Are There Many Roads to God?
One way or many?
“What will happen to those who have never heard the Gospel?” This is one of the most frequent questions I receive. People believe that God is just, and they cannot reconcile that belief with the idea that He might consign a person to Hell who never was given an opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Therefore, increasingly, many Christians are concluding that there must be many roads to God and that sincere Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and others will make it to Heaven.
What does the Bible have to say about this important issue? Are those who live and die without hearing the Gospel condemned to an eternity in Hell? And what about those who have put their faith in the god of some religion other than Christianity and who strive to live righteous lives? Are they also condemned to Hell? Is it possible that God has revealed Himself in different ways to different peoples, and therefore there are many different roads to God? Could the sign be true that I saw in a Sunday School class at a church that read: “Our God is too big to be confined to one religion”?
What Jesus Had to Say
Let’s begin our search for an answer to these questions by taking a look at what Jesus had to say —
Speaking to the Apostle Thomas, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” — John 14:6
After appointing His twelve Apostles, Jesus said to them: “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” — Matthew 10:32-33
Speaking to 70 disciples being sent forth to proclaim the kingdom of God, Jesus said: “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” — Luke 10:16
Early in His ministry, while in Jerusalem, Jesus delivered a sermon on His relationship with God the Father, and in it He said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” — John 5:24
At His last supper with the Apostles, Jesus prayed: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” — John 17:3
And then, of course, there is Jesus’ most famous statement about the issue of salvation — the words He spoke to Nicodemus, a Jewish spiritual leader who was a member of the Sanhedrin Council: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” — John 3:16
What conclusion can we draw from these statements? I would propose the following:
- Jesus is the one and only way to God.
- Those who put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved.
- Those who reject Jesus will be condemned, for those who reject Jesus are guilty of rejecting God.
- The essence of salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus.
What the Apostles Had to Say
These conclusions are affirmed in the writings of the Apostles, as you can see from the following statements —
In the first Gospel sermon ever preached, Peter made a bold assertion: “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him [Jesus] both Lord and Christ [Messiah] — this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter then commanded his audience to “repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:36-38).
Not long after this, Peter was arrested and hauled before the Sanhedrin Council — the very group of Jewish leaders who had condemned Jesus to death. In his statement to them, he said: “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).
The Apostle Paul affirmed Peter’s point in a letter he wrote to Timothy: “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).
In like manner, the Apostle John confirmed that Jesus is the only hope of salvation when he wrote: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah]? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23). John repeated this principle when he added: “…God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:11-12).
Again, the conclusions that can be drawn from these statements are self-evident:
- Jesus was the Messiah — the Savior — promised by God.
- There is salvation in no other person except Jesus.
- Those who reject Jesus are guilty of rejecting the Father.
Confirmation of these conclusions can be found in a sermon delivered by John the Baptist in which he proclaimed: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). John’s statement makes it clear that God must deal with sin for He is a just God (Psalm 37:28 and Isaiah 61:8). He deals with sin in one of two ways, either grace or wrath. Whether or not a person is under grace or wrath depends upon whether he or she has put their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those who have done so, have the promise of eternal life. Those who refuse to do so will experience God’s wrath.
God’s Desire Pertaining to Salvation
But didn’t Paul say in 1 Timothy 2:3 that God “desires all men to be saved”? Yes, he did say that, and Peter repeated it in 2 Peter 3:9 where he asserted that “God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
There is no doubt that it is God’s perfect will that all should be saved. But in His permissive will, God allows people to reject His Son and thus be lost. In other words, God does not force anyone to be saved. And because of the depraved nature of Mankind, the vast majority of those who have ever lived will be lost and consigned to Hell as their eternal destiny.
Jesus Himself emphasized this truth in His sermon delivered on the Hill of the Beatitudes in Galilee. Jesus stated point blank: “…The gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it…Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:13-14 & 21).
The Nature of Man
Again, the Bible emphasizes that the fundamental nature of Man is evil because we are born with a sin nature that puts us in rebellion against the holiness of God. As the prophet Jeremiah put it: “There is nothing more deceitful than the human heart” (Jeremiah 17:9). Likewise, King David wrote: “There is no one who does good…they have all turned aside…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3). The Apostle Paul affirmed this truth in his letter to the Romans when he quoted David’s statement in detail (Romans 3:10-18).
