By Robert E. Coleman
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Someone put up a sign along one of the muddy roads in rural Iowa during the rainy season. It read: "Choose your ruts carefully; you'll be in them for the next ten miles."
That sign may invoke a smile, but actually it offers sound advice. When roads are slippery, it's for your own good that you get into a rut. But make sure that you choose the right one or you will surely end up in the ditch.
In a much more profound sense, Jesus likened our destiny to choosing the right road to travel. After describing qualities of the Christian life, listen to His concluding words on the Sermon on the Mount: "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 is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (
The Broad Way of Destruction
Most people, Jesus says, journey on the road that requires no commitment to get through the gate nor conviction of truth to stay the course. It's the easy way of the world, where you give allegiance only to yourself and do whatever satisfies your own fancy. And since it's the popular way to go, you need only follow the crowd.
Actually, this is the natural thing to do — the way all of us are born to travel. As the Scripture says: "I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (
What we tend to overlook is that neglect is itself a choice, and as with all decisions, there are consequences. Roads lead somewhere. Foolish is the person who sets out on a journey and does not consider where it will end.
Jesus wants us to understand that the broad way "leads to destruction." Often He spoke of hell, a place reserved for the eternal punishment of those who forget God. Characterized by the loss of all that is good, He likened it to "darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (
It's hard for those of us in the "now" generation to look ahead and consider the end of our journey. The gusto of the moment seems too much fun to think about the future. Yet have you noticed as we get farther down the road, the pleasures of sin become less exciting, and down deep in the soul there is a nauseous sense of loneliness — a yearning for true happiness that is not satisfied. This unfulfilled desire breeds restlessness, and attempts to find fleshly remedies only bring more despair.
You often see this in the lives of some celebrities. After his last show in Las Vegas, at age 44, Elvis Presley was asked by a newspaper reporter, "Elvis, when you started out you said you wanted three things out of life: to be rich . . . to be famous . . . to be happy. Are you happy?" The king of rock and roll replied, "No, I'm not happy. I'm lonely as hell"1
Remember Marilyn Monroe, the sex symbol of her day who reveled in the adjulation of her fans. Finally coming to realize the meaningless of it all, reflecting on her career, she confessed to a reporter, "Fame will go by, and so long . . . I've always known it was fickle."2 Not long after, she committed suicide.
Think of Aristotle Onassis, who through his business enterprises became at one point the most wealthy man in the world. But in interviews after the death of his son, he said: "Until now I always believed that money could give a man everything he wanted in life. But now money means nothing . . . My own life has become pointless." Wiping tears from his eyes, the broken-hearted father could only say, "What now?"3
Yes, that is the question. When the treasures we have lived for in this world have lost their luster, and the end of life's journey looms ahead, what now? The Bible has the answer. "It is appointed unto all of us once to die, and after that to face judgment." (
Are you ready for that day? Or is there in your soul an uncertainty, even a fear of what lies ahead. Don't you think that God has something better for you?
The Narrow Way of Life
Thankfully, there is another way - a road that truly leads to a fully satisfying life - a life abounding with joy and full of praise, life overflowing in love that grows sweeter as the years go by. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it. But Jesus tells us that "small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it."
It's not politically correct to be out of step with the majority, sometimes called in derision "narrow minded." But I have come to realize that ridicule can be expected when we choose the road of life.
1. For one thing, it's narrow because Jesus is the only way. "No one comes to the Father except "through me," He said (
There are many religious leaders who claim devotion from their followers, but only One who accepted in His body the guilt of our sins, bore our judgment unto death, then rose victoriously from the grave.
The resurrection of Christ confronts the world with a bewildering problem. For when someone dies who has power over the grave, you must ask, why did He die? The Bible gives the only answer: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (
2. It's narrow too, because to go this way we must repent. Jesus came to call "sinners to repentance" (
Repentance means a change of direction. Seeing ourselves responsible for what happened at the cross, in godly sorrow for our sin, with brokenness and contrition, we choose to leave the road of destruction and start to follow Jesus. We confess our sin and resolve to turn away from everything displeasing to the Lord.
Evidencing this change of heart is willingness to make restitution where others have been wronged. I knew a man who after his conversion got a wheelbarrow and spent half a day taking back the tools he had stolen when he worked for the railroad.
