Series: Face-to-face with Jesus, By Rosie Moore.
No claim of Christ is as controversial as his “I AM” statement in John 14:6. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s no surprise that many people are offended or embarrassed by Jesus’s dogmatic words, especially the second half.
A few years ago, my son attended confirmation classes led by the chaplain of his Anglican school. Towards the end, one boy asked a direct and sincere question to the chaplain: “Sir, how do I make sure that I will go to heaven to be with God when I die?”
My son was waiting with baited breath for the chaplain to explain the beauty of the gospel to the 24 captive boys who heard this excellent question. He was waiting to hear the truth about our sin and Christ’s sacrifice to provide the way to God. He was waiting to hear the chaplain describe the resurrection of Christ, which guarantees us a sure hope of everlasting life. But instead, this is how the chaplain replied:
“Whatever you choose to believe, and whatever path you think is best for you, do it with all your heart, and you’ll go to heaven one day.” At the end of the confirmation service, he pronounced all 24 boys, “good Christian gentlemen.”
Truth vs false assurance.
But if this ‘I AM” statement of Christ is true, then with all due respect, the chaplain’s answer provided false and dangerous assurance for these precious young lives. John 14:6 is as exclusive and culturally provocative as you get, and there’s no way to dodge its implications. The reason why Christ’s claim is so offensive is that it defies the many ‘gods’ of our age, which seem so loving, attractive and tolerant, but are false nevertheless.
Firstly, Christ’s claim confronts the god of evolution, erected on the false assumption that there is no sovereign Creator or personal, knowable God. Secondly, His claim also defies the untouchable gods of inclusion, equity (equal outcomes), tolerance and religious pluralism.
Confronting the ‘gods’.
No wonder Christ’s claim is confrontational! If Jesus is the only way for us to approach God as Father, it follows that those who reject the Son as their mediator will be excluded from God’s presence and the home that He is preparing for those who love him (John 14:2-4). This outcome is far from equitable.
And if Jesus is the only source of truth, then it’s only reasonable to conclude that when we try to construct our own truths; our own sexual identities; our own cultural categories; our own methods of redemption, and our own personal preferences, we are in error and confusion. This confusion and disorder has far reaching consequences for our lives on earth and in eternity.
So, if Christ’s truth claim is true, it’s only logical that every other way is just an empty mirage and a dead end street. It means that all alternative paths to discover God and understand ourselves are like the crumbs that Hansel and Gretel threw on the ground to show them the way home. Sadly, the birds ate the crumbs and the siblings were left lost and alone in the forest. There they fell captive to an evil witch who lived in a seductive house made of gingerbread, cake and pastries.
Exclusivism is part and parcel of historic Christianity and there’s no logical way that we can blend it with our culture’s pluralistic worldview or make it more palatable. They are irreconcilable. And so, in answer to Thomas’s confused question: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we find the way?” Jesus gives a straight and profound answer that goes to the essence of who He is and what He came to earth to do:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him”. Phillip said, “Lord, show us the Father…Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:6-10).
Jesus sets us an example of grace and truth in his interactions with his disciples. See how directly and patiently he engages with Thomas and Phillip’s sincere questions. But at the same time, His claims were as confrontational to his first century hearers as they are to us today, in our re-imagined world.
Let’s survey the landscape of our 21st century world:
A re-imagined world without God, the Bible or churches.
A recent study, the American Worldview Inventory 2021, surveyed the philosophy of American adults, assessing the worldviews of four generations: millennials (born 1984-2002), Gen X (1965-1983), baby boomers (1946-1964 and builders (1927-1945).
The researchers reported that the beliefs and behaviours of young Americans, even those who call themselves Christian, are causing a radical spiritual revolution. This revolution has created a generation “seeking a re-imagined world without God, the Bible or churches.” Basic ways of life are continually being redefined, without any objective source of truth as the standard.
Similarly, an earlier 2020 study by Barna, (“Gen Z: Volume 2”), found that two thirds of teens and young adults agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018. The researchers described Gen Z as the first truly ‘post Christian generation,’ and the drift is rapid.
Moreover, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018. Another 43% agree “somewhat”. Only a tiny percentage—10%– disagree with this basic assumption that truth and morality is relative.
The researchers concluded from their surveys that 43% of millennials ‘don’t know, don’t care, don’t believe’ that God exists.
There are many manifestations of how this worldview affects behaviour and the laws governing our countries. For instance, one in six Gen Z adults in the US identifies as LGBT, and that number is likely to continue to increase (News gallup). Last week in Sweden, a new bill was introduced allowing legal gender change from age 12, without any examination or contact from healthcare authorities.
Although I’m not aware of any worldview studies in Africa, raising children in South Africa over the last 26 years has convinced me that the same spiritual revolution has swept over us. It is global rather than localized. Since the earliest days of our parenting in the late nineties and early 2000’s, there has been a massive shift in thinking and ideas. Even established words have been given new meanings and children are compelled to celebrate choices that are contrary to God’s truth.
