Monday, May 16, 2011

The Way, The Truth, and The Life

"Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life."  - John 14:6

Some of the most well known words in the Bible.  But what do they mean?  If you had to put these words of Jesus into your own words, what would you say?  I think for many people these words are synonymous with...

"Believe in Jesus and you'll go to heaven when you die."
"Christianity is the one true religion."
"If you don't live like Jesus then you are going to hell."

Before I say anything else, let me make a few things clear.  I believe Jesus with all my being when he says that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  I have committed my life to that belief.  I believe heaven is real.  I believe in the resurrection, the new creation, and the coming of the kingdom of God and longingly await them in hopeful expectation.  I believe that something awful, whether we call it hell, Sheol, hades, the lake of fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth, or the second death awaits those who oppose Jesus and his kingdom.  I believe it is only through Jesus that anyone can receive salvation.  I believe Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that it is only through him that we can truly come to know God.  I believe that the Church is the body of Christ in the world and that we are called to follow and imitate Jesus and that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.

But I also believe in nuance.  I believe, not in making things unnecessarily complicated, but in appreciating inherent complexity when it is there.  I believe in paying attention to what the writers of scripture actually said and paying attention to the context in which they said it.  I believe in holding our doctrines, opinions, worldviews, and practices up to the Word of God and seeing where they need to be reformed rather than making Jesus' words fit into our preconceived notions.  I believe that sometimes we think we know exactly what Jesus is saying so much so that we actually stop listening to his actual words and as a result we substitute our own thoughts where the Word of God should be.

So when Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life" I think it is important for us to hear what Jesus is actually saying as well as what he doesn't say.  Jesus doesn't say Christianity is the way, the truth, and the life. He doesn't say that he came to bestow a new set of doctrines on us that will get us into heaven or four spiritual laws that will keep us out of hell.  He does't say go to church and pay your tithe and live a good life and you'll be set for eternity.  He says "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one come to the Father except through me"  This is a statement about knowing Jesus himself, about being in relationship with Jesus, about being personally led by Jesus and thereby coming to know the God he calls "Father".

If somehow we make this into a statement about one particular religion over others then we are actually hearing the very opposite of what Jesus intends to say to us.  Jesus isn't calling the disciples to a new religion but to a new relationship.  He doesn't say "I'll show you way" but "I am the way".  It's not "I'll teach you the truth."  It's "I am the truth."  He doesn't promise us the good life.  He promises that he is the resurrection and the life.  He is the good shepherd.  He is the bread that came down from heaven.  He is the light of the world.  He is the true vine.  Jesus is the one who reveals the nature and character of God, the heart of the Father to us.

It is this truth around which the rest of the conversation in John 14 revolves.  In v.8, Philip says to Jesus "Lord show us the Father and it is enough for us."  Jesus responds "Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me, Philip?  How can you say 'Show us the Father.'  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?"  Jesus didn't come to establish a new religion or moral standard.  He came to show us the Father in his own life, in his own person, his very existence in human flesh revealing God to us.  The way is not a path but the guide.  The truth is not the teaching but the teacher.  The life is not a cure but the great physician himself.  The way, the truth, and the life is not a thing, a practice, or a belief that can be possessed or mastered but a person, namely the person of Jesus Christ.

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