The Christian Life Is A Narrow Road
1. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared...." (Revelation 21:1, NLT). "...The souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held" (Revelation 6:9, NKJV) would welcome this prophetic news! For if you would recall, "...They cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth'" (Revelation 6:10, NKJV). Brethren, when "...the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth [and] ...the God of heaven... set up a kingdom [that] shall never be destroyed..." (Daniel 2:35 & 44, NKJV), the redeemed of the Lord will be prepared and ready "...to... [be at] home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, CJB), and the Lord will be delighted to have His people in His presence (Revelation 21:3, NLT | Exodus 25:8). Since the Fall, in Eden, God has yearned for the return of His people to Eden-like surroundings, where He can talk with them, face-to-face, as He did before transgression (Genesis 3:9). The songwriter, Carrie E. Breck, captured the exhilaration and intensity of the moment well with this thought—"Face to face with Christ, my Savior. Face to face, what will it be, when with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ who died for me" (Timeless Truths Free Online Library).
2. Christ is making ready our eternal abode. "...[He] lives on forever, and His work as priest does not pass on to someone else. And so He is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through Him, because He lives forever to plead with God for [us]" (Hebrews 7:24-25, GNT). Thus, His resurrection, ascension, and mediation guarantees a place, for us, in God's Kingdom (John 14:2, CJB | James 2:5 | Romans 8:34), if our "...sins... go ahead of [us] to judgment..." (1 Timothy 5:24, CJB). Does knowledge of the preparation that heaven is making for you cause you to pray—"Keep back your servant from deliberate sins! Don't let them control me..." (Psalm 19:13, NLT)? In the home that Christ has gone to prepare, "...the Lord of Heaven's Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat" (Isaiah 25:6, NLT). Prime your taste buds strict-vegans, because the cuisine offers five star dining. The ambiance of the reception and dinner will be so special and delightful, "...No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT). God is eager to issue this command to His angels—"Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice" (Psalm 50:5). Are we still on the topic—The Christian Life is a Narrow Road? Oh Yes! What you just received was the appetizer, the incentivization to walk the narrow road of the Christian life! When the going gets tough, as it will, you will need these assurances to tide you over until safely upon the eternal shores. Let us begin our descent into the esophagus of this topic.
3. The invitation to attend the heavenly banquet requires preparation. That preparation begins in this present life as you tread the narrow path God has marked out for you to run (Hebrews 12:1). "...His way is perfect.... He is a shield to all who trust in Him" (2 Samuel 22:31, NKJV). But for all who fail to trust and obey His requirements, sadness is reserved for them, though they responded to the call, yet failed to prepare for the reception (Jeremiah 8:20). Examine the parable that follows to understand the Scriptural basis for the asserted proposition—statements that expresses a judgment.
"The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. He sent his servants to tell the invited guests to come to the feast, but they did not want to come. So he sent other servants with this message for the guests—'My feast is ready now; my steers and prize calves have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!' But the invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his store, while others grabbed the servants, beat them, and killed them. The king was very angry; so he called his servants and said to them, 'My wedding feast is ready, but the people I invited did not deserve it. Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people. The king went in to look at the guests and saw a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend, how did you get in here without clothes?' ...But the man said nothing. Then the king told the servants, 'Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him outside in the dark. There he will cry and gnash his teeth" (Matthew 22:2-14, GNT)
This parable shows that wedding clothes is a key requirement for participation in the divine banquet. "So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen..." (2 Peter 1:10, NLT). But, does not the Scriptures teach—"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8, NKJV). Therefore, what do you mean by work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen? That is a very good question! I am so glad you asked. We will use that question to direct the remainder of this study as set forth below:
- Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate—¶ 4
- The narrow gate is the disciplined lifestyle of the set apart—¶ 5
- We have been empowered to walk through the narrow gate of the Christian life—¶ 6
- [God] will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber—¶ 7
- In this life, you are transformed into new creatures, made fit for Heaven—¶ 8
- In view of what lies ahead, do not despise the training camp Jehovah carries on through your life experiences—¶ 9
- Speak positively to your own mind amidst the vicissitude of life—¶ 10
4. "Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate…" (Matthew 7:13, TLB)! Another translation renders the verse this way—"Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it" (Matthew 7:13, CJB). Thus, do NOT get trapped by the herd effect—I am with the large group so we must be right or going the right way. Therefore, we seek the meaning of the term—narrow gate. Illustrations follow to clarify its meaning!
- "...Jesus said to His disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my followers, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me'" (Matthew 16:24, NLT). Salvation remains the gift of God to all repentant transgressors; but those who fail to comply with the sacrificial requirement of discipleship after accepting the free gift make light of the Gospel invitation, being distracted by their agendas, which stops them from "...[producing] fruit that will prove [they] really have turned from [their] sins to God" (Matthew 3:8, CJB) . Jesus described this group as "...those who were invited were not worthy" (Matthew 22:5, 8, NKJV). Are you partakers of the heavenly calling with which Christ has called you (Hebrews 3:1)? In other words, do you "...belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven..." (Hebrews 3:1, NLT)? Are you prepared for the midnight cry—"...Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him" (Matthew 25:6, NKJV). Do you live each moment of everyday as if in the very presence of Jehovah? It is NOT enough to have membership in the church on earth! You must make certain that you belong "to [the] community of the firstborn whose names have been recorded in heaven..." (Hebrews 12:23, CJB), "...written in the Lamb's Book of Life" (Revelation 21:27, CJB). There is a foolish boasting that goes on in our assembly that has NO place in our midst. We behave too much like God's ancient people who were "...so proud of knowing God's laws, but... dishonor Him by breaking them" (Romans 2:23, TLB). Has the concept of the narrow gate become any clearer to you? Standby! There is more to come.
- "...Everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls" (Luke 21:17-19, NLT). Are you ready to deal with rejection and opposition, largely because you follow Christ's way implicitly? "If you belonged to the world, the world would have loved its own. But because you do NOT belong to the world, on the contrary, I have picked you out of the world; therefore, the world hates you" (John 15:19, CJB). If thoughts of this hatred troubles you, then take this promise as your very own—"He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, I who was helpless in their hands" (Psalm 18:17, TLB). Has the concept of the narrow gate become any clearer to you? Standby! There is more to come.
- "...I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his statute, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4, NLT). There is a price to pay for discipleship. "If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live" (Mark 8:35, TLB). Salvation remains a free gift, but not like a gift of a Carnival cruise on an ocean going, luxury liner. Some of God's children pay the ultimate price, with their lives, while others sacrifice immensely for His sake, "...[counting] all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ..." (Philippians 3:8). Has the concept of the narrow gate become any clearer to you? Standby! There is more to come.
- "...These are the people who have come out of the Great Persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14, CJB). Daniel 12:1 presents a chilling and panoramic view of the closing scenes of earth's history. The children of God who live through that time will see unprecedented opposition from "...the beast... [with] a mouth speaking great things and... blasphemy against God... [who made] war with the saints, ...to overcome them..." (Revelation 13:3-7). Are you ready for such sacrificial living in the sight of Jehovah? One hopes the concept of the narrow gate is becoming clearer to you. The final illustration follows.
- "Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life" (Revelation 21:27, NLT). Are you a candidate for The Sealing (Revelation 7:2-3, NKJV)? Has your eligibility been confirmed? Is Paul's example instructive to you—"I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest" (1 Corinthians 9:27, GNT). Do you grasp, perhaps, in some greater detail, and with increased clarity, the meaning of narrow gate? This is an important concept to understand because "...many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14) to enter the narrow gate of the Christian life. Does your life reveal that you have entered the narrow gate and is traveling the narrow way or are you on the broadways of "...self-loving, money-loving, proud, arrogant, insulting, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, uncontrolled, brutal, hateful of good, traitorous, headstrong, swollen with conceit, loving pleasure rather than God as [you] retain the outer form of religion but deny its power" (2 Timothy 3:2-5, CJB | Romans 1:16)? Let us summarize the examples used to clarify the narrow gate concept, in the hope of making it easy to remember what it means, that perhaps we might use it to take an inventory of our lives.
5. The narrow gate is the disciplined lifestyle of the set apart (2 Timothy 2:4, CJB | Psalm 4:3, NKJV)! "For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child. As you endure this discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children..." (Hebrews 12:6-7, NLT). Really! Yes, really! This is a difficult pill to swallow, but we do well to remember a story reported by the apostle Paul of his experience in Christ. His narrative takes this form—
"...God was afraid I might be puffed up by [my experiences]; so I was given a physical condition, which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me and prick my pride. Three different times I begged God to make me well again. Each time He said, 'No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people. Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am. I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ's power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, TLB).
