Thursday, 8 January 2015

Why destroy yourself?

Jesus said, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

All of us probably have our pet hate sayings - things which seem to us so completely wrong, perhaps even so totally stupid, that we find it hard not to get irritated when we hear them. One of mine is "Oh, just go with the flow". You know that saying?

If somebody means it light-heartedly - "All right, if everyone else is having coffee then I will too", or "Well, if that's what you lot want to watch on television, that's fine by me" - then of course there's nothing wrong with it. But too often, I'm afraid, it applies to more important things. It becomes a way of saying "I can't be bothered to think things through for myself, so I'll just tag along with the rest." And that is sad indeed.

In his saying about the narrow and wide gates Jesus is telling us that there are times when going with the flow is precisely what we shouldn't do. 

In his day, if you wanted to get though a small gate into a city like Jerusalem you would probably have to get off your ass or camel, perhaps even off-load your back-pack if you were walking, and squeeze through. A wide gate, of course, you would hardly notice - you would just stroll through, or get swept through by sheer weight of numbers. And this, says Jesus, is an illustration of the difference between "destruction" and "life". 

The broad, easy way leads to destruction. But what does Jesus mean by this? What is "destruction"? Is he talking about hell? - about being eternally lost? I'm sure that comes into it. Jesus never taught that each and every individual is going to be ultimately saved: that is sheer wishful thinking, not hard reality. 

But whether that is so or not, he is certainly talking about the kind of habits, mind-set and behaviour that lead to the destruction of our characters, our integrity, our essential personhood. By going with the flow in the things that really matter we are on a course of spiritual suicide. 

Jesus said something very similar elsewhere: "What use is it to anyone if they gain the whole world but lose their own soul?" Oh yes, going with the flow may make you quite popular, it may bring you various pleasures and rewards. But at what cost? Is it really worth it in the light of spiritual, eternal values?

The narrow way that leads to life has to be squeezed into. It can be hard. It involves sacrifice and pain. It means making what the politicians call "tough decisions". It means saying No to ourselves when we would much rather say Yes - and perhaps saying Yes when we would rather say No.

It could apply in all sorts of areas. Here are a few: the mad stampedes at the new year sales to spend money we can't afford; the fixation with physical beauty which leads people to mutilate themselves and call it "cosmetic surgery"; the quiet unseen sacrifice of principle for money; the subtle yielding to lust and sexual immorality; the seductive voice that whispers in our ears "Oh go on, everybody else does it!"

Jesus lived, died and rose again to enable us to become the people God intended us to be. We read in the early chapters of Genesis that God made Adam and Eve "after his likeness" and "in his own image", two expressions which basically mean "reflecting our (that is, God’s) nature", as The Message paraphrase puts it. Human beings were made to be God-like, pure, holy. 

But that image has been lost in us. Jesus came to restore it. And that can only happen as we humble ourselves and go with him through the narrow gate and along the narrow way. 

There could, after all, be no narrower way than the way of the Cross. But never forget: it led to all the glories of eternal life. It did for him. So will it for us.

Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry that I am so easily taken in by the lies and the folly of this world. Please help me to be strong, to say Yes when I need to say Yes, and No when I need to say No, and to walk gladly with you that narrow way of the Cross. Amen.

Is there some area of your life today where you are saying Yes when you should be saying No, or No when you should be saying Yes? Is it time for action?

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