It may surprise you to know what many Americans consider to be the most serious sin. No, it’s not murder. Even murder can have mitigating factors. According to an article by Daniel Taylor in Christianity Today, many Americans consider the worst sin to be intolerance.
And guess who are the worst sinners, at least in the minds of many Americans? Evangelical Christians! One writer said, "Christians are seen as the pit bulls of culture wars--small brains, big teeth, strong jaws and no interest in compromise."
A guest on National Public Radio shocked even his liberal host when he objected to the Southern Baptist belief that a lot of people are going to hell. By the way, that’s not just a Southern Baptist belief; that’s a biblical truth. The guest on NPR offered this rather hateful comment: "The evaporation of four million Baptists who believe that garbage would leave the world a better place." Sounds to me like that guest was mighty intolerant of the Baptists. Don’t the Baptists have a right to their biblical interpretation?
Dr. Laura, the popular and controversial radio host, has talked about the large volume of hate mail she receives for believing in moral absolutes. Her enemies ask her to be more tolerant of other moral views, but they don’t want to tolerate her views.
In America, we believe in religious toleration. You can even be a Satan worshipper and have your religious expression protected. But along with our toleration has come the dangerous idea that no religion should make exclusive claims to truth. R.C. Sproul says that making exclusive claims in America is "like attacking baseball, hot dogs, motherhood and apple pie (not to mention Chevrolet)."1
Jesus said many politically incorrect things, but the most shocking is recorded in John 14:6: He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (NIV).
Now that’s an exclusive statement! CNN would never allow someone to make such a statement without an instant rebuttal.
St. Peter made that claim of Jesus even more blatant when he said, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Lots of Americans almost wallow in tolerance. They feel that as long as a person is sincere about his religious beliefs, it doesn’t matter what he believes. But isn’t it strange that they apply this logic to faith but not to any other area of their lives? They want the pilot flying their next commercial flight to be right, not just sincere. They want the accountant who does their taxes to be right, not just sincere. They want the pharmacist who prepares their prescription to be right, not just sincere. Why, then, in the single most important area of their lives--their relationship with God--would they be willing to settle for sincerity instead of accuracy? It makes no sense.
When Jesus claimed that He was the only way to God the Father, He was motivated not by arrogance but by compassion. If you will suspend judgment for just a little while and consider with me a simple story Jesus told, I believe that Jesus’ claim will begin to make sense.
In Matthew 22:1, Jesus told a story about a king whose son was getting married. No doubt, the king rented the banquet hall and ballroom of a big hotel and threw a bodacious bash.
Remember, in first-century Palestine, most people were poor. But even among the poor, a wedding called for a weeklong party. This was the one occasion in life when the poor splurged, even if on borrowed funds. So if the king, with all his resources, was throwing a party, it’s probably going to be a Middle Eastern version of Mardi Gras. Therefore, you would assume that everybody would want to come to such a party. Wrong! Lots of specially invited guests refused to come.
Jesus was clearly referring to the Jewish people who had been invited to be God’s chosen people. They were to be His cradle for the Messiah, a chosen race and a holy priesthood, designed to bless the entire world.
But the Jews persecuted most of the prophets sent by God; and, tragically, they rejected the Messiah when He came.
Verses 8 through 10 tell us that the king then extended his invitation to everybody--Jews and Gentiles, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor.
It is a glorious truth that every person is invited into the Kingdom of God. Come as you are! God accepts us as we are but loves us far too much to leave us as we are.
Then comes that difficult final part of the story, verses 11 through 14. The king found a fellow at the party who was not wearing the proper attire and kicked him out. You probably are thinking: If the king was tolerant enough to let anyone come to his party, why would he get bent out of shape over what they are wearing?
St. Augustine, a great church leader of the fourth century, has helped us at this point. He explained that each person who accepted the king’s invitation was given proper attire for the banquet. The king was aware that poor people would not have proper clothing for such an occasion. Not wanting anyone to feel inferior, the king provided standard clothing for all the guests to wear.
