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,
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 1:29 – Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord,
We Need the Book of Proverbs
Throughout Proverbs, we have some wonderful counsel from Solomon, the wisest man in the world, to his sons. It’s too bad Solomon didn’t always practice what he preached. But isn’t that true of all of us? We know the better course; we take the lesser.
I so desperately want knowledge, discernment, insight understanding, discipline, and wisdom. I pray for all of those things often. Imparting them is why Solomon wrote these words to his sons. The verses of Proverbs 1:1-6 express this,
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young–
 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance–
 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
Who wouldn’t want all Solomon offers in these verses? God, through Solomon, tells us how to get such things. He writes,
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The Key to Knowledge and Wisdom
There is no separation of spiritual, volitional, emotional, intellectual, or moral categories in the Bible. They are all interrelated and interdependent.
To have the attributes on Solomon’s list (or at least, to move toward acquiring them), one must fear the Lord. People often bend over backwards to point out that such “fear” simply means “reverence.” And, of course, there’s some truth in that. But fear also means fear.
For example, when Isaiah stood before the throne of God in Isaiah 6, he immediately knew how sinful he was. He shrieked in terror and was beside himself with the overwhelming feelings of dread and unworthiness. That sounds like fear. Or, how about when Jesus calmed the sea and the disciples wanted him to depart because they felt the weight of their radical shamefulness. There’s something to that understanding of fear we shouldn’t immediately dismiss, simply because it makes us uncomfortable.
But, of course, fear means more than that.
A Covenantal Relationship
“Fear,” in our Scripture, also means covenantal submission to the Lordship of God. We show we properly fear God when we submit, reverentially, to who he is, and to what he has commanded us to do. We aren’t instructed to merely give him lip service. Our obedience must have hands and feet to it as well.
To know God is to know him covenantally and relationally, to know about him (his character, attributes, decrees, commands, etc.), and to humbly, gratefully, and joyfully live our lives in response to him. We can know we are approaching what it means to properly fear God when we are living in such a way.
And this, according to our text, is the beginning of knowledge. There are some who do not desire such knowledge nor fear God. They are spiritually, intellectually, morally, and emotionally numb to the things of God. The Bible calls them fools. Such people don’t desire God or his ways. And, sadly, Proverbs, reminds us that to such people God responds, “thy will be done.”
I love the book of Proverbs. Like Solomon, I want to pass such wisdom on to my children. And while there’s gold in the treasure chest for both boys and girls, there’s wisdom contained therein that our boys desperately need to be taught in this day and age. The average prime time TV program will run in complete antithesis to the pearls of wisdom Solomon communicates to his sons. Our boys need to ingest this wisdom long before they become men. Because, by then, it may be too late.
Have you read Proverbs lately? You may be interested to know there are 31 chapters, one for each day of the month. Doctor’s Prescription: A Proverb a day will help keep sin away. Of course, it will also help you live a wise and godly life. I would exhort you to read more than Proverbs, but you can’t go wrong by adding it to your spiritual diet.
Beginning the first day of next month, commit to reading one chapter from Proverbs a day. Use a journal to record lessons and insights you discover as you read. Jot down some key ideas you want to pass on to your children, grandchildren, or others you may be mentoring. Write a brief prayer at the end of each reading to incorporate what you learned from that chapter.
Grace and Truth,
Deuteronomy 14:2 - …for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
God’s Usual Unusual Suspects
The people of Israel were not the largest, richest, or most powerful group on the planet when God chose them. Nor were they the most righteous and obedient. And yet God chose them. In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul tells us this is God’s usual mode of operation. He manifests his wisdom and power by choosing, and then raising up, the unwise and weak to serve him. It’s been a fairly effective plan thus far. There was a fairly well known empire that was turned upside-down by the “dregs of society” a couple thousand years ago. It seems to still be working.
What is also striking about this verse is that Israel is referred to as God’s “treasured possession.” What a wonderful way to see oneself – as a treasured possession – something incredibly valuable to God.
Not In Us
When we think of ourselves as such, our first impulse is to agree with the verdict. “Of course I’m treasured by God,” we think. “I have so much raw talent, drive, character, and more. Why wouldn’t I be invaluable to God?” And yet, this sort of thinking is antithetical to biblical truth. There is nothing in ourselves which compels God to choose us. Instead, his choice flows from his own good, perfect, and pleasing will that results in God loving us first.
But to think that those who are in Christ are God’s treasured possessions is an amazing notion. Yet that’s exactly what we are as heirs of the new covenant.
How ought we respond to such news? Humility comes first to mind. There is no room for pride in the biblical worldview. How about gratitude and joy? Yes, there should be plenty of both to be sure. There’s also obedience. We mustn’t forget that. Lives lived in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to the God who first loved us is essential, and should be natural. It should register as an, “of course” response from us.
But does it? Does your life reflect that sense of chosen-ness in which God regards you as his treasured possession? If not, why not make today the day you begin living in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to who God is and what he has done on your behalf.
Why do you think some people want to claim that God owes them love and grace? Do you struggle with that idea? What makes the responses of humility, gratitude, joy, and obedience so hard? Why should they be the natural response to God’s grace? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news that they cannot earn God’s favor, nor do they need to? After praying for them, why not share this good news with them today.
Grace and Truth,
Luke 10:41-42 – “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
One way to pray Scripture back to God is by turning a verse or two into a first person statement. I’ve done that with today’s Scripture.
May I not be worried and troubled about many things; only one thing is needed. Like Mary, may I choose the good part, which will not be taken away from me.
I have no difficulty seeing the relevance of this truth in my life. It’s living out this truth that’s the hard part.
Get Busy Doing
Martha was busy… busy cooking, cleaning, organizing, preparing, just plain busy. Her work was important. She was entertaining guests and someone, after all, had to act responsibly. She was busy “doing.”
Mary didn’t seem quite so busy. What was she doing? Chatting, listening, and seemingly lounging about. What distinguished Mary’s activity from Mary’s apparent laziness was who Mary was with – the Lord Jesus Christ. She wasn’t necessarily busy “doing.” Instead, she was being, being in relationship. She was basking in the presence of the Lord Jesus. He was an invited guest who would not always be with them. What else should she have done? Mary chose the one thing needed and was told it would not be taken from her.
In our world, many people look down on Mary’s kind. “Why, nothing would ever get done if Mary and her ilk had their way,” we might hear. But that’s not exactly true. It’s not like Mary was a habitually lazy person who lay around the house in her pajamas until noon on a regular basis. This was different. Much different. She was in relationship with her invited Guest.
Our Invited Guest
We need to take a closer look at the text. Jesus does not admonish Mary for spending time with him; he admonished Martha. Like the poor, so too our jobs, chores, errands, and all the rest, will always be with us. But what of Christ? Well, he promised to always be with us, but in a practical sense he must be our invited Guest each day. He must be the One with whom we can just “be” each day. Jesus said that is the one thing needed and it will not be taken from us when we pursue it.
Not only that, but “being” must precede “doing” or else “doing” will turn into drudgery, bitterness, and even pointlessness. This is the point of Jesus’ words in John 15 about the branches needing to be connected to the vine. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. Without time to “just be” with our Lord, we will run out of gas. We’ll burn out. It will hinder us in persevering until the end. Our “doing” may shine brightly for a season, but it won’t last for the long haul because it will not have the fuel of Christ’s Spirit to sustain it. And that fuel comes only through the one thing necessary – pursuing and enjoying our ongoing relationship with the living God through his Son. And, we must not forget, knowing him in this way is eternal life (John 17:3).
Are you pursuing the one thing in life truly needful? There are many competitors vying for your time, energy, and attention. Some of those things are even good. But don’t let the good become the enemy of the best. Choose the best. Choose consecrated (set apart) time each day to spend with your Lord. He promises you it is the one thing needed and it will not be taken away from you.
Read the following quote by James Houston.
“This past century is possibly the first one in which action has been emphasized and valued more than contemplation. Today we think contemplation wastes time, produces nothing, and bumps awkwardly into our schedules. A devotional life is a questionable priority for most successful people today. But are we “successful” Christians if we are so busy organizing and propagating the Christian faith that we really do not know God personally and intimately?”
Have you ever felt lazy for spending time just “being” with the Lord instead of being busy “doing” something instead? Why do you think you felt that way? Why do you think our society more often errs on the side of activity than contemplation? What are some ways we can follow Mary’s model of being with the Lord in our daily lives? If you do not have this “set apart” time each day with the Lord, what are some ways you can build it into your schedule?
Grace and Truth,
Romans 1:21 - For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Much has been made over the last few years regarding the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.
Thankfully, their charges have been more than sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.
A More Dangerous Breed of Atheism
Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. Their beliefs, values, morals, and actions are not prioritized by their supposed belief in God’s existence. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide they no longer believed in the existence of God, their life would change very little. This is practical atheism.
In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth they know about God. Paul says that, in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares there is no God, practical atheists deny God by the way in which they lead their lives. Paul teaches us that “although they know God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
God at the Center
We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please, honor, obey, love, represent, bear witness to, and seek to be like him. That’s what a God-glorifying, God-informed life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. This is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.
How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.
Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate Influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives, for his glory and our good.
What are some of the ways you have observed people “suppressing the truth they know about God.” Why do you think they do so? Have you found yourself living throughout the day, making decisions and behaving with little or no reference to God? What are some ways you can more intentionally live for God each day? Talk to a trusted Christian friend about this devotion and brainstorm together, and then hold one another accountable.
Grace and Truth,
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