Galatians 4:9 - But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
A Change of Address
When we lived in darkness – when we were of the world – it made perfect sense that we lived as the world lived. We were a part of its system. You might say it was the very air we breathed.
But when we were delivered from that bondage, ignorance, and darkness we were made into something new. Paul described us as a new creation. To paraphrase the apostle elsewhere,
“When I was a worldling, I talked like a worldling, I thought like a worldling, I reasoned like a worldling. When I became a new creature in Christ, I put worldish ways behind me.”
How is it, then, Paul could address these Galatian believers and ask them how it was they were turning back to their old, dead ways?
It’s amazing how shortsighted we can be on a daily basis. If we don’t keep Christ daily before us, pursuing him with all our might, we inevitably find ourselves drifting back to the world and its ways of thinking. And such worldish thinking will soon lead to worldish living. What’s so sad about this process is that even as it happens, we don’t seem aware that we are becoming enslaved to those “weak and miserable” principles all over again.
Why Do We Do This?
It really is absurd to think about why we would ever want to go back to such thinking and living once we have been freed from it. Why do we seem to prefer bondage to freedom at times? It’s interesting how we, like the Israelites, begin romanticizing how great the leeks and onions were in Egypt and forget about the fact that we were slaves there. Why do we do this?
There are probably many good answers. No believer, I hope, truly thinks the world is preferable to the things of God. I don’t think being out of shape is preferable to being healthy. But one skipped workout at a time – over a period of undisciplined living – and a person will find themselves struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. That was never the intention, but it was the consequence.
Similarly, a little disobedience and sloth here and there and one day a person will wake up terribly out of shape for the Kingdom. In truth, they will be downright unfit for it.
I’ve discovered in my own life that I do the things I want to do. It’s no more complicated than that. I may dress it up in elaborate excuses and rationalizations, but at the end of the day that’s all they are. Can you relate to that?
Don’t Ignore God’s Means of Grace
Thankfully, those who are genuinely in Christ will not be able to return to their old ways without feeling the disciplinary rod of the Holy Spirit. God is not content to watch his children become remolded to the world’s image.
By God’s magnificent grace, the smoke detector goes off long before the fire blazes out of control. God awakens and disciplines those who are his own and gets them/us back on track again. But even here he does not “do” all the work for us. We can still choose to sleep in instead of pray and study. We can play instead of worship on Sunday mornings. Fill in the blank with those temptations that continue to call you back to your old life. We will have those choices ever before us.
But if you cry out to your loving Father for help, his grace will abound once more to rescue you from your chains. And if you rely on him daily and practice those things he has promised will make you spiritually healthy, you may find you have to be rescued less often.
Do you ever find yourself moving back to the world’s ways of thinking and living? What do you think are the primary reasons you do so? Have you ever wandered back so deeply into slavery that you thought you were beyond rescue? How did you escape? What are two or three ways you can protect yourself from becoming enslaved to the “weak and miserable principles” of the world in the future?
Grace and Truth,
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 today 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 not actually murder anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with another. 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 has 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.
Grace and Truth,
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2)
Knowing God Rightly
“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” (A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy)
God really does care that we know him (John 17:3)… and know him rightly. Any old expression of religion won’t do and, in fact, often leads to a dangerous idolatry.
The Apostle Paul, passionately concerned for the salvation of the Israelites, admitted that they had a zeal, perhaps even an enviable zeal, for God. Yet he was quick to follow that admission with the sober truth that their zeal for God was not according to knowledge. They were wrong in their understanding of how to obtain righteousness.
The Appearance of Enthusiasm
In our day we give points to folks for the appearance of enthusiasm. Maybe they are very exuberant as they worship God. Perhaps there’s lots of “God-talk” liberally sprinkled throughout their conversations. It may be they actively serve their church. These are all good things to be sure.
However, what they (and we) must watch out for is a zeal that is without a true and proper knowledge of the living God. It’s not that we must first pass a doctoral examination in theology before we go to heaven. The key idea is that a shabby doctrinal or theological foundation can lead one astray. It can cause a well-intentioned person to unwittingly compromise his or her faith and drift to and fro with every new “Christian” book, television program, or religious movement.
In Exodus 34:6-7, God painted a beautiful picture of some of his attributes. He wanted Moses and the rest of his children to know and worship him rightly. He followed up in verse 14 by saying, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” It’s not a coincidence that the first three commandments focus on this very issue.
It’s frightening how easily we can wander off the straight and narrow path. God provided a warning concerning this very thing in verse 16 when he told Moses to caution the people about choosing the wrong spouse, one who is described as not knowing and worshiping the one true God. He said that sort of choice would lead God’s people away from God and into idolatry.
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
More is needed than zeal and good intentions when it comes to our relationship with God. It is certainly true that knowledge alone can “puff up” the young and immature in the faith. But that’s not the fault of the knowledge. That’s more of a commentary on where a person is in their faith-journey. The solution to this potential problem is not to ignore our call to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Instead, we ought to still seek such knowledge, but do so humbly, carefully, and in full dependence on the grace of God. Likewise, the purpose of our pursuit of knowing God should be for God’s glory and the good of others. Psalm 43:34a says,
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. 4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.
A mentor of mine used to say the better we know God the more we will be able to love, follow, and trust God. It’s awfully difficult to love, follow, and trust someone you don’t know. It’s also hard to love and follow God if you don’t have a growing and maturing knowledge of God - what God has revealed about himself as well as how to live for him and with him in this world.
Almighty God, give me great and increasing passion and zeal for you. Yet please ground it in who you truly are. Help me to continue all the days of my life to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I might love you as I ought. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Do you agree that many Christians do not know much about God? If so, why do you think that is? What are some ways you can begin learning more about God – his Person, Works, Commands, and Promises? One resource I often recommend is A.W. Tozer’s, “Knowledge of the Holy”. Order it today and work through one chapter a week. Your view of God will expand, and as it does, so will your love, commitment, and trust of God.
Grace and Truth,
1 John 4:1-6 - Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
But It Tastes So Good
We in the church are often a gullible people who far too easily believe someone because they give a heartfelt and moving testimony. Or, sometimes, we clamor after a person because he or she is a celebrity. Our day is not marked by a thorough vetting of content regarding what a person actually believes. This accounts for much of our cotton candy Christian culture. It doesn’t take much for it to dissolve into nothing.
We are, therefore, malnourished. This is lamentable, especially when we consider the rich legacy of Christian depth and commitment of bygone ages. We are contented to build our Christian lives and churches on the sand of easy-believism. But cotton candy and sand make for poor foundations and they will not, because they cannot, provide strength and safety for the storms of life.
Thus, John directs us to test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God – because not all are. Some of us entertain false prophets unawares. In verse five of 1 John 4, John says these false spirits or false prophets are from the world and therefore, speak from the viewpoint of the world.
And So the Question Is…
Why then does the church often try to look just like the world? Sadly, the church can even be worldlier than the world. I’m reminded of a comment actor, Macauley Caulkin made during an interview about his movie, “Saved.” He said he went to a few Christian concerts to check out what the Christian culture was like and discovered precious little difference between the Christian concerts he attended and those of the world. Sure, there were some differences in the lyrics, but is that the sum and substance of Christian culture?
Give Us Results
The church naturally wants to reach people for Christ. I am not against numerical growth by any means, but it can be a poor standard for biblical fidelity. Sure, some churches are growing rapidly. But how are they growing? And what are they growing? What are they producing? The apostle John states that the world listens to those who speak from the viewpoint of the world. What else would we expect? When the standards of the church focus almost exclusively on what is deemed relevant at the moment, couched in worldly trappings, and communicated in sermonic easy listening, then of course the world is going to respond favorably, even approvingly. But in a climate where truth is, de facto, offensive, worship services and sermons that are centered around God’s Word will be thought of as boring and irrelevant at best and intolerant, puritanical, and mean-spirited at worst.
