He Who Does Not Obey The Son
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:35, 36)
The claims of Jesus’ power to save us are repeatedly exclusive, i.e. no one else knows what Jesus knows, no one else has the authority to offer what Jesus offers, no one can save us from our sins except Jesus. When we talk about the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ we may anticipate accusations of discrimination. “Do you Christians think that you’re better than everyone else? How could you be so arrogant to believe that following Jesus is the only way for people to be morally right and have the hope of peace in the afterlife?” Even those who believe in Jesus may criticize one another if any follower of Jesus dares to challenge the legitimacy of a certain practice or teaching: “I guess you think that you and your little church are the only ones going to heaven!”
All of these miss the point and they are not really arguments or defenses for what is being said and done in the name of Jesus. We are constantly challenged in the New Testament to believe in Jesus and obey Him. If the authority of Jesus means anything, if being a follower of Jesus means anything, then sometimes we must have these discussions to help one another grow. We can understand the gospel as we read it for ourselves (Ephesians 3:3-5), but the Bible also says that “in an abundance of counselors, there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14; 24:6).
However, let us understand something about the fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven. This has nothing to do with the individuals who have become Christians being better than those who have not become Christians. It has everything to do with the power and the position of Jesus. In fact, if we believe Jesus and the apostles, those of us who become Christians do so because we believe that we have fallen short of the glory of God. We accept the testimony of Jesus and the apostles which says, “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Generally, religious people already accept the fact that humans need guidance and direction in deciding morality, setting priorities for their lives, and finding forgiveness for our failures. With religious people, the discussion then should not be focused on which group of individuals within a particular religion is better, but who actually has the authority and the ability to save us. What does the one who has the power to save us tell us to do? These are fair questions that we can ask as Christians and defend without any fear of actually being discriminatory or arrogant so long as we are honestly examining the words and the claims of Jesus - the one to whom the Father has entrusted all things. And while the claims of Jesus regarding His power to save us are exclusive, the invitation regarding whom He will save is not exclusive: “…whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
With non-religious people, our approach will be a little different. They probably haven’t accepted an over-arching concept of God in their lives. They probably accept some form of morality because it is impossible to live without some form of morality. All of us will struggle with pain and difficulties and discouragement, even if we don’t always struggle with guilt. Who will we depend on in our times of fear and distress? Who will we turn to for advice and encouragement? These are questions of values based on moral judgments.
Perhaps with non-religious people our best course of action will be to discuss the fact that a moral system needs to have proper authority if we are going to argue that others should follow it. We can also briefly point out the failures of some of the most common ways that humans might try to establish a moral system outside of the Bible. For example, a moral system can’t be political. We inherently withdraw from the idea of a nation imposing its laws on other nations. A moral system cannot be determined by the majority. The “majority” can be manipulated and this has proven to be disastrous more than once in history.
Of course, even though our starting point might be different with non-religious people, our ultimate goal will still be to invite them to examine the claims of Jesus with us. How closely does the standard of the gospel fit reality? Is it more likely that there are many acceptable moral systems, some of them contradictory to one another, or that there is one moral system which defines right and wrong the same way for every person? Invite them to test the gospel as a standard sufficient to apply to all people and be sure that they are left with the impression that if they believe in Jesus they can follow Him and be saved.
More could be said, but the fact is that a lot of the obstacles in people’s minds will have to be discovered by having conversations with them. The main thing that we wanted to address here is that making exclusive claims about Jesus is not discriminatory or arrogant. A strong argument can be made that the concept of one consistent standard of morality for every person fits reality better than the concept of accepting every idea about morality. The influence of the gospel for good in the world and the eternal consequences of Jesus’ claims are too significant for a discussion of the gospel to just be swept aside by thoughtless accusations.