For many years, Christianity has been one of the major religions of the world. It has influenced the lives of millions of people, but there are still millions more who have not believed it, or even heard of it. Modern philosophies are stating that people may have a free choice in their religion, as if it's a consumer item, but here we show how the Bible states that belief in Jesus is the only way to be accepted by God.
The vast majority of the information we have about the life of Jesus comes from the writings contained in the Holy Bible. They describe the life, purpose and importance that he had within the context of the purpose of God. Although Jesus is known from sources outside the Bible, these sources don't describe the message that he had, or grant him the authority that the Bible does. This means that in order to appreciate Jesus at the level he is described in the Bible, it is necessary to have confidence in the truth of the Bible itself. While the Bible is highly regarded in many circles, it's truth is certainly not something that is immediately obvious, or universally recognised. However, it does contain clear evidence to show that it is what it claims to be.
After considering the issue of the validity of the Bible, this paper looks at the life of Jesus and who he was known to be. Following this, there are the two central sections which look at how the Bible says that there is only one way to God, and what the consequences are. To sum up, the description of the salvation process in the Bible is considered.
- The Validity of the Bible
- The Life of Jesus
- Only One Way to God
- Why Good isn't Good Enough
- The Salvation Process
2. The Validity of the Bible
The Bible itself is a collection of books that describe a historical record, and reveal a message that is said to come from the all-powerful God. This is a claim that is implicit right through the Bible, with phrases like “The LORD also spoke to me again, saying:” in Isa 8:5. This issue of the validity of Jesus is also spoken of explicitly in Peter,
2 Peter 1:16: For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." NKJV
Here Peter was writing to convince that Jesus really did receive glory from God. Part of the argument here was to say that the “scriptures” were indeed from God, and not to be interpreted in any other way.
2 Peter 1:20: knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21. for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. NKJV
The “scriptures” referred to in that passage were the Jewish scriptures, which form the Old Testament of the Bible. At the time, the New Testament wasn't complete or formalised. It establishes that the Bible is either a fake, or of special significance in having come from God.
The Bible can sustain the assertion that it is from God if it shows something that couldn't be achieved by natural human means. There are two main ways that it does this,
- Describing and explaining events that are beyond human scope. As the Bible is now a very old book, the evidence for this comes from contemporary sources which confirm the accuracy of the events. While these exist, the large time scale makes it hard for these to appear as convincing as records about modern history.
- The second way that the Bible defends it's authority is though it's ability to predict future events. There is a lot of fulfilled prediction in the Bible, but it is the cases where the fulfilment can be clearly shown to be after the date of writing that are of most interest.
One of the notable features of the Bible is how it speaks of the future of the one particular nation. Isaiah speaks of how the nation of Israel belonged to God, and how he had a special connection with it. In Isaiah 43 Israel is said to be a special nation of God..
Isaiah 43:1.: But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. NKJV
He later states how Israel was to be a witness to God.
Isaiah 43:11.: I, even I, am the LORD, And besides Me there is no savior. 12. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, And there was no foreign god among you; Therefore you are My witnesses," Says the LORD, "that I am God. NKJV
The Bible contains a number of prophecies of how Israel would be scattered and then regathered. Prophecies of a return to Israel: Eze 11:17, 36:22,24, Jer 30:7,10
Eze 11: 16.: "Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone." ' 17. "Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel." ' NKJV
This corresponds to the relatively recent regathering of the people of Israel into their land, and the re-emergence of an ancient nation.
From Jer 16:15 we see that they would be hunted back into the land
Jer 16:14.: " Therefore behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "that it shall no more be said, 'The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,' 15. "but, 'The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.' For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers. 16. " Behold, I will send for many fishermen," says the LORD, "and they shall fish them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. NKJV
Indeed we have in our own recent time seen the Jews fished and hunted back into Israel. The atrocities of world-war II were such that it drove Jews back into the region of the ancient country of Israel. They were fished back into the land, and hunted back there.
In The book of Ezekiel, there is a vision of a valley of dry bones, and Ezekiel was told that it was like the nation of Israel. It would be considered a dead nation, of people who had so long gone that their bones were dry. But yet, after a time the bones would be gathered again together and life breathed back into them. Even today, the very existence of the nation of Israel, and its re-emergence against all probability, are a testament to the accuracy of the Bible, and the power of the God described in it.
The prophet Zechariah also reveals great modern insight. It is beyond question that these words were written before the time of Christ, but yet it paints the picture of the Middle East as we know it today. Jerusalem would again be a place of conflict. This did not refer to the Babylonian capture in 586, as that has already occurred.
Zech 12:2.: "Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. 3. "And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. NKJV
This aptly describes the very difficult region of the middle east today. It is quite clear that these words were written over 2000 years ago, yet they isolate what was to be one of the most troubled regions of our time.
