1Thessalonians 4:1 - Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
On the Tip of My Tongue
For fifteen years or so I had a concept on the tip of my tongue that I never felt I was communicating adequately. I knew what I meant, but getting others to fully grasp what I was trying to say was a different story.
That concept had to do with what Oswald Chambers referred to as, “unconscious holiness.” I immediately resonated with it from the first time I read about it. But expressing it clearly seemed to elude me.
Stages of Spiritual Growth
In trying to teach classes about this idea, I would usually describe spiritual growth as follows:
There’s a spectrum of spiritual growth. Some folks, before they come to know Christ, sin up a storm, but because they don’t know God or his Word, their sin is not that big of a deal to them.
The next group is made up of those whom God’s Spirit begins to awaken. Perhaps they have just come to know Christ as Lord. Bit by bit the puzzle pieces of faith begin to fit together and they realize their thinking, speaking, and living is not glorifying God. They realize that because they’re now in Christ, they can’t live the way they used to, even if they don’t quite understand all the ramifications of that epiphany.
And, because they’re in Christ and his Spirit is in them, they no longer want to live according to their old ways. And yet, they struggle to the point of frustration because it seems to them they’re just not making significant headway in their spiritual lives. The Apostle Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 comes to mind here.
As time goes by and these folks are seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord, they begin to experience more and more growth in their lives as followers of Christ. They catch themselves before they fall into temptation. Or, they repent immediately after sinning because it grieves their hearts and they don’t want any outstanding obstacles to stand between them and their precious communion with God. While they aren’t batting 1,000, they’re making great strides in what’s called, “progressive sanctification.” That is, they’re steadily and increasingly conforming to the likeness of Christ.
The last stage – the goal of every Christian – is to live a holy and righteous life by default. In other words, Christ becomes so much a part of you that you’re live faithfully for him and with him, almost unconsciously. You are so in step with the Spirit that holiness just seems to come by default.
It may not be theologically accurate to divide this spectrum into stages since the different parts of our lives flow together like a river and you’re never really aware of the moment you’re “moving from stage one to another.” That last “stage” is where I want to be. I want holiness and obedience to be so delightful to me that I automatically seek it, and in fact, it doesn’t occur to me to choose otherwise. Perhaps that’s what it will look like to be fully conformed to the image of Christ.
Think About It This Way
About five or six years ago I was given a precious gift by one of the folks in my Sunday school class who had a business background. Unbeknownst to her, she did a much better job communicating this idea than I had over the years.
She said that as I was sharing with her my idea of unconscious holiness, she remembered a business concept that she had learned.
She said that first of all there’s what’s called, “Unconscious Incompetence.” That means you’re not competent at something, but you don’t know it. Stage two is, “Conscious Incompetence,” which means you become a little more self-aware of your ignorance and inabilities.
The third stage is called, “Conscious Competence.” The idea here is that you become pretty good at something, and you know it, because you’re constantly working on it. It occupies your attention and your time. You’re intentional about improving and growing in that area. You’re also aware of the good results your hard work is producing.
The last stage is, “Unconscious Competence.” This is marked by being good at something – bearing some really good fruit – without really being intentional about it. That’s certainly not to say you aren’t trying to do a good job, but instead, it means that excellent work is so much a part of who you are, it appears effortless.
The goal is to be so competent at what you do, that you reflexively perform well. It is the “default” way you do it because you’re so “in tune” with what you do.
See the Connection?
Our goal is to be unconsciously holy. That is, we want to get to a place in our walk with Christ where our holiness reflexively flows in and through us because we’re so filled with God’s Spirit and “in tune” with his Word.
An Important Caveat
Even if we were to obtain unconscious holiness in this life, we are still called to intentionally pursue it. We want to deliberately please and glorify God. The larger point is that because we’re becoming more conformed to the likeness of Christ in our progressive sanctification, we become more loving, faithful, obedient, etc., in the daily living of our lives. It becomes our default setting. We become who God redeemed us to be.
That’s what I’m shooting for in my life. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to others. Where are you?
If our sins are forgiven by Christ and we can’t earn our way to heaven, then what’s the point of trying to become more like Christ in the first place? In what ways are you intentionally pursuing the holiness to which God calls you? How can you tell if you’re growing in Christlikeness? Is there ever a point in this life where you’re done growing?
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 4:3a – It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…
Not What You Were Thinking… Yet
Today’s devotion will no doubt disappoint you if you came to it with the hope and expectation of learning how to decide what job to take, whom to marry, or where to move. That’s often what we really mean when we say we want to know God’s will for our lives, isn’t it? I am no different.
But quite often those desires turn to despair when it is discovered that God doesn’t tell us in Paul’s letter to the Romans or the Gospel of Matthew that you should indeed take that job, marry that person, or move to that place. And because it doesn’t give us the specifics we want, we sometimes end up frustrated over the apparent “inaccessibility” of knowing God’s will for our lives.
