Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
As an evangelical follower of Jesus, I believe and teach that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation. It was Jesus — God incarnate — who showed us God’s love and grace through his life, death, and resurrection. It was Jesus who provided the way of salvation for each and every individual who will yield to him in faith.
Some people struggle with this truth because it sounds exclusive … even arrogant if not communicated with love and grace. They wonder how salvation works if Jesus is the only way especially if there are those who’ve never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me suggest a few ways to think about it…
The Scripture reminds us that human beings created in the image of God are drawn toward God (Romans 1:19-20). God’s invisible qualities and divine nature are clearly seen in the world within us and around us; that draws people toward him in faith. We are created for worship. There exists a God-shaped vacuum in our souls that can only be filled by God. Those who have never heard of Jesus — and those that have heard — are designed for faith. So people are supernaturally driven toward God and drawn toward him by his design.
The Scripture gives examples of God taking extraordinary means to reach those who desire to know him (Acts 10:1ff). When individuals respond to the work of God’s Holy Spirit and become “seekers,” the Bible tells us that God makes sure they become “finders.”
In the case of Cornelius, God sent Peter with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. In the case of a pastor acquaintaince of mine, it happened in a rather unique way. As a follower of Islam he became increasingly disallusioned with his experience and disatisfied with his life. At a particularly “low” time, he cried out to God asking for a sign. By the end of that day, he had his sign. It came in the form of a partial fragment of Scripture — a small portion of a page from a gospel tract — stuck to his shoe! On the piece of the tract, was half of a Scripture and part of the name of a local church. He read the Scripture, located the church, and spoke with the pastor. The result was he came to faith in Jesus Christ.
God is indeed a rewarder of those who seek after him (Hebrews 11:6).
I can hear you asking: “Okay…but what about those who have never heard? What about the person in the deepest, darkest rain forest who never has an opportunity to hear about Jesus?” For me, they, too, can come to God in simple and yet life-transforming faith even if they never have the opportunity to hear the name “Jesus” or the facts of the gospel. In the same way that Abraham’s faith was credited to him in anticipation of the promise of Jesus — he never knew the name or the facts — anyone can come to God through Jesus independent of the facts. God receives all who yield themselves to him in faith and gives people the gift of salvation because of Jesus — who he is and what he has done. Faith not facts saves us!
Of course, taking that step of faith is nurtured by a clear presentation of the gospel facts (see Romans 10: 14-15). It’s much clearer and much more direct when people hear the truths about Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul admonishes us to be willing to “go on mission” and share our faith.
Here’s where it gets personal for me: Who are the “seekers” around me? Am I willing to be a “Peter” to go and share the good news about Jesus? Who are the “Cornelius-people” that need to hear about Jesus? Are we as a church willing to participate and partner with others who make the truths of Jesus known?
If so, then we will get to the point where we’ll never have to ask the original question again. Everyone will have had the opportunity to hear about Jesus — the way, the truth, and the life!
You can’t be a disciple of Jesus Christ unless you are a student of his Word!
This week I want you to share with you some excellent online resources that will help you in your own study of the Bible. Over the next four weeks, I will use the online video instruction on the Saddleback website as the background of what I’ll share:
Basic Bible Interpretation: Good Bible study has three key components…
- Observation—What does it say?
- Interpretation—What does it mean?
- Application—How do I apply it to my life?
Basic observation begins with basic questions about the passage:
- Who Wrote It
- To Whom Was It Written
- Purpose of the Book
- What Type of Literature
Answers to these basic questions can be found in the following resources:
- Reading the Text—Read your text in a variety of Bible translations … English AND other languages
- Study Bibles—If you have a study Bible answers to these questions are provided in an introduction
- Bible Commentary—The internet has available MANY Bible study resources. However, there’s a LOT of junk out there. I recommend the following:
The Free Bible Commentary – I can’t over emphasize how GOOD this resource is! It’s available online (www.freebiblecommentary.org) and is designed to focus on the text. There are THOUSANDS of pages devoted to explaining words, phrases, and contexts that give you an opportunity to OBSERVE and INTERPRET the Bible for yourself. Please, USE THIS RESOURCE and encourage your groups to do the same.
YouVersion Bible – This free online and APP version of the Bible (www.bible.com) is a great way to read the Bible. Download the APP to your smart phone and you can highlight/make notes to share insights with your “friends.” (Follow me at ibcbscott.) You will also be able to follow upcoming “LIVE” events during worship.
Blue Letter Bible (See the video) and Bible Gateway are other trusted online resources.
Developing the “holy habit” of personal Bible study is indispensible for your spiritual growth. Take the time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit by “digging deep into God’s Word.” Better yet, share that experience in a small group committed to studying the Bible!
What are your favorite online Bible study resources?
Our approach to worship on Sundays is primarily “inspirational” and “devotional” instead of “instructional.” Our music, testimonies, prayers, and my preaching focus on providing worshippers an inspirational challenge that encourages participants to experience and live the “disciple-life.”
Though my “inspirational” preaching — at least I hope so — is “textual” and “instructional,” I often skip over textual content that leads those of you interested in “deeper” study to ask questions. As a result, I want to start addressing at least one “deeper”study instruction in a weekly blog intended to give my perspective on a textual issue from Sunday’s sermon.
My recent sermon on Acts 8:1-25 on Philip’s ministry in Samaria skipped over vss. 15-17 and the issue of conversion, the Spirit, the laying on of hand, and tongues:
Acts 8:15-17 (ANIV)
15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
In this account, conversion is separated from receiving the Holy Spirit which is received only after Peter and John lay their hands on these Samaritan converts. Some see this as a biblical warrant for the separation between baptism and confirmation; others see in this a justification for a “second grace” experience of being “baptized by the Holy Spirit.” I, too, see in this an important theological truth, but one that has nothing to do with conversion and the Holy Spirit. The textual evidence doesn’t support these claims.
Though there are two exceptions in Acts — Ch 8 & 19 — the usual pattern is receiving the Holy Spirit at conversion (see Ch 10). On these same two occasions, receiving the Spirit is mediated by the laying on of hands. On only four occasions in Acts is receiving the Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues — Ch 2, 8 (implied), 10, 19. No clear pattern emerges from these four passages relating conversion, receiving the Spirit, laying on of hands, and speaking in tongues. Therefore, no doctrine/teaching relating these can be concluded. A chart might help illustrate the point:
|Passage||Spirit Separate from Conversion||Laying on Hands||Tongues|
In my opinion, the passage is NOT about the Holy Spirit, the laying on of hands, or tongues. Instead, this story emphasizes the truth that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. No one is outside the reach of the Gospel; every believer — of every tribe, tongue, and nation — belongs in the Church! Acts is an historical book about a unique time of transition in God’s global salvation plan — life/death/resurrection of Jesus, the sending of the Spirit, and the empowering of the church — a plan that was never intended just for the Jews but for the whole world. The book is of “the Gospel going global” beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8) in an “unhindered” manner — the last Greek word in the book.
So, on these unique occassions receiving the Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues was God’s means of saying: “The Gospel is for everyone…not just Jews!” and “No one is excluded from the church!” So…
- At conversion one receives and is “baptized by the Spirit.”
- The laying on of hands is NOT necessary for receiving the Spirit.
- Speaking in tongues in NOT a universal sign of being baptized by … or filled with … the Spirit.
|Acts 2||Pentecost – Sending of the Holy Spirit||Apostles and Disciples (Jews)||
|Acts 8||Philip’s Samaritan Ministry||½ Jews||
|Acts 10||Peter and Cornelius||God-fearing Gentiles||
|Acts 19||Paul in Ephesus||Disciples of John the Baptist||