Let us be as discerning as we can about who likes us and who does not. We must think about who it is that thinks we’re cool and why. For if we, as individual Christians or local churches, are very well thought of by the world around us, we may want to ask why. It might be for legitimate, God-glorifying reasons. But it could it be because we think, speak, and live too much like the world?
What are some reasons some Christians are timid about standing up for their faith in public? What are some ways local churches compromise with the world? What are some ways Christians and local churches can connect with folks they’re reaching out to with integrity? What are some ways you can stand for truth without coming across as a “jerk for Jesus”?
Grace and Truth,
2 Corinthians 11:3-4 - But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
No, Not “That” Jesus
These words on discernment, (or the lack thereof) from the Apostle Paul are familiar. His letter to the Galatian church, for example, is almost completely devoted to this line of thought. Jesus himself had much to say on this topic as well. Therefore, we probably ought to pay attention here.
Without an intentional effort on our part to be discerning in this world, we can become easily deceived. False teachers endeavor to tempt and seduce us with “Jesus-shaped” words that, in reality, are only perversions of the genuine article.
If It Could Happen to Them
Interestingly, Paul is not addressing a lukewarm congregation or group of pagans here. He is writing to those he doesn’t want to see led astray from their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” This is frightening because it reminds us that if we are not on our guard, we too can be easily led astray by smooth-talkers who bring a “Jesus” who is no Jesus at all. The undiscerning can be mesmerized by pleas for tolerance, relevance, peace, unity, or many other paths that would take them off the straight and narrow.
The path to the City of Destruction is wide and comfortable and is well beaten by many who have gone before us. The road to the Celestial City is narrow and fraught with trials and temptations and few there are who walk it.
But God’s grace is sufficient. And his power is made perfect in and through our weakness. We don’t have to fall prey to deception. We can trust God uncompromisingly, even in the fiery furnace of this world. If we keep our eyes open to the glorious vision of our Lord and hear his voice calling to us, we would see he has already walked down the narrow path before us, and if it was wide enough for him, it will be wide enough for us.
What are some practical ways you can discern the true Jesus from the imposters? In your experience, how is the Bible’s view of Jesus distorted by those who would water it down? If you were sharing Christ with a friend, what three or four essentials would you share with them about the Person and Work of Christ?
Grace and Truth,
Joshua 24:14-15 - “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
James 4:4 - You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Choices, Choices, Choices
The road of life is filled with many choices:
Today’s Scripture highlights the most important choices we must make. And, as the rock group, Rush, observed, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
In the preceding verses of Joshua 24, Joshua took the children of Israel on an historical reconnaissance in order to remind them of who God is and what God had done for them in the past. Implicit in this was the covenant God made with Israel and how they too could look to the future fulfillments of God’s promises… IF.
When God made a covenant with Israel, it included blessings and curses. Obedience, faithfulness, and loyalty would be rewarded with divine blessing beyond their wildest imaginations. Disobedience, unfaithfulness, and treason, on the other hand, would result in God’s curses. It seems like a no-brainer as to which should be preferred.
And so, after laying out the history of God’s love for his people, Joshua presented the people with a choice. He told them to serve God only and to throw away the idols of their past. Whom would they serve – the gods of their ancestors or the living God? Joshua answered as the covenant head of his home by declaring publicly, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Gods of this Age or God of the Ages?
It is interesting, and quite telling, to see how this theme of choosing between the Living God and the gods of the age – between covenant-faithfulness and spiritual adultery – is repeated over and over again in God’s Word. The fact is, we will all bow before something or someone, simply by the living of our lives. Who or what will be that object of worship is the choice ever before us.
James lays the choice before us with crystal clarity. He says friendship with the world is hatred toward God. What exactly does he mean here? He’s not talking about loving people and ministering to them. Instead, he has in mind what Paul meant in Romans 12:2 – love for and conformity to the sinful, fallen, and disobedient patterns of this world, the kingdom or domain of darkness, as Paul puts in Colossians 1:13.
