Are There Many Paths to Heaven?

Question from a Site Viewer
What are the Christian attitudes towards other religions?  Are there many paths to heaven?

Tim’s Answer
You ask about Christian attitudes towards other religions and whether there is only one way to heaven.

Let me answer the first question first. Religions can be seen as structural systems by which large or small segments of people order their lives based upon belief. The largest religions of the world, in descending order of the number of adherents, are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism (if this later one is seen as a religion). Smaller religions include Judaism, Shintoism, the Sikh religion, and Mormonism.

In direct answer to your question, different Christians have different views towards other religions. Some Christians are openly tolerant of all religions. Some Christians are strongly opposed to all other religions. And you will find Christians at all places in between. There is no one Christian attitude towards other religions.

You ask whether there is only one way to heaven. Some would say that heaven is like the top of a mountain and there are many paths to the top, but each one seems unique to its own followers.

The problem with this statement is two-fold. First, there is no way to test to see if it is true. Very fine people might hold this belief, and perhaps it might make everyone feel better about everyone else. But, when I die, will the belief be true? Who has the authority to say that it is true or not? This is not a proposition that scientists can test. Only someone who has been in heaven and come to this earth could give us the answer.

Second, for Christians, the many ways to the top of the mountain analogy contradicts the words of the sacred Scripture and of Jesus Himself. Jesus, when asked whether there would only be a few people who would be saved, said, Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
Luke 13:23-24 In another place, Jesus said that wide is the gate and broad is the way that lead to destruction and many find it; but the way to eternal life is narrow and confined (Matthew 7:13-14). Later, Jesus says that He is the door (John 10:9).

Jesus also says in John 14:6:

I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father except through Me.

Earlier, in John 8:24, Jesus had told a Jewish religious sect:

If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.

Peter states in Acts 4:12:

Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Jesus said in John 3:17-18:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

The sacred Scriptures teach us that we are sinners (Romans 3:23). This should be a self-obvious conclusion for us. We all have done things that we regret doing.

As sinners, we are separated from a God who has no sin and is so pure that He cannot dwell in the presence of sin (Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13; 1 John 1:5-6). Into this situation, Jesus, who is God (John 1:1-14) came from heaven into the world to die for the sins of the world, and to provide His righteousness to those who believe in Him (Isaiah 53; Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemene, prayed:

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup (his impending death by crucifixion on the cross) pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.
Matthew 26:39

If there was another way to deal with our sin and thus another way for us to get to heaven, Jesus asked for the Father to spare Him from His impending death. He was not spared. The implied conclusion is that it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross to make it possible for us to have a relationship with God. As stated in 2 Corinthians 5:19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. The cross of Jesus was the means that God used to reconcile sinful humanity to His holiness. And this implicit conclusion of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is in line with the words of Scripture quoted above. There was no other way to deal with our sins and allow us to live with a holy God forever in His heaven.

The Bible teaches us that the cross was God’s provision for reconciling us to Himself (Romans 5:6-11). The cross of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross provides a workable means for sinful men to relate to a holy God.

Some religions teach that there are other ways to deal with our sins. Some teach that our good works and bad works will be weighed, and if our good works outweigh our bad works, we will get to heaven. But the problem with this viewpoint is the following: How many bad works does it take to cause one to be unholy in the sight of a holy God? It took only one for Adam and Eve to be banished from the garden of Eden. How many good works was Adam required to do to get back into the garden? The answer is that all of his good works could never undo the one bad work of disobedience (see Romans 5:12, 17-19).

Likewise, for us, good works can never undo our bad works. We know this and have experienced this truth. One flaw in a chain weakens the entire chain. One bad egg spoils the entire meal. How many good works would it take to undo a murder? Or how many good works would it take to undo a lie that ruined someone’s reputation? We see it in our country all of the time. A person commits a sexual offense against a minor. The rest of that person’s life, no matter how many good works he may do, he is labeled a sexual predator. One sin, and our society, says that this sin marks the person for life, because this crime is so odious to us. What seems odious to us, is much more so to One who is pure. It is this picture that Scripture paints with God. God is of such purity that sin is revolting to Him. No amount of doing what God expects of us is sufficient to undo even one time of when we do not do what God expects of us. It is like a scorecard in bowling. One mess-up, and it is impossible thereafter, no matter how good you are, to reach holiness or perfection. And without holiness, Scripture tells us, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

I think we all intuitively understand that Hitler will not be in heaven. But Hitler’s sins, as bad as they were, were much like our own. Jesus teaches us that anger is equivalent of murder (Matthew 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). On what basis do we think that God should let us into His holy heaven?

