Monday, July 25, 2016

What is meant by the narrow path?

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7:13, 14

When Jesus came into the world, he certainly upset the natural order of things. We see him cleansing his Father’s temple by driving out the money changers, and we see him making apparent outlandish statements such as, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” The disciples assumed that suffering was a sign of sin, which God was sovereignly punishing, something that had been assumed by man at least since the days of Job. But Jesus taught them, saying, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The meek? Ridiculous! What can he be talking about? Everyone thought that the truly meek were the last in line for everything. Instead, what Jesus said was to confound traditional thought, something that he did often.

But there is another way in which Jesus upset the natural order of things, for he taught that the way to heaven was but a narrow one, and that few there were that would find it. This upsetting teaching is perhaps the most rejected of men and women of our day. It is not that, they say, I do not believe that the way is narrow, but rather that they say, surely a God of love includes everyone in his plan. I have seen many a funeral where the dead person has exhibited no faith, none at all, but in his eulogy is assumed somehow to be accepted of God. All of us, properly so, are reluctant to speak evil of the dead—but the scripture is plain, “he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”. So what we hear at a eulogy often bears little resemblance to the deceased. We somehow convince ourselves that somehow that difficult person was able to unsay and undo the things that made up his life, though we often have no evidence of any last minute conversion. I think this is perhaps one of the best proofs of what our society believes: that somehow God overlooks our faults and forgets our sin.

This ill-defined belief system has been spreading its tumor-like growth throughout society for many generations. Even Spurgeon, Calvinist though he was, believed that the world was coming to a point where everyone would be a Christian, and there would not be any unbelief. In fact, early in the last century (and before), many Christians and non-Christians alike were leagued together with a gigantic fabulous plan in which they figured man would at last begin getting it right. Heaven on earth would be established, for the Christian, many who were sincere and devout, believed that Christ would finally return to an earth which was properly prepared for him. The non-Christians especially liked the part about self-improvement, and a plan which so obviously deified the exaltation of mankind, and thus were more than willing to ally themselves with their religious counterparts. But such beliefs ignore Zacharias and John (in Revelation), major prophecies which point to a world at the end that is rebellious and antagonistic to God, calling for the judgment and discipline of God himself. I would think that whatever one’s interpretation of Revelation and Zachariah, that at least one would see that the times of the end are calling out for, and receiving deserved judgment. Instead, men have been able to delude themselves with the proposition that things are getting better, and that surely we can make heaven, just around the corner.

Such beliefs were absolutely contrary to the teachings of Jesus who taught that the spiritual experience had to begin with something called being “born-again” (John 3). Even Nicodemus could not avoid the necessity of the new birth, and even being a teacher of the Law and a religious leader of his time could not abrogate the necessity of being born again.

The road to Hell is most often a quiet walk, where a soul journeys through life, always delaying the hard decisions for a few more miles, fooling themselves with whispers of false confidence, insisting that but a little more effort and a few more steps and it will be alright, that God will surely look at me and see my good heart, that somehow my very soul, neglected and drought-stricken, will be watered and taken care of by divine mercy, no matter that I have rejected that mercy made freely available. Quiet souls, kindly souls, gentle and sweet souls will line the road to Hell, not ever being allowed to see themselves as rebellious against God until it is too late. The angel of light is able to make such things glitter with the brightness of gold until the journey’s end, when it is too late, when we realize we have been had, and in the final sense of the word. Welcome to Hell!

And the deception deepens. Modern man, as I have already tried to show, has throughout history always been modern. There never was a generation who thought they did not know better, that they did not have more understanding, that they were finally doing better, and that better times were just around the corner. Somehow man maintains this delusion even in the face of a crumbling world around him. In part, the delusion is maintained by the accumulation of knowledge, something that is happening at simply an astounding rate, because of our libraries and our depth and breadth of knowledge continues even as our public schools fail in teaching basic reading. How can we be creating an illiterate society and an advanced society at the same time? Do we not even see that they are in contradiction to each other? I fear for those who do read, for most of those are now bereft of a moral compass, and frequently want to carry our society into newly-evolved directions, not realizing that men have many times tried those ways before, and they have been found wanting. There remains but one narrow and hard-to-find path, and few there are that find it.

