Recently, after enjoying coffee at our favorite spot in the charming little town of Blowing Rock, NC, my wife (the more adventurous one) suggested we take an unfamiliar road out of the town just to see where it would take us. It started out pavement, but shortly turned to gravel. It was a narrow, rough, and very curvy road and we took it for six or so miles. It was a beautiful drive through a forest and we saw few cars along the way. We finally decided to turn around after consulting our GPS and seeing we had another 12 miles to go in the opposite direction of home before reaching a main highway.
Roads like the one we traveled are not used much except by those who live on them, because there are many more wide and smooth roads on which to travel. I remember when I lived in Lawrence, Kansas telling people from out of state that what they saw from Interstate 70 on their way west to the Rocky Mountains did not tell the true story of what our small city and the surrounding area looked like. But most people prefer traveling on the highways because it is faster and easier. Most don’t concern themselves with what they are missing.
Spiritually, I think this is also true. As Jesus said, “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) People naturally want an easy road on which there are a lot of people. From the very beginning, following Jesus has been costly, about which he warned his disciples and others many times. (Luke 9:23-24; Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 14:25-33) Routinely, over the centuries, men and women have been persecuted, even to the point of death, for their faith in Jesus Christ. That is still true today. This is why Jesus says the path he walks on is narrow and few find it. It is difficult; it is rough; and it is often not that appealing to the worldly mind. Similarly, while there are some who enjoy the adventure and the hidden treasures of narrow roads, most prefer to travel by highway.
In our modern era, there has been a trend of wanting to make the narrow road that leads to life much wider and more appealing. For many churches, that began with the only requirement to become a Christian was to recite the “sinner’s prayer,”
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.
Or in my tradition, to make a confession of Jesus as Lord and be baptized. The desire was to see more people come to know Jesus, a worthy pursuit indeed, but rarely was there follow-up or discipleship, and little or no emphasis on the cost of such a decision. Yet, Jesus never made it easy to follow him. If he had, he would have never referred to the gate and road being narrow and that few would find it.
In the past two decades, the attempts to make it easier to follow Jesus have increased. In essence, many are teaching no change is required in your life other than those you think need to be made in order to follow the Lord. It’s really up to you; the Lord loves you regardless. This would be great if only Jesus validated this in his teachings. Who wouldn’t love that! Live how we want and still be rewarded with eternal life.
Yet, if we read the Scriptures, there is no wide and easy path for those who desire to follow the Lord. It is only the narrow one which leads to true life. On this path, we no longer live as we want, but as the Lord wants. We live solely for his pleasure and purpose, not our own. And, here’s the hard part, we suffer along with him. We suffer insults, threats, slander, deprivation, and, perhaps even, imprisonment and death.
And yet, while this way is difficult, the Lord is there leading us. Psalm 23 is a good reminder of this. And in the midst of the challenges, he is molding us and refining us into the people he created us to be. Most of us are terrified by the prospect of being transformed because that which holds us back must be removed. The narrow road of following Jesus is the refining journey. It is difficult, but reaching the end is glorious, like the ascent to a mountain summit. The end result makes all the difficulties along the way worthwhile. And, again, the Lord is with us every step of the way.
Like the old story of the child who sought to aid an emerging butterfly from its chrysalis by tearing it open, the effort to make things easier only leads to tragedy. When repentance and righteousness are removed as part of our understanding of salvation, we are setting up people for spiritual heartbreak. Though only God can judge people’s hearts, I am afraid that by making following Jesus a wide highway, they are likely to experience this horrendous moment,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
These things I know to be true: The Lord wants all people to be saved, because he loves them. His love compels him to want the best for us, even if that is not what we want. Heaven is not like Disney World, where everyone just has a good time. It is the place where God rules and is for people who worship him and accept his authority over their lives. As C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce, people who want to live life on their own terms won’t want to reside in Heaven. It is not for them. To enter Heaven, we must be willing to do more than say some magic words; we must surrender our lives to his will.
As Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6) There is only one road and it is a narrow one, which few are interested traveling on. Let’s try to convince them otherwise, but not by trying to make it less difficult. Rather, let’s make it more attractive through the transformation they see in us as we follow Jesus.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version 2011.