Was blind, but now I see.

4 : 9 September 2005




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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai

1 TIMOTHY 2: 5-6
Pastor Dave Strem


People say all roads lead to heaven, but are they right? Are there some ways that do not go anywhere? Do you have any friends that say those things to you? They say, "Well, you know, how do you know what God is like? Don't all religions give a description about what God might really be like? How do you know that you have a corner on the truth? What makes you right and everybody else wrong?" How do you answer that?

When you hear those kind of sayings and those kind of questions, I want you to think to yourself, "Here is someone that is looking for an answer and I want to be able to give it to him. I want to be able to share something with him that will lead them in the right direction."


There is a central truth in Christianity that sets it apart from all other faiths. First Timothy 2:5-6 makes a unique claim for the significance of Jesus Christ in the overall plan of God. This passage plainly and clearly makes the work of Christ indispensable in God's plan of forgiveness and redemption. This passage also implies that all other attempts to get to God are inadequate and doomed to fail. First Timothy 2:5-6 is one of the most hotly debated verses in the Bible.

People are not just verbalizing their opposition to it by what they say but the principle that it presents is defied by people by the way they live. And we do not talk a lot about it because it puts us in a position of being exclusionary.

We do not like that word. That word is very negative.


To be exclusionary implies you think you are better than everybody else, you want nothing to do with them. You are leaving everybody else out but your own small group of people who believe everything the way you do. That is how cults thrive. They are exclusionary. They grow by setting themselves against 'the outside world'. We do not want to viewed the same way as them. We do not want to leave anybody out. But Jesus said,

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one (no one, anywhere, anytime) comes to the Father except by me."

That is an undeniably exclusionary statement. Now you have to decide, did He mean what He said? Did He mean what He said for your friend? And is there a way you can present that truth to him that he will hear and understand?

Open your Bible to 1 Timothy 2:5. "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ." That sounds exclusionary to me. When the Bible says it, is it a lie? When Jesus said it, was he a liar or was He crazy? Did people misunderstand Jesus when He said these things? I mean, how do we know, because the disciples wrote down what Jesus said years after that, didn't they? Do you recognize that Jesus was crucified because of those kinds of statements, because He made Himself equal to God. He claimed to be someone special, not just a normal man or prophet. He claimed to be the Son of God, uniquely having the qualities of God and man together. He claimed to come from God to help and redeem us. Because of this the religious leaders of His day did not like His rejection of what they stood for and His rise in popularity.

They crucified Him for His divine self-claims. They heard and understood what He was saying about Himself. This 1 Timothy passage is one of the most exclusionary passages in all of Scripture. It straightforwardingly says that all others ways to God are false and doomed to fail and that only Jesus Christ can unite man and God. Period! So, how can you respond to your friends?


I want to tell you, first of all, odds are pretty good that if they say something like, "Well, I kind of believe that all roads lead to heaven and there are a lot of truths out there and everyone has a little bit of something to add to it" and you turn around and whip out your Bible and say, "Well, the Bible says. . .", you have probably lost them. They will get this glazed-over look and they will stand there respectfully for a little while. "Well, I think I have to get back to work now. I think I have to do this" or they hit their beeper on their phone like it is ringing. They do not accept the Bible as any kind of truth because this whole book is exclusionary to them.

So, for this type of person, I want to look at this passage from another perspective. How can you approach your friend who does not take Scripture as a viable guide for life and thinking? You are going to have to appeal to his logic and to his heart. And do it with respect and love, sharing the truth in a way that wins him rather than back him against the wall and force a decision from him (or her).


First of all, I think it is important to clear something up. People often talk about the Christian religion being exclusionary. But it is not that the Christian 'religion' or Christianity is exclusionary, but truth itself is exclusionary. How many of you are where you are right now? How many of you are someplace else? You see, truth is exclusionary of its opposite. I have a blue shirt on. If I ask you, "Do I have a blue shirt on?" you have to answer either "yes" or "no." If you answered "yes" you would be correct, your answer is consistent with reality. If you said "no" you would be incorrect, your answer would be inconsistent with reality. If you want to answer correctly, you are not free to say "red" when it is really blue. It cannot be both.

