Ask most Christians what they think salvation means and you are likely to get some language about getting into heaven. If you probe deeper, you may hear there are certain things you must believe or say about Jesus because he is the one who issues the tickets into heaven. He is the bouncer who controls entrance into the velvet-roped VIP section reserved exclusively for those who call themselves Christian.
What you are hearing is some version of the idea that if you practice religion in a particular way, you will be saved. Yet no religion can save us. God alone saves. We Christians do not believe in Christianity. We believe in God. God alone has the truth. God is truth. No religion possesses the whole truth on God. In our best moments, we know that Jesus is larger than any single religion.
God loved the world enough to gift this world with God’s son. That’s the claim of John 3:16. We may be tempted to believe that God so loved Christians, that God gave all who name Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior exclusive rights into a special club. But Jesus is universal Lord and Savior, not just my personal Lord and Savior. He saves the whole world, and this doesn’t happen through tribal membership.
We ought to think of the work of Jesus Christ as cosmic in scope. He is the light of the world, not merely the light of the Christian community. He refuses to be
co-opted by any culture or possessed by any religion. He disassembles every category that followers want to erect for believing he is exclusive to their claims. In short, Jesus shuns domestication, giving no right for one group to say to another: “My God is better than your God.”
So what do we make of Jesus’ oft-quoted word to his disciples? “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It’s helpful if we remind ourselves that Jesus is not hosting a theological summit here, delivering an essay on proper doctrine. He is using the language of love to speak intimately with his closest friends. They are anxious about his forthcoming departure.
In assuring his disciples, Jesus speaks promise, not threat. There is no evidence of him congratulating his disciples for some superior knowledge, as if they have privileged access to God. No, this is Jesus calming fears by saying, “Trust me. I bring you into relationship with God in an immediate way.” This isn’t weaponry language with which to judge others’ relationship with God as inadequate. Jesus simply announces that to know him is to know God.
We are not given permission to shrink the cross to suit our own version of God. This may not be easy medicine for some in the Christian fold to swallow. Yet, the apostle Paul writes, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is not the Christian world that God is putting back together through Christ. It is the whole world. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,” says Jesus of his pending death and resurrection, “will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Not some people. Not Christian people. All people.
I happen to have been born in Chicago into a Christian family. I didn’t ask to be born into this family that practiced the Christian faith; I just was. Someone else was born in Delhi, India, on the same day I was born, but into a Hindu family. That kid didn’t ask to be born into his Hindu-practicing family; he just was. Surely we cannot claim that God privileges certain ones of us with an eternal home because of our birthplace or cultural background. Nor would we want to argue that we receive a club access card because we uttered a theological formula about Jesus.
The joy of the Christian life is that we don’t have to figure out every saving move of God’s. Christ is bigger than our imagination: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33). Our job is to trust our lives to Christ, and testify to the beauty that comes with loving him.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers