How on Earth Did Jesus Become God? That is the title of a book by Larry Hurtado. Although this may look like an attack on the divinity of Christ, it is in fact a well-researched and well-presented defence of the traditional Christian doctrine that the man Jesus of Nazareth is not only the awaited Messiah of the people of Israel, but also the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine and thereby unique in a way that gives the word “unique” an altogether new and intensified quality.
Why Does it Matter?
When the Lausanne Covenant emphasises the uniqueness and universality of Christ in article three, it does so with good reason. Today we do well to remember this central emphasis, especially as it seems the forces of relativism have influenced the Church in an ever more intensive and pervasive way since the Covenant was written. Not only does the continuing rise of other world religions put in question the validity of the historic Christian claim that there is “no other God and saviour,” but secularism with its companion relativism continues to influence the minds of secular and Christian people alike.
Whereas Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others assert the truths of their respective faiths, many Christian leaders seem to be uncertain and only half-convinced when it comes to the question of the uniqueness, universal relevance and exclusivity of Jesus Christ.
Whereas Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists assert the truths of their respective faiths, many Christian leaders seem uncertain when it comes to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
This uncertainty in many segments of the Church is a great obstacle for all parts of the life of the Church, but especially and primarily in the areas of evangelism and world mission. Why should anyone seek to carry the name of Christ to where he has not been known and recognized if the biblical claims about Jesus Christ are only partially or relatively true? The question on the uniqueness and universality of Christ can therefore be reframed: Is Jesus Christ indeed the one who the Bible describes him to be? Is he the way, the truth and the life, or not? Is he the only saviour or are there other equally capable saviours?
The Western Church is no longer quite sure of its foundations. No wonder that it is beset with many problems, and that—alas!—vibrant growth is not one of them!
“The Uniqueness and Universality of Christ” Lausanne Covenant Statement
Below is what is stated in the Lausanne Covenant on the uniqueness and universality of Christ:
“We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. We recognise that everyone has some knowledge of God through his general revelation in nature. But we deny that this can save, for people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies. Jesus Christ, being himself the only God-man, who gave himself as the only ransom for sinners, is the only mediator between God and people. There is no other name by which we must be saved. All men and women are perishing because of sin, but God loves everyone, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repent. Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God. To proclaim Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’ is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ. Rather it is to proclaim God's love for a world of sinners and to invite everyone to respond to him as Saviour and Lord in the wholehearted personal commitment of repentance and faith. Jesus Christ has been exalted above every other name; we long for the day when every knee shall bow to him and every tongue shall confess him Lord.”
What Is at Stake?
In reconsidering this historic statement in light of today’s religious and spiritual climate, three concepts stand out: revelation, salvation and judgment. All three are as relevant now as they were when the Covenant was crafted.
- Revelation—The question of reliable communication. We could phrase this question as follows: Where and how has God revealed his will and true knowledge about his purposes? And is it true that God has spoken and revealed himself? Are there many “revelations” of God, or is there one central and decisive revelation, as the Bible claims? This complex of questions leads directly to the second theme.
- Salvation—The question of a certain foundation. How can a person be reconnected with God? How is forgiveness of sins and a cleansing from guilt possible? How can we find assurance of salvation and of being forgiven and accepted by God? Or do we have to strive all our lives and try to earn our salvation? This question leads directly to the third theme.
- Judgment—The question of our ultimate destiny. How can we be certain of heaven? Is assurance possible? What will be the ultimate outcome of our lives? Is there a way to be acquitted in God’s judgment?
The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ in Light of Other Religions
The message of the Bible is good news indeed. While other religions fail to give adequate and satisfying answers to the three questions of revelation, salvation and judgment, the gospel shows that in Jesus Christ there is a perfect and complete answer to them. This is an answer that focuses on and converges in him. A short comparison with other religions underlines this point.
- Revelation. In Islam, revelation only concerns the will, the “right guidance” of God. In no way, however, does God reveal himself. He remains utterly unknowable and unreachable. His heart remains aloof and unmoved. In Buddhism, there seems to be no God to be revealed. All one can hope for is “enlightenment,” which will free the human out of the endless circle of rebirth with its accompanying suffering. In Hinduism, there are many “gods” who seem to contradict each other. The nature of the one and true God is hidden. Jesus, however, not only reveals something about God, but is God himself, incarnated into a specific historical context. His self-sacrifice on the cross reveals God’s heart as love beyond measure.
- Salvation. Similarly, salvation is at best an incomplete concept in other religions. Islam does not know salvation, but only the absolute transcendence of a God who punishes whom he wills and admits to paradise whom he wills. Buddhism puts the onus of “salvation,” (the freeing from the curse of never-ending rebirths into a world of suffering) entirely on the individual. Jesus, however, not only offers salvation, but is himself the saviour. On the cross, he took the sins of all humanity on himself and paid fully and completely for all wrongs. He himself is the bridge over the chasm that separates us from God.
- Judgment. In Islam, God is the ultimate judge; however, the Muslim view of “judge” is not pleasant. God as portrayed in the Quran seems be unconcerned about the sufferings of the lost. In Buddhism, human existence is itself the judgment. Through its negation of a good creation, Buddhism locks humanity into an utterly pessimistic view of life. The only way out is into non-existence or “nirvana,” a goal that can be attained by rigorous discipline of mind and body. In Hinduism, “salvation” as in “salvation from judgment” is not an issue; as in other traditional religions, the many gods are points of referral for specific needs such as protection, fertility and help in war or love. The eternal destiny of an individual remains uncertain. Similar to Buddhism, in Hinduism there is the hope that in the end, through a seemingly unending cycle of rebirths, the soul will enter into a state of oblivion by being immersed into the principle of all existence. In Jesus Christ, however, all is reality. Sin is a reality; judgment is a reality. The individual person is real; heaven and hell are real alternatives; and grace and forgiveness are real in Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the judge and the one who takes the judgment on himself. In him, therefore, the necessities of law and grace are completely fulfilled. Whoever accepts and believes in Christ has passed from judgment to forgiveness, from death to life everlasting.
In highlighting the themes of revelation, salvation and judgment, the Lausanne Covenant shows how Jesus Christ is unique and how his person and work are of universal relevance. It spells out the centrality of Jesus to the most pressing questions of humankind, questions to which all religions have sought to find answers, but failed to provide them in full measure. Either they did not know or they have purposefully rejected Jesus, the one in whom all questions find their answer, all hopes and longings find their fulfilment and all sorrows find their comfort.
Jesus holds the key. He is the door, the way, the light, the truth and life indeed.