Conversely, I am a father. I am a pastor. I am a goofball sometimes. Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive unless being a pastor and a goofball should not happen. I know being a husband and a goofball is 'ok'. But being a man and a woman is mutually exclusive. You are one or the other. You are here or you are somewhere else. Truth is exclusive! Christianity does not claim exclusivity for itself to merely set itself apart from all other religions, it claims to be founded on truths which are themselves exclusionary.


Let us see how that works out. What if someone says to you, "Well, don't all roads lead to heaven? I mean, I have heard that all roads lead to heaven." Ask him, "Well, how do I get to your house? To get to some specific place, does it make any sense you can go any direction you want to go? Do you find that truth fitting any reality that you know? It only does not matter which way you go, when you have no place you are going."

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice asked the cat, "Well, which way do I go?" The cat said, "Well, where do you want to be?" She said, "Well, I don't care." "Well then it does not matter which way you go." It only does not matter which way you go when you do not have any direction, when you are not trying to get someplace.

Now there are a number of roads you can take to get to the general area of my house, but you can only take one road to get TO my house. To get to my house, you have to go down Lake Terrace Drive. It is the only way you are going to get there. To get to a specific place, you have to go in a specific direction on a specific road. That fits all reality that you know.

Now, a question to ask them is to look at the different religions and look at where they go. What is there destination? Where do each of them end up? If you look at the Buddhist idea, becoming one with the universal spirit, or the Hindu idea of being reincarnated until you cease to exist or the Muslim concept of having seven virgins in heaven, which I do not think Katie would like, and I do not think most women like the idea of that, or the Christian idea of living a perfect, good life at ease in the presence of God, those are all extremely different directions and extremely different destinations.


The different religions have different destinations and also different directions on how to get there. In every religion, except for Christianity, the way you get there is through morality and ethics, by doing the right thing. They will summarize it in a number of different ways.

The Jews have the commandments. The Buddhists have their "right thinkings." The Hindus have their "thou shalls." Only Christianity treats it differently.

Only Christianity says it is not about our efforts to get to God, but it is God reaching out to us that matters.

Other religions will paint a picture of what you have to do, have this list of do's and don'ts and if you do certain things, then you will eventually get there, wherever 'there' is in that particular religion. Christianity is the only religion that says it is not a matter of doing right, it is a matter of accepting what God has done for you.


How do we get there? What is the process? In Christianity, morality is not the method. The method in Christianity is the Mediator. Accepting the loving grace of God offered in Jesus Christ. It is not based upon being good but upon God's graciousness. Jesus did not come to just make bad people good. Jesus came, primarily, to make dead people alive, to liven their spirits toward God. Every other religion is trying to get us to God by doing the right thing, whatever that may be.

Only Christianity is based upon what God has done for us.

If you listen closely to many people, the bottom line of why so many people like the many-roads concept is that if it does not really matter very much which one you pick, then it really does not matter very much if you pick one at all. You will be friendly to all of them. It is like being at the horse race and not betting on any of the horses, but smiling and shaking hands with all the owners so maybe they will invite you to the winner's circle when the race is over. But you can ask them, "If many roads lead to heaven, which one have you chosen? Because if it were true that many roads lead to heaven, that in no way implies that you don't have to take one to get there."

But they like to think, "Well, I can just sit back and watch and I am better than some of those people who are going to get there. I am more do-gooder than they are, and so I am probably 'ok', too." You see, the attraction of many roads means THEIR road will also get there. And that allows them to be their own rule-maker, to be their own controller, to be their own boss, to be their own, what is the word? God. They do not have to do what anybody else wants. They get to make the choices and set the standards. By the way, their standard for heaven is almost always just a little bit lower than they are. "I want to get in, but I do not want anybody that is worse than me getting in. If that happened, heaven would not be a very good place."


There is a second century Buddhist fable adapted by John Godfrey Saxe. You may be familiar with it.

