The Narrow Way

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 10

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it.  For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

How many times have you heard the straight and narrow way described as a way of life?  We are taught all kinds of sin management ideas for staying on the straight and narrow or how to keep our fellow believers in line on the straight and narrow way.

I don’t believe that Jesus is describing a way OF life at all.  This passage is a picture of the way TO life.  Legalists like to focus on what it takes to stay on the straight and narrow; what rules must be followed to keep on this path of right living; what man-made traditions will keep us on the straight and narrow.

Let me give you this assurance.  When you believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ you entered into the narrow way.  When you believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you entered through the narrow gate.  How do I know that?  Jesus is the narrow way.  Jesus is the narrow gate.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ “ (John 14:6).  Jesus is the narrow way.  And entering by this way, entering by faith in Jesus, puts us on the path to life.

“I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I come that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:9-10).  Jesus is the narrow gate.  And entering by this gate, entering by faith in Jesus, puts us on the path to life.  When we enter the narrow way by the narrow gate through faith in Jesus, we receive the promise of life eternal and life abundant.  This promise is yours today.

The narrow way is not a lifestyle of rules to follow.  It is the path TO life; promised to all who believe in Jesus.  Please, don’t worry if you are doing enough to stay on the straight and narrow.  Please, do not carry an angst about whether or not you are on the straight and narrow.  Please, do not let shame-inducers make you question your salvation and suggest that you are on the broad way leading to destruction if you are not doing well enough in your righteous efforts.

Is righteous living important?  Yes, and it is grace that teaches us to deny ungodliness and live righteous lives.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).  Christ living His life through us is how we experience this grace to live righteously.  This is a large topic for another day, but back to our main point.

You can rest in the assurance that if you have believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have entered by the narrow gate and you are firmly and safely and eternally on the narrow way.  Your path is secure.

Bread or Stones?

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 9

People today are asking for bread.  Folks today are looking for life.  And that life is only found in Jesus.  Jesus is the bread of life.  Let’s never forget the “OF LIFE” part of Jesus’ declaration.  He is the bread that gives us life.

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ “ (John 6:35).  “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).

Bread is a picture of the new covenant.  Life is the promise of the new covenant.  How are we answering the request of people seeking life?  Are we offering bread or are we giving them stones?

When we preach the new covenant, we offer the bread of life.  When we preach the new arrangement between us and God whereby we are completely forgiven by Jesus’ finished work on the cross, we preach life.  When we teach Christ’s life now fused with ours to live the Christian life, we offer the power of Christ in us.

But when we preach that the old covenant is still part of our new life in Christ, we are offering cold hard stones in place of soft life-giving bread.  Stone is a picture of the old covenant.  The ten commandments were written on tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12).  Our old covenant heart was described as a “heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26).  The apostle Paul referred to the old covenant as “the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones” (II Corinthians 3:7).

Is Jesus making a subtle reference to the two covenants in Matthew chapter 7?  “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9).

When seekers are asking for bread, are we delivering stones; old covenant precepts to follow and obey?  Our friend David Moss calls them “stone sandwiches”; preaching the bread of grace on the outside, but a big fat stone of old covenant law-abiding requirements when people take a bite.  Are we adding law, rules, and regulations to the message of grace?

May we always offer the bread of life; unadulterated, unchanged, and without additives.

Loving One Another

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 8

“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets“ (Matthew 22:39-40).

Now we come to the second great commandment in the Law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Again, this is an old covenant command.  So let me cut right to the chase.  For new covenant believers, “loving others as you love yourself” puts the bar way too low.

In John chapter 13, Jesus gave us a new command for a new covenant, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).  Do you see the new standard for new covenant believers?  Jesus is asking us to love as Jesus loves.  Or said a couple of chapters later, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you (John 15:12).  Jesus’ love for us is now the love we imitate, the love we demonstrate toward one another.  What does that love look like?

It loves unconditionally.  It loves without grievance.  It forgives.  It welcomes and accepts your brother and sister no matter where they are on their spiritual journey.  It keeps no records of wrongs committed.  This is gracious love.  This is agape love.

But here is what may be the most beautiful piece of the puzzle.  This kind of love is impossible to pull off.  It is impossible to accomplish as part of a “to-do” list.  It is impossible to do in the flesh.  It can only move forward when empowered by the Spirit, empowered by Christ in us.  Just like our new love for God our Father, our loving others is not out of obligation.  It is literally who we are as children of Love Himself.