The biblical message is adamant that because of our natural depravity, we have no hope apart from faith in a Savior, and Jesus is that Savior. Isaiah summed it up this way in a prophecy about the promised Messiah: “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him [the Messiah]” (Isaiah 53:6).
The message of the Scriptures is clear. There is only one road to God and that is through Jesus of Nazareth. There is no hope in the modern day false religions of Rabbinical Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any of the multitude of natural religions like Animism. Here’s how the great Southern Gospel quartet, The Imperials, expressed this concept in their unique song, “Old Buddha,” composed by Mark Farrow —
Well, old Buddha was a man
And I’m sure that he did well,
But I pray for his disciples
Lest they end up in hell,
And I’m sure that old Mohammed
Was sure he knew the way,
But it won’t be Hari Krishna
We stand before on judgment day.
No, it won’t be old Buddha
That’s sitting on the throne,
And it won’t be old Mohammed
That’s calling me home,
And it won’t be Hari Krishna
That plays that trumpet tune,
And we’re going to see the Son,
Not Reverend Moon!
Well, I don’t hate anybody,
So please don’t take me wrong,
But there really is a message
In this simple song,
See, there’s only one way — Jesus,
If eternal life’s your goal,
And meditation of the mind,
It won’t save your soul.
An Important Question
This brings us to a crucial question: Are there any exceptions to the rule that you must place your faith in Jesus in order to be saved?
The answer is yes. Most Christian theologians would agree that there are three groups of people who have been saved without placing their faith in Jesus.
The first group is composed of those children who have died before the age of accountability. The Bible does not specifically state this truth. It is arrived at through deduction from biblical statements.
First, there is the example of King David’s child that was born of Bathsheba. When the child died seven days after it was born, David proclaimed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that although the child could not come back to him, one day he would go to be with the child (2 Samuel 12:23). The idea that those who die before the age of accountability will be saved is reinforced in the New Testament in the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:13-14 —
Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'”
This principle of not holding children accountable for their sins before they know the difference between right and wrong is also reflected in a story in the book of Deuteronomy. When the Israelites balked at entering the Promised Land because they were afraid they would be defeated by the Canaanites, God punished them for not trusting Him by making them wander in the wilderness until the rebellious generation had died off (see Numbers 13 & 14).
The Lord proclaimed that only two people of the current generation would be allowed to enter the land — namely, Caleb and Joshua, the two spies out of twelve who brought back a positive report stating they believed the Lord would defeat their enemies (Deuteronomy 1:34-38). But then, another exception was made: “Moreover, your little ones…who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there [the Promised Land], and I will give it to them, and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39).
Another argument in behalf of the salvation of children who die before the age of accountability is the justice of God. The Bible asserts over and over that our Creator is a God of justice (Zephaniah 3:5). He has an overwhelming passion for justice (Micah 6:8). And He promises repeatedly that justice will be one of the characteristics of His Son’s millennial reign (Isaiah 42:1-4). How could a God of perfect justice condemn to Hell children who never knew the difference in right and wrong?
Those who die before the age of accountability will not be eligible to receive special rewards for faithfully serving the Lord, but it appears that they will be granted eternal life. However, this can happen only by having the blood of Jesus applied to them (Hebrews 9:22).
This same exception would apply to the mentally handicapped who reach adulthood. Since they are incapable of determining right from wrong and are also incapable of repenting and putting their faith in Jesus, it is only reasonable to conclude that a just God would not hold them accountable and would apply the blood of Jesus to their sins.
I have a step-grandson named Jason who falls into this category. At about the age of three a genetic defect was activated that caused his immune system to attack his brain. The effect was a frontal lobotomy that rendered him vegetative. I have since dedicated two books to him. He is a constant reminder to me of the fact that we live in a fallen world. I have no doubt that one day, either at death or at the Rapture, his mind will be set right, and I will be able to enjoy his fellowship eternally.
The third group that has been saved apart from faith in Jesus are those people who lived and died before the birth and revelation of Jesus as God’s Son, but who placed their faith in their Creator. Hebrews 11 tells us that people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham were justified by their faith in God. They had no Scriptures nor any knowledge of Jesus, yet because they related to their Creator in faith, they were saved. Specifically, Genesis 15:6 says that because Abraham believed the Lord, “it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Still, each of these people, and many others like them, were dependent upon the sacrifice of Jesus for their salvation to be sealed. Their faith covered their sins, but the forgiveness of their sins depended upon the sacrifice of a perfect person who did not deserve to die. Only the blood of such a person could produce forgiveness of their sins.
That’s why Old Testament saints did not go directly to Heaven when they died. They went, instead, to a place called Sheol (Hades in the New Testament), and their souls resided in a compartment called “Abraham’s bosom” or “Paradise.” They could not be ushered into the presence of a Holy God until their sins were forgiven.
After Jesus’ death on the Cross, He descended into Hades and made a proclamation (1 Peter 3:19). We are not told specifically what He said, but most likely it was, “The blood has been shed!” I’m sure those words must have produced a chorus of “Hallelujahs!” We are also told that when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He took a “host of captives” with Him (Ephesians 4:8). In other words, He emptied Hades of those who were saved. Paradise was moved from Hades to Heaven, a reality that Paul later affirmed when he said that he was taken up to “the third heaven,” which he identified as Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).
This brings us back to one of the questions we began with: What about those today who live and die without ever hearing the Gospel? Are they destined to Hell?
I personally believe the same principle applies to them that applied to people living in Old Testament times before the First Advent of Jesus. Their fate will depend upon whether or not they ever responded to God in faith.
The Bible says that all people have an instinctive knowledge that God exists (Romans 2:14-15). Further, the Bible says that we can realize the existence of God by observing the complexity and beauty of the creation (Psalm 19:1-6).
Because God is a just God (Psalm 89:14), I believe He will hold us responsible for what we knew. Those exposed to the Gospel and reject it will be lost. Those who have only the testimony of instinct and the creation who reject that testimony will also be lost. But those who hear the Gospel and put their faith in Jesus will be saved. And those who respond to the testimony of instinct and the creation by putting their faith in their Creator will also be saved. However, this latter group will be saved only by having the blood of Jesus applied to them as was the case with Old Testament saints.
A Controversial Statement
I believe this is what Billy Graham had in mind in May of 1997 when he made a very controversial statement during an interview of him that was being conducted by Robert Schuller.1 He said that he believed that God is “calling people out of the world for His name” — including the Muslim world, the Buddhist world, the Christian world and the non-believing world. He added, “They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in Heaven.”
Schuller responded by asking, “What I hear you saying is that it is possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?”
Graham’s reply was, “Yes, it is…I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.”
These comments by Graham produced a flood of condemnation of him. People accused him of believing in many different roads to God. It is certainly easy to see how his comments could have been misconstrued, but I believe that is exactly what happened.
Billy Graham has never taught that there are many roads to God. On his website (www.billygraham.org) there are two very specific articles about salvation in which Graham affirms his often stated belief that Jesus is the only way to God.2 In his controversial statement, which was much too briefly phrased, I think he was only saying that people are going to be judged on the basis of what they knew about God and how they responded to that knowledge, just as was the case in Old Testament times.3
Some might respond by saying, “If those who live and die without ever hearing of Jesus might still be saved by their faith in God, whereas those who hear the Gospel and reject it will be lost, then perhaps we should stop proclaiming the Gospel!”
But this statement is based on the faulty assumption that the Gospel is just a fire insurance policy. The truth is that it is much more than that, for the person who receives Jesus as Lord and Savior is blessed with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, receiving supernatural power to live triumphantly in a world of heartache and suffering. The person is also enabled to know God personally in this life — an absolutely invaluable blessing.
Further, I believe that any person who would respond to God in faith based on instinct and the witness of the creation is one who would accept the Gospel if exposed to it.
All Professing Christians?
This brings us to another group of people — those professing Christians who have never been born again. What I have in mind are what I prefer to call “Cultural Christians.” These are people who claim to be Christians because they profess to believe in Jesus, but they have no personal relationship with Him. Many of these are people who attend church regularly. Some are elders, deacons, teachers, and even pastors. Can they get to Heaven through church membership or by participating in Christian rites like baptism or communion?
