Death or Life: Which Will You Choose?

That seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it?  If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that 100% of people, when presented with a choice between life and death, will choose life.  I believe it’s safe to assume that we like living more than we like dying.  Most people, when they’re asked if they’d like to have eternal life, will say yes.  Again, I don’t have statistics to back that claim up, but I feel like it’s a safe assumption.

But do we know how to gain eternal life?  There’s no denying that we all want it, but Jesus makes it clear that not all will have eternal life.  Not all will be with God forever.  While we all want to have eternal life, or as Kenny Chesney put it, “everybody wants to go to heaven,” how can we know that we will go there?  How can we be sure that we have life?  Jesus has answered that question for us in Matthew 7:13-14.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus lays out two possible paths for us to be on: on a hard road, having gone through a narrow gate, or on an easy road, having gone through a wide gate.  All of humanity is on one of these roads.  There is no middle ground here.  And Jesus says the gate that we enter by and the road we are on determines whether or not we have eternal life.

The way of destruction that Jesus describes is the way of the world, the way of those who don’t know Jesus.  The gate is wide because there’s room for all kinds of beliefs, all kinds of behaviors, all kinds of (false) saviors.  There is no one way through at this gate.

It’s not hard to look at the world around us and see that there are a lot of different religious beliefs.  Christianity is not the only religion in the world.  It is certainly not the only religion that claims to be the one and only way to heaven.  This broad gate accepts all sorts of beliefs.

Some will ask, “Why is that so bad?  Shouldn’t all beliefs be honored as equally valid?”  Not if they’re not true.  There’s a reason we don’t accept the opinion that the world is flat anymore–we know it to be false.  As someone who’s crossed the Pacific Ocean, I can testify that the world is indeed round, and not flat.  There’s a reason that children all across the world lose points on their math tests if they answer that two plus two equals seven.  Two plus two is four, case closed.  And when we argue about the existence of God, and the nature of who He is, and what we must do to be in right relationship with Him, we cannot afford to treat it as just another talking point.  There is nothing more important than understanding and knowing who God is, and being in right relationship with Him.  The wide gate leads to destruction because it allows false beliefs about false gods to creep in, meaning that those who are on it are not right with the real God.

The way that leads to destruction is also easy.  On this road, there is no sacrifice, no commitment, no change.  There’s no repentance, or change in behaviors.  It is the road of the “good life,” the “easy life,” the “my life feels like a vacation life.”  It is the road that justifies sinful behavior by promoting self-rule.  It is the road of “your best life now.”  If your best life is now, you don’t know Jesus.  For those who know Jesus, we know our best life is yet to come, because our life is in Jesus, and He is coming back to finish making all things new.

So if you choose the easy road, that requires no commitment to God, if you choose the wide gate that leaves room for all sorts of “gods,” you may have an easy life here.  You’ll have fun following the “gods” of self, sex, money, power, etc.  But 20,000,000 years later, you’ll be separated from the real God, the one you rebelled against your entire life, and there will be no way to get out of hell, out of separation from fellowship with God.  Scary?  Yes.  But praise God Jesus’ sermon doesn’t end there.

Jesus next describes the way that leads to life.  This way goes through a narrow gate.  Now, understand that Jesus isn’t preaching a works-based salvation.  He isn’t saying that the gate is narrow and you have to work really hard, and do a lot of good things, to pass through it.  The gate is narrow because there’s only one way through–Him.

You enter by the narrow gate when you give up on yourself and lean on the finished work of Christ alone for your salvation, and trust in Him alone to be your Lord and to lead you in a new life of knowing, trusting and obeying Him.  In other words, we are saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But isn’t that, someone may ask, insulting to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.?  Yes, it is.  It’s insulting to me, too.  It’s insulting to all of us.  The cross is insulting because the cross is humbling.  We want to save ourselves.  We want to pay back our sin debt.  We want to be in control, and we want God to listen to us.  We want the Creator to be at the mercy and will of the created, and that’s just not how it works.  You can’t be your own God and have God as your God at the same time.  You can’t have life while rejecting the God who gives life.  The question is not, “Is the cross insulting?” but rather, “Will I let God kill my pride that I may be saved through Christ?”

The Christian life is hard.  Sometimes, we like to dress it up like it’s a party, where we’re constantly in worship, constantly growing to be more like Christ, always smiling and happy.  We never struggle to believe God, or to give our time and money and energy to the kingdom of God.  But that’s not the truth, and anyone who’s trusted in Jesus for more than five minutes can testify to this fact!  On top of the sufferings and struggles every person, regardless of their relationship with Jesus, experiences, such as medical problems, job loss, relationship tensions, etc., Christians are also in a war with their sin.  A Christian is one who has made Christ their Lord and has made sin their enemy.  We hate our sin.  Jesus is in charge now.  He has given us His perfect righteousness.  He has forgiven us through His precious blood.  We recoil at the very thought of offending Him because of His great love for us.  But we do sin.  And we sin a lot.  And we sin horribly.  Some of the things I most regret in my life have come after I came to know Christ.  The difference is in how we respond to our sin.  Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives, we confess our sins before God.  We agree with Him that our sin is wrong.  We trust Him to help us follow Him, and we rest in His righteousness and in His forgiveness of our sins.

That’s hard work!  There’s joy in knowing we’re forgiven, but the pain of daily repentance and the effort required to daily pursue God threatens us and entices us to turn away from Him, and live our lives like He does not exist.  But Christ has not left us that option.  He is Lord.  And those who fight sin and trust Him for the entirety of their lives will be saved, and will have a joy beyond compare in the life to come.  Let’s choose that life today.

This is not the popular way.  To renounce self and put my dependence on Christ and follow Him as Lord never has been and never will be popular.  The result of Jesus’ ministry was public execution.  The result of some missionaries’ preaching of this gospel is their death.  But will we be popular, or saved?  Will we be with the world, or with God?  Will we be famous and living the easy life, or struggling for the glory of God?

Will you choose death, or will you choose life?

Lord, may we choose you.  May we trust that you love us, that you save us, that you lead us, and that no matter how hard this difficult road gets, we won’t ever walk it alone.  May the gospel rid us of all fear and doubt and lead us to give our lives for your sake.  May you be glorified in the lives of those who choose to enter by the narrow gate and embark on the hard way.

God bless,

Neal E.

What Are We Pursuing?

When I was in middle school, I changed my hairstyle quite often. Like every other middle school student, popularity and what other people thought of me mattered more than anything. So my hairdresser, bless her soul, changed the way I looked several times over the course of a few years. One month, I’d want it short, the next, I’d want it longer, the next, I’d want my hair styled in the front. Now, none of these haircuts looked good. None. Not a single one made me feel better about myself, and not one of them gained me a single friend. So why did I do it?

Because I was pursuing a certain kind of image, namely, the image set by my peers and the culture around me. I wasn’t satisfied with who I was. I wanted to be who others told me to be.

Culture creates and fosters the idea of an “image” that we all have to fit into. If you aren’t “x,” you aren’t cool like us. If you don’t have “y,” you can’t sit at the cool kid’s table. You need “z” to make you happy. The pressure is enormous to be like the rest of the world. Look at any makeup, cologne or clothing advertisement. It’s pretty ridiculous. And it changes everyday!

And even if we manage to not give in to cultural expectations about who we should be and what we should do, we set up our own image of what we want ourselves to be, and we don’t even live up to that. For example, if I want to be more athletic, and believe that would make me happier, I chase that, when the truth is, while I should definitely get in shape and take care of my body, I will never be the first guy picked in a pick-up game, in any sport. While I can get better, it’s apparent if you’ve ever seen me play, I was not born to be an athlete.

We are all pursuing an image, a picture, of what we want our lives to look like, of what we want to be. Maybe that’s married with three kids living in a modest home in Birmingham, maybe it’s living in another country as an international businessman. Maybe it’s a professional athlete. Regardless of the details, we all are pursuing something.

The Bible has something to say about that. Let’s start at the beginning, in Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

So while we are pursuing our own self-made or culturally made images, God tells us we are made in His image. While we are busy chasing other, lesser images, God says, “You were made by me, to look like me!”

Now, what’s the problem? Same thing it usually always is—sin. We have decided that to reflect the image and glory of God, to walk in His ways and be like Him, is not good. We believe we can do better than God. Although He is our Creator, we have decided we want to make ourselves in our image—we want to determine where we should go and what we should be—we want to be our own gods. And we are terrible at it. It is not cute when a child talks back to his parents and the people and culture around him says, “Oh, he’s just so independent.” No, he’s not independent—he’s a sinner that rebels against God and the authority of the parents God has given him.

So, again, we all pursue an image, whether self-made or culture-made. We know that God has made us in His image and we should pursue it. But we also know that we are sinners, dead in our sin and not reflecting the image and glory of God.

So what do we do? This is where the gospel comes in. This is where we see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really is good news for sinners.

God made us to enjoy His presence, to know His love and provision and power and glory, to be like Him and model His excellence. We fell from that. But the beautiful, life-changing, world-rocking truth of the gospel is that God did not give up on His creation. He would not lose His loved ones. I’m convinced the reason we have stories that glorify and praise someone that will not give up on love, even in the worst of circumstances, is because we, being made in God’s image, are impressed and awestruck at someone who loves so jealously and so sacrificially. We find that kind of love first and foremost in the gospel. The gospel is the true story of the God who would not, does not, and never will give up on His people, no matter how far away they fall from Him. While we were still God’s enemies, we were also the objects of His love, and He gave His very life to show the magnitude of that love. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin that takes glory away from Him. But God, when we could not come to Him, came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and worked our salvation, and now effectively calls us to trust in Him, be saved, and follow Him. God had a purpose in making us, and He had a purpose in saving us—to bring us into His fellowship, enjoy Him, and be like Him.

What God is accomplishing in sinners through the salvation of Christ is not just about forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Those are really good and necessary things. I need to be forgiven, and of course I want to live forever with God. But if we read 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.”

Our sin keeps us from reflecting the image of God. But because Jesus died and rose again, we can repent, confessing our sin and our sinful state before God, trusting Christ to come be our Lord and Savior, and not only are we forgiven and righteous through faith, but we get new life, where the Creator begins creating us anew in Christ Jesus.

So what we pursue should be the image of our God. We have a higher purpose than to be what society says we should be, or what we say we should be. The God who created us alone has the true right to tell us who and what to be. And He calls us to be like Him, by finding joy in Him and reflecting His holy character and love, by being like Him in all we do. We do this not by our own strength, but by trust in the Savior’s grace to change our hearts and our desires, and by walking by the Spirit. Sanctification is by grace, too. Don’t forget that.

Now, quick clarifier here: This does not mean we are going to be divine in essence. We will not ever be like God in the sense of being divine and omniscient and all-powerful, etc. However, in His character, in His joy, in His love—-oh absolutely, yes, we shall be like Him in this way, if we are in Christ. This is the joy of glorification—the completion of our salvation, to be just like Jesus, who is the only good man that’s ever lived, to perfectly abide in God’s love, to find complete joy and satisfaction in Him, and to be the holy men and women God has created us to be. What a day it will be when this becomes reality!

So I urge you to turn around from sin and idolatry, confess the Lordship of Christ over your life and trust Him to save you, to forgive you and stand as your perfection before the Father. And let Him become your pursuit. What does that mean? It means instead of pursuing joy in this world, which will pass away, you pursue joy in who God is. Instead of pursuing worldly love, you pursue God’s love. Worldly love, like that of a spouse, is wonderful, but it pales in comparison to the sacrificial, eternity-changing love of God. Instead of pursuing identity in a society and culture that changes its standards every day, find identity in belonging to Christ, and living by God’s standards and ways, which are full of joy, life and peace.

The pursuit of God, of His love and His joy and His ways, is so much higher, better and rewarding than pursuing something lesser. The Creator is better than the creation.

Lord, may we pursue you because you have graciously pursued us in Christ. May that not just be a cute phrase that we say in church, but the desire of our hearts. May we spend time in your Word, to know who you are and find joy in knowing that you are who you are for us. May we reach others, to tell them there is something better than sin and this world. May we not fail to find our identity, purpose and joy in who you are and what you have done for us.

God bless,

Neal E.

Next week, I’ll talk about what it really means to be holy. What does being holy really mean and look like, practically? Hopefully, for my sake and yours, we’ll understand that more after next week.

If you have any ideas for this blog or my other blog (reporternealembry.wordpress.com), please feel free to email me at nembry@charter.net