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Jesus said, "I Am the Way..." But What Does that Really Mean?

Mar 05, 2012 | Updated May 05, 2012

Jesus said "I am the way...no one comes to God but through me" (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?

For years, I was taught that it meant Jesus was the only way to God. That is to say, if you did not "believe" in Jesus, you could not know God. And, of course, that raises an entirely different question. "What does it mean to "believe" in Jesus?"

Does it mean there are certain words you must say about Jesus? For example, as a child, I was taught what Baptist people called a "Sinner's prayer." I prayed it, recited it, and genuinely believed that, if I spoke these specific words, I would be "OK," meaning, I would be "safe." In other words, I spoke those words largely because I was afraid. I was scared. I lived, as do many believing people today, in fear, afraid of God...afraid of not being good enough for God...afraid of spending an eternity away from God...or, worse, afraid of suffering in a place called hell.

So I recited these words, and others, with vigor and with frequency. And, temporarily, it seemed to work. That is, I felt better. But, as is always the case when your religion is more about your "beliefs" than about your life--how you live--before long, I was afraid again. When those times of anxiety returned, and they did so often, I would not go through the entire "getting saved" routine again (if you were raised in an evangelical fashion as I was, you know exactly what this means), but I would secretly pray the "Sinner's Prayer" again...and again...and again...and again still. In other words, no matter how much I would say, "I believed in Jesus," the words alone never quite seemed to be enough. As a consequence, I lived with this haunting fear that, in spite of my religious vigor, I still might not make it.

This is many people's daily religious reality. Is it yours?

One day, I finally just gave up. That is to say, I quit believing. I quit trying to "believe" enough to make it with God. I gave up the fruitless effort to find God through words, or confessions, or the "right" beliefs. And, when I finally gave up, that's when the transformation seemed to happen. To this day, I do not know what to call it. I'm not even sure how to describe it. But the mystery of grace was born in me. All the fear I had known disappeared. Since that day, I have never felt separated from God again. And, this is not because I finally found the right set of beliefs. Further, it is not because I had finally attained to a higher level or better quality of believing.

Not at all. In fact, it might be precisely the opposite. Not until I quit believing did I start living. Not until I gave up trying...gave up searching for the "right" beliefs about God that I discovered the Source of Mystery within.

I have since come to know that spirituality...that is, knowing the Divine...has little if anything to do with what you believe. "Beliefs," writes one of my spiritual mentors, "are a cover-up for insecurity. You only believe in things you do not know." In other words, it's not about words. And isn't this what your beliefs are? Are beliefs not mere words, albeit carefully selected words that your denomination or group has determined are the "right" words, but words nonetheless? Spirituality is really all about how you live, not about what you say...about the WAY you live, not the WORDS you say.

Sure, you can go through your life, as many do and as I did for decades, arguing over what Jesus meant by these words "I am the way," defending and debating your belief that he's the only way to God. But I assure you no amount of arguing and defending over this question will make you feel one iota "safer," or more "Christian," or closer to God. Further, believing this will not make you more Christ-like in how you live. I know. I tried all-of-the-above for decades. Most likely, you will discover, as I did, that all the defending and arguing only makes you feel all the more frightened and insecure.

And, when you do, what will you do? Argue and defend your beliefs all the more. You see, I now know, whenever I meet someone who vigorously defends their beliefs, I am really meeting someone who is frightened...insecure...who really knows not what they believe...and, so, they cling to words, to concepts, to ideas, to beliefs, and so on. They have confused living for believing. As a consequence, the little ego in them clamors for something to hold to...something to give their frightened little self a sense of security...of permanence. So, while they may call their defenses "Christian apologetics," what they are really debating and defending is an illusion.

But, of course, they are likely unconscious of any of this. Yet, the fact remains, they're engaged in a delusional effort to overcome their inner fear of separation.

An effort so, so unnecessary, too.

Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: "I am the way," as in, "I know the way." "I've discovered it" which, by implication means, "you can, too." Elsewhere, he put it like this: "I and the Father are one" and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, "Follow me." In other words, it's as if Jesus was saying, "If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God."

My own suggestion is this: instead of believing in Jesus, why not live similarly after the manner of Jesus? A life of self-denial, of compassion, of trust and surrender? Why not give up believing there is anything you must believe, as in beliefs or dogmas or doctrines or certain words you must pray? Give up believing...give up the religious performance...give up the belief systems...give up the catalogue of things you don't do, as well as the lengthy list of things you do, do...as in, religious practices you engage in and specific behaviors you try hard to avoid - and all because you're afraid...not certain you're good enough...trying hard to please God...to fit in with some dysfunctional religious group...and on and on. None of this is necessary and I assure you none of this will get you anywhere.

Why? Precisely because you are where you need to be already. And, where's that? Right where you are. You are accepted already. You and the Divine are ONE already. If you live from this place of knowing, you will be free--free of the religious dysfunction so prevalent in virtually all religions, Christianity included...the nonsense of thinking "Our beliefs are right...you're beliefs are wrong or, at a minimum, not as right." "We're the chosen ones...you're not." It is pure insanity.

Choose to be free--free of the fear of God...of feeling you're constantly auditioning for his approval. Know and observe that the way of Jesus, not somebody's words about Jesus, is the real meaning behind, "...no one comes to the Father but by me." For me, the choice was clear. I could argue and defend and so hope to arrive. Or, I could live knowing I had arrived already. This kind of "believing" gives way to living--real living. Which is why Thomas Merton used to say, "When you are disposed to being alone with God, you are...no matter where you are: in the monastery, in the city, in the woods, in the streets. At the precise moment it would seem you may be in the middle of your journey, you have actually arrived at your destination already."

For what more could you ask?