One of the challenges that Christians often hear is we are “intolerant” in our belief that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Non-Christians will often ask, “So, do you believe I’m going to hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?” Or, they may contend, “All religions lead to the same truth.” Christians are painted as bigoted or hateful because we hold to our convictions about Jesus.
If confronted by a challenge such as this, one “tactical” question you can take is to shift the claim away from yourself and on to Christ. After all, it’s not the followers of Jesus who are actually making the claim—it is Jesus himself who said that he was God and the only way to salvation!
One question you could ask a challenger is this: “Do you know how Jesus actually answered this question?” Or you could ask, “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not the one who actually said this, it was Jesus who said this.”
Side note here: With some skeptics, you may need to actually get to the historical reliability of the New Testament, as they may discount that to begin with.
But, assuming you are talking with someone who generally accepts the Bible as historically accurate, and doesn’t take an extreme (and uninformed) position such as “Jesus was a mythical figure” or “the stories about Christ have been changed over time”, the better approach is to let Jesus speak for himself.
To be fair, the Gospels do not record any statements where Jesus said, “I am God.” But that doesn’t mean Christ didn’t actually claim to be God. In fact, if someone disputes this, you could simply ask the question, “If that’s true [that Jesus never claimed to be God] then why did the Jewish leaders have him crucified by the Romans?” (Answer: blasphemy for claiming to be God and the Son of God!)
There are many instances in scripture where Jesus claimed to be God or the Son of God (which to the Jewish mind was essentially the same thing).
In John’s gospel, Jesus is having a discussion with the Pharisees. He tells them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). The Pharisees challenge him by responding, ““You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (v.57). Jesus’ response is quite profound when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (v.58).
The title “I AM” is the name God uses for himself in Exodus (3:14). The Jews’ response to Jesus? They picked up stones with which to stone him! Clearly they understood his divine claim here.
Later, in John 14, we read Jesus’ claim to be the only way to salvation. He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v.6).
John’s gospel is not the only place we find these extraordinary claims. In Matthew’s gospel, we find a discussion between Jesus and Peter. “He [Jesus] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar [son of] Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:15-17).
Peter declares with certainty that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” and Jesus affirms his statement.
When Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin (the supreme council in charge of Jewish affairs in Roman Palestine), the Chief Priest Caiaphas is interrogating Jesus.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy!
Caiaphas understood that Jesus was affirming the statement that he was the Son of God.
In Luke’s gospel, we read a continuation of this account. The Jewish council demanded of Jesus, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” (Luke 22:67-70).
Again we see Jesus affirming statements about his divinity.
The great C.S. Lewis summed this up as eloquently as only Lewis can when he wrote in Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would rather be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg ― or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill Him as a demon; or can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about is being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (50-51)
There are only three possible responses to Jesus’s claims: he is the Lord God, he is a liar, or he is a lunatic.
Personally, I worship him as Lord.