Is Jesus the only way of salvation? We addressed this question in the last podcast, and you established from Scripture the answer is yes — there is no salvation without embracing Christ as the one who died for our sins and rose again. So the logical follow-up question then is this: Pastor John, how do we know if Jesus was for real?
Let me give you three ways to approach this question. I choose these three because they are all relevant for me. I know there are more paths into warranted, justified confidence in the Bible as a true witness and in Christ as a true Savior. These are the three that have had the greatest impact on me.
First, the apostle Paul treated the resurrection of Jesus as a compelling warrant for believing what Jesus said. In Acts 17:30–31 he says, “God commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
“The apostle Paul treated the resurrection of Jesus as a compelling warrant for believing what Jesus said.”
So, Paul treated the resurrection as the means by which God gave the world assurance. “My Son incarnate was speaking the truth.” “My Son, in dying for sins, was vindicated by his resurrection.” Then you add to that 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul argues that the first readers could confirm this claim of the resurrection because they alive as he wrote. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:5–8, “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
He adds a little phrase in the middle of that passage, “Most of whom are still alive.” Now why would he say that? He says that because he is writing about 20 years later, and he is saying to all those folks in Corinth, “Look, if you want to get on a boat and go over to Antioch or go down to Caesarea and walk up to Jerusalem, you can find lots of people who saw Jesus alive from the dead. You can compare their testimonies.”
This is what is called historical control in a study of history. Paul is not speaking from Narnia here. He is not speaking in some mythological Mount Olympus where nobody can check out anything he says. He is speaking right there in the midst of history where the people who were involved in the incidents themselves were still alive. So, the first way that Paul credits his testimony and the testimony of Jesus is by saying he rose from the dead. I saw him. I knew him; therefore, he vindicated his work and his word.
Liar, Lunatic, or Lord
The second approach is one that C S Lewis helped me with. He has helped thousands see this liar, lunatic, or Lord paradigm. In other words, he points out that if you read the Gospels, you find Jesus saying the most outlandish things.
“When you get to know Jesus, you can’t say, with any integrity, that he is a liar.”
For example, John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Luke 9:26 says, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” In Matthew 10:37 he states, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Or in Matthew 5 when he says, “you have heard it said [the Old Testament said], but I say to you. . . .” Here he claimed equal and greater authority to the Old Testament. In John 10:18 he says, “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” In Mark 8:31 he taught, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Or in John 8:58 he states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Those are things that C.S. Lewis said that, when you read, you must decide if this man is crazy, a liar, or he is Lord. As you get to know Jesus — this is the way it works for me — you just can’t, with any integrity, say he is a liar or he is a charlatan. You can’t say he is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. So people are confronted when they read the gospels: Is this man true? Is he a liar? Is he a lunatic? And if the Holy Spirit is at work, people cannot bring themselves to say, “I think Jesus is just a plain old liar.” “He is just a plain crazy man.”
“For most people, the obstacle to believing Jesus is not intellectual. They don’t want to stop being master of their own souls.”
That is the way it works for me when I think about Jesus, and it works that way for me when I think about the apostle Paul. When I read the 13 letters from the apostle Paul and see that he makes these outlandish claims for Jesus, I say, “Well, either Paul was liar or he is crazy or he is true.” I have gotten to know Paul over the years, and I cannot bring myself to reject the apostle Paul as a faithful testimony.
Isn’t this the way we all live? How do you decide whom to trust? When you get to know somebody, you listen to them long enough and you watch them act long enough to finally say, “That person is reliable.” And I think it basically works that way for Jesus and Paul.
The last thing I would say is simply to point out that Jesus said in John 7:17, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” This means that for most people the obstacle to recognizing truth in the words of Jesus is not intellectual. They don’t want their will to be jeopardized. They don't want to stop being master of their own souls. They don’t want to change their wills, and they can smell that in Jesus is such an authority that if they want to yield to the truth of what he says, it is going to mean a deep transformation in their own souls.
Jesus said in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”