Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” How could a disciple of Christ faithfully understand the significance of this biblical passage while also affirming that non-christians can know and love God? Doesn’t this statement mean a person must explicitly identify as a Christian in order to know God and be “saved”?
One of the most richly meaningful and poorly understood biblical symbols is the Logos (or Word) of God. The Logos is associated with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, throughout the biblical narrative and writings in ways that are full of significance. Logos is the creative, sustaining, and organizing nexus of power that is dynamically and actively present in all creation, giving all things their essential identity and bringing all things to their final fulfillment. Understanding the meaning of Christ as the way, the truth, and the life requires understanding something of the biblical theology surrounding the Logos.
In the Bible’s opening creation story—in the beginning—it is the powerful Logos (the Word) of God that speaks creation into being from the formless potential represented by the dark, deep waters. And, curiously, in the same story we are told that human beings have been made in the image and likeness of this creative, divine Logos who transforms formless potential into habitable being. Human beings, like the Logos, are made to responsibly create, explore, and transform the potential of God’s world into being that is good.
Later in the biblical drama, the writer of John’s gospel, in an epic opening narrative that clearly resembles the Genesis creation account—a narrative which introduces magnificent themes and motifs that will be further developed like is done in the opening of a symphony—makes remarkable claims about the Logos. The author says it is the same world-creating Logos that was God and was with God in the beginning, by which all things were made, and without which nothing was made that has been made. John describes this creative Logos as a source of life and light for all humankind so powerful that the darkness has not and cannot overcome it. And John says it is the same Logos that became flesh in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth, who revealed the glory of the one and only Son, coming from the Father, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. This is the context within which the author subsequently writes Jesus’s famous words—I am the way and the truth and the life—in what was later designated the fourteenth chapter.
And once again, it is the same personality, the same creative power, that Paul portrays on a cosmic scale in his letter to the Colossians. Paul writes that the Son is the image of the invisible God, supreme over all creation, in whom all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities—that all things have been created through him and for him, that he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
It is this cosmic vision of Christ, the Logos and Son of the living God, shining forth across a sacramental universe, noticed or unnoticed, as the integrating, organizing, vitalizing power present in all created things that Jesus’s claim about being the way, the truth, and the life must be understood.
What does this biblical understanding of the Logos mean for how we understand ourselves, as people who bear the divine image? One thing it means is our (extra)ordinary impulses towards creativity, vitality, exploration, and transformation are varied expressions of the dynamic power of Logos inherent within our humanity, as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and, indeed, within all living things that dynamically participate in the activity of God’s good creation. That within us which creates, vitalizes, explores, and transforms, at its best, and for the genuine betterment of all, is divine Logos actively at work bringing life to fulfillment.
Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the picture this dynamic power of Logos fully embodied in human life. Christ exhibits creative, life-giving power to heal the diseased and the brokenhearted, to restore the spiritually crushed, to awaken, to motivate, and to inspire all who are weary and heavy-laden. And Christ voluntarily moves beyond the boundaries of safety to bravely explore and encounter the dark, threatening powers of suffering, evil, and death, and in doing so he transforms and transcends them by his ever-greater power of life. It is this pattern of behaviour, this way of life—this transformative mode of being—that disciples of Christ are called to imitate and reproduce in themselves as they actively partner with God’s grace. Christ, as Logos, dramatically displays the transformative processes of recreating, restoring, reordering, reforming, revitalizing, and renewing. Even as the Incarnate Spirit of God, he does not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill its latent and often misunderstood purposes in revolutionary ways.
Jesus says, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
To resist participating in the heroic work of Christ is to ally oneself with the enemy, the antiheroic Antichrist who works to steal, kill, and destroy. The Antichrist, by definition, is that varied power, that personality, which works in opposition to the work of Christ. Sadly, some self-identified Christians, for various reasons, actually become rigid, lifeless, deadening individuals who resist necessary change and renewal, even as they shrivel into spiritual extinction, all as they ironically present themselves as committed followers of Christ.
One of the hardest lessons I have been learning is that sometimes I must resist certain pressures to conform with Christianity in order to fulfill the work of Christ. For all of the benefits of having a religious upbringing, I have also internalized some excessively conservative, rigid, life-denying tendencies towards resisting change and growth and renewal, even in terms of my basic psychological and social functioning. Thankfully I am not doomed to remain stuck in arrested development. By the Spirit of Christ, change is possible. Nor does this mean I must reject the Christian religion altogether in exchange for pursuing Christ. But the power of Christ and the Christian religion are not the same thing. So I must be perceptive in seeing where Christ is at work, where religion has become lifeless and deadening, and choose to ally myself with the recreative, revitalizing power of Christ whenever and wherever Christ and Christianity move in separate ways.
Some profess allegiance with Christ by their lips and yet still ally with the work of the Antichrist in their hearts and behaviours, usually by slowly stagnating and withering away in a wasteland of some deadening religious piety. Jesus’ scathing warnings still echo today, though unfortunately not enough through some of our churches:
“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it…”
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead…”
Better to ally yourself with the work of Christ in your heart and behaviour, no matter what you say with your lips, than to sing praises to Christ while living in support of the forces of death.
If Christians gives Christ a bad name, if Christians misrepresent Christ to their non-christian neighbours, does that mean non-christians are doomed to never know Christ, doomed to suffer in separation from the Spirit of Life? Absolutely not! For every single living, breathing human being is made in the image and likeness of the world-creating Logos. Every single person is sustained by the same Logos, pervading, enlivening, and moving being to its fulfillment. If Christ ceased to graciously and unconditionally love existence into being, even for a split second, we would cease existing. Christ, as Logos, already intimately supports and loves all people, right now, moment by moment, into living and being. So anyone, anywhere, at anytime, who turns towards Christ in the innermost depths of their heart, trusting that to ally with that creative, vitalizing, transfiguring Power of Life is the best way to live—such a person truly knows and loves Christ. For one knows Christ first and foremost by faith. Verbal expression, though important, is infinitely secondary to the profound, hidden, and sometimes inarticulate movements of the heart.
Since the meaning of the name of Christ is so corrupted the minds of so many people by the duplicitous behaviour exhibited by so many Christians, I cannot help but believe a person may know and live according to the Power of Christ and yet not identify with the Christian label or with the Christian religion. Disciples of Christ should be extremely careful when dividing up people and dividing up the world into who knows Christ and who doesn’t know Christ, for risk of dividing up Christ and opposing his work. Anyone who cannot be surprised by God does not know God. Indeed, the Spirit of Christ cannot be contained or controlled anymore than the movements of the wind. Not by you. Not by me. And not even by Christians.