At God’s core, His essence is love.  Love is not merely an attribute of God.  It is His very being.  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love(I John 4:7-8).

God is love.  God has made you His child.  And as His child, you are infused with His love.  Christ in you is Love in you.  And His love is meant to be given away.  This is the straight-line path to your new freedom to love one another.

Our friend Joel Brueseke summarizes it well, “In Christ, we love God and we love others, not by obeying laws, but by first knowing His unconditional love for us, and in union with Him we express it to others.”

Loving God

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 7

What are often advertised as the greatest commandments in the New Testament – love God and love your neighbor – are actually old covenant instructions as we learned last time.  So are we, new covenant saints, free of these commands?  Maybe you are thinking that since these are old covenant concepts we are not required to love God with all that is in us.

Let us be clear.  Our new found freedom from the Law, our new found freedom in Christ, does not set us free FROM loving God.  It is quite the opposite.  It sets us free TO love God with all that is within us.  We love God now, in the here and now, out of our new heart; a heart of gratitude, a pure heart that is in love with God.  Not from a stone-cold heart of obligation.

This may seem subtle, but I think it is an important change in our approach to loving God.  Let me say it this way.  Loving God under the old covenant was part of the “to do” list.  Loving God under the new covenant is part of the “who you are” list.  Loving God is part and parcel of who we are in Christ.  Loving God is built into our incredible union with the Father.  Do we always show it?  Do we always feel it?  No, like any other sin, we can choose to walk according to the flesh.  We can withhold our love for Jesus and the Father.  But like the fruits of the Spirit and so much else of the promise of the new covenant, loving God is in us; planted there by our family connection to our Savior.

How do we know this love toward God is “in us”?  The apostle Peter says it so well, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8).  Here is a paraphrase version from The Passion Translation of the New Testament, “You love Him passionately although you have not seen Him, but through believing in Him you are saturated with an ecstatic joy, indescribably sublime and immersed in glory” (I Peter 1:8).  You love Him.  I love Him.  Not out of compliance to the Law, but from a pure heart filled to overflowing by God with love for God.

We have been set free to love God because He first loved us.  We love Him with a love He has implanted in us.  We love Him as we express our beautiful and unbreakable union with our Father.

The Greatest Commandment … IN THE OLD COVENANT

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 6

“One of them, a lawyer [i.e. an expert in the Mosaic law], asked Jesus a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’  And He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’ “ (Matthew 22:35-40).

Please look at this passage carefully.  Please keep in mind exactly what this lawyer is asking, “Teacher, which is the great commandment IN THE LAW?”  This is an Old Testament Law question.  This is an old covenant question.  And Jesus delivers an old covenant response.  How do we know these two commandments are an old covenant answer?

Not only is the question law-focused, but look at the end of Jesus’ answer.  “On these two commandments depend THE WHOLE LAW AND THE PROPHETS” (Matthew 22:40).  Remember, the “Law and the Prophets” is Jesus-speak for the old covenant.  Jesus made this clear in Luke 16:16, “The Law and the Prophets (the old covenant) were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God (the new covenant) has been preached (by Me, Jesus).”  The Law and the Prophets refers to the old covenant.

As we have been seeing in this series, not everything Jesus said is new covenant.  And here is an example.  Jesus answered a Law question with a Law answer.  Jesus answered a Law question with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 for commandment one and from Leviticus 19:18 for the second.

So why do we hear over and over that these are the greatest commandments in the New Testament and as such should be the greatest commandments for New Testament saints to follow?  Remember, the New Testament is for the most part describing the new covenant.  But some of the New Testament is introductory material to the coming new covenant and as such is not all meant for us to follow.  And this is one of those places.

I think these two commandments are held up as standards for us today because they sound like a good idea and preachers are not reading the gospels carefully.  We like to parse the words of Jesus to fit our thinking, rather than just let Jesus say what He said.  Jesus identified these two commandments as old covenant; a covenant, by the way, that has disappeared (II Corinthians 3:11) and is now obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).

Yes, these two commandments are located in what we call the New Testament, but they are not new covenant commands as Jesus made clear.  They do not apply to you and I, new covenant saints.  Wait, wait, wait, are we saying loving God is not part of our new covenant walk?  We will explore this with an answer that may surprise you next time.