In his book, The Journey, Billy Graham wrote, “Life…has a starting point…[and] an end…But…it also has a middle—and that is our real journey; those years between our birth and our death.” We are, indeed, on a journey, but because our existence will terminate at a given point in time, we must be diligent to spend it wisely, for even Jesus acknowledged, “…the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)
“Of which I [Paul] became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.” (Ephesians 3:7)
God has been gracious to raise up many ministers of His grace to remind us of the brevity of life and the importance of obeying God. Billy Graham is one such person, and there have been many others. Yet James 3:1-2 warns, “…let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things.” The responsibility of attempting to convey God’s truth to others is serious, because we do not want to be guilty of misrepresenting the Lord of heaven and earth, and we should always be careful to “rightly divide [handle] the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Yet having said that, we are also commanded to“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14) God commands us to exhort each other to faithfully continue in the things we have learned from Him. Yet, we cannot continue in the truth if we don’t understand it.
It is amazing how we struggle to grasp the message of the Bible. God has given us this sacred book, most people have at least some access to it, yet there is so much misunderstanding regarding its message. When you look at the various Christian denominations, you are immediately struck by the fact that apart from the cults that distort truth for personal gain, most get at least part of the message right. Yet in focusing on one particular aspect of Scripture, others get missed. Catholicism, for example, emphasizes obedience to the point that many believe salvation is through works. Lutherans preach faith, yet the fact that God equates faith with obedience is sometimes underemphasized. So what should we do? Are we to focus on faith or obedience, or something else entirely? As followers of Christ we must not ignore what we don’t understand, or what doesn’t fit in neatly with what we’ve been taught, because the entire message is important.
Jesus taught much during His earthly ministry; because He is our Savior, the Son of God and the Word made flesh, we must be diligent to understand it. Take this particular passage in the book of Matthew, for example:
“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…
It is probably a rare individual who hasn’t heard this verse at some point in his life, but I wonder how many of us actually grasp what Jesus is saying. These two roads are the journey—our lives. Everyone is on one of these two roads: either the wide one that is easy to get to and which many others are travelling on, or the narrow one which is difficult and which few find.
Jesus says that most people are on the big road. They’re on it because others are doing the same, it’s easy, and, quite honestly, probably pleasant. Yet it is literally the “highway to hell,” because it leads to eternal destruction. He says that the alternative which leads to life is difficult, and that few people find it.
Which one are you on? It is important that we not assume we’re on the right one because we go to a good church, got baptized, or did some other ceremony; many people do this, yet only a few find the narrow, difficult path. Jesus is digging deeper than that. This is about how you’re living—who you really are. What is really important to you—your own desires, or God’s? It is important to come to terms with which road you’re on. Is it the one that will bring you to an eternity with God, or to a rightly deserved judgment, because you spent it ignoring God and pleasing yourself?
“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, not can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Jesus is giving us a way to tell apart those who follow God from those who don’t, but at the same time He’s also giving us a gauge for determining the same thing of ourselves. The lives of those who belong to God reveal a pattern of good fruit—obedience to what God says. Those who live for themselves bear bad fruit—their lives show that they prefer themselves above God. Which one am I?
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!
Lawlessness is that which is contrary to God’s will—in other words, choosing sinful desires over what God says is right. Here Jesus cuts to the chase—He separate those who are His from those who aren’t, and the thing He uses to make this determination isn’t what many Christians would expect. He doesn’t ask for externals, such as walking an aisle in church, or praying to accept Him as Savior. More than that, He even disqualifies that which we today would clearly consider evidence of genuine Christianity—prophesying, casting out demons, and doing miracles—if these individuals also practice lawlessness. Please let me repeat—even prophesying, casting out demons, and working miracles are not guarantees of salvation!!! The only thing Jesus identifies as a quality of those who enter in is doing the will of the Father in heaven—that’s it!
Now before we get confused and think this is saying salvation is through works rather than the grace of God through Christ, let’s remember that God equates belief with obedience. Hebrews 3:18-19 says, “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest [refers to the Israelites and the Promised Land of Canaan], but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” In God’s eyes, genuine saving belief always generates obedience.
So what will you do? Nothing, and continue down the easy and wide road—if that’s the one you’re on? Or finally wake up and follow Christ?
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings, of Mine, and does them, I will liken [compare] him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:13-14, 17-27)
Thank You for the ministers of Your grace who are faithful to warn us and encourage us to get our lives in order. Help us examine our lives honestly and get off the wrong road, if we find that that is the road we have been on. Help us choose You, and the narrow road that leads to eternal life. Amen.