If good works are balanced with bad works, we all are doomed. The Bible teaches us that the best person cannot be holy before God. In Psalm 143:2, David writes:

For in Your sight no one living is righteous.

In Ecclesiastes 7:20, Scripture says:

For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.

In Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah the prophet wrote:

But we are all like an unclean thing and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.

If even our righteousness is a filthy rags to God, what hope have we of heaven. We all have a sin problem.

Some religions teach that we can pay for our sins through acts of penance on this earth. But this teaching has the same logical flaw as the view that our good and bad works will be balanced one day. Once one sins, what can one possibly do to make that sin go away? How can one retract an angry comment that inflicts pain to the soul, or retrieve a punch thrown in anger when the other person’s teeth are broken? And what can one give to God to cover the sin of one’s soul? Micah the prophet says that not even giving the firstborn of one’s body would ever pay for the sin of one’s soul (Micah 6:6-7).

And, yet, you can find some within the greater Christian community who believe in a good works/bad works balancing scale at the final judgment, and some also who believe that penance and self-inflicted suffering can help pay for one’s sins. These beliefs are not found only in other religions. Whether these beliefs are found in other religions or in Christianity, the Bible teaches that they are wrong.

The good news of Scripture is that God has made provision for our sins. Christ died for our sins, as predicted in Scripture; He was buried, and He rose again the third day as predicted in Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When we choose to believe in Jesus for our salvation, God places His righteousness on us; Jesus’ death becomes our death and His life becomes ours (Romans 6:1-3-4; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:12). Thus, our problem with sin is dealt with by a simple act of turning our lives around to believe and following Him. And our hope for eternal life comes from God providing Jesus’ righteousness to us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8-9). The good news of Scripture is that eternal life is possible through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). In Romans 10, we are told that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. The God of the Bible has made no other way to heaven (Acts 4:12).

Because this is what Scripture teaches, and because there is strong evidence that Jesus was not a lunatic or a liar, I have chosen to follow His teachings. The fulfillment of prerecorded prophecies, His many miracles, His teachings, His death, and His resurrection provide an abundance of reasons why one should take His teachings seriously. I believe that Jesus has earned a hearing for His words. I would not want to bank on a belief that there are other ways to God when Jesus has said that He is the only way (John 14:6).

Some would say that we do not have His words, but we only have words attributed to Him by later Christians. Many scholars follow this view. I do not. I believe that the best historical evidence is that the books of Matthew, Mark, and John were written by persons who personally heard Jesus. Further, the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles, recounting the same historical evidence, within 20-30 years of Jesus’ death.

I know that my view may seem unfair to other religions. I am not desiring to attack or denigrate other religions. But I would not be a true follower of Jesus if I rejected His words. He is the One who said He was the only way.

in my simple way of seeing things, if the Father believed it was necessary for Jesus to die for my sins, then I also believe it was necessary. I believe if there was another way, then the cross would never have occurred. It is precisely because His death was the only way for us to have access to God, that His death becomes understandable.

All other religions would deny that the death of Jesus was necessary to provide a way to God. They would say that there are other ways. In this, they are in conflict with what God has said in the Bible. With respect to this conflict, I side with the God of the Bible.

This does not mean that I am free to dislike people of other religions. All true Christians are taught by God to love people, to help those around us who are in need, and to be kind even to those who may not like us.

Because Scripture is clear on this subject, I could not both be a follower of Jesus and believe that there were other ways to God.

I hope this helps explain what Scripture says on the subject. I encourage you to read the Bible. You can begin anywhere, but to focus on the life, purpose, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you might begin by reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And ask God to reveal His truth to you.

May the Lord Jesus be merciful to you as you seek the truth.

tim

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