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Christianity is both inclusive and exclusive, a point you will come across in Christian apologetics. The title of this post – Jesus was inclusive with people but exclusive with truth – is the way I heard it said by a local preacher years ago when his text was from one of the gospels. I appreciated the succinct wording.

I once had a blog series where I considered the question – “Is there salvation outside of Christ?” – and considered the options of pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism. Check the series out, if you’d like, as I am not going to re-hash it.

It could sound confusing or contradictory – how can something be both inclusive and exclusive at the same time? Yet this is an apt description of Christianity.

The famous gospel text John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he gave us Jesus. This plan of God began in the Old Testament. God called out a people – beginning with Abraham – through whom salvation would eventually come to the world. I’m almost finished reading a book by Walter Kaiser about the Messiah in the Old Testament and will review it – so look for that review soon.

The Jews were God’s special people, and there is an exclusivity here. Yet through this very exclusivity, salvation would come to all people through Jesus. Even in the Old Testament we see examples of non-Jews being accepted into the Jewish community. Think of Rahab and Ruth, who even made it into the family tree of Jesus! A book that has been on my list to read for way too long, recommend to me by one of my seminary professors, is: The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story by Frank Anthony Spina. The book is summarized this way:

“The Bible’s story about God selecting Israel as the chosen people is scandalous in today’s cultural climate of inclusivity. But, as this probing book shows, God’s exclusive election actually has an inclusive purpose. Looking carefully at the biblical narrative, Frank Anthony Spina highlights in bold relief seven remarkable stories that treat non-elect people positively and, even more, as strategically important participants in God’s plan of salvation. The stories of Esau, Tamar, Rahab, Naaman, Jonah, Ruth, and the woman at the well come alive in a new way as Spina discusses and examines them from an outsider-insider point of view.”

But to keep moving in this post, we can observe the life of Jesus in the gospels and note this inclusivity and exclusivity.

Jesus did focus on his Jewish people, but also reached out to “hybrid-Jews” (the Samaritans) and the gentiles. These were the 3 categories of people then, at least from a Jewish view.  Jesus praised the faith of gentiles, such as the centurion and Canaanite woman, and this would have been startling to Jews. Jesus reached out to all types of folks: lepers, the disabled, tax collectors, those considered overt sinners, religious leaders, the rich, peasants, etc. Jesus took time for those that society was prone to marginalize or overlook. Jesus was inclusive.

However, Jesus was also exclusive. As he traveled around and taught the people, he made very exclusive claims about his identity and the need to make a decisive decision to believe in him and follow him. Things Jesus said startled people. It was the very claims that Jesus made about himself that got him crucified – yet this was God’s plan.

Jesus did not proclaim himself to be a way or a truth among many options out there. He proclaimed himself to be the way and the truth. John 14:6. Not all paths will lead to salvation. I wrote and taught a curriculum about Jesus, and who he claimed to be, that is freely available for you to access: see here.

While so many know John 3:16 and focus on the love God had for the world in sending Jesus, it also states that belief is necessary for eternal life. John 3:17-18 continues: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

No one is excluded from God’s great salvation! God is love. Yet…if you don’t believe, you are condemned. There is exclusion here. Jesus is for everyone, but a definite act of faith is required.

The apostle Peter proclaimed about Jesus in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” 

Walter Martin in his classic book The Kingdom of Cults, states: “Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false.”

Jesus is THE TRUTH.

There is only one NAME that saves. We are not saved through the name of Allah or Muhammad or Buddha or Shiva or Vishnu. Neither is it sufficient to think that Jesus was simply a good teacher. Jesus was a teacher, but he was much more than that.

He was God Incarnate who came to earth to die for the sin of the world. We can overlook this amazing miracle. It is the greatest miracle in the Bible. God came to earth and lived a human life as our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christianity is radically inclusive and radically exclusive.

The way of salvation is open to all people. Whosoever will may come. But everyone must enter by the right door, and there is only one door. In John chapter 10, Jesus said:  “I am the door, whoever enters through me will be saved.”  Other doors will not gain you entry.

As believers, this should motivate us to humbly share our faith with others. Do we really believe Jesus is the only way?

P.S. At some point, I want to have a post about love, as I think love can be misunderstood and misused. Some seem to think that love precludes ever saying a hard word. Love means that anything goes. It would expand on my post last week:  I hate you.

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