If every value is considered fluid, no amount of tradition or religion will halt this drift, although a strong family and church can provide a much needed anchor. It’s important for us to understand that the majority of young adults believe that morality, justice and truth shift as society shifts. They are mere constructs of our personalities and cultures.
This relativistic belief is entrenched by the constant barrage of media. Facts have been discarded in favour of narrative. Gen Z is particularly susceptible, as 42% admit they are addicted to social media and can’t stop even if they tried.
Without God as our source of truth, it’s no surprise that so many people are constructing their own identities in search of freedom. Truth has become no more than personal desires, preferences and experiences. Justice is no longer based on true facts and objective evidence as the Bible defines it (Deut 19:15; Lev 19:15; Heb 10:28). Instead of worshipping God as the ultimate authority, we are ordered to bow to the ‘consensus’ of science or the ‘public good’, which changes from day to day.
As a result, Christ’s truth claims sound increasingly bizarre and offensive to our culture’s ears. Surely he can’t be the only way, the only truth?? It might not be long before foundational Christian beliefs, such as John 14:6, are considered more than controversial. They may be construed as hate speech.
How to respond to our post-truth culture.
And so, how should we, as Christians, engage with those who have a completely different worldview than our own? That may include our children, grandchildren, colleagues and friends who have been led to believe that all paths are equally valid, and reality is something that we invent for ourselves.
Shall we abandon Christ’s exclusive truth claims to keep in step with our culture and keep the peace? This seems to have been the tack of my son’s chaplain.
Or shall we cherry-pick the non-confrontational stories about Jesus and focus on his love and mercy in an attempt to sidestep his unpopular truth claims? Shall we just portray him as meek and lowly?
Or should we hunker down in Christian-only communities to avoid confrontation altogether? After all, no one wants to risk being labelled a narrow minded, phobic bigot these days!
I struggle with these questions too, but I know for sure that there’s plenty at stake in how we engage with our post-truth culture, or we will lose our saltiness. The apostle Paul warns the Colossian Christians, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8). Christians have never had the option of blending in with society!
A desire to blend in and keep the peace will render us silent, lukewarm and useless to God’s kingdom, like the Church in Laodicea (Rev 3:16). How can we expect people to find God unless we share the wonderful, countercultural truth of the gospel? (Rom 10:14). We certainly can’t be complacent with our children, hoping that they’ll find truth on their own or learn it in their schools. The social current is simply too strong.
But complacency and compromise aren’t our only pitfalls. If we are full of indignation and anger with our confused culture, we will start to believe the worst of people, leading to sinful bitterness and withdrawal. Without love, we will have no positive effect on our culture at all.
I have come to realize my own need to ask the Lord daily for a combination of meekness and courage: “To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:1-2). But, at the same time, to speak bravely and truthfully, like Peter in his Pentecost sermon, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
A Christian who is complacent, indifferent or afraid to risk offense is as useless to Christ’s kingdom as a cynical, self righteous or hopeless Christian. Let’s avoid both pits!
Before we engage with any unbeliever, may we be fully convinced in our own minds that Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In the Old Testament, only Yahweh could say, “I the Lord, speak the truth, and I declare what is right” (Isa 45:19). Yet, here is Jesus is claiming that He is the truth. He is therefore claiming to be God himself.
In our lostness, Jesus never expects us to follow blindly an unreasonable religion or ideology. He invites us to interrogate the data for ourselves and to view his miracles as objective evidence that his claims are true (John 14:11). But He does not merely offer us cold facts and evidence. He offers us Himself.
The Jesus of the Bible offers us personal truth in the form of a relationship with the God who made us. He reaches out to us individually. He satisfies our real needs and connects us with the God who loves us and made us for a purpose. As Abdu Murray writes,
“He is the truth our minds seek and the person our hearts embrace” (Saving Truth, p33).
Are you fully convinced that Christ has made God known to us, and He alone can give clarity in our cultural confusion? His Word, the Bible, is without mistakes and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live).
Do we test all our feelings, practices, experiences, preferences and choices against the claims and ethical standards of God’s Word? God’s Word is true for all time, for all situations, for all people. May we be set apart as Christ’s people, even as we try to be salt and light in the world. As Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is the supreme standard of truth. If we aren’t fully convinced of this, we will be far from convincing.
Do we see clearly that every other ‘way’ leads to captivity and death; that every other ‘truth’ is a lie; that every other promise of happiness is a seductive mirage? Christ alone gives life its meaning. He alone offers freedom from sin, so that we can live, not as we want to, but as we ought. He frees us to enjoy life at peace with the God who made us. If we are not convinced of this, we too will be adrift in the sea of confusion.
May we be fully convinced that there is hope for us and our children in this post-truth world, because Jesus has promised that He will continue to make God known to every generation until He returns to take us home (John 17:26; 14:3). But we must be on our knees every day, asking the Holy Spirit to turn hearts of stone into flesh. Then we must believe Him without compromise, and let our speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that you will know how to answer each person (Col 4:6).