In John 14:6, Jesus says the well-known words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What does he mean when he says that? To many, many Christians, this statement is an answer to the question “Who’s in and who’s out?” People have often used this statement to exclude and condemn other people. In a common understanding of this verse, Jesus is like a muscular bouncer at a really cool club named “Paradise,” and if you don’t know the password or the handshake, you’re not getting in. When it comes to God (or church or heaven), you’re either in or you’re out, and the only way in is through Jesus.
In this understanding, believing in Jesus is like some kind of transaction that suddenly gives people access to the Christian country club’s “members only” lounge. In this understanding, faith means believing the right things and it’s mostly a matter of the head: of thinking, saying, and believing the right words, concepts, Bible verses, doctrines, political ideologies, etc. This is a very common understanding of what Jesus means when he says this.
The problem, though, is that when you read those words in the context of the whole chapter, that’s not really what Jesus is talking about here. He’s not talking about his “way” as a gate or a door or an entryway, he’s talking about his “way” as a journey, a path, a way.
This reminds me of a statement I read recently by an African Christian, who said, “You Americans think of Christianity as a farm with a fence. Your question is, ‘Are you inside the fence or outside of it?’ We Africans think differently. We think of Christianity as a farm with no fence. Our question is, ‘Are you heading toward the farm, or away from it?’
We waste a whole lot of time and energy arguing as if we have the power to decide who’s in and who’s out. (As if that’s our choice anyway!) Jesus goes on in this chapter to say, “Whoever loves me will keep my word…whoever doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words.” To keep Jesus’ words means to follow through on what he says. To move toward the farm. To follow the way of Christ with our lives, not just believe in him with our heads. This is not a one-time transaction, it’s a daily path each of us must choose, a lifestyle we must live, a commitment we must make.
Jesus isn’t giving the disciples a way to decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s good and who’s bad, who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell, he’s asking the disciples to follow a way, to follow him on a journey, to love him with their lives. The key to inviting the world to follow Christ isn’t in putting up false boundaries of “in” and “out,” the key is for Christians to follow the way of Jesus. When Christians unite to live the life of love Jesus is talking about, the world will never be the same.