I am told that 25% of the world claims to be Christian, of one sort or another. Even if I were to take this number at face value, believing it totally, that still leaves 75% of the world careening their way to Hell. No wonder Jesus said broad is the way to Hell, and many there are on that road. In my mind the more tragic of these is found in America, where many are so close to the gospel, living by good rules, and having a form of godliness, but not understanding its dynamic—missing the essential part of Christianity while coasting along with some of its benefits. Therefore, at the end of this piece, I want to simply describe that narrow way. Paul asks us to examine ourselves, to see whether we be in the faith or not.1

The song “I Can Only Imagine” has it exactly backwards, though a beautiful and favorite of mine. I cannot begin to imagine, so the refrain saying I can only imagine should be I cannot begin to imagine. I find myself thinking of the last trip, that of death, which comes to us all, until the day of the Lord, and in my thinking I wonder about so much. I have come to believe that it is probably not anything like I have imagined, that God had worked to make it far more personal and meaningful to each of us than we can begin to appreciate. Jesus said I go now to prepare a place for you, and certainly two thousand years is a long time for preparation. I daresay we never stop with our awe and wonder at what he has done, especially after we are allowed to finally see it. At that point, the body of the Bride will be fitly joined and made, each of us complimenting others, and together, without absenting even one, the Lord will make his bride complete.

In John 17, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus mentions this one request no less than four times.2 Why would Jesus pray to the Father, saying something four times? Did he not know his Father was always listening? Of course he did, and that is made plain in other passages (his prayer for Lazarus). He repeats the prayer for our sake, that we might not miss one of the most important parts of the Lord’s prayer. He prays four times very close to the same thing, that we might be one, even as he and the Father are one. He did not want us to miss the importance of being one.

In the times of a Great Awakening, the church does seem to be able to lay aside many of the doctrinal differences to focus on the agreement that we have in having the same Lord by faith. At those times we are but, I feel, a poor reflection of the unity that we will one day have. Imagine the saints gathered together, the faithful from every Christian creed, believing a loving the appearance of our Lord in the same main way, but having other emphasis in which we appreciate our Lord a bit differently. I think it will be but the beginning of an eternity of wonder as we appreciate the little differences in the Lord that each of us have focused on. Will not the Lord bless and encourage those differences?

I speak not of those on the broad path to hell; but rather I speak of those God has already winnowed out: the faithful. Truly the path is narrow, and few there are that find it, but in that day, the splendor of the diversity of the Bride will become something that shines out as a witness of the splendor of the Lord. Indeed, Revelation tells us that the righteousness of the saints will be the clothing for the Bride on the day that the Lord comes to claim his own.3 I believe on that day we will see all with faith in Christ, but finally, on that day, we will see the majesty of what God has done in and through the church. So while the path is narrow—having only the vehicle of faith to navigate it successfully—there will be the great differences of those he has chosen, all together bonded into an indivisible unity. Oh precious is the plan of God! How awesome it is that we shall be part of it!

1. The Romans Road is a simple concise and Biblical way to check your salvation:

A. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23
This is a simple recognition of what I was talking about in the space above. We want to do it our way and we are always working at self-reformation. It does not work, and every one of us is wrong—not just wrong by such things as losing our temper, but wrong in the basis of our very nature.

B. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
God loves us and has made a way of escape, if we will but believe the good news. What better news for the soul than to realize that Christ died for you, loving you, and making a way for you to come to him.

C. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:23
The wages of sin (doing wrong) is death, which results only in condemnation from God.
The gift of God is eternal life, which comes because of commendation from God. I say commendation because from henceforth when God looks at you, he will no longer see your sin but rather see his Son who died for that sin.

D. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
Romans 10:9
Believing God sent his Son to die for you because he loves you is the only thing God desires from you. He wants none of our works, no matter how fine we might believe them to be. He only wants us to confess or agree with God that Jesus, raised from the dead, is your only hope of salvation.

When you do these things, heaven begins a work in your heart involving a multitude of actions, all on God’s part, that takes place miraculously. If you have done it sincerely, coming to God as you are, the Bible tells us that all of heaven rejoices over your finding life. By doing these things, you have become a new creature, a born-again person. Essentially, then salvation is nothing about you except your believing (or acceptance), and everything about the work of God.

2. The four mentions in the Lord’s Prayer for unity of believers:
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
John 17:11

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me
John 17:20-23

3. Revelation 19:8, And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

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