Although this is only a sample of the content of the Bible, it shows how it does strong evidence of authority.
3. The Life of Jesus
The first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are four parallel records of the life and ministry of Jesus. These records include a description of the time when Jesus' mother was told that she was to be the mother of Jesus. That passage reveals what was to be expected from him, and that he was to become a king,
Luke 1:30: Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32. "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33. "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." NKJV
This is not about being just any king. This is claimed to be “the son of the highest”, or elsewhere rendered the son of God. It is also said that God would give him the throne of his father David. King David was perhaps the greatest king of the ancient nation of Israel, and ruled around 1000BC. King David's kingdom was finite both in time and extent, but Jesus was said to receive reign forever, and have a kingdom with no end.
If Luke 1 is true, a messenger from the true God came to Mary, and gave this message to her. So according to the Bible, Jesus was indeed going to be an important person, and even the most important person to be born. There can only be one person who can be king over the world forever.
As the record of the gospels continues, the course of the life of Jesus is mapped out. Little is said of his life until he reached 30 years old. He then spent three years travelling around the region of Israel teaching a message of repentance and a faith in God.
Jesus in the Old Testament
At the time of Jesus, the concept of a saviour appearing in Israel was not strange. In fact, according to the gospel records, much of the conflict that Jesus encountered was from people believing that He wasn't doing the things that they expected the saviour to be doing.
In an incident recorded in John 7, Jesus claimed directly that he was sent from God. Many of the people took offence at that, and considered it blasphemy. Some, however, believed in what he said, and that was in part on account of them expecting someone of this nature to appear:
John 7:28: Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, "You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. 29. "But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me." 30. Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. 31. And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?" NKJV
The believers were already expecting this “Christ”, and they could see from the things that Jesus was doing that he fitted the description. In fact, the Jews had always expected this saviour from the prophecies and law in the Old Testament. For example the following words were given to Joseph before the birth of Jesus.
Matthew 1:21: "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." 22. So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23. "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." NKJV
It was then just a question for the Jews of whether they would believe that Jesus was indeed that messiah. It is also a question to all people of whether the Jewish Messiah is relevant to them.
4. Only One Way to God
Among modern society there is a rather nice concept that the many different religions around the world may all be just different ways of getting to the same end. The fundamental idea here is that God can be approached and worshipped in different ways, and has revealed himself in these different ways among different cultures. This idea is “nice” because it promotes a harmony and happy acceptance of the ways of cultures that are different to one's own. It means that everyone can be right, and there's no need to criticise other peoples' beliefs.
This idea of religious acceptance and tolerance arose out the movements to promote multi-culturalism during the 20th century. These, in turn, were a reaction to prior injustices and discrimination. However, there can be a big difference between culture and religion, because culture is all about how societies live here and now, but religion can speak of the future, of the unseen and of a God that rules the whole of the world.
When it comes to a faith in the God of the Bible (ie, the God of Israel), and Jesus, one must consider what the foundation of that faith is. The foundation from our perspective is a belief in what is said in the Bible is the true word of a living God. Without that belief, Christianity is little more than a historical curiosity and maybe a guide to better living.
The Bible has to stand or fall as a unit. It stands if there is good evidence for it's truth, through it's heritage and prophecy. It falls if what it says is wrong. In the light of that, it is worth considering a number of passages from the Bible,
John 3:36: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." NKJV
This passage is quite clear that there are two options available: seeing life, and having the wrath of God. The distinction between the two is entirely based on believing in the Son, who is Jesus. Similarly, Jesus said,
John 14:6: Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. NKJV
Here the outcome is expressed differently, in terms of coming to the Father. The implication is that the Father is God, and so Jesus claimed that he was the only way to God. A little further on in the same book, he stated that his father was the only true God, and that furthermore, knowing him could lead to eternal life.
John 17:3: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. NKJV
When Jesus was sending out disciples to teach his message to other people, he told them to teach it to everyone, and this was not going to be restricted to any particular class of people or culture, but the whole world,
Mark 16:15: And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. NKJV
In other words, he was saying that the religions that other people stood for were wrong, and they would be condemned for following them. He was saying that people would have to believe in Jesus and the God of Israel, and furthermore be baptised into that faith, in order to be saved. Otherwise, a failure to believe in that particular religion would leave them condemned.
The disciples of Jesus took on the work of teaching this Gospel, and had no compunction about telling people that other beliefs were wrong. Many were imprisoned for the offence that people took to their words.
One incident of conflict is recorded in Acts 4. Here the disciples Peter and John were speaking this message to the people, and the authorities didn't like it.
Acts 4:1: Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2. being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. NKJV
So they were taken off, and put in prison for the night to keep them from speaking to the public. The following day they were then called to defend their actions before the rulers,
Acts 4:10: "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11. "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12. "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." NKJV
In this statement, they were quite clear in saying that there was no other way to salvation apart from though Jesus. That was even under the whole of heaven. According to their claim, it didn't matter if you were Jewish, Christian, Roman or an Eskimo, but there was only one way to be saved.
This statement is backed up in the first letter of John. It even goes further to say that not believing in God as the unique true God was in effect making him a liar. It does so because God claims to be the only true God, and if he isn't then he is a liar,
1 John 5:10: He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. NKJV
So according to this passage, there is the offer of eternal life, but there is only one way of achieving it, and that is through a belief in Jesus as being the Son of God.
The message here perfectly is clear: The Bible says that there is a God, and that that God has an offer of eternal life. Furthermore, there is no other similar hope or any other way of achieving it. So in that case, it is pointless to consider that the Bible just shows one of many “right” ways.
If you believe the Bible, there is only one way, and if you don't believe the Bible, you don't believe the Bible, so there's no point considering the message it contains as being a way to anything. This feature is not unique to Christianity, as most other religions have beliefs that are sufficient to claim others to be wrong. So in short, there's no logical reason to consider the prospect of a nice happy family of different religions -- they're just not compatible.
5. Why Good isn't Good Enough
The idea that there is only one way to God through Jesus sounds offensive to some people. They may point at whole generations of people they know who have lived good and righteous lives, but didn't know of the Gospel of Jesus. Does it mean that God is unjust in not counting these people as being good and acceptable?
There are some questions to ask about this situation,
- What do they expect?
- What do they get?
- What do they deserve?
- Are they good enough?
- What is “good” anyhow?
What do they expect?
If someone is not a Christian, then they are not expecting the hope of Christianity, or at least they would have no reason to expect it. Perhaps they have a philosophy, or hope of life that comes from another religion. This might be as simple as feeling they live a fulfilled life, or as complex as a progression of a series of afterlives through reincarnation.
What do they get?
If the Bible is true then, as it has already been established, alternate philosophies and Gods will be false. It's quite clear then, that these people will not receive the complex progression of a series of afterlives though reincarnation. There would be nothing to say that it is an option, no matter how hard we want it to be true.
On the other hand, the outcome of living a life that feels fulfilled might be quite achievable. Even from the standpoint of the Bible, other philosophical elements and ideas about life can be considered to be good, or the right way to life a life. The Bible says that such ideas make good living sense, but still won't lead to an acceptance by God, or any hope for the rewards in the Bible that depend on Jesus.
In terms of life after death, after the sin of Adam and subsequent condemnation to death, the state of humans appears reasonably clear. In Genesis, life is shown to be a window of existence, surrounded by non-existence.
Gen 3:19.: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." NKJV
After dying, it appears that it is just like the person never existed. The book of Ecclesiastes is more explicit, saying that without God, death marks the end of life and existence.
Eccl 9:5.: For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. NKJV
What do they deserve?
The Bible claims that people really don't deserve much at all. From the account in Genesis, people are mortal beings, and we can basically just get what we see. This is also the prevailing view of science, which is simply based on observation. From observation, we can see that “good” people will generally feel good about their lives, so perhaps this is one expectation that may exist.
In terms of life, the expectation is that normally we expect about 70 years of living, followed by a cessation of living. The Bible shows that God's blessing for the world was the creation itself. Science is a study of observed things, and so only expects what is seen. On this information, there is no evidence or reason to expect any more out of life, or any greater purpose. People do find it hard to accept death, so they say that “there must be more to it”, but this is not a valid argument. We cannot claim immortality exists simply on the basis that we would like it to be true.
Furthermore, it cannot be considered a “right”, or something a person is deserves. From the Bible, people are deserving of death as a result of the rebellion of Adam, and from science people have no more right to immortality than they do of being able to grow to 5 metres tall.
From a human perspective people often expect a particular lifestyle and length of life. If it is shorter, or deemed less pleasant, they feel cheated. If it longer, or more pleasant it is often considered a thing that was deserved. This is based on observation, and the standard being set by the observation of other peoples' lives. From the perspective of the Bible, however, we are blessed to received life in the first place, and even more blessed to receive a long and healthy one. Scientific thought also says that we were just lucky to be here.
Are they good enough?
This question may be seen in the light of another question, “Do we really need Jesus, or can we become good by developing our own better moral code?” This is a natural thought of the humanist way of thought. People naturally feel that they can design things, and design them better than their predecessors, so why not design the definition of what is good?
In doing this, people are liable to take the general principles of Christianity - basically love and respect - and working from there. The laws of most countries are vaguely derived from this approach.
Whether or not this can be seen as a way to being good in the eyes of the God of the Bible can be determined by an example. This example is of a man called Cornelius, who was by all human standards a good man. His story is recorded in Acts 10:
Acts 10:1: There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2. a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" NKJV
From this introduction, Cornelius appears to be a very righteous man, and worthy of whatever reward God is to give out. In this case he even fears God, as well as giving generously to other people. He sounds like he is already a very good person. As far as the record is concerned, this is a very important case, because Cornelius is not Jewish, but it is clear that by any common definition, he would be a good and righteous person. Despite this, the record shows that he needed something more, and that that wasn't enough. At the end of the chapter, we see that the apostle Peter came, and said,
Acts 10:47: "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. NKJV
So, in this case Cornelius needed to be baptised in water to obtain salvation from God. This brings to mind the words of Mark noted earlier,
Mark 16:15: And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. NKJV
So the Bible is quite clear that in order to be accepted by the God described in it, one has to live by the standards described in it, and believe in Jesus. So Jesus is not something we can improve on.
What is Good anyhow?
It is not a silly question to ask what is good. At the turn of the 21st century, relativism has been the prevailing basis for popular moral decisions. It is a bit vague in application, but basically says that different people can hold different ideas of what is good. People are then supposed to live happy lives mixing among each other, acknowledging and accommodating other people's different standards.
This quite obviously doesn't work, because it's common to see standards that simply can't coexist. For example, if a police officer believes that corporal punishment is the correct way to discipline, but I don't, should he use it on me or not? You can point to the laws of the country, but even that breaks down on a global scale.
Right now (at the time of writing), there is a Russian computer programmer (Dmitry Skylarov) waiting for trial in an American court. He is accused of writing software to circumvent copy-protection of documents, which is now illegal in the USA after recent legislation. However, it was done by a Russian citizen working in Russia, where it is not illegal. He was then captured while travelling innocently in America. The question comes as to whether the USA has the right to dictate the laws of another country.
The point here is that laws and common standards only work in a closed system, and they can't coexist with competing standards. The USA cannot impose laws on Russia without assuming a superiority, and the converse is also true. But even when abiding by your own local standards, others are still affected.
So really, without a global set of standards, we are lost in terms of finding a moral code, and just drift from one stage to another in terms of understanding what is right. On the other hand, the Bible has a clear idea of what is right and good, and defines it as what comes from God.
Matthew 19:16: Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" 17 So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." NKJV
In fact, the book of Galatians goes further to say that even the law of Moses, which was a law given by God in the Old Testament wasn't enough to bring salvation. If that law couldn't do it, then one could hardly expect a law of human values to do it.
Gal 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21. "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." NKJV
Ephesians gives a hint to the reason, as it is not a matter of working to be righteous that ensures success, but rather to gain the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, NKJV
6. The Salvation Process
Much of this paper has focused on the aspect of the salvation of God, and there is an implicit assumption that it is a good thing to be saved. However, the Bible has a lot more to say about what it actually means to be saved, and what benefits it might offer you. The concept starts right back at the garden of Eden, but we can pick up a thread in the letter to the Galatians,
Galatians 3:16: Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. NKJV
This verse refers to a series of promises that were made to a man called Abraham, who lived some 2000 years before Christ. These promises (Gen 12:3,22:17) were given to just one man, that there would be a blessing which would be passed onto other people. Without these promises, we would really have no hope beyond death from the Bible.
Later in that chapter, the writer goes on to say how a faith in Jesus allowed someone to become part of that promise. So in this case, the motivating force is not just the faith itself, but that the faith allows the sharing in promises that were already there,
Galatians 3:26: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. NKJV
So by being baptised into Christ, we are able to become adopted heirs into those promises that were given by God to Abraham. It is like being able to choose to become the adopted son of a rich man, and being able to receive the inheritance.
The book of Romans has a quite detailed explanation of this in Chapters 5 and 6.
Romans 5:6: For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. NKJV
So the death and resurrection of Jesus was critical to this salvation that we are offered, and it was a great act of love on the part of God. Later in that chapter, the salvation process is linked to the sin of Adam, and shows how there is a symmetry between condemnation of mankind to mortality, and the hope of life thought Jesus,
Romans 5:14: Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. NKJV
The crux of the argument is that people die because they sin, and act against the will of God at times, and are descended from sinning beings. However, in Christ no sin was found, and as a result death did not have power over him. In Chapter 6, we see how that baptism allows us to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus,
Romans 6:4: Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, NKJV
Romans 6 goes on to show that the hope of eternal life and reconciliation with God is not something that is to be earnt by being a good person, but rather it requires a very specific association with Jesus to obtain. That's why Jesus is importanat to all people.