My usual counsel to such troubled souls is to encourage them by letting them know God’s will can be found on virtually every page of the Bible. God is not trying to hide his will from them or playing some sort of shell game with his children. Today’s text gives us an example of what I’m talking about. Paul teaches us in our verse:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.
From and For
“Sanctified” is a biblical word which simply means, “to be set apart.” But what does that mean? Set apart from what? Set apart for what? Well first, it means to be set apart from something – specifically, from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It means the fallen, rebellious, autonomous, sinful, patterns of living and idolatry we once practiced are to be repented of, put off, died to, and left behind.
“Sanctified” also means that we are set apart for God. In Christ, God has made us his own. He is now molding us into the image of his dear Son. Thus, he calls us to love, trust, obey, and walk with him daily, that we might becoming increasingly like him. The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle quotes Leviticus and reminds us that God says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Just a few verses from today’s text, in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Paul declares, “…God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
When we hear and receive Christ’s redeeming call and are born anew by the power of his Spirit, we immediately (though imperfectly) begin the process of becoming what God says we already are. God, in a manner of speaking, says to us:
You are holy. Now go and be holy. Go and be who you already are.
To die to yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ is what it means to live a sanctified life, one that jettisons the old, fallen self, and instead, puts on Christ as of first importance. It’s a life that immediately seeks his righteousness.
This is God’s will for you. The better you know God, and the more you know of God – his person, work, ways, and word – and the more you pursue them daily and whole-heartedly in your life, the more likely you will be able to discern his particular will for your life – that job to take, that person to marry, that place to move.
Seek first God and his righteousness, and the answers to those other questions will be revealed to you in time (Matt. 6:33).
What do you think most people mean when they say they want to know God’s will for their lives? Is that what you usually mean? How can knowing God’s revealed will for your life, (i.e., that we are called to be sanctified, etc.), help you to better know and understand his particular will for your life? In light of this devotional and the verses of Scripture shared, what advice would you give a friend or family member based on what you have learned?
Grace and Truth,
Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Don’t Miss the Warning
Whether Jesus was talking about the false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at his return, he commands us to be on guard, watch out, and be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears throughout much of Jesus’ teachings. Repetition for rabbis in the first century was a teaching tool or technique to ensure a vital point was made and received, so we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril.
What is important to understand about our Lord’s words is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” “watch out,” or “be ready.” Many of us could cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
The Accumulation of Unguardedness
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But that’s not the main point Jesus is making here. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard would do to a person. In such a scenario, the spiritual atrophy that would set in could prove catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with detrimental results.
In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints a vivid picture of this unguardedness in his characters, Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. All three had fallen asleep on their way to the Celestial City and had become shackled. When they were offered freedom from their bondage to continue their journey and avoid being devoured by the enemy, they responded by declaring they saw no danger and needed just a little more sleep.
How tragic for a person to never awaken from his slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. Without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, always be ready, and constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the soul’s citadel can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing I could have easily seen the attack coming and been ready for it, if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
What are two or three reasons you have “fallen asleep on watch” in your faith? What sorts of images do the names of John Bunyan’s characters bring to your mind? The Lord has graciously given us means by which we may stay on guard, ready, and watchful. Which ones do you practice regularly? What are some things you can start doing today to remain “intentionally disciplined” on your walk to the Celestial City? Share your ideas with a friend and ask for prayer.
Grace and Truth,
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,
A Tale of Two Ditches
Not too long ago a friend shared with me his struggle to faithfully teach grace to the folks he disciples. I certainly share that struggle. Faithful discipleship is a narrow path between the two ditches of legalism and licentiousness.
I didn’t come up with that distinction. The Apostle Paul dealt with the same issues. On the one hand he had to warn the Galatian Christians about the ditch of legalism espoused by the Judaizers. These were folks who claimed Jesus was great, but you still had to obey the Law of Moses to be saved. On the other hand, he had to give an emphatic “NO” to those in the other ditch whose philosophy was, “Let’s sin up a storm so we can experience more of God’s grace.” In their view, Christians don’t have to worry about obeying God, because they’re under God’s grace.
The path between the two ditches is hard and narrow indeed and Christian history is littered with examples of how individuals, (as well as groups of people), have fallen into one ditch or the other. Regardless of which ditch you fall into, you still end up dirty and smelly.
To my struggling friend, and as a reminder to myself, I offer some counsel I once heard. Take comfort in the struggle of the narrow path because the Apostle Paul experienced the same. Grace is a dangerous thing. If we faithfully and accurately teach the biblical doctrine of grace, there will always be the risk someone might distort it in a libertine direction, just as a faithful and accurate teaching of obedience might lead some into the legalistic ditch. We are called to be faithful in our message of grace, even though we can’t control what people will do with it.
