“Sermon on the Mount” by Cosimo Rossellini, 1480.
My disclaimer here is that soteriology (the study of the doctrine of salvation) is a really sticky subject that a lot of people have very strong options on, even though I think most people know less about it than they think they do – myself included. This is something that’s been on my mind a lot about over the past couple of years, but I’ve never sat really down and fully processed it. That’s what I’m going to try to do here. I’m certainly not going to claim to have all the answers (to the contrary, actually).
Here we go:
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
(John 14:5-6, NRSV)
Most Christians interpret this exchange in a very particular manner. That is, that no one can know God or enter His Kingdom (“be saved,” as many say) without believing in and following Him – this is the only way, and the only life and the only truth. And it is this belief in Him, or this following of the Way, that saves us. It generally follows that only Christians will be able to enter the Kingdom, but the good news is that anyone can be a Christian, because salvation is a free gift, and the only thing we need to do to be saved is to choose His grace.
There are a lot of things that I really like about this account of salvation, and for a while I was satisfied with it. However, over the last couple of years I’ve grown a bit skeptical. No, I’m not a relativist, or even a universalist, but I think that sometimes when Christians read John 14:6, their perspective is just a bit off. What I’m getting at here is that I don’t think becoming a Christian can save you, because only Jesus can.
Jesus doesn’t say that “Going to church is the way,” or, “Being baptized is the way,” or even “Believing in me is the way.” He says that “I am the way.” We are saved by Him, through His life, death, and resurrection. The more I look at the bloody cross and the empty tomb, the more I realize – and hope (pretty desperately, actually) – that my salvation is a result of His work and His grace, and has nothing to do with my prayers or habits.
Does this mean that I think that there will be non-Christians in the Kingdom? I try not to worry about this too much because it’s God’s business, not mine, but I definitely wouldn’t be shocked.
It also bothers me when Christians claim that they know the Truth. Because Jesus is the Truth, and He’s really big (i.e., infinite) – no one knows Him fully, except Himself. There are so many gray areas in the faith (hence, denominations), which is a pretty good indication that no one is totally right. Maybe in the Kingdom we will have all the answers, but for now I think we need to settle with having perspectives that are limited by space, time, biases, education, etc. Besides, a little mystery is good and beautiful:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
All of this said, I’m still a Christian, and even though I don’t think that’s my ticket to the Kingdom, I definitely still think that it’s the best thing for me and for all people. We are made in God’s image and, as Augustine says, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. God’s image in us longs for Him and compels us toward Him. The human end is union with Christ, and we cannot be truly happy apart from Him. But I think that all of these things have less to do with us, and more to do with Christ.