James follows by saying, “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James is essentially putting before God’s covenant people in the New Testament the same choice Joshua put before God’s covenant people in the Old Testament: Who will they bow their knees to: the gods beyond the River, the gods of the Amorites, the state, secular worldviews, modern American materialism, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy hedonism, the entertainment industry, sports, status, or even good things like work and family?
James calls people who bow to any of these things, “adulterous.” They have left their first love to cozy up to the gods of the Amorites and Egyptians.
People cry out for their free will, rights, and autonomy. God gives them that option, but not with impunity. There are consequences to foolish choices. People may choose Baal, Molech, Ra or the gods of this age if they so choose. They can exercise their moral choice to their heart’s delight. They can revel in their “free will.” But the wrath of God will be leveled against all unrighteousness and ungodliness.
But There’s Grace
Because of God’s grace, however, we learn God continually calls his children back to covenant faithfulness. He lovingly commands us to throw away the gods of our past and to love, obey, worship, and serve him instead. Each and every day that we are granted another day to live, we are given an opportunity for repentance and covenant-faithfulness.
So choose this day whom you and your household will serve. There’s only one right answer.
No Christian sets out to be idolatrous. How, then, do you think idolatry among God’s people happens? What are the “gods of this age” that compete for your allegiance the most? What are some ways you have found helpful in remaining faithful to the God of the ages? What counsel would you give a Christian brother or sister to help them turn from their idol and toward our Lord?
Grace and Truth,
No man fails on purpose. Yet, spiritual and moral failures abound.
A few years ago I taught a lesson to our men’s group which focused on temptations men face. The workbook we were using quoted C.S. Lewis on this subject and was a turning point for many in the group. Lewis wrote,
“It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the light and out into the nothing… Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
The truth communicated by Lewis rings true. It reminded me of something a former mentor of mine once said. He emphasized repeatedly that comprise comes through the smallness of our daily surrenders.
It’s giving up that little bit of personal conviction each day. It’s the little piece of candy no one will ever know you ate. It’s watching that program or visiting that website when you are all alone. You get the picture.
Usually the first surrender to “small, insignificant sins” makes it easier to fall prey to them again and again. The damage comes from the “cumulative effect” Lewis was pointing to. Few men wake up in the morning planning to sin spectacularly later in the day. Yet those daily surrenders build up over time. Give a little ground here and there and before you know it, you’re in trouble. In fact, you become practically unrecognizable, to even yourself. You didn’t plan in advance for this to happen, but those daily surrenders were enough to do the trick.
Therefore we must be vigilant. We need to work from the foundation of knowing who we are in Christ. We need to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Those “daily surrenders” needn’t reign over us. The same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells in us as well.
Yet, we also need to exercise the self-awareness that recognizes those areas in our lives wherein we are weak. We ought to ask ourselves: Are we being less watchful in some areas of our lives than others? Even the small, seemingly insignificant areas? Are we overly confident we would never again fall prey to that particular temptation? A member of my church used to remind me often, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
Brothers, if you want to avoid those small daily surrenders, then pray for God to deliver you from temptation. But don’t forget to do your part. Name those temptations in advance. Talk with a godly brother you trust and ask him to hold you accountable. Renew your mind daily in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul shared God’s wisdom on this point when he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
What are you thinking on?
Walking Points: What are those areas in your life that tempt you the most? What are some practical things you can do to resist them? Set an appointment today with a brother in Christ and ask him to pray for you and to help keep you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
If you would like to learn more about how to grow in your faith, please check out my website, DaleTedder.com. We've also started a new podcast called, Walking Points. Its purpose is to help men follow Jesus Christ in every sphere of their lives. We're working on enabling it to be downloaded, but presently it can only be listened to via streaming. Our most recent episode is an interview with a member of our church on the topic of what it means to represent Christ in the workplace.
Click the image above to learn more about my book for men.