Those who take the ministry of discipleship seriously will always struggle with this. However, we can use this struggle between the two ditches, the journey of the narrow path, to motivate us to be careful, loving, grace-filled, and faithful in our teaching, discipling, counseling, correcting, etc.
Remembering My Own Struggle
I know that walking the narrow path is hard for me, and I’ve been at it for some time now. I can still remember the early days of my walk with Christ. I often caught myself walking a little too closely to one side of the path or the other. Sadly, I sometimes found myself having to climb out of one ditch or the other. But in God’s goodness, he cleaned me up, disciplined me, and sent me along my way.
This reminder of my own history will hopefully encourage me (and you) to be patient with those whom I disciple, especially those who are just beginning their own way down the narrow path. Thank God for his ever-present grace!
Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Which ditch did you find yourself falling into in your early days? Now that you’ve been a Christian for a while, which tendency (or, ditch) do you find yourself struggling with? Why do you think Christians, regardless of how long they’ve been walking with Christ, find themselves struggling along the narrow path? Why do they get too close to one ditch or the other? What are three things you can begin doing today, with God’s wisdom and power, to help you stay on the straight and narrow?
Grace and Truth,
James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Painful Tests and Trials
Several years ago the men's study at our church studied James 1:1-12. We spent most of our time discussing our need to persevere during times of tests and trials, for this is a significant way in which God produces in us the character of Christ. It is one of God’s ordained means to help us grow into his “mature and complete” children.
Most of us readily acknowledge how hard, even painful, tests and trials are. We would certainly prefer not to have to experience them. That was the testimony of many of the men who shared a little of what they had been through, or were going through, in their lives.
Another Kind of Test and Trial
Shortly after that lesson I had a thought one evening as I was getting ready for bed. It occurred to me that perhaps not all of our tests and trials should be categorized as painful, though they may still be considered quite hard. Could this be what James meant when he said “trials of many kinds?” Could it be God sometimes tests us even through our really good and happy circumstances as well?
Suppose I had four healthy, happy, and full-of-life children. Furthermore, suppose these four children gave me great joy and nothing pleased me more than pouring my life into theirs – even sacrificially. But what if this true and right expression of love and commitment for my children went too far? What if this love for these four precious children actually began, slowly but ever so surely, to turn into idolatry? What if they became more important to me than God Himself?
Such love and commitment would not be good at all. In fact, such love and commitment would become sin in my life. Why? Because I would, quite literally, be putting other gods before the one true God. Could it be that God tests us through such good and positive relationships, things, circumstances, and opportunities in our lives?
My Clear and Present Danger
My hypothetical description regarding my four children is not hypothetical at all. I have four such children and I treasure them. I have had to, on many occasions, ask God to help me not put my children before him. In my unguarded moments, I could essentially turn them into little idols.
The same could be true for all of us, whether we’re talking about our families, jobs, status, health, success, ingenuity, etc. Each of these could be little tests to determine whom we are worshipping, to see whom we love most?
The Reason for Trials
Why are we given trials? According to James it is to help us grow in our faith – to become more like Christ – to develop into mature and complete children of God, lacking nothing. But it’s awfully hard to become such faithfully devoted followers of Christ when we love other people or things more than we love Him. It’s impossible to follow and serve God correctly when God’s not even in our top five priorities, much lesson number one.
It’s little wonder that Jesus declared we cannot serve two masters. It’s no wonder he said we must seek God and his righteousness first. It’s not hard to figure out why God’s first commandment to us was that we’re to put no other gods before Him. And it’s not surprising to understand why the Apostle John’s last verse of his first epistle reads thusly,
1 John 5:21 – Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Because of our fallenness, we have a propensity to put other people, places, things, circumstances, opportunities, feelings, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, etc., ahead of God. And anything that is in God’s place is not merely neutral – it’s an idol - an idol of the heart.
Be On Guard
The really good things God graciously blesses us with could be listed under James category of “trials of many kinds.” It’s true we don’t think of them as trials. It’s also true they are not necessarily painful to go through. But it’s equally true that these sorts of trials can be gruelingly difficult, even if we’re not aware we’re going through them, or perhaps, especially if we’re not aware of it.
Therefore, to increasingly mature in our faith and become more like Christ, we must realize God’s tests and trials can take many shapes and sizes. We must be vigilantly on guard. For it’s critically important for us to persevere through such tests and trials so that we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And by God’s grace, I pray it will be so for you.
Why do you think it’s so easy to put people or things before God? What are those people and things in your life that could become potential idols, if they’re not already? Have you ever considered something good in your life, like your children, job, or health, a potential idol? What are two or three ways you can make sure these don’t become idols?
