Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Straight and Narrow

Well vacation is over and I am getting back into my routine.  In doing so, I would like to venture back into my series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Today's text is short, but powerful.
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide [is] the gate and broad [is] the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow [is] the gate and difficult [is] the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV
We live in a world today dominated by the ideas of tolerance and relative truth.  We live in a world were all that is not tolerated are views that are intolerant of others.  We live in a world of moral relativity where what is right for one person may not be right for another person, except of course if that morality is politically incorrect.  We live in a world where even truth is relative in that what might be my "idea" of God may not be the of another with all ideas being valid.  We are taught of a god in whatever manifestation we relate to that god in.  Jesus teaches us differently. 

Jesus begins "Enter by the narrow gate."  We are going to learn that it is only the narrow gate that will take us to eternal life.  There is no broad path to Heaven.  There is no relativistic view of God where one idea is just as valid as another.  There are no other paths of Heaven.  Jesus is the only way.  It is true that there are many paths to God.  In fact, all paths other than Jesus will lead you to God, only God will be sitting on a great white throne and it will only be to hear your eternal sentence.  The narrow gate is the only gate into Heaven as all other paths end at the wall of judgement. 

Jesus continues "for wide [is] the gate and broad [is] the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it."  And such are the popular easy paths to heaven believed by so much of the world today.  These are the paths where one can just be a "good person" or do "good deeds."  This is the path where one just has to have some semblance of a belief in some kind of god in order to go to a "better place" when they pass away.  This is the way to destruction.  This is the way to eternal separation from God.  This is the way to not the "better place" talked about by the world, but to a place that is worse than your worst possible nightmare.  Most of the world chooses this path.  Most of the world wants to revel in their sin and reject the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. 

I would also like to apply this passage to much of the church today.  First we have the ecumenical movements that join themselves with other faiths. They are trying to build another lane in the narrow gate, but all they are really doing is driving themselves on the broad way.  Jesus can not be joined with another other faith nor can any other faith be joined with Jesus.  Once you create that union, you no longer have Christianity. You have a new and false religion that will only lead to destruction.  This can also be applied to the part of the church that wants to continue to lead their worldly lives. Just as you can not join Jesus and any other faith, you also can not join Jesus with a worldly life.  Jesus is the narrow gate away from the broad wide way of the world so if you continue to find yourself on the road you really need to make sure you ever actually entered through the narrow gate.  The broad road will never lead to the narrow gate and the narrow gate will never take you to the broad road.  The Bible tells us to examine ourselves to make sure we are even in the faith.  If you find yourself living a worldly life while trying to maintain you are a Christian, you had better examine yourself.  This is especially true if you feel no conviction about it.  

Jesus the continues "Because narrow [is] the gate and difficult [is] the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."  Many wrongly believe that coming to Christ is like hitting the lottery.  Many believe that God wants us to have the good life.  Many believe that wealth, prosperity, and Easy Street are part of this life for those in the Lord.  Sadly, those believers and teachers disagree with our Lord.  Jesus promises us persecution, suffering, and trouble in the world.  For many of our brothers and sisters in other countries, this is a daily reality.  We have discussed before the promise of persecution and that our Lord tells us to count the costs of following Him.  Jesus is again making that position clear that the life for the Christian is not pie-in-the-sky easy.  It is not the "good life" as the world defines it, but the abundant life in our hope for what comes next as the Lord defines it. 

And it is at the concept of the abundant life where I want to end today.  Jesus calls the narrow and straight way "difficult."  The implication is that the broad road is easy in comparison.  Jesus also tells that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  Jesus also tells us that He has come to give us life, and life more abundantly.  There are several questions that arise.  The first is that if the broad road is easy, why would we need the easy burden of Jesus.  The other question is how can the difficult path be the abundant life?  There seems to be some contradiction.  We know that there is no error or contradiction in Scripture, so we need to examine how to harmonize those seemingly conflicting passages. 

The solution to the problem is that it is a matter of perspective.  From the perspective of the unsaved or worldly person, the narrow gate is hard.  The world sees the so-called "straight and narrow" as a hard and boring life.  Jesus is warning those who would come to follow Him that many of those things in their lives will necessarily have to be left behind.  Once you enter through that gate, though, you realize that you have gained much more than you have ever given up.  Sadly, many who even claim to have come to Christ never enter onto the straight and narrow path.  They seem to have found a pseudo-Christian lane on the broad highway, but never actually exit onto the narrow gate.  They never give up that worldly perspective and many churches are filled with that kind of "Christian."  The fact is that once you enter the narrow gate, those things that once seemed fun are now seen for the filthy sins that they are.  Once you enter the narrow gate, that life you though was easy is seen for the relentless slavery to sin and the flesh that it was.  It is the failure to see the changing perspectives where the churches that cater to the flesh fail.  They have no concept of the straight and narrow gate but teach everything in terms of the broad way.  The churches that teach that there is no need for righteous living in Christ deny the joy that comes in following the Lord.  They teach in terms of the broad way that the pleasure of sin and joy of the Lord are somehow compatible.  The churches that teach that a Christian is promised a life free from pain and illness deny the Scriptures that teach that His grace is sufficient for us.  The churches that teach that Christians should be successful in the world deny the Scripture that teaches that the world will hate us.  The churches that teach that Christians should be wealthy deny that Jesus calls us to forsake earthly treasures for our eternal ones waiting for us in Heaven.  Those churches define success, wealth, happiness, and fun by worldly standards and not by the eternal standards we are called to yearn for.  They call for the good life now when we are called to live in the hope of the eternal life to come. 

And that is why I have a hard time believing that so many who call themselves Christians are actually saved.  I am not making any judgements, just stating an opinion as ultimately only God truly knows. The problem I have is that there is no indication that they are on the narrow path.  In other words, there is no fruit in their lives.  They live the same they always lived or the same as anyone else on the broad road to destruction lives.  For them (and for teachers who lead them), the narrow gate is just a rest stop on the broad highway that they go through and get their heaven ticket punched.  Then they go right back on that broad road just as they always have.  The concept of the narrow gate is reduced to only mean coming to Jesus with no teaching on what that should mean for your life.  Well that is not entirely true as some teachers teach what that means for your life on the broad way.  They are right in that the narrow gate is coming to Jesus, but they fail to mention that the gate actually takes you somewhere.  It is not a rest stop on the broad way, but an exit.  It takes you in an entirely new direction and into an entirely new life. 

Again this all comes back to the beatitudes.  The narrow gate is the grace of God and the toll the the recognition of the wretches that we are.  Salvation is a free gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, but you can not call on a savior when you feel no need for one.  The problem I have is not so much that sin still exists in the lives of those worldly Christians I spoke of.  We all have sin in our lives and none of us will attain perfection in this life.  The problem I have is they do so with no conviction.  They do so without seeing anything wrong with it or any desire to change it.  They are happily traversing life on the broad road thinking that they are fine with God.  I can not see how someone who lives that kind of life could ever have come to the recognition of the wretches that they are.  How can one know how miserable and filthy they are have no desire to be cleansed?  I just do not see it. 

I urge you all, if you have not done so, exit through the narrow gate and find out what life is truly about.  Give up the illusion of happiness found on that dead-end road for the true joy of the Lord found in the narrow way that leads to eternal life.  It only seems hard from the outside, but once you are on it you will realize what a truly abundant life is all about.  Not only that, but think about the destination.  A road is just a means to get to another place.  One road ends in death, the other in eternal life.  One road will end at the Great White Throne Judgement of God and the other will end in paradise.  Jesus is the narrow gate and the only way that leads to eternal life. 
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6 NKJV

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