But this fellow in verse 11 was a rebel at heart. He disregarded the generosity of the king and decided to come on his own terms.
St. Augustine believed that trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is what constitutes the proper wedding garment. If you are not humble enough to admit your need for the salvation He offers--if you are not grateful enough to accept it--you cannot come to God’s party.
The only person who cannot experience God’s forgiveness is the one who thinks he has no sin. The only person who cannot be saved is that one who feels no need for a Savior. Jesus does not exclude us. If we reject His offer, we exclude ourselves.
Some people believe that all religions are basically the same. These folks claim that it doesn’t matter which one you follow, as long as it works for you. Supposedly, all spiritual paths lead to the same place. |
While it is true that there is some common ground shared by the world’s major religions, there are significant differences. Only Christianity claims that God has visited planet Earth in the form of a person.
Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, notes there are all kinds of faith alternatives. Some people follow Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius or Hari Krishna. But, Lotz says, "Jesus is different. He is not just one of the boys. He is the only begotten Son of God. He is God!"2
Jesus is the only way to the one true God because He is the only person in the history of the world who can provide a cure for our "sin problem."
Lee Strobel, a gifted teacher and preacher at Saddleback Church in California, has pointed out that every other religion but Christianity is based on people’s performance. They must "DO" something to somehow earn favor with God.
Different religions offer different recipes for salvation. One says that you have to use a Tibetan prayer wheel; another that you have to avoid eating certain foods; another that you have to pray in one direction a certain number of times per day; still another that you have to go through a cycle of reincarnations. These are all attempts to earn enough favor with God to deserve His salvation.
But Christianity is different. We do not focus on the word "DO." Our emphasis is on the word "DONE," especially what Jesus has done for us on the cross. He paid our penalty for sin. When we accept Him as personal Savior and leader, we are endorsing that transaction by faith. We are donning our wedding garment and are ready for God’s party.
We Christians should never be disrespectful toward persons of other religions. We will never have a chance to share the gospel with Muslim, Hindu or Jewish people unless we treat them respectfully and winsomely. It is never proper for us to judge people of other religions. Only God is capable of doing that properly, with justice and mercy. But neither should we embrace the cultural myth that all religions are equally true.
If I have an opportunity to share the gospel with a Hindu or Jew or Muslim, I will jump at the chance. But I will not approach him in a condescending or threatening way. Instead, I will share with him, as D.T. Niles described it, "as one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread."
Jesus in Matthew 7 said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13).
What is the small gate and narrow road? It is our faith in response to God’s grace. To go through the narrow gate means to say to Jesus, "Nothing in my hands I bring; only to Your cross I cling. I am a sinner who cannot fix my sin problem. But I believe You offered the one and only cure when You died for me on the cross. I accept it gladly, and in gratitude I invite You to be the leader of my life."
One of the most popular places in Memphis is Tom Lee Park, a beautiful, open space alongside the mighty Mississippi. If you have lingered there long enough to read the plaque, you know the park was named for an African-American man named Tom Lee.
One day in 1925, a steamer with lots of passengers aboard sank in the river, just below Memphis. Tom Lee saw the tragedy. He jumped into his small boat and, with great courage and determination, headed toward those drowning people. He rescued 32 of them.
But let’s suppose that when Tom Lee approached some of those folks in the middle of the river, they had responded, "Thanks, but no thanks. Your boat doesn’t look too impressive to us. We’re going to just keep treading water in hopes that another boat more to our liking will come along." You’re thinking, That would have been really dumb--turning down a sure thing in hopes that something else might come along.
That reminds me of the people who don’t want to accept the salvation offered by Jesus Christ through the cross. They hope that some other alternative, more to their liking, will become available. But the truth is that there is no other way to be saved.
"For God so loved the world that he gave" not a bunch of ways but one way--"his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
1 Sproul, R.C., Reason to Believe (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 36.
2 Statement made in a presentation by Anne Graham Lotz at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 3, 2007.