Last year, I asked the congregation in a sermon to give me their “faith questions.” I’m trying to occasionally respond to these questions. (It’s been awhile since I’ve done one!) This question came out of that sermon:
“How do we tackle the idea that we believe God is the only way to salvation, but there are all these people who don’t believe. So are they going to hell? That just seems like an “unChristian” way of thinking – why are we so sure this is the only way?”
This is a great question, and one that I hear pretty regularly. And while we want a really simple answer, in reality it’s kind of complicated. Here it is in a nutshell:
- It is clear to me in the reading of scripture that Jesus is the way to salvation.
- It is equally clear to me in the reading of scripture that I’m not in a position to judge another person’s faith.
With all my heart, I believe that Jesus is the doorway to a restored relationship with God, and that through that door, opened for me in my baptism, is the gift of salvation. I believe that this gift is intended for all people, everywhere.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NRSV)
This can certainly be read in an exclusionary way. I don’t believe that is how Jesus intended this.
One of the things Jesus was most clear about in the Gospels is that people of faith are not called to judge others. Nor am I in a position to decide how God chooses to work. In fact, Jesus says quite clearly:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (John 7:1, NRSV)
To be honest, I start to get nervous any time people of faith begin talking about who is “in” and who is “out” of God’s Kingdom, God’s love and God’s grace. Jesus is quite clear that this is not up to us. This is a matter between God and the individual.
So what do we do instead?
I think it’s actually pretty simple: We live, we share and we trust.
We live. We live the lives that God has called us to live. Remember the old song: “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love”? We let our actions show and reflect our faith. We live lives of faith and gratitude for all that God has done for us. Our actions speak in much more significant ways than our words can.
We share. We are upfront and open about what the work of God in our lives has meant for us. We use “faith language” in our every day conversations, and we remember our identify as children of God and followers of Jesus. Again, we don’t do this in a way that can feel exclusionary, but rather in a way that invites others into our story. We all have a faith story…and it is a story that has the power to transform when it’s shared.
We trust. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. God is at work in the lives of all people. As people come to know our lives and our faith, trust that God is going to work within them. And in God’s time, I believe that transformation will take place.
To live this way means that we need to let go of or need to be “right” (which usually means that it happens at the price of someone else being “wrong”) and instead to focus on being honest; honest about our lives and honest about our faith.
And then we trust God do the heavy lifting.