Dear friends, the comprehensive benefits of the adversity we experience and the voluntary bringing into subjection our natural tendencies only come to those, who in this life, are separating from sin—living to please the flesh. There is a serious work that requires your active and sustained cooperation IF GOD WOULD COMPLETE THE WORK HE BEGAN IN YOU (Philippians 1:6, NKJV)—the work of developing in you the character of Christ as "...we are being changed into His very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by Adonai the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18, CJB).
6. We have been empowered to walk through the narrow gate of the Christian life! "[Christ] carried the load of our sins in His own body when He died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on…" (1 Peter 2:24, TLB). What is the good life? For starters, God has declared, unequivocally that "...sin shall not have dominion over you..." (Romans 6:14, NKJV). Can you think of a better life than one in which sin has no power over you? Other dimensions of the good life include:
- "...Not [withholding] good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them" (Proverbs 3:27, NLT).
- "…Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God…. If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink…" (Romans 12:19-20, NLT).
- "…Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Matthew 5:44 | Luke 6:28, NLT).
We have identified a few behaviors that characterize the good life that will be evident in those who travel the narrow road of the Christian life. Have you begun to enjoy the Christian journey? There is a huge distinction between the Christian journey and mere church attendance—religiosity—and church service (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV)! Do not worry! We will not end this study on a sour note; instead, we will close it with inspiring hope.
7. "…[God] will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, He who watches over Israel never slumber or sleeps" (Psalm 121:3-4, NLT). "The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping His eye on both the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3, NLT). "The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you’" (Psalm 32:8, NLT). Therefore, "...we glory in tribulations..." (Romans 5:3). Or as Paul said, "...Part of my work is to suffer for you; and I am glad, for I am helping to finish up the remainder of Christ's sufferings for his body, the Church" (Colossians 1:24, TLB). "…God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers…" (Hebrews 6:10, NLT). "…Wait patiently for [the Lord] to act…" (Psalm 37:7, NLT). "The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise. …No, He is being patient…. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Peter 3:9, NLT). "Put your hope in the Lord. Travel steadily along His path. He will honor you…" (Psalm 37:34, NLT). Take these assurances as your intimate partner as you walk the Christian's journey, sometimes ever alone but never lonely, for the presence of God goes with you (Exodus 33:14). Be joyful in your spirit as you travel the narrow path in the kingdom of grace toward the kingdom of glory. It is His appointed path marked out for all His children, whom He has called out of the world. "...You don't belong to yourselves" (1 Corinthians 6:19, CJB). "...The way of humans is NOT in their control. Humans are NOT able to direct their steps as they walk" (Jeremiah 10:23, CJB). "...Whosoever will save his life shall lose it..." (Luke 9:24). "Listen to me, everyone! There are terrors, pits, and traps waiting for you. Anyone who tries to escape from the terror WILL fall in a pit, and anyone who escapes from the pit will be caught in a trap. ...The world is weighed down by its sins; it will collapse and never rise again" (Isaiah 24:17-20, GNT). In view of these things, and in the context of "...the God of heaven will establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed..." (Daniel 2:44-45, CJB); recognize that your safety and happiness is WITHIN God's narrow path marked out for you; "...therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20).
8. In this life, you are transformed into new creatures, made fit for Heaven. God accomplishes this work in you by sanctification, which perfects your character by His divinely appointed discipline. Where did you get that? Does not the Scriptures teach that "...trials will show that your faith is genuine... and... when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" (1 Peter 1:7, NLT)? Furthermore, does it not state "...everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12, NLT)? The fiery furnace of trials is inescapable! It is written "...that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). It is through the crucible of sore trials that the robes of our character are "...washed... and made... white..." (Revelation 7:14). Emphasis on role of trials in character development appears in two quotes from a publication titled—Sketches from the Life of Paul, p. 300, paragraphs 1 and 2. The reading amplifies the teachings of Scripture on sanctification by divine discipline.
"Where there are fewest difficulties to meet, the Christian is in the greatest danger of spiritual slothfulness. ...Constant exposure to rebuffs and opposition, will lead the Christian to greater watchfulness and more earnest prayer to the mighty Helper. Extraordinary trials, endured through the grace of God, will give... a deeper experience and greater spiritual strength, as vigilance, patience, and fortitude are called into exercise. ...He who has God for his friend and helper can afford to spend a long winter of chilling neglect, abuse, and persecution. By the grace which Christ imparts, he can maintain his faith and trust in God under the sorest trials. ...The triumph of the Christian faith is to suffer, and be strong; to submit, and thus conquer, to be killed all the day long, and yet to live; to bear the cross, and thus win the crown of immortal glory."
"...[Shall... trouble, hardship, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, [and] war] separate us from the love of the Messiah? As the Tanakh puts it, 'For your sake we are being put to death all day long. We are considered sheep to be slaughtered.' ...In all these things we are superconquerors, through the one who has loved us" (Romans 8:35-37, CJB). Never loose sight of the "...writing and the decree [that king Darius signed that can bring atrocities such as persecution, danger, and hunger] (Daniel 6:8:13). In addition to its original application, it represents the larger crisis that the people of God will experience on this earth. "The dragon... [is] furious... and [he] went off to fight against... all those who obey God's commandments and are faithful to the truth revealed by Jesus" (Revelation 12:17, GNT). In the last great struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness, John saw "...the great Euphrates River... [loosing water—which was later supported by The New York Times article published July 13, 2009—and]... three unclean spirits... coming out of the mouth of the dragon, ...the beast, and ...the false prophet. ...These spirits [of demons] go out to all the kings of the world, to bring them together for the battle on the great Day of Almighty God" (Revelation 16:12-14, GNT).
9. In view of what lies ahead, do not despise the training camp Jehovah carries on through your life experiences. "...In this world you find wickedness where justice and right ought to be" (Ecclesiastes 3:16, GNT). "But... [do not loose your] footing... [by becoming envious when you see] the proud... prosper despite their wickedness" (Psalm 73:2-3, NLT). "Pride goes before destruction, and arrogance before failure" (Proverbs 16:18, CJB). Because "Adonai detests all those with proud hearts..." (Proverbs 16:5, CJB), you should cooperate with God as He works in you to wash and cleanse you of pride and arrogance. Therefore, preserve in your consciousness that you are being fitted for eternity by "El Elyon—God Most High"—who is also "El Roi—God of Seeing"—who administers "Raphael—God's medicine" (Names of God in Judaism). If there is any lingering doubt in your mind about the active work of purification that God is conducting in your life, review His cleansing acts with Joshua (Zechariah 3:3-5, NLT). Then, as God works in you, "...reject the advice of the wicked; do not stand on the way of sinners or sit where scoffers sit, ...[all of whom] are lke chaff driven by the wind" (Psalm 1:1 & 4, CJB). "...Wait for what God has promised—new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home" (2 Peter 3:13, GNT) and you, made pure in the refinery of God's furnace—fiery trials, will have permanent residence there (Revelation 21: 3 & 27).
10. Speak positively to your own mind amidst the vicissitude of life. There is no need to mix anxiety and despair into your psychological constitution and permit them to harden like a concrete foundation. Thanks for the advice, but what should I say to my mind? Begin with this promise—"...our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description" (2 Corinthians 4:17, CJB). "...To anyone who is thirsty I Myself will give water, free of charge, from the Fountain of Life" (Revelation 21:6, CJB). Thus hydrated, "they are like trees planted by streams—they bear their fruit in season, their leaves NEVER wither. Everything they do succeeds." (Psalm 1:3, CJB). Know therefore that as long as we remain in the trenches of this earthly life and God is working on and with us, we can rest assured that God is doing for us what is in our best interest (Philippians 1:6 | Philippians 2:13 | Hebrews 13:20-21). "Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12, GNT). It is for precisely that reason Jesus said—"...I am coming soon! I will bring my rewards with me, to give to each one..." (Revelation 22:12, GNT). Cease complaining and be ever joyful in the Lord for His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). "...Keep the commandments of the Lord your God... for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations..." (Deuteronomy 4:1-6). "Wisdom is better than strength.... Wisdom is better that weapons of war..." (Ecclesiastes 9:16-18, NKJV). God has "...engraved you on the palms of [His] hands, your walls are always before [Him]" (Isaiah 49:16, CJB). He who "...arose and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, 'Peace, be still,' ...[is still saying], 'Why are you so fearful...'" (Mark 4:39-40)? The little storm of afflictions in your life is not to big for God to handle. "You'll Never Walk Alone" (Gerry and The Pacemakers or Wintley Phipps) unless you "...[wander] out of the way of understanding..." (Proverbs 21:16). Therefore, "...go in the way of understanding" (Proverbs 9:6)
Bro. Graham F. Watts, Sr.