One of Christianity’s most controversial teachings is that there are not many roads that lead to God. There is only one. In John 14, Jesus declares that he alone is the way. Not surprisingly, there are many who strongly disagree with Jesus’s claim. And not just atheists and skeptics. Many Christians are also uncomfortable with his declaration. We wonder about the fate of the millions who lived before Jesus and the millions today who have never heard his message. Are they to suffer eternal punishment for being born in the wrong time or place?
That is an important question, and one the Bible addresses. The Scriptures tell us that every tribe and nation from the beginning of time has heard all they need to hear to choose Jesus.
The Bible tells us that God accomplishes this in four ways:
God communicates his truth to us through nature.
The psalmist said that even though the created world has no way of speaking, it is constantly declaring the existence of its Creator. I like the Message’s paraphrase of Psalm 19: “God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” God’s witness through nature is affirmed in the New Testament: “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:18-20). Creation stands as a mute witness to the presence of God. In every generation, men and women have seen the magnificence of the created world and been convinced of the existence of an even more magnificent Creator.
God communicates his truth to us through our conscience.
Consider Paul’s reasoning: “God does not show favoritism. When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:11-15).
God communicates his truth to us through the Holy Spirit.
In John 16, Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will convince the world of its sin, of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” All of us have experienced this. There have been times when we desperately needed help and sensed God inviting us into his love. And there have been times when we did dark things and sensed God’s Spirit telling us we were not created to be that.
God communicates his truth to us through other people.
In his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul explained that, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart. And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’ Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8–13). This is why it’s so important that Christians take Jesus’s invitation to family and friends and engage in those sometimes awkward and painful conversations about who God is and who we are. Our loved ones need to hear the message of the One who died for them and called us to be salt and light.
Most of us get that, but we are still concerned about the people who live in remote places who have never heard the name of Jesus. What about them? God anticipated that question. Let’s continue reading in Romans 10. Paul asks, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15). The obvious application is that God is calling some of us (maybe you) to go out and reach people in remote areas.
But it’s bigger than organizing a mission trip. God has an amazingly deep plan to penetrate the hearts of every being on the planet. There’s a good example of how it works in Acts 17. The apostle Paul is on Mars Hill having a discussion with the Greeks about Jesus and says, “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs–for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries” (Acts 17:22–26).
Think about what Paul is saying here: God has chosen the exact time and place for every person who was ever born. He put each of us in the ideal location and time period to hear his truth and share it with others. And there is a reason for that. Let’s continue reading in verse 27. “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring'” (Acts 17:27-28).
Paul told the Greeks that he was not there to tell them about a God they knew nothing about–he was there to proclaim the same God their poets spoke of. Paul did not bring God to Athens. He had been there all along. What Paul did was teach them the name of their unknown God.
This passage really helped me understand God’s plan for evangelism. I began looking for evidence of God in popular books and movies and music–and he started showing up everywhere. It made for some interesting conversations, and the Holy Spirit lead some souls to Christ. And it convinced me that a Mars Hill approach is still a great way to communicate with seekers of truth. May the Lord give his people wisdom and creative ways to tap into the spiritual rivers that flow through our culture.