Is Jesus Really the Only Way?


It’s a provocative question, that’s for sure. Yet it must be true because the song says it’s so:

Jesus is the answer, for the world to-day. Above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way.

If we sing it in church, then it must be true, right? But what about those people who have never heard the Gospel? Would a loving God hold the oft-mentioned native on that uncharted island accountable for something he has no knowledge of? How does God deal with those who are unable to think or reason for themselves? What about children who die? These are important questions because the answers you settle on will influence your opinion of God, which in turn will influence how you pray and how you relate to Him on a day-to-day basis.

So, let’s consider the question: Is Jesus really the only way?

This question is not a new one; it’s been around a very long time. Porphyry was an early critic of Christianity, and as a philosopher he made this observation:

If Christ declares Himself to be the Way of salvation, the Grace and the Truth, and affirms that in Him alone, and only to souls believing in Him, is the way of return to God, what has become of men who lived in the many centuries before Christ came? . . .What, then, has become of such an innumerable multitude of souls, who were in no wise blameworthy, seeing that He in whom alone saving faith can be exercised had not yet favoured men with His advent?

He wrote that in the third century, and since then, theological egg-heads have cooked up a number of answers. Let’s make a very quick survey of them.


This answer says that all people – all people – will be saved by Jesus. Not a single soul will be damned. Universalists cite these verses to support their view:

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18, 19 NKJV)

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive…Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:22 – 28, verses 22 and 28 cited NKJV)

Among famous Christian writers and thinkers, Origen, William Barclay, and possibly Karl Barth would be considered Universalists. Remember, though, Universalism teaches that salvation comes to ALL through Jesus. They do NOT teach that there are “many paths to God.” Some how and in some way, Jesus will come through in the end and save all souls.


This ill-named theory teaches that those who have never heard the Gospel – that unevangelized native on the desert island – may be saved if they respond in faith in God according to the light they have. Among the verses used to support this view are:

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself (John 12:32 NKJV)

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:34, 35 NKJV)

For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10 NKJV)

Justin Martyr, Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley, and C. S. Lewis are all famous Inclusivists.

Postmortem Evangelism

This idea teaches that the unevangelized will be given a chance to believe in Jesus after death.

Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God’s only Son. (John 3:18 GNB)

Christ also suffered. He died once for the sins of all us guilty sinners although he himself was innocent of any sin at any time, that he might bring us safely home to God. But though his body died, his spirit lived on, and it was in the spirit that he visited the spirits in prison and preached to them—spirits of those who, long before in the days of Noah, had refused to listen to God… (1 Peter 3:18 – 20a TLB)

But just remember that they must face the Judge of all, living and dead; they will be punished for the way they have lived. That is why the Good News was preached even to those who were dead—killed by the flood—so that although their bodies were punished with death, they could still live in their spirits as God lives. (1 Peter 4:5, 6 TLB)

Clement of Alexandria, who knew Peter and Paul personally, was an early proponent of this idea.

Universal Opportunity Before Death

This theory tells us that all people will be given the opportunity to be saved because God in His providence will see to it that they will hear the Gospel, even if that opportunity comes through an angel at the very moment of death.

Daniel 2 and Acts 8 are often cited as proof-texts for this view. Arminius and Norm Geisler espoused this view.


This very rigid theology says that God does not provide salvation to those who fail to hear of Jesus and come to faith in him before they die. Jesus is absolutely the only the way; there are no options.

Jesus told him, “I am the Way—yes, and the Truth and the Life. No one can get to the Father except by means of me.” (John 14:6 TLB)

There is salvation in no one else! Under all heaven there is no other name for men to call upon to save them. (Acts 4:12 TLB)

And what is it that God has said? That he has given us eternal life and that this life is in his Son. So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life. (1 John 5:11, 12 TLB)

A lot of Calvinists hold to this view, including the likes of Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and R.C. Sproul.

If, in reading these views, your eyes have glazed over and a heavy fog descended upon your brain, here’s one more that might suit you:

The Agnostic View (the Non-View View)

This view is prefect for those who don’t want to take a position. It simply says that we just don’t know all the answers; that God’s ways are beyond our understanding. In matters likes these, it’s best just to “leave it up to God.”

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18:25b ESV)

A reasoned answer to the question

But for the rest of us who’d like to know, what is the answer? I suggest the following.

