Saturday, October 13, 2012
The Straight and Narrow Way
As Jesus neared the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount He summarized His message this way: 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" (Matt. 7:13,14; NKJV).
The idea that life involves a choice between two different possible courses of action was not new. In his farewell address, recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses declared, "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse . . .," which depended on whether or not Israel obeyed God's commandments (Dt. 11:26-28). And then, toward the end of his address Moses said, "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil," and challenged Israel to "choose life" (Dt. 30:15-20).
In the biblical worldview "good" is defined by the character of God and His creative purposes for man. The world, however, fails to conform to God's will, and so there is a resulting contest between good and evil. And so we must choose. We stand at the fork in the road, as it were, and must decide whether to take the path on the left or the one on the right. The decision we make will affect our lives for many years to come.
The one path looks attractive and appealing. It is broad and wide. There is plenty of room for everybody. The eager crowds are pressing through it. But what the crowds do not know or understand is where the path eventually leads. According to Jesus, it leads to "destruction," a term which in the Bible has frightful overtones of eternal damnation.
And then there is the other path. This one looks much less inviting. And it is narrow and "difficult" (the Greek word here means "constricted" or "confined," suggesting a lifestyle that is strict and disciplined). Not surprisingly this road is not nearly as popular as the other: "there are few who find it." But for those who do it pays off handsomely: in the end they receive eternal life!
The broad way seems to offer freedom, ease, and comfort. The other path calls us to lives of self-sacrifice and submission to God's authority. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). The first path is congenial to human nature. All we have to do is give in to our natural inclinations and desires. People who become atheists often exclaim, "At last – I'm free to be myself"!
The other path is much more difficult. It seems as if we are constantly at war with ourselves, trying to hold back our natural impulses and desires in order to achieve a distant goal.
The first path, however, doesn't really bring us freedom. Instead our impulses enslave us. Our behavior becomes increasingly compulsive, anti-social and self-destructive – just ask anyone who has tried to loose weight or quit smoking! In the end, amid the ruins of our health, finances and relationships, we are powerless to help ourselves. We have walked into a dungeon and the steel door has snapped shut behind us.
On the other hand, hard as it may seem to believe, there is a peace and joy to be found in living the way God wants us to. We are at one with our Creator, and hopefully have improved relationships with others. We experience a newfound freedom; not a freedom to do as we please, but a freedom from our own compulsive and irrational behavior. God is love, and to know Him is to be filled with divine love.
Very often a young adult is filled with guilt and shame, because he knows that his life isn't what it should be. There are two ways to resolve the tension. One way is to deny God and throw the whole thing overboard. The other way is to surrender to Christ, receive forgiveness, and begin living in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Atheism offers a fool's paradise. While the atheist may try to convince himself that he is living a happy, fulfilled life, it is all based on the premise that is likely to prove false in the end – the premise that there is no God. The gospel, on the other hand, offers us the opportunity to live in harmony with our Creator and to enjoy eternal life hereafter.