The Blind Man and the Elephant - Adapted from John Godfrey Saxe, 1816-1887 Based upon a 2nd century Buddhist fable:
It was six men of India to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant--Though all of them were blind.
The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, "an Elephant is like a wall!"
The Second, feeling the tusk, Cried, "Ho! what have we here?
So very round & smooth & sharp, an elephant is like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal, And happening to take
The squirmy trunk in his hand "Ooh, an Elephant is like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee.
"What most a wondrous beast the elephant is like a tree!"
The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en a blind man
Can tell you an Elephant is like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun. About the beast to grope.
Than, seizing on the tail "No! the Elephant is like a rope!"
And so these men of India disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion--partly in the right--but all in the wrong!

This is the first time I ever heard this story where someone actually pointed that last part out. Do you catch one of the key points? This is a fable that has been taught for years and used for years by comparative religion professors who want to show you that all religions have a grasp of the truth. They just do not give the whole thing. Each one is valid in its own way. Each one gives a different perspective on the truth. But do you recognize that every one of them is wrong? Every one of those blind men has a mistaken perception of an elephant. Every one of them is incredibly wrong!

Let us look a little further. It goes on to say:


Experts debate in ignorance over exactly what they mean, They argue about an Elephant not one of them has seen! Many times when you read commentaries by people who are supposed to be experts either in the Bible but also many times on religion, in general, it is really apparent they do not have a clue.

And I made up a few of my own:

A Seventh came but stood upon a hill of fire ants with his bare feet
"Yow! this Elephant is a poisonous beast."
An Eighth approached as it began to rain on them all
"Can't you feel it, this Elephant is a waterfall."

How may people do you know that have determined who God is based upon something that has happened in their life that God had nothing to do with? Someone they loved died or something bad has happened to them and they blame God for it.

The Ninth was too afraid to approach even the least
But loudly declared "I feel this elephant is a ferocious beast."

Can you understand how one blind man is afraid to go and touch, afraid to go and see? But no one else knows that he has not gone. And he makes up whatever he feels in his heart. He says whatever he thinks with no empirical evidence, whatsoever. Does that ring true? Do you know people like that who have made up in their own mind, who have made God up in their own image?

But there is one more and do not miss this one.

A Tenth man approached but he had his sight
"Ok, now listen, for I can see exactly what is right."

If there was a tenth man who sees the elephant, can you see how the story is altogether different? How it changes everything because someone can put all those pieces together and clarify how the pieces fit together. Where the elephant is like a spear, where the elephant is like a tree, like a wall and all the other characteristics. The one did not touch the elephant at all. Jesus makes His position extremely clear. He says, "I am that tenth man. For if you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Christianity is the only religion in which God has come to man to show us what He is like rather than waiting for man to guess and make something up on his own. There is only one God. There is only one God and Jesus is the one who has shown us what He is like!


Our American religion centers around being good, being a good guy. Doing the right thing. Doing more good than bad. Following the Golden Rule. Sure I have tried to be a good person and I have done a few wrong things, but you know, I think the good things I have done have outweighed those bad things. That is the American way. That is the good-guy theology. That is the American folk religion.

In Christianity, Jesus says that is totally bogus. Society loves fairness. We think and we live by the idea that good people should be rewarded and bad people should be punished. And in a social structure that has its place to maintain order. Fear of punishment is often the only thing that will prevent some people from doing wrong or harming others. Good gets a reward, bad gets punished. We are taught that from the time we are three years old. We get spankings and discipline or we get candy. But does that same thinking apply to heaven?

The whole problem with the fallacy of doing more good than bad is that God grades on the curve. "I think the things I have done good outweigh the things I have done bad." How do you know? Is it pure quantity? Does bringing your wife flowers make up for being unfaithful to her? Well, that is a good and that is a bad so that is one and one, right? Ladies, is it equal? Husbands, is it equal? No! not even close. Then what does it take to cross out the adultery? Where is the equity scale of what matches up for what?

In all the religions I have ever studied and everything I have ever seen and everything I have ever read, I have never found one that has a system that says what equals what. Now, there are punishments for doing the wrong thing, but there is never an equity system that says, "Ok, if you have lied to somebody, then you have to help two old ladies across the street." There is not a balance system anywhere.

We do not want one because we like to just get away with it. There is no accounting system and so people are making that up in their heads. The sensitivity of their conscience will be used for this self-judgment. If you do not think something is wrong, you will not use it against yourself. A damaged conscience can allow many wrongs obvious to others.

Self-judgment, therefore, is not an accurate guide for entrance into heaven. Is it your actual deeds that matter or what your conscience allows that matters? God does not grade on a curve. And if He did, we would think, "Well, I want to be more like Mother Theresa than Hitler, or somewhere in-between. I am closer to Mother Theresa's side. I am probably 'ok'." Do you know Mother Theresa said she is not good enough either?

God's standard is 100 percent. Anything short of that identifies you as a sinner, a willful doer of wrong (James 2:10). And quite frankly, no one stops at just one (Romans 3:19-20). That is why it takes God's grace and God's forgiveness. And your personal acceptance in adoption of that standard. You see, when you accept Christ as your personal Savior, when you invite God into your life you are saying, "Lord, I trust you, I adhere to your standard and say this is right and this is the way I want to live my life. I am going to mess up a lot, but thank you for your grace. This is what I want to be."


We think of heaven as a reward for good people. Heaven is not a reward (reward implies merit); it is a new society. Heaven will be a safe place for everyone. And I think you know and I know that there is a change that is going to have to go on inside of you and me for heaven to be a perfect place. There is enough sin in all of us to ruin heaven. A change must take place, a transformation. That is what God has promised. We will be transformed. By grace, we will be conformed to the image of Christ. We will be like Him when we see Him (1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 13:12). There will be something better in us. But He will not force it upon us.

Heaven is not a reward, it is a place God has prepared for all those who love and want to be with Him. We cannot storm the gates of heaven in our own righteousness. Many will try, but they will fail! Like forgiveness and grace, heaven is a gift from the Father for all those who receive the Son!

Well, if being good enough is not good enough, what is left? I leave you with a story you probably all know. In Luke 23 Jesus is on a cross. And there are two guys hanging on each side of Him and they have totally different reactions to what is happening. One cries out in anger and frustration, "Save yourself and save us if you are really God. Prove it to me." And the other says, "Lord, I deserve what I am getting. Remember me when you come into your kingdom."

I can only imagine the shock that was on the face of the angels of heaven when Jesus walked into paradise with the first of many converts--a lying, thieving scoundrel who deserved crucifixion by his peers but who repented and accepted what Jesus had to offer. Good is not good enough. It is only God's grace. That is the message your friends need to know. Because they know they cannot be good enough and so they are not going to bother trying.

But to know God wants to have a relationship with them is altogether different. See, that is the truth that this "good enough" thing totally misses. All the other religions focus on how you act towards another person, of getting along with each other. Christianity has a lot to say about that too, but what comes before that? It is not only "love thy neighbor." It says, "love thy God with all thine heart and mind and soul."

Heaven is a place not just where we are with each other, which we are, it is primarily the place where we are with God and that is why that is the relationship that needs to get established and healed. He wants to be with you and He wants to be with your friend. He will not force Himself on you or your friend but at least help him or her to understand that it is not a matter of being good enough but whether they will accept God's offer of a relationship that will last forever.

Many say that is what they want, but when it comes right down to it they really don't. What they want is a place where they get to do and have what they want, free from all bonds of restraint. They want to own heaven. "I made it here and I have every right to be here. Look at me! Listen to me!" Heaven is not a reward for good behavior, it is a place God has created for all those who love Him and want to be with Him. And for those people He will transform them to be a citizen of heaven that will accept all the wonderfulness of heaven without becoming greedy or self-indulgent and without causing harm to anyone else. Christians are those who have given God permission to remake them to be like Jesus Christ, the prototypical citizen of heaven!



Pastor Dave Strem

Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist, a book on evangelism by M. S. Thirumalai

Short Term Missions, a book by Roger Peterson, et al.

Solitary Poet, Poems of Reflection by Stan Schmidt.

Sharing Your Faith with Hindus by M. S. Thirumalai.

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