Is Jesus Christ the only way to heaven?
Yes . . . but it’s not what you’re thinking!
Here’s the deal. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is God. There’s nothing in the Bible about him being the second Person of a Trinity. That was a purely human invention. (See “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”)
Isaiah 44:6 says:
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
Guess who the New Testament says is the first and the last?
If you guessed Jesus Christ, you get a gold star!
Just take a look at Revelation 1:17–18; 2:8; and 22:12–13. The context makes it clear that the one who says in Revelation, “I am the first and the last” is none other than the risen and glorified Jesus Christ.
When Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” Jesus replied:
Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
And in John 10:30, he said plainly, “I and the Father are one.”
The message of the Bible is clear: There is one God, and Jesus Christ is that God. So according to the Bible, all people who believe in God believe in Jesus Christ, even if they do not call God Jesus Christ. There is no other God to believe in. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”
In other words, according to the Bible, saying that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven is the same thing as saying that God is the only way to heaven.
Is there any religious person, of any faith, who would really disagree that God is the only way to heaven? Obviously, God, the Creator of the universe, who has all power in heaven and earth, is the only way to heaven. If it weren’t for God, there wouldn’t be a heaven. And if God didn’t give us life and the ability to choose heaven over hell, not a single one of us could go to heaven.
So Christians who think that anywhere from 68% to 99.99% of the world’s population is going to hell because they’re not Christian, or because they’re not the right kind of Christian, are really denying that Jesus Christ is God.
Let’s look at a few of the Bible passages these Christians quote to support the mistaken and non-Biblical idea that only Christians go to heaven.
What’s in a name?
Acts 4:10–12 says:
Jesus Christ . . . is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.
One difference between Christianity and other religions is that Christians say that Jesus Christ is God, whereas people of other religions don’t think of Jesus Christ as God. This means that Christians use the name Jesus Christ to refer to God, but non-Christians don’t.
So does Acts 4:12 really mean that anyone who doesn’t use the name “Jesus Christ” for God cannot be saved? Is the Bible really that trivial? Does it really mean that if we say with our mouth, “Jesus Christ,” we’ll be saved, but if we say with our mouth “God” or “Allah” or “Lord” or “Jehovah” we won’t?
Excuse me for saying so, but that’s just plain silly. And it’s not what the Bible means.
Every religion has its own names for God. In fact, every religion, including Christianity, has many names for God.
It’s not the name itself that matters. It’s what the name represents that matters.
If you look up the Greek word for “name” that’s used in Acts 4:12 and elsewhere in the New Testament, you’ll see that it means not only “name,” but also “reputation, status, fame, or power.” This is a common meaning of “name” in many languages. When we talk about someone having a “big name” we’re not talking about someone whose name is very long. We’re talking about someone who has widespread fame and reputation because of what he or she says or does.
When the Bible speaks of believing in the name of Jesus, it does not mean using the particular name “Jesus Christ” rather than some other name for God. It means believing in the qualities or characteristics that the name Jesus Christ represents in the Bible.
This means that all people who believe in the things Jesus Christ expressed through his words and actions are believing in the name of Jesus Christ, regardless of whether or not they literally use the name “Jesus Christ.”
What does this mean, practically speaking? Here are a few examples:
- When people believe in loving God above all, and loving their neighbor as themselves, as Jesus taught, they are believing in the name of Jesus.
- When people believe in loving their enemies, they are believing in the name of Jesus.
- When people believe in laying down their lives for their friends, they are believing in the name of Jesus.
- When people believe in helping those who are hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, they are believing in the name of Jesus.
When people believe in any of the things Jesus taught, and especially when they live according to those beliefs, they are believing in the things that the name Jesus Christ means.
Jesus himself said:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:20)
Those who live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ will go to heaven no matter what religion they come from. Those who merely say the name “Jesus Christ” when they pray, but don’t do the will of God (which is what Jesus Christ taught) will not go to heaven.
What does it mean to believe?
