would argue that Rocky Road is the best, and so on.  Two people may disagree as to the most efficient route to Chicago or the best ice cream, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as you get there.  The reason Jesus is the only way to be saved is that no other mechanism exists to expunge our sins.  Since God is completely holy[2] and righteous[3], while all humans have sin in our lives[4], we are necessarily separated from God and condemned[5].  The only effective method to deal with sin was for a sinless person to face punishment in our place[6].  No other religion completely addresses the sin issue and that is what makes Christianity unique.    

What about other religions?
Isn’t it arrogant to make the claim that Christianity is better than other religions?  First, it is crucial to recognize a category difference between truth and preference, such as the difference between religion and ice cream.  As Sean McDowell has pointed out, different ice cream flavors are a matter of preference and, in the end; it is inconsequential which flavor of ice cream you prefer.[7]  Religion could be categorized as a preference if there really is no god or, alternatively, if all roads do lead to God.  But, what if there really is a God and not all roads lead to heaven?  If that is the case, religion is not a question of preference, but of truth versus error.  If I want to travel to Chicago from New York and I decide to drive south on Route 95, I will not arrive in Chicago.  It is not a matter of preference, nor is it arrogant, to believe that this road will lead to Miami, not Chicago.  It is simply the truth.  Other religions typically contain much good teaching and philosophy, but if they do not point to Jesus Christ as the only way to God, they do not contain the whole truth and may contain very serious errors.    

How do we know Christianity is true?
There are a number of methods to demonstrate that the Bible contains the truth from God.  The most convincing evidence, which also happens to be the most crucial difference between major religions, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus of Nazareth is the only religious leader or founder who: 
1.    lived a perfect, sinless life
2.    performed verifiable miracles
3.    died a substitutionary death
4.    was raised from the dead

No religious leader can claim any of the above and these are actions that only someone sent from a living God could perform.  Whereas some other religious leaders may have lived very exemplary lives, all were sinful human beings.  This is true for Siddhartha Gautama, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Lao Tzu, Charles Russell, Confucius, and others.  This is not to say we cannot find some value in the teachings of non-Christians, but we need to be very discerning in regard to essential issues, in particular the nature of God and the way of salvation. 

Second, no other religious leader performed certifiable miracles.  For example, the Qur’an portrays Muhammad as refusing to do miracles (Suras 3:181-84; 4:153; 6:8-9).  Allegedly, traditions in the Hadith contain miracle accounts, but these were written by individuals who lived more than 100 years after Muhammad’s death.[8]  The numerous miracles of Jesus Christ were recorded by eyewitnesses, such as Matthew, John, and Peter. Additionally, extra-Biblical writer Quadratus recorded that Jesus performed miracles and, during his time, some of the eyewitnesses were still alive.[9] 

Third, no other major religious leader died to offer atonement for the sins of others.  Jesus Christ “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” and “so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation” (Hebrews 9:26,28).  The death of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested historical facts from the entire ancient world.  In addition to eyewitness accounts in the Bible, other non-Biblical sources record His death, including Josephus, Tacitus, Ignatius, Phlegon, the Jewish Talmud, Lucian, the book of Barnabas, Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Pilate, Justin, and early creeds.[10] 

Fourth, the resurrection of Jesus was even more extraordinary (if that was not enough in itself) because He prophesied His own death, resurrection from the dead, and exactly when it would occur.[11] In addition, the Apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection of Jesus and, as Paul’s letters were being circulated among the early churches, most of the 500+ witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were still alive to attest to that fact.[12]  No other religious leader can touch that. There is only one way to heaven; belief in Jesus Christ. 

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, U. S. Religious Landscape Survey, Jun. 2008, <>
[2] Leviticus 11:44 – “be holy, for I am holy”
[3] Daniel 9:14 – “the Lord our God is righteous”
[4] Romans 3:10 – “there is none righteous, not even one”
[5]Romans 5:18  - “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”
[6] 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf”
[7] Sean McDowell, Apologetics DVD Seminar:  The Big Dig, (Focus on the Family, 2007).
[8] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 2002) 55.
[9] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO:  College Press, 1996), 244.
[10] Habermas, p. 247.
[11] Luke 18:33 – “after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again"
[12] 1 Corinthians 15:6 – “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now”

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