How many choices have you made today?
A psychologist friend once asked me what I thought was the most important thing I could teach my young children. He said the most important thing is to TEACH THEM TO MAKE GOOD DECISIONS. Each choice we make, each decision we face can determine how our day goes, how life goes.
Christ came making the same challenge, saying, "No man can serve two masters: for he will either hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve both God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). He has been calling on these people to make a decision ever since He started this sermon. He has called on them to SERVE GOD THE PHARISAIC WAY OR HIS WAY.
All these people were at the crossroads and needed to make a choice about which way they would go. In our text today, verses 13ff, Jesus envisions mankind at the crossroads of life. He is asking them to choose between two paths.
The easiest path has a wide gate, wide downhill path. It is more inviting. It
is easy to enter. It requires no sacrifice at all. It is spacious, roomy and
accommodative. It is the easy way because it takes no effort to travel it,
and it is a smooth, downhill trek. The people who follow this way follow their
own inclinations. There is room here for all kinds of people to walk.
The whole crowd, without a purpose beyond themselves, may go about doing good deeds or evil ones, as it happens to please them. They all follow their own inclinations. They do as they please and think they are enjoying liberty! The way is alluring at first, and many who travel it scarcely realize that they are in reality -captives. Jesus says they are slaves to sin. (John 8:34.)
The other path is not so inviting. In Luke 13:24 we're told we must STRIVE to enter this gate. "Strive" gives us the idea an agonizing effort is involved. Entrance involves painful toil and fervent labor, because the gate is narrow and difficult to enter. If one does seek this path, he'll find he cannot enter with heavy money bags, representing ill-begotten gain. The way is too small. One cannot enter carrying the world and its pleasures; it is too large to go through the gate. One cannot enter with self-righteousness on his back or harsh judgements on his breath. They are too cumbersome to fit through.
There is room for any man. But to enter, he must let Christ remove his sins. It may be entered only by those stripped of all excess baggage of the world. The gate is barely large enough for a man to pass through kneeling in humility. Once through the gate, the way is filled with opposition. Those who travel it will face struggle, self-discipline, strenuous effort and much hardship. Those who travel down this road are required to have resolution. They should be ready to sacrifice, practice self-denial, and be ready to renounce all evil. The narrow way is the LIVING WAY, the WAY OF HOLINESS, and the WAY OF CHRIST.
Probably all of us here have made the decision long ago to follow that narrower, uphill path to salvation and an eternal life with God in Heaven. But in verses 21ff we find another problem. MANY who thought they were on the straight and narrow path have been misled and are actually traveling away from God and what they were seeking. How could this happen? I believe the people in verse 22 were very sincere in their search for God. Very confusingly, they reply, "Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" That sounds like they were producing good fruits. They had been doing what they THOUGHT was God's work. They THOUGHT God had been working through them. They THOUGHT they were traveling down that straight, narrow, difficult path. But the Lord says to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers." What a shock they are in for. How tragic a mistake. To think you have been traveling down a difficult path toward God, just to find out the DEVIL has actually been putting those difficulties there to fool you. And now your eternal soul is his property. You thought you had made the right decision earlier, only to find out you were fooled. The paths sound so different in the text. Narrow vs. wide, difficult vs. easy. How could one make such a mistake? How could one be so utterly deceived? Satan is the only answer. He knows many want to be with their heavenly Father, but he doesn't want them there. So he sets out to deceive those eager to find God.
I find it hard to believe anyone would purposely lead anyone astray. I guess it happens. Mostly it is innocently/blindly done. How do we know if we have truly found the way to God and not chosen the wide, easy path? After all, we face very little persecution these days. Not many people oppose our worshipping God. Do we really face that many more obstacles and hurdles than those who haven't chosen to seek the Lord? Can we recognize it if we are on the wrong path? Before you think, I can't be wrong, too many people believe the way I do - check back in verses 13, 14, and 22 that say many will be on the wrong path, even unknowingly.
How do you know if you are following God? How do you know He won't say to you, "Depart from me, I never knew you"? I'M TALKING TO EVERYONE IN HERE, not just a few. How do you know your preacher, teacher, parents, lecturer has not led you astray? We are all human and capable of erring and being led astray, too.
Each time we study, we have a tendency to come with preconceived ideas (ideas we've been taught). We come to a certain section and say, "Oh, yes, this is going to teach us . . .," or "confirm my idea of . . ." For example, when we got to the Lord's Prayer I was thinking,"Oh, we'll have to teach this..." As I began studying it, I decided that idea wasn't right. Someone had unknowingly misled me to believe an idea they had been taught. I was about to teach the same idea again. The idea made sense, but it wasn't Biblical. We can't do that. We should come with an open mind, see what God has to say, then compare that with our old ideas and see if we need to change those old ideas. That's the only way I know of to keep from being led astray. Never be afraid or ashamed to challenge old ideas. Our souls depend on this. YOU MUST KNOW THE TRUTH. Not just the preacher. You must know the truth to be certain of eternal life. We can be certain (I John 5:13, 14). I don't mean to plant doubt in everyone's mind, but we are each responsible for seeking the Lord and His truth. We can't chance that on anyone else's knowledge.
If you find error, get it corrected no matter how much it hurts. Remember, the true way is difficult.
The purpose of this class is for each of us to draw nearer to God by earnestly seeking His way - not our way, not Mom and Dad's way, not our preacher's way - but God's way. God never intended for us to put our salvation in anyone's hands other than Jesus'.
I know this is a harsher lecture than you are used to hearing, than I like to give. You may think I am doing unto you as I wouldn't want done to me, by challenging you to think and question what you have been taught. I assure you, if you think I'm wrong, it is in my best interest for you to come to me. So, yes, I do want that done to me.
I believe this is Jesus' message here. It is our responsibility to check our beliefs out and make sure they are compatible with what Jesus taught. Make sure they are the same beliefs and practices of Peter and Paul as they shared with believers. Can we do that? Only if we use the Bible as our only source of religious instruction. Throw man's ideas out. By using God's word as our standard, we should have no fear of His judgement. Let's go back to first century Christianity. Let's make sure what we are exercising has not become corrupted by mortal man over the past nineteen centuries. In Acts 17, Paul says the Berean brethren were noble because they listened to what Paul had to say, then searched the scriptures DAILY, not just once, to see if these things he taught were from God. They were daily fruit inspectors.
That's why this study exists. So we will find the truth. The truth will set us free of this world's snares. Then we will be free to enter that narrow gate - the chosen gate to God's eternal rest.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR