Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
You Better Think About It First
It wasn’t the approach most wanted to take back then nor is it so today. Jesus wasn’t very seeker-friendly, at least here. His message wasn’t a bait-and-switch tactic to get folks in the door. Instead, it was truth in advertising. The issue? That following Jesus requires everything, including one’s very life, so you better count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
In Matthew 7:13-14, after three challenging chapters, our Lord taught his disciples, and would-be disciples, that the gate by which they must enter, if they would follow him, is a narrow one only a few find. Furthermore, that gate opens onto a hard road. Nothing Pollyanna about this discipleship program. This way was not for those who were looking for something easy and non-committal.
However, there is a road to accommodate those who have such desires. It’s the only other option available and many find and travel it. But its destination is the City of Destruction. The narrow gate, however, which leads to the hard road is the only way that leads to life.
Standards of the Way
Disciples of this way must live a radically countercultural lifestyle. They are poor in spirit, mourn over sin (their own and the world’s), are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart, make peace and willingly accept persecution as the price for such convictions.
They are the salt of the earth and light of the world. They obey the commands of the Lord of the Narrow Way. In fact, their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Not only must they refrain from actually murdering anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with others. These followers of the King must not commit adultery and, moreover, must not even look at another person lustfully, which would be to commit adultery in their hearts. Faithfulness in marriage is expected and required. Truth-telling in all situations is the norm of this Kingdom. Humble submission characterizes those who would enter this gate and walk this road.
Love for both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is a sign that one follows this way.
Followers of the Hard and Narrow Way give to those in need, do not pray to impress people, and fast in secret. They invest in eternity by storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Their trust in God enables them to avoid worrying about their circumstances in this life. Instead, they seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that attends it, and they count on God to provide what is needed for living in this world.
Spiritual self-examination is another mark of these followers. And while they are called to discern between good and bad fruit, right and wrong, that which pleases God and that which doesn’t, they first investigate their own souls and remove that which hinders their pursuit of Christlikeness. Then and only then may they humbly approach a brother or sister to serve them in fighting sin in their life.
There are false prophets on the prowl who, like ferocious wolves in disguise, would lead many down the broad and easy road to the City of Destruction. The fruit they bear is bad which is in marked contrast to the fruit the Lord of the Way requires.
Carrying Our Cross Along the Way
So that leads us back to our text. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but it leads to life. Furthermore, the cost is great and must be considered before entering through the gate and upon the road. Hatred of the world – even of one’s own family (in comparison to one’s love, allegiance, and submission to Christ) is absolutely required. We must pick up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may go. Becoming a disciple, and living as one, can be fulfilled along no other path. Everything must be given up to be Christ’s disciple. Complete surrender to his lordship is expected. This is normal Christianity, not super spirituality.
It’s not an accident that Jesus closes this thought with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Supernatural ears are a must to truly heed what our Lord is saying. Joyfully obedient self-denial is the norm of the Kingdom of the Hard Road and Narrow Way. There is no room for one’s desire for autonomous freedom (which is really slavery in disguise). The extra baggage, sinful and unbridled love for self and the world, must be discarded at the beginning of the journey, for it will not fit through the narrow gate.
Jesus Is the Gate. Jesus Is the Way.
If all of this seems impossible to you, then you’ve understood perfectly. Left to ourselves, in our fallen, sinful natures with the corrupt mindset and behavior that goes along with it, we cannot enter through such a gate, nor will we even want to. But the good news is that Jesus is the gate through which we enter and the way upon which we walk. To begin that journey we must first kneel before Jesus as our Lord, trust in him alone as our Savior, turn our backs to the wide and easy road we once traveled, and walk along his path in complete dependence upon his Spirit and grace. Then and only then will we be able to experience the abundant and eternal life he promised those who follow him.
· Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What’s your initial reaction to learning about the norms and expectations of the Kingdom found in Jesus’ words?
· In your own strength, do you think you could realistically expect to fulfill that standard?
· What “standards” have you heard from others regarding how we should live in this world?
· What is Christianity’s answer to our sinful condition, to our inability to meet the standard required by God?
· If you have never sought God’s forgiveness and placed your trust in the work of Christ alone, then humbly pray to the Lord and ask him to help you do just that. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask him or her to help you, if necessary.
God of the narrow way and hard path, I give you praise and thanks that your Son has traveled that same road already. I look at the standards of your Kingdom that he lived and taught and I am undone. Like Isaiah before your throne, I disintegrate into nothing at the thought of trying to live that life in my own strength. But I instantly rejoice when I am reminded that the righteousness your righteousness requires was faithfully obtained by my precious Savior. Instead of turning a blind eye to my sin and lowering your standard, Christ walked the hard and narrow way in my place. His path directed him to a Cross. Mine leads to death as well – death to myself, my agenda, and the sin to which I cling so tightly. Thank you, Father, for your grace and mercy that saved a wretch like me. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
This Week’s Prayer Guide
[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]
Petitions – prayers for yourself
· Lord, help me to faithfully participate in the life of my congregation and for the sake of my community…
Ø By my prayers
Ø By my presence
Ø By my gifts
Ø By my service
Ø By my witness
· Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
· Other needs
Intercession – prayers for others
· My family
· For those who serve in government, at the national, state, and local levels
· For those who serve in law-enforcement
· For those who serve in fire and rescue
· For those who serve in our nation’s military
· Other needs
The World Around You
A few years ago the men in our church’s men’s ministry studied the words of the Apostle Paul to his young son in the faith, Titus. In chapter three of the letter that bears his name, Titus was instructed to encourage the people entrusted to his care to not be like the world around them – foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating (Titus 3:3). He then reminded them of something very important with these words: At one time they too were… just like that.
Paul told Titus that because of God’s love, the redeeming work of Christ, and the renewing and washing work of the Holy Spirit, the Christians in Crete were no longer like the world around them.
Have You Changed?
That fact, very naturally, brought up a painful question in our group discussion: What if we still are like that? What if we’re still like the world around us? One possible answer to the question was even more painful: No change in your life may mean you aren’t in Christ, you haven’t been redeemed, washed, and renewed.
We’re all at different places in our relationship with Christ. And, of course, we all walk at different paces with him. Thus, we won’t all look alike. Yet, if we can’t look back at our lives a year ago, two years ago, or five years ago and see some sort of growth, some level of maturation in faith, love, godliness, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, then we may well need to ask the question: Am I truly in Christ? Of course, only God knows the heart and this isn’t about others judging you. But it is about each man doing an honest assessment of himself.
There’s no getting around the fact that true faith in Christ will result in a changed life. We can’t possibly remain the same.
Facing the Music
About eight months after I graduated from college I went back to visit a few friends who were still there. I also returned to share with them the news that God had called me into ordained ministry and I would be heading off to seminary soon. I was very excited. I was also a bit nervous. Why was I nervous? Well, I had not always lived a godly life while in college. I knew it and I knew my friends and fraternity brothers knew it.
What happened? Well, my closest friends thought my news was great and wished me well. Others laughed me out of the room. I absolutely deserved it.
Glory to God
I give glory to God, and God alone, that 28 years later I can point to real change in my life. And, as the old saying goes, while I’m not where I pray I will one day be in my faith, by God’s grace I’m not where I once was. I don’t know if I was the chief of sinners way back then, but I certainly was competing for the title. That fact makes the following words from Paul all the more precious to me.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15b-16)
If God could work in Paul’s life, as well as my own, then he can work in any person’s life. I praise God for the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives.
Where Are You?
So where are you now compared to where you once were? Do too many of the descriptions in the New Testament of the unbelieving world still describe you? Are you moving on to maturity with Christ, training yourself for godliness day by day? The progressive nature of growing in Christlikeness means it will never end on this side of heaven. But faithfulness to Christ does require we get started. We start with rebirth. We continue by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of God’s grace and Spirit. Are you moving forward? Have you started yet?
Can you think of a Christian you know whose life is different than when you first knew them? What about them has changed? How about your own life? Can you identify areas in your life that are markedly different than when you first came to know Christ? What are those areas? Did they change all at once or was it a slow process? How did you know you needed to change? How did the process take place (i.e., what did the change look like)? Name two or three areas that are still “works in progress.” What are you actively doing to become more like Christ in those areas? Discuss these issues with two or three brothers in Christ and actively pray for one another.
Gracious God, you are the Lord of our lives. I confess that all too often I resist obeying and following you and resist the change you desire. I am grateful for your patience with me and for the wonderful news of your Gospel. Move me, by the power of your Spirit, to pursue you for all I am worth, for surely in that pursuit I will also find myself becoming more like you. Help me to find Christian brothers who also seek to walk with you and help us to build up and pray for one another. Enable me to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, encourage other men to do the same, and bring glory to your name. In Christ I pray. Amen.
This Week’s Prayer Guide
You can use this guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. The following areas of supplication will change from week to week.
Petitions – prayers for yourself
· Give me greater knowledge, depth of insight, and understanding of God’s Word.
· Remind me daily of who I am in Christ. Let me be defined by who God says I am, not the world around me.
· Guide me into greater understanding and faithfulness of God’s call in my life.
· This week’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
· Other needs
Intercession – prayers for others
· My family
· My pastor(s), church staff, and missionaries
· Those struggling with anger, anxiety, or the overwhelming desire to please people at all costs
· Other needs
Our True Rule
The United Methodist Church, by way of our denominational standard, addresses the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us, Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
I’m assuming the "practice" referenced is the practice of our faith, the exercise of living this life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and preparing for the next. We believe God expects us to live such a life in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, and all the rest. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ and the outward expression of that relationship with our neighbors. Our Doctrinal Statements, General Rules and Social Principles cover a lot of ground and an enormous variety of topics, such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Disciplines says this about scriptural holiness,
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
This is what I mean when I say Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. This is what I take our Discipline to mean when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided.
The Apostle Paul teaches us,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Scripture is profitable for a bunch of stuff. He doesn’t use the same language here, but Paul is saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing,
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
Understanding that Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice is not the same as saying the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to care for my car. But the Bible clearly does have something (and something important) to say about those areas of life and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not United Methodist), shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture, which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
We want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through God’s Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit.
We easily think of Scripture’s sufficiency for things like salvation, doctrinal belief, prayer, and worship. But how might the Bible be sufficient for topics such as art and music, the environment, and your workplace? What are some ways you can start expanding your view of Scripture’s relevance in your life?
Grace and Truth,
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