Statesboro, GA, USA
I think the "Only Way" aspect of Christian belief is offensive and hard to accept, until it is understood. I just had a certain "part" on my push lawn mower break the other day, and found out that I could not replace it without a special wrench, made by the company that made the motor. I did some research and found that if I tried to remove the "starter clutch" with a conventional wrench, I would ruin both the wrench and the part. So with understanding, I would not lose patience with someone who tells me I cannot take it off with a pipe-wrench. This is a simplistic analogy I know, but bear with me.
There are some aspects of Christian belief that have to be known .... truly known in the heart before the exclusive claims of Jesus make any sense. They can be taught by others, but until the personal realization of them comes, then Christian doctrine seems narrow and arrogant.
One aspect is Sin. The Bible states that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". It places all of humankind in one diagnosis ... a sinful nature. The "Fall" that was described in Genesis chapter 3, was the fall of us all. There is something within us that tends to transgress God's moral laws. If you consider your own life, you will probably admit that even from childhood there has a been a part of you that delighted (at least sometimes) in doing something less than honorable. That tendency, that bent to sometimes do wrong, is called "sin". But the Bible teaches that it is not just something we do, but something we are. Because there is always a deeper reason behind each of the particular actions we do.
The Bible also describes God as Holy and Righteous. This means that he is without sin, and has a perfectly good and moral character without any blemish. But because he is like this, he is also a "Just" God. Think of this in terms of a Judge who would let a hardened criminal off without any sentencing. We would call such a judge "unjust". In the same way God, because of his holiness, must punish wrongdoing and sin. You might reply that everyone doesn't commit heinous crimes like a hardened criminal. But God sees our hearts and what they will eventually become, and looks at the total sum of sin in our lives, not just a bad day here and there. And Jesus brought out the seriousness of sin by saying that if we allow hatred to be in our hearts, it is in essence the same as murder. . . or lust the same as adultery. My point is that sin is serious. It should offer us no comfort that we are not as bad as Hitler or Charles Manson. In fact the Bible says that through sin we have become separated from God, even to the point of being his enemies. So it is set forth that because of sin, we are separated and must be reconciled to God. But with God, who is totally just, someone must be punished for our wrong standing. He can't and won't just write it off. So we (as the entire human race) are in a dilemma. We are at odds with our Creator and his moral laws.
But that's where the gospel comes in. God himself came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to die, to pay our penalty for sin. He came as a substitution. So that whoever would believe and recieve him, would not be charged with sin. Sin can be forgiven through Christ, because he payed the ransom, or debt, or whatever you want to call it. He took care of what we owed.
Now this is where the exclusive claims of Jesus begin to make more sense. If you are willing to accept two things, 1) that you are a sinner and 2) that the rebellion of sin is serious as the bible says it is, then it is not hard to see why Jesus is the only way of being saved. Because he is the only figure in history who could be God's sacrifice for sin. That's why you've heard him called "The Lamb of God". The Jews used to sacrifice lambs, bulls, and goats on altars for their sins. But Jesus claimed to be the reality, of which all these things were shadows. Now if it is true that we have sin and the Bible is right concerning this dilemma, then Jesus is the only historical person that will do us any good. The bible says that we cannot win God's favor by simply trying to do better. This is the Law which deals with external actions. But something on the inside has to be changed. The Bible declares that Believing the gospel, we are given the Holy Spirit, which is God's Spirit living inside. He gives a new nature, and really changes us. That's why the Blood of Christ is not a "license to sin" as Opeth suggested, because his blood does not give us freedom to sin away ... it gives us freedom to overcome sin. In fact someone who is content to go on sinning and claims to be a Christian, is in a dangerous situation. The scriptures doesn't support such a "faith". However this does not mean we are morally perfect now (not until we die and are ressurrected). But the Christian lives life in such a way that sin does not "have dominion" over him or her.
Anyway when these truths are known in the heart, then the exclusivity of Christ is understood and easier accepted. He's the only one that died for our sins and rose from the dead. No religious figure in history has ever done such a thing.
Now here's the tricky part. The Christian believes that Christ is the only way to be saved, but doesn't believe that every other religion is wrong on all points. Many of the worlds religions, and great thinkers have brought about great expression of morals and ethics. These, for the most part, are right in line with Christian ethics. Jesus didn't bring in a new moral system. He was however the only one who claimed to solve the problem of our not being able to keep the one already in place. So you don't have to be prudish and hate everything of every other belief system. But as to salvation, as to redemption, and recieving forgiveness of sins, Christ cannot have equals. No one else did what he did to satisfy the justice of God. And if what the Bible says is true, then he is the sacrifice for sins of all ... including Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Baptists, Pentacostals, good men, bad men, murders, theives, Europeans, Africans, Indians, Americans, Native Americans .... etc. This is good news however. He loved all men.
If we want to say that his death is for the Christian only ... then others must be able to get to God another way.
But if others can get to God other ways, then why the horrible death that Christ and God insisted on to pay for sins? If we could be "enlightened" out of sin, or educated out of sin, or work our way out of sin, then his death is pointless. He didn't have to do that. We just end up saying to the most profound love that ever could be ... "Aw, you shouldn't have ... really.". But false humility gets us nowhere here. According to him, he HAD to.
If Jesus is not the sacrifice for our sins, then we don't need Christianity in order to be ethical. The ethics of Christianity is not it's original aspect at all. It didn't provide merely a new moral approach. The thing that Christianity brought to the world was it's unique handling of sin and judgement ... the death, burial and ressurrection of Jesus. . . and the promise of eternal life.
I know that alot of this may sound confusing. But also I encourage you to keep praying for light and understanding. Ask God why his son was the only one who could die for our sins, and why this is so important. I know that he loves you and will give you insight that you can understand. What I have said is perhaps gibberish, but he is the best teacher of all.
[This message has been edited by Stephanos (06-05-2003 12:39 AM).]