John 3:16–18, one of the most commonly quoted passages in the Bible, says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
We already covered what it means to “believe in the name of the only Son of God.” It means to believe in the principles, qualities, and characteristics that Jesus Christ taught both in words and by the example of his life.
What about where it says, “those who do not believe are condemned already”? Doesn’t that mean that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ is condemned?
Once again: Yes . . . but it’s not what you’re thinking!
What does it mean to believe? What is faith in Jesus Christ?
Many Christians seem to think that “belief” and “faith” are things we do in our head. But in reality, belief and faith are the things we live by. Here’s how the Apostle James put it:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14–16)
He goes on to say that even demons believe that God is one, but they are horrified by that belief. Real belief, real faith, is shown by how we live.
If I say, “I believe in honesty,” but in fact I lie and cheat whenever it seems advantageous to me, do I really believe in honesty? Obviously not.
And if I say I believe in Jesus Christ, but I hate my enemies, don’t help people who are in need, and generally live a greedy and self-centered life, do I really believe in Jesus Christ? No, obviously I do not. If I did, I would do what Jesus Christ commands me to do.
Belief and faith are not some head trip. They are the things we live by. The people who do not believe in Jesus Christ are the ones who show their unbelief in their lives by engaging in lying, stealing, cheating, anger, bitterness, greed, and selfishness of all kinds.
But people who live a life of honesty, service, self-sacrifice, and love for God and for their neighbor truly believe in Jesus Christ, even if they do not say “Jesus Christ” when they pray. Here’s how Jesus himself put it:
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
“He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
“The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.
“Which of the two did the will of his father?”
They said, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28–31)
It is not what we say, but what we do that shows our true belief in God. Or as Jesus put it once again:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. (John 14:12)
Jesus the way to the Father
Let’s take up one more Bible passage for now. In John 14:6 Jesus says:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Looks like an open and shut case, doesn’t it? The only way to the Father—who is God—and therefore the only way to heaven, is through Jesus Christ.
The thing is, that’s true! As I said at the beginning, Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.
However, this means something very different than what most Christians think it means.
Most Christians think Jesus meant that only those who believe that Jesus Christ is God—meaning only Christians—can get to God, and therefore to heaven.
But if that’s what he meant, then why, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31–46, does Jesus say that all the nations will be judged according to whether or not they took care of people who were in need? Why did he say that those who did not take care of their fellow human beings will go away into eternal punishment, but those who did will go into eternal life?
And why does the Apostle Paul tell us in Romans 2:5–11 how non-Christians can be saved? Here’s what he said:
But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
Jews and “Greeks” (meaning polytheists, or pagans) are not Christians. Yet Paul says that Jews and Greeks who engage in good deeds will receive eternal life, while those who do evil will experience anguish and distress. And here’s the capper: Paul goes on to say in Romans 2:16 that all of this will happen “when God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”
Do you see what Paul is saying here? He is not saying that God, through Jesus Christ, will accept only those who believe that Jesus Christ is God. He is saying that God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all people, whether Jews, Greeks, or Christians, and will give eternal life to all who seek eternal life by patiently doing good.
Yes, Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. But what this means is that Jesus Christ saves all people who live lives of love and kindness toward their fellow human beings according to their own beliefs and their own religion.
If, as Christians believe, Jesus Christ is God, then isn’t Jesus Christ the God of all people, and not only of Christians? I understand that for Jews, Muslims, and people of various other religions, the idea that Jesus Christ is God is an anathema. But do our differing religions and beliefs change who God is?
Jesus Christ either is God or isn’t God. And if, as the Bible says, Jesus Christ is God—the first and the last, who has all power in heaven and in earth—then as Paul says, the salvation of all people, of every religion, takes place through Jesus Christ.
Yes, Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. That’s because Jesus Christ is God. And the Lord God Jesus Christ has the power to save all people, everywhere, of every religion: Jew, Greek, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Bahai, Shinto, Native American, New Age, Rastafarian, and all others who believe in God—or at least in some of the good and true qualities and realities that come from God—and live it out in their lives.
For further reading:
- Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
- If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
- What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth