(Two Cliffs – Part 1 of 2) (See Part 2 of 2 here)
Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Jesus said the only way that leads to life is a very narrow path. I don't believe that narrow path which Jesus talked about has fences on both sides which keep us from going off the path. I believe instead, I should see it as having a cliff on each side. And just like if we were walking across a narrow bridge with no railing and would be careful to stay exactly in the center of it, if we are wise we always want to remain in the absolute center of God’s will all the time. The further we carelessly allow ourselves to drift away from the Lord and the center of His will, the more dangerous it is.
The Lord has warned me personally of two cliffs on each side of the narrow path that are extremes which can be temptations to fall into – the first is worldliness (being so careless toward God, and caught up with the things of the world), and the other is religiosity (being so caught up and serious about religion itself – the laws, outward practices, good works, rules, doctrines, etc - and forgetting about God Himself and real Christian love). They are like two extremes on opposite sides of the narrow path, but both can lose God and ultimately fall away from Him if they are continued on an unrepented of.
CLIFF 1: WORLDLINESS
James 4:4 “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Regarding the first cliff of worldliness, let’s take the example of a man named Demas who traveled around with the apostle Paul and served the Lord with him. (What follows is an embellished story of an actual person in the Bible, for sake of illustration – Phm 1:24, Col 4:14, 2 Tim 4:10). Demas followed Paul faithfully for a very long time. He saw him preach day and night, going to visit people in their homes, going to synagogues, seeing Paul painfully enduring harsh circumstances and harsh treatment for the sake of Christ. Demas doesn’t receive the same persecution, but he sees Paul's great sacrifice, and so the life of Paul impresses him and challenges him. But one time in their travels, him and Paul were lacking some money, and he encouraged Paul to go ask the church for some money. Paul said, "No, I trust God to provide for our needs, I refuse to be a burden on them and want to set an example." And so for the next week Paul stayed up late every night sewing pieces of cloth together into a large tent so he could sell it (trusting God and working hard are not contradictory!) Paul had to cut back on food that week to make ends meet, he didn’t ask Demas for any help, and he was still preaching and exhorting the church often both in the days into the night. Nobody else in the fellowship knew what was going on with their financial lack besides Demas.
At the end of the week Paul sold his tent and made enough money so he could support himself and Demas the rest of the month, and they didn’t have to ask the church for even one cent! They could continue on. Demas criticized him saying, "We should’ve just asked the church for some money. Didn’t you yourself say that a laborer is worthy of his wages? We’ve hardly had any food or even a decent place to sleep. If you insist on not taking money from the churches, we should at least work to store up a big savings so this doesn’t happen again."
And Paul replied to Demas, "I do all things for sake of the gospel. But you’d better be careful Demas, to strive to enter in through the narrow gate - that you consider God Himself the only thing you really need in this life, that you’ve surrendered everything else in your heart. You will be wise to seek the Lord for full freedom from the love of the world, because we know that many after chasing after that have pierced themselves with many griefs and even left the Lord all together (1 Tim 6:10). Be careful."
Fast-forward a few years later. For Demas, one thing led to another. Those subtle indicators of love of the world slowly turned into what Paul had foreseen. Demas disregarded Paul's voice, and his love for the world only grew from there, one instance at a time. He inched closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. Eventually, one day an opportunity came up for Demas to join a band of dishonest traders who traveled around selling mediocre merchandise and making a large profit... and they were very good at it. So he decided to join them. After a little bit of an inward struggle and feeling the tug of the temptation for the world which he had not been fighting up to this point, he left Paul, then soon left the Lord altogether. Demas never fought or hated his inward love for the world, so it grew and grew as his love for the Lord only shrunk… until eventually his love for the world outweighed his love for God, which dwindled to nothing. Demas gained the world but ultimately lost his own soul.
"Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me" - Paul (2 Timothy 4:10)
That’s cliff number one: the cliff of worldliness. Demas fell off the narrow path and lost Jesus. If we don't want to fall off of that cliff, we have to seek to be fully free from the love of this world. Because if we allow the idols in our heart to remain, they will grow and eventually they can shipwreck our faith altogether. I've seen desires for 'other' things outside of God grow, and it has choked my spiritual life every time (Mark 4:19). I've had to repent from that many times and tell the Lord again that I want Him to be the only thing important to me. I've seen how we have to seek everyday to be 'All in' for the Lord – to continue to tell ourselves, He is the only thing that really matters in this life. The standard we have to aim for (even though we are not there yet) on this narrow path is: in our own hearts to count everything outside of Christ as worthless (Php 3:8). If we are aiming for that, then we will get closer and closer to walking completely in the middle of that narrow path where the Lord is everything, and everything else is nothing to us. This is God’s highest and best will for us. The safest and happiest place in all of the universe is in the very center of God’s will.
Luke 14:33 (TLB) "No one can become my disciple unless he first sits down and counts his blessings—and then renounces them all for me."
(Two Cliffs – continued – Part 2 of 2)