[In this essay, all quotes are from, and all Bible references are to, the New American Standard Bible (NASB), copyright The Lockman Foundation, 1995]
When Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6), he presented a serious challenge to many who find it hard to accept his statement (including some who make their living from those who have no trouble accepting it). Jesus said many things that are hard to understand, and many are even harder to accept. This one fits both descriptions. It sounds exclusive, even exclusionary. But in reality, it's not. Properly understood, it's inclusive. Jesus provides the way for all to come to the Father. Those who reject him and the gift he offers but want to masquerade as Christians or claim to serve the one true God object to the statement or try to water it down. But as hard as it may be to accept, Jesus meant just what he said, just the way it sounds. So, what did he mean when he said that no one comes to the Father but through him? And what does that mean for someone who has not yet experienced what Jesus declared? Why is Jesus the only way to the Father??
Holiness is required
The Father that Jesus referred to is the God of the Bible, YHWH. And the Bible makes it clear that only a holy (complete, unblemished, undefiled) person can approach the holy God (see, e.g., Jer. 30:21). No one can achieve that condition apart from Jesus, no matter how good he or she may be by worldly standards, because the Father set the standard in Jesus, and only in him can the standard be met.
YHWH's holiness is not in question but its importance must be appreciated. In Lev. 11:44, YHWH declares himself to the people he claimed as his possession at the time and then added, "Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am holy." In Matt. 5:48, Jesus repeats this when he tells his listeners, "You must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." Any kind of defilement, any disobedience, any blasphemy, almost any failure in YHWH's eyes renders one unholy and unacceptable to him. Sin separates us from him and must be removed for us to come to him (see, e.g. Isa. 59:2)
Humans being the compulsive sinners they are, there would be no hope for man if coming to YHWH depended on their own efforts. So, in his gracious covenant with Israel, YHWH gave the people a series of sacrifices and practices to cleanse themselves from the defilement of their sin. The blood of the sacrifice sprinkled on them or the altar, or one of the other prescribed practices, sufficed to cleanse them. But over time, the people hardened their hearts toward YHWH, broke the covenant repeatedly, and made empty rituals out of his gift. They even worshiped other gods, those of the nations that had been displaced to enable them to occupy the land given them by YHWH. Therefore, because they failed to couple faithful, repentant and obedient hearts with their observances, YHWH declared that he no longer accepted their sacrifices and demanded changes in the people's lives (see, e.g., Isa. 1:11-17). When the changes did not occur, he sent them captive into exile to serve the gods of their captors, gods of gold, silver, wood and stone.
The old covenant was broken, but a new covenant had been promised. In the fullness of time, YHWH provided a new way to come before him. He gave the world the perfect sacrifice-- Jesus, who entered the world as the only man capable of living without sin. When he died on the cross, Jesus became that perfect sacrifice, sufficient for all time to cover all sin-- for those who die to themselves and are reborn in the resurrected Jesus by the Holy Spirit. For those in his body, Jesus' shed blood satisfies the demand that we must die for our sin. See, e.g., Eph. 1:7 and 1 Peter 1:18-19.
Jesus' statement that no one comes to the Father but through him carries the same message that he announced in John 3:3-16 and other passages in the New Testament. People born of the Spirit, who see things from inside the kingdom of YHWH, understand Jesus' statement by experiencing it. Those who are not born again cannot understand it and must grope blindly for some idea of what it means. Those who rebel against the lordship of Jesus in their lives or against consecrating their lives to YHWH through Jesus will not understand it and may try to explain it in such a way that almost anyone can come before the Father without accepting Jesus' lordship, his death on the cross and his resurrection.
But Jesus did not die on the cross as a meaningless display. He did not rise from the dead just for himself. He did not give us the Holy Spirit as an idle gesture. He did these things so that all who want to become the people they were created to be might be able to do that. For all were created to serve YHWH, the one Jesus calls the Father. And while someone might do that apart from the Father, it is impossible to do that in his presence unless one is holy-- free of blemishes, free of defects, pure and righteous in the Father's eyes. Since it is impossible for us frail and sinful humans to achieve that condition in our own power, we need something-- or someone-- extra. And Jesus gives us that.
A lie that appears to be gaining currency among ignorant people maintains that there is only one god and that therefore all those who worship any god must be worshiping that god, regardless of the name given him. However, since earliest times, people around the world have worshiped numerous gods and still do, but except for YHWH, none of those gods live. None have any authority or power to change anything. People who worship them must act for them. Those who worship them practice idolatry. Unless one rejects the authority of the Bible and what it reports about the Father, those who worship such gods do not please him. He rejects them. Only when people come to him on his terms does he accept them as his children. The Name of the One True, Living God discusses this topic further.
As appealing as it may be to believe that the Father will surely accept people if they are really good according to men's standards of "good" or if they behave in a loving way, those standards invariably reflect men's views and put such people in the position that only the Father should occupy. Only the Father has the authority to decide what is righteous. When we adopt standards that we believe are righteous and expect the Father to accept them, we delude ourselves. A person may be the best that anyone can be in this world, but unless they live in Jesus, such people are still of the world. Those accepted by the Father through Jesus Christ may live in the world but are not of the world.
If one accepts that Jesus was the unique son of the Father as the Bible reports, one must accept his authority when he speaks. In fact, people who observed his miracles and heard his teaching marveled at his authority (Matt. 7:28 and Mark 1:22,27). Jesus set the standard for entering the kingdom of YHWH. His standard was nothing less than becoming a new person in him, enabling us to begin manifesting true holiness in our lives and enabling us to come to the Father and be received by him.
Additional scripture references (just a few of many): John 10:9-11,30,
11:25-26, 14:16-18, 15:4-5, 17:14-21; Luke 10:22; Exo. 24:7-8; Lev. 20:26; Deut. 30:6;
Isa. 42:1,6-9, 49:6,8,22; Jer. 31:1,31-34; Hos. 13:4; Heb. 9:22
*YHWH or YHVH is the English representation of the four Hebrew letters that spell the name of the God of the Bible, the one true, living God worshipped by Jews and Christians. YHWH was the name by which he identified himself to Moses in Ex. 3:14. According to references that I've read, the exact pronunciation of YHWH's name was lost in antiquity. After much study, I prefer to pronounce the name "Yahu-wah" (the "h" being aspirated as in "hay", emphasis on the last syllable), but the generally accepted pronounciation in common English is "Yah-weh" or "Yah-way". Some translations of the Bible, such as the KJV and NASB, substitute "the LORD" for his name, following a practice begun before Jesus' birth.
YHWH revealed himself in various ways to the children of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. He also revealed himself in and through his son Jesus Christ and acts, among other ways, in and through Christians by the Holy Spirit. Because the word "God" is being used today to designate all kinds of human inventions, although accepted for centuries in English as a name for YHWH, I prefer to use the name that YHWH chose for himself rather than "God" or "the LORD" as I did in early versions of my writings. Please read The Name of the One True, Living God for a fuller discussion.
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