You have probably heard this question asked over the years: “Do you believe that only Christians are going to heaven?” Perhaps you have been challenged with the same question from a friend, co-worker, or one of your children and you have wondered how to answer that question.
Indeed the most politically incorrect statement a Christian can articulate in the world today is the belief that faith in Christ is the only way to heaven. To embrace such a belief is seen as prideful, unnecessary, and hateful.
When it comes to answering the foundational question, “Is Christianity the only right religion” we need to allow our beliefs to be shaped by what the founder of our faith, Jesus Christ, actually said, not by what people wish He had said. If you carefully and honestly search the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s words you will find that the real Jesus, versus the imaginary Jesus, drives a stake through the claim that all religions lead to heaven.
Repeatedly, Jesus rejected the claim that His sacrificial death provided salvation for everyone—believers and unbelievers alike. Instead, Jesus linked eternal life to personal belief (John 5:24; John 6:40; John 11:25-26)
Since Jesus claimed eternal salvation only belongs to those who believe in Him, it is critical that we understand what Jesus had in mind when He talked about belief. Jesus was not saying that we need to believe in Him the same way we believe in a historical figure like Abraham Lincoln. Many people erroneously equate belief with intellectual assent to a certain body of facts: Jesus was the Son of God who died on a cross for the sins of the world and rose from the dead on the third day.
A person can believe in all those facts and still not receive eternal life. In fact, as you read the New Testament you will discover that some of the greatest professions about Jesus being the Messiah came from the lips of demons who immediately recognized Him as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29; Luke 4:41).
Satan and his minions fully believe that Jesus is the Son of God. They believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world (which is why they tried to destroy His life prematurely before He could accomplish His mission). And yes, they believe that He rose again from the dead. In fact, they believe all those facts about Jesus more than we do—because they were eyewitnesses to those events! But no one expects to see Satan and his demons in heaven because of their belief in the facts about Jesus.
So what does it mean to believe in Jesus?
Jesus equated belief with “trusting in, clinging to, resting in” His sacrificial death for salvation. I think it is very significant that of all the illustrations Jesus could have used to explain how a person can be saved from eternal death, He chose this one: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life (John 3:14-15).”
In the verse that follows, Jesus applies that story to the issue of salvation: “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).”
Eternal life is given only to those who exercise faith in His ability to deliver them from the eternal consequences of sin. For the Israelites, a one-time glance at the bronze serpent brought healing (Numbers 21). For us today, a one-time belief in Jesus’s ability to forgive our sins brings eternal life. It really doesn’t matter how much or how little faith we have. It’s not the amount of faith that saves us but the object of our faith that saves us.
Jesus taught that our faith is what bridges the gap between our desperate need for God’s forgiveness and His provision for our need. Only those who take that leap into the Savior’s arms will be eternally saved. This is the urgent message we should be boldly and clearly sharing with everyone.