First, it’s clear in Scripture that some souls will be damned. There’s just no way to ignore this Biblical fact. Salvation through Jesus is God’s gift to man to reject. And some will. If there was another way for Jesus to save sinful man, then He wasted His time on the Cross. The Universalist position is hard to defend and harder to swallow.

Second, it’s difficult to imagine to how a reasonable, compassionate God could hold a person accountable for something he doesn’t know or is incapable of knowing (in the case of infants, children and the mentally handicapped). That just doesn’t make sense. That seems to morph our loving God into a very cold Person indeed. Yet, that’s what Restricivists believe.

So, how do they reconcile their view with that of a God who wants sinful men to be saved? Well, to them, God’s foreknowledge is the key. God knows how that individual would have responded to the Gospel had they been given a chance. That’s a convenient out. But is it enough?

Third, you should have some problems with the idea of Postmortem Evangelism idea. It’s a little weird, and yet there are Bible verses that seem to support it. Can an unrepentant sinner get a second chance to make the right choice after death? Not really. These postmortem evangelism supporters would say that only those who have never heard the Gospel get that chance. That may give those who are left grieving comfort, but it’s difficult to buy.

What makes sense is what this passage says:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:7 – 10 NKJV)

Whom did Jesus lead “captive?” Who were these “captives?” Many believe these “captives” were Old Testament saints, held in Sheol/Hades. During the time between His death and resurrection, Jesus wasn’t sitting around Heaven playing Bridge with Peter and Paul and the other apostles. He descended into Sheol/Hades (not Hell), announced His victory and preached salvation. The Old Testament saints recognized who Jesus was, believed, and He took the lot of them to Heaven.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:51 – 53 NKJV)

Those who didn’t believe were condemned.

A lot of Dispensationalists find this palatable. To them, it makes sense. It does make “Jesus is the only way” a statement of truth. Supporters say this isn’t happening today. It happened one time and one time only. Today, since the finished work of Christ, Sheol/Hades is no more.

And we are not afraid but are quite content to die, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So our aim is to please him always in everything we do, whether we are here in this body or away from this body and with him in heaven. (2 Corinthians 5:8, 9 TLB)

Inclusivism seems to be the view that makes the most sense, even though it’s name is dreadful and misleading. It has nothing to do with universalism or pluralism. Inclusivists do NOT believe everybody will be saved. What they do say is that God in His Sovereignty and providence makes a way for those who have never heard to be saved.

And why wouldn’t He do this? Consider:

…a huge part of the human race has died never hearing the good news of Jesus. It is estimated that in the year AD 100 there were 181 million people, of whom one million were Christians. It is also believed there were 60,000 unreached groups at that time. By AD 1000 there were 270 million people, 50 million of whom were Christians, with 50,000 unreached groups. In 1989 there were 5.2 billion people with 1.7 billion Christians and 12,000 unreached groups. (John Sanders)

God is nothing but fair; He doesn’t play favorites. Think about this:

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from all nations and provinces and languages, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white, with palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God upon the throne, and from the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 10 TLB)

People from “every tribe and nation” (KJV) will be found in Heaven. That is problematic for Restrictivists because there have been and continue to be people (“tribes” and “nations”) that have never heard about Jesus, yet they are represented in Heaven. A classic example of people who were never evangelized is a group that lived in southern Mexico between 300 BC and 900 AD, known as the Teotihuacans. Other tribes in the Americas (and throughout the world) disappeared prior to the arrival of missionaries. Since these tribes never heard the preached word, they will only be represented in heaven if Inclusivism is true.

God’s mercy trumps man’s doctrine

Finally, we have the Samaritans. We tend to romanticize them today, largely do to the fact that one of them was “good.” In fact, there was nothing good about the Samaritans. Their religion was pagan – a strange concoction of heathen beliefs and practices mixed with a smattering of Judaism. They despised the Jews as much as the Jews despised them. They had no use for Jesus and Jesus wasn’t kindly disposed to them, either. Yet, one time an expert in the law approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus’ answer was in the form of parables, including the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said that the Samaritan who had mercy was preferable to the Levite and Priest who did not. In God’s view, mercy always trumps doctrine.  It’s foolish to think that God is bound by the ideas we have of how He works.

If we truly believe that God draws all men to Himself, then we should at least leave room for the Inclusivist and the Universal Opportunity Before Death views. At the very least, we should leave those who have never heard the Gospel to our loving, capable God. He can be depended upon to the right thing, in every circumstance.

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