Monday, October 23, 2006


Joel Osteen crossed the line. He admitted it himself. In an effort to tell people what he thought they wanted to hear, he did not tell them what they needed to hear: the truth. Here's what happened:

KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know…I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know...

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So, I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.


KING: So then, a Jew is not going to heaven?

OSTEEN: No. Here's my thing, Larry. Is I can't judge somebody's heart. You know? Only God can look at somebody's heart, and so - I don't know. To me, it's not my business to say, you know, this one is, or this one isn't. I just say, here's what the Bible teaches and I'm going to put my faith in Christ. And I just I think it's wrong when you go around saying, you're not going, you're not going, you're not going, because it's not exactly my way. I'm just...

KING: But you believe your way.

OSTEEN: I believe my way. I believe my way with all my heart.

KING: But for someone who doesn't share it is wrong, isn't he?

OSTEEN: Well, yes. Well, I don't know if I look at it like that. I would present my way, but I'm just going to let God be the judge of that. I don't know. I don't know.

Actually, I think that Joel Osteen does know. He just didn’t say. At least not very clearly. He later apologized for being so ambiguous, and I think we all should accept that. My point, is not that Osteen did something that we would never do, but the opposite. We could all easily find ourselves cornered. If the Apostle Peter could find himself shirking the truth under pressure, any of us can. There will be times when lost people will phrase their questions in such a way that it will be difficult in the moment to “speak the truth in love.” This is why scripture asks us to “be ready to give an answer.”

My daughter Jenna was “on the spot” recently at high school. One of her best friends, Sara, started peppering Jenna with questions: “So if I don’t believe like you do, in Jesus, you think I’m going to go to hell, right?” Jenna was caught off guard, but she replied directly and truthfully, “Yes, if you don’t believe in Christ you are going to hell.” Sara didn’t let up, “So we’re never going to see each other after we die, right, because you think that you are going to heaven and I am going to hell?” Ouch. This line of questioning is not very friendly, to be sure, but it is not uncommon. What if you were on the other end of these questions? What would you say, and how would you say it? Let me suggest that you....

1. Appeal to Grace

How about this for an answer....

“Here’s the deal. Not one of us is deserving of God’s heaven. Not me. Not you. If God were to give us what we deserved, we would all go to hell. But God doesn’t want any of us to go to hell. He has gone to great lengths to save us, even dying on a cross for our sins. The question is not ‘Why is God sending me to hell?’ but ‘Why are you not accepting his heaven?’”

Some want to position the discussion as if they are deserving of heaven and that God is being wrong by sending them to hell. This is the wrong basis for discussion. Flip the script by appealing to grace.

2. Appeal to Experience

How about this for an answer....

“Can I tell you my own story? I came to a place where I realized that I had sinned against my creator, and that I needed to receive his forgiveness for my sins. When I reached out to God, I believe that he forgave me, and as the Bible says, ‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all sins.’ I hope that you will have that same experience.”

This is the “I once was blind, but now I see” response. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Give your testimony. It’s hard to argue with someone’s personal story. Flip the script by appealing to experience.

3. Appeal to Scripture....

How about this for an answer....

“Really, it’s not what I think, or don’t think, that matters. It’s what God has said. In the Bible it is clear that man’s sins have separated him from God, and that Christ is the savior for our sins. If you’d like I’d be glad to show you. Do you have a Bible?”

In a post-Christian context, the authority of scripture may not always be acknowledged or accepted. But it is nevertheless our only basis for faith and practice. While they may not be ready to accept biblical authority in the moment, give them a legitimate alternative to return to when their other authorities let them down. Flip the script by appealing to scripture.

Is Christ the only way?

This is the record: God has given to us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He that has the son has life. He that does not have the son of God does not have life. - 1 John 5:11-12

There is an exclusivity to this statement that raises a question: Is Christ the only way? "He who has the son has life" is cause to celebrate. But “he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” causes some to hesitate and stumble. This is one of more than a dozen similar statements in the New Testament saying that Jesus Christ is not just a way, but the only way by which a person may receive eternal life in heaven with God.

More than at any other time in history, we’re aware of how broadly divergent people are in their religious faiths. Of all the people in the world

40% claim to follow Christ

18% are Islamic

17% represent no particular religious outlook

14% are Hindus

7% are Buddhists

4% subscribe to some other religion or cult

In America we are deeply committed to the principle of religious freedom and toleration. We want to guarantee that everyone has the right to believe whatever they want to believe about God and about faith. This is a profoundly wise way to govern. But this outlook of tolerance has led many people to a fallacy that if all religions are to be equally tolerated, then all religions must be equally valid, true or worthwhile. In fact, the fastest way to be labeled a bigoted, religious fanatic in American society is to say in public that you believe Christ is the only way to God. People are shocked if you say that. They become angry. If you want to be accepted in contemporary society as a wise and compassionate person you have to take the position that religious faith is like climbing to the top of a mountain. God is at the top. There are many roads to take. Whatever road you take is O.K. as long as you reach the top.

In contrast, at CTK we espouse that there is only one way to the top of that mountain, and Jesus is that way. Our belief that Christ is savior and king follows from our belief in the trustworthiness of God and His word. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:12

(Jesus:) Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. - John 14:1-6

The word of God is unequivocal on this point: Christ is the way. As we think through the implications of this teaching logically there can be only two possible conclusions:

1) Christianity is narrow and wrong

2) Christianity is narrow and true

At Christ the King we have concluded that Christianity is narrow, but it’s true. Instead of being “hung up” on the fact that there is only one way, we are rejoicing that there is a way! Several decades ago Dr. Jonas Salk developed a serum that would keep people from contracting polio in a time of a polio epidemic all across the country. The polio vaccine was distributed to millions of children and adults – a sugar cube with a pink syrup on it. You would have been foolish to say, “That seems a little narrow to me” or “I’m sure there are many cures for polio, as long as you’re sincere.” When you have a cure, you’re thankful. There may only be one cure, but, thank God, there’s a cure.

If someone were to offer you a wonderful new home, on one condition, that you use the key, you would be crazy to not accept the offer because it’s “restrictive.” Yet this, in parallel, is what Christ has done by offering us heaven through faith in Christ.

Ironically, we accept narrowness in many other aspects of our lives. If I decide that I want to run my car on water instead of gasoline because it’s less expensive, I’m not going to get very far. My car will only run on gasoline. For that matter, only one key opens the door and turns on the ignition. Only one pedal causes my car to accelerate. There’s only one steering wheel.

There are some things that are not a matter of personal preference. We believe eternal salvation is one of these matters.

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