The act of repentance issues in a state of penitence, a continuing responsiveness to the truth whenever the Spirit of God reveals further areas of our life out of line with the character of Christ. And as "we walk in the light" He sheds on our path, quick to "confess our sins," we never have to go to bed at night with a guilty conscience (
3. To go this narrow way, moreover, we must believe in Christ. Everyone "who believes," Jesus says, "has eternal life" (
Belief, as Jesus used the word, means far more than intellectual acceptance of His work and teachings. We are told that after He drove the moneychangers out of the temple during the Passover "many people" believed in His name. "But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them" (
Saving faith is complete trust in Christ, impacting our whole personality — affirming His word, embracing His love, consenting to His plans for our life. Attempts to impose our will upon God are gone, and in its' place comes a new quest to follow Jesus. Such childlike devotion to Him is so liberating from our previous vain efforts to earn favor with God that it's like being "born again" (
I remember when my two young daughters would see me coming home, they would jump off their tricycles and run to me. I would pick up one in each arm and hug them until they would squeal with delight. They had no fear that I would let them fall, not even a thought of insecurity. For they knew that I loved them — I was their daddy — and in my arms they were perfectly safe.
That kind of confidence is what makes belief in Christ so beautiful. Living by faith is simply resting in the arms of Jesus, and in that sweet assurance, giving all that we are, all that we hope to be, to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.
It's Your Decision
But there must be a decision. Love involves a choice. Living near college campuses for many years I cannot help but observe developing courtships of couples, especially in the springtime. Sometimes I will notice after a while some young man who has been roaming around with the crowd drops out of sight and I begin to wonder what happened to the boy. Did he get sick and have to leave school? Or, was he dismissed because of a discipline problem? Then one night, quite by accident, I happen to see him in the distance, walking down lover's lane, looking into her eyes, breathing out the tender tale that scents the evening breeze. Do you know what I'm talking about? 0h, happy love, where love like this is found, heartfelt raptures, bliss beyond compare! As the poet has said, "If music be the food of love, then play on that my appetite may sicken, and so die."
It's wonderful to fall in love. But have you noticed how narrow we become? Young fellow, if you still have a half-dozen girls on the string, you are safe. Wait until it comes down to just one - and you want only to be with her. It's not that you have no interest in the old group, but that you have found a greater delight and you want to be with her alone.
That's the way it is when we fall in love with Jesus. The attractions of the broad way of the world lose their appeal in the much more fulfilling journey on the narrow road.
Have you made that decision? No one else can make it for you. That choice which influences other choices along the way ultimately determines your destiny.
Having been born and raised in Texas, I have always had a special fondness for the Alamo in San Antonio. It was in that old Spanish Mission in 1836 that a volunteer band of 182 patriots fought and died for what they believed. Surrounded for thirteen days by the Mexican army, numbering 5,000 men, the Texans were under attack. During a lull in the bombardment, William B. Travis, the commander, called his men together and explained their hopeless military position and that the only way to save themselves would be to surrender. However, there was the possibility that at night individuals might slip through the enemy lines, and he would understand if someone chose to leave. Unsheathing his sword, placing its point to the earth, he walked in front of his battle weary men until a line was drawn in the sand. Then in a voice trembling with emotion, he said, "Those prepared to give their lives in freedom's cause, come over to me."
Without hesitation every man, save one, crossed the line. James Bowie, too sick to walk, asked that he be carried over on his cot.
In the early pre-dawn hours of March 6, with bugles sounding the dreaded "Dequello" (no quarter to the defenders), columns of Mexican soldiers attacked from all directions. The Texans fought off the first attack, and the second, but the third assault breached the north wall and the Mexican troops poured into the Alamo compound. In furious hand-to-hand combat, the Texans fought until every able-bodied soldier had bathed the earth with his blood. Only a few women and children and two Black slaves were spared.4
That's why the cry, "Remember the Alamo" became the cry of Texas' independence. The line had been drawn and now every person who lived in the territory had to choose which side they were on. No longer could they be neutral. Everyone had to make a decision — to stand with Texas or with Mexico.
In an infinitely greater way, God has drawn a line across the conscience of every person. It's a line drawn with an old rugged cross clearly delineating the choice each of us has to make — to go with the crowd on the broad road or take the narrow trail of the cross and follow Jesus. You cannot have it both ways. Finally, for each one of us it's either the world or it's Christ. What is your decision?
Robert Coleman is Distinguished Professor of Discipleship and Evangelism at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA.
1. Quoted by Luis Palau, Everything You've Longed For (Doubleday, 2002)pp. 77,78.
2. Chicago Sun Times, August 6, 1962, p. 112.
3. Midnight, May 7, 1973, p.14.
4. Taken from "The Story of the Alamo," a folder prepared by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and available to visitors at the Alamo.