Grace and Truth,
Psalm 119:13-16 – With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.  I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Matthew 22:29 – Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
A Good Reason or Two to Read Scripture
I wonder if much of our aimless spiritual wandering isn’t self-inflicted. We are often content to grope in the dark when pure and undefiled light is offered us. This light I speak of penetrates our deepest being (Heb. 4:12), judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12), makes us wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), is breathed out by God himself (2 Tim. 3:16), is truth (John 17:17), is the means by which we are sanctified (John 17:17), is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), thoroughly equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), works as a mirror to show us our truest selves (James 1:23-25), endures forever (1 Peter 1:23-25), cannot be broken (John 10:35), counsels us in every sphere of our lives (Ps. 119:24), will not return to God empty but will achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). As the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), it is our only offensive weapon in our war with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
And so, if all of this is true (and it surely is, and more), why are we not plumbing its depths, mining its riches, and saturating ourselves in its mind-renewing, life-transforming power every available opportunity?
Psalm 119 gives us a beautiful model of what a “piety of the Word” should look like in our lives. All through the Psalm we find a variety of synonyms for God’s Word, such as decree, statute, law, ordinance, precept, as well as word. Sometimes these words are used to communicate God’s “directives for our lives” and other times a word represents “his promises.” The first “calls us to obedience while the other calls us to faith – the two elements of godliness” (NIV Study Bible notes).
Each of today’s verses contain enough material for its own sermon. That would require more time and space than is presently available. But just dream with me for a moment…
Can you imagine a person, home, church, small group, or community that regularly recounts the law of God, rejoices in following his statutes as one rejoices in great riches, that meditates day and night on God’s precepts and considers his ways for every thought, word, or deed? Can you conceive of such an individual or community that delights in God’s decrees and will not neglect his word at any time for any reason? What would such a person or church or small group look like? What would be their impact for the world in which they live? According to Matthew 22:29, Jesus says there would be great power that would attend such commitment, passion, and saturation. Can you picture the reformation and revival that would break out at God’s behest?
Humanly speaking, it all starts with one – one person who will saturate himself or herself in God’s Word, and who, like Ezra, will study it, live it, and teach it to others.
Are you such a person? Imagine what might happen if you were! What’s stopping you? Why not take God at his Word – trust his Word – saturate yourself in his Word – and then hang on.
Which of the descriptions of God’s Word found in the first paragraph fires your imagination most? Have you ever wondered why Christians don’t spend more time studying God’s Word? What are the obstacles in your own life that have prevented you from spending time in Scripture? Be creative: What are three ways you can increase your intake of God’s Word this week? Share your ideas with a friend and then get busy putting your ideas into practice.
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,
How Many Years of Experience?
Age does not guarantee wisdom. Not even experience guarantees wisdom. There is nothing magical about the lapse of time in one’s life that causes them to become a sage for the ages. We probably all know of someone who doesn’t have 25 years of experience at their job, but instead, has experienced the same one year, 25 times in a row. No growth or maturation has taken place.
This was the case in the story of Job. Job’s three friends, older men in the community, were all sharing their insights as to why poor ol’ Job was experiencing such suffering. Each one was way off the mark. Finally, the younger, less experienced Elihu, who had been respectfully and silently observing the back-and-forth of his elders, could no longer sit idly by and allow such error and ignorance to prevail. He responded,
“I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.  I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’  But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.  It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. (Job 32:6-9)
Elihu then went on to diagnose the situation of Job.
The Real Source of Wisdom
We learn a very important principle from Elihu: Wisdom does not come automatically with age. Some folks never seem to learn. Instead, true wisdom comes from God himself. Wisdom, God’s wisdom, must be desired and intentionally sought. That takes effort, self-discipline, and commitment. But it will be found only in this way.
The chief source from which we gain godly wisdom is God’s Word. Psalm 119:99 says,
“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and its focus, (almost exclusively so), is God’s Word. In that chapter, God’s Word is also referred to as his statute, law, precept, decree, and command. In each case it refers to God’s revelation of himself and his will to his people. His wisdom for the ages can be found therein. This is how he has chosen to guide us. Psalm 119:24 says, “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”
Godly friends and teachers, informed by God’s Word are treasures. But it must be his Word that is the source for wisdom. I’ll take a mentor who has been seasoned by years and experience any time over a younger, less-experienced person, but only if the former has walked with God during those years and sat under the tutelage of God’s Word. That’s where wisdom will be found. That’s also why we must “delight” in God’s Word each day – that we too might learn, grow, and one day be a source of godly wisdom for someone else.
Who do you know in your life that is older and has walked closely with the Lord during those years, faithfully learning from God’s Word? Why not take that person out to lunch and ask them questions about important lessons they’ve learned, how they’ve persevered with the Lord, etc.
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,
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