The answer of the Bible is a clear “No!” Jesus Himself said that no man can see the kingdom of God unless he be “born again” (John 3:3). That means a person must put his faith in Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. It is not sufficient to simply believe that Jesus lived. The Bible says that even “the demons believe and shudder” (James 2:19). But they have rejected Jesus as their Lord.
Going to church or participating in Christian rituals is not another road to Heaven. Our churches are filled with unsaved people who are trusting in their works to get them to Heaven. But the Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In an interview I conducted recently with Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, he pointed out that two words sum up one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and all other religions in the world. Those words are “do” and “done.” Regarding access to Heaven, all the false religions of the world say, “DO!” Christianity, in stark contrast, proclaims “DONE!”4 In other words, Christianity declares that Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation through His death on the cross. There is nothing we can add to that.
False expressions of Christianity require you to earn your salvation by doing works that they require. True Christianity says there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation because it is a free gift of God through faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. In this sense, true Christianity is really not a religion; rather, it is a relationship. Jesus made this clear at the last supper with His disciples when He prayed to God, saying, “…this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
In this regard I feel compelled to state, respectfully, that this is an area where Billy Graham seems to have strayed from the Gospel. I say this because he has made it very clear in his writings and his public statements that he believes the Catholic Church is a true expression of Christianity.5
This is unfortunate because his endorsement of Catholicism has made many Catholics feel comfortable and safe in their faith. And although I am sure there are some Catholics who have truly placed their faith in Jesus, the vast majority have not because the Catholic Church has always taught salvation by works — which makes the religion of Catholicism a false form of Christianity.6
The Bottom Line
From a biblical, Christian perspective, there is no way to escape the conclusion that Jesus is the only way to God, either through direct faith in Him, or by having the blood of Jesus applied to a person who has responded to God in faith through the testimony of instinct and nature.
To argue that there are other roads to God, as some apostate Christian leaders are doing today, is to deny that the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. If there really are other roads to God, then Jesus came to earth to die a horrible death for no purpose. His sacrifice was all in vain. Either we are saved by the blood of Jesus, or we are not.
A Glorious Promise Concerning the Future
One thing we know for sure is that every person on earth who is alive at the end of the Tribulation will hear the Gospel before the Second Coming of Jesus. We know this because Jesus said it would happen (Matthew 24:14). That prophecy is being partially fulfilled today through the use of modern technology. Computers are being utilized to produce rapid translations of the Bible. Satellites are being used to transmit Gospel sermons worldwide.
But the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy will occur near the end of the Great Tribulation when God will send forth an angel who will circumnavigate the globe and proclaim the Gospel to every person left alive at that time (Revelation 14:6-7). What glorious grace!
1) Television interview of Billy Graham by Robert Schuller, May 31, 1997, On Doctrine at www.ondoctrine.com/10grahab.htm.
2) See, for example, Billy Graham’s article, “Why do Christians believe Jesus is the only way of salvation?” (www.billygraham.org/MyAnswer_Article.asp?ArticleID=4822). See also, “The Only Way?” (www.billygraham.org/News_Article.asp?ArticleID=354).
3) Graham’s consistency in clearly preaching that Jesus is the only way to Heaven is clearly demonstrated in a video clip that can be found on YouTube. The clip, which runs 7 minutes, shows excerpts from 7 sermons delivered between 1957 and the present in which he affirms over and over again that Jesus is the only way to God. The video clip can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWv1jiWC4b0. As of March 5, 2010, the video was mislabeled, “Billy Graham denies Jesus…” It should be labeled, “Billy Graham affirms Jesus as the only way to God.”
4) Two video interviews with Dr. Jeffress have been published as a video album by Lamb & Lion Ministries. The album is titled, “Absolute Truth” and can be ordered from our online resource center or by calling 1-800-705-8316.
5) John Ashbrook, “Billy Graham’s Catholic Connection,”
cnview.com/on_line_resources/billy_graham_catholic_connection.htm. This is just one of many examinations on the Internet of Graham’s endorsement of Catholicism. There are also video interviews of him endorsing the Catholic faith.
6) Graham takes this position because he says “Catholics believe in Jesus.” But, again, do they simply believe he existed (as do Muslims), or do they believe in the sense of trusting Him, and Him alone, for their salvation? If their trust is truly in Jesus, then why are they instructed to pray to Mary? A great source for unbiblical Catholic beliefs is pro-gospel.org/x2.