There are two ditches

Just past the entry gate is a road that leads us to the destination called life.

Mat 7:13  "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
Mat 7:14  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (NIV)

Mat 7:13  "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.
Mat 7:14  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (NRSV)

I cannot find any good translations of the above verses. Depending on the translation you pick, the road to life is "narrow", "difficult" or "hard". The original Greek implies suffering tribulation or affliction. It is not the road to life that I want to speak about first but rather what happens to those who wander off that road. I will discuss following the road to life later. This message is not addressed to those children of God who wander off the road for they are not likely to find this message nor to understand it. This message is for those who wish to help God's children on the path to life.

There are two ditches beside the road to life. They go by many names, but you will most likely recognize them by the names of "legalism" and "lawlessness".

Legalism is following a code of law in order to obtain the approval and blessing of God. In the time of the apostles the early church was heavily influenced by Jews raised with almost 2000 years of religious traditions about following the law of Moses. God used the apostle Paul, a man trained extensively in that law and expert at following it, to oppose it's negative influences on the fledgling church of Christ Jesus.

Paul pointed out that God has deliberately chosen not to allow a "law" to give us life:

Gal 3:21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.

The important point here is to realize that no code of conduct or list of "do and do not" is able to lead us to righteousness because God has rejected that way. Why is this important? Please be patient and I will explain shortly.

Let me now jump ahead 2000 years in time. Many who call themselves by the name of Christ now feel that He is the Savior but not the Lord. In other words you can be part of the Kingdom of God without obeying the King - you can just claim His name and do what you want. Claiming to belong to Christ Jesus but still doing whatever you wish is lawlessness. You probably already know that such a lifestyle is a deadly deception and that the mercy and grace of God cannot be abused indefinitely. There is a long but sharply limited period of forgiveness (free grace) after which the judgment of God will fall (2 Pet 3:9-10). Some leaders teach God's children that they are exempt from God's judgment but that is not the truth. As you know, judgment begins at the house of God and no one escapes it according to the scriptures:

1 Pet 4:17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins with us, what will the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad.

Some people may think that lawlessness only applies to those who call themselves Christian and do evil things. But Jesus said that it also applies to those who are doing very good things and even ministering in His name. Many call Christ Lord and some even do great things in His name but words do not impress Him and neither do deeds no matter how good:

Luke 6:46  And why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

Mat 7:21 Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that practice lawlessness.

The Lord looks at our hearts and knows those who are truly submitted to Him and following His voice:

John 10:27  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

Some spiritual fathers are concerned about this lawlessness, which is foretold in scripture and is so evident around us now, because it kills love:

Mat 24:12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

Some spiritual fathers are proposing solutions to the problem of lawlessness. One is "strict obedience". For example: "Strict obedience to the commandments of Christ and the Apostles as written in the New Testament". This sounds good to many but in truth it is legalism which substitutes the New Testament for the Law of Moses and we know that God does not give life through following a code as previously mentioned. It does not help the children if we lead them out of one ditch and back into another. The Bible is a valuable message from God to His people with many uses (2 Tim 3:16), but Jesus gave us a warning about it's inability to give life:

John 5:39 You study the Bible; for in it you think you can find eternal life: and it testifies about me.
John 5:40 And yet you will not come to me, that you might have life.

Another example: "Strict obedience to the Holy Spirit". This sounds really good because obeying God is important according to the scriptures above and so is hearing His voice! But there is a problem with this teaching. "Strict obedience" is not found in the scriptures and there is a reason which I will discuss later.

Let me sidetrack for a moment here. One time God said to me, "You have a list of things to do." That was very true - I have a habit of making "to do" lists to prioritize and remember things that I need to accomplish. Then He said, "I have a list of things for you to do also and my list is different than yours." Ouch! I could see where this was going. He said, "Do you trust me enough to give up your list and follow my list even if I only show you one thing at a time from it?" I won't share the rest of a long story here, but the point is that following the Spirit is following an invisible list of do and don't and no matter how good that is, it cannot give life. If one tries to find the path of life by obedience to the Spirit he will fall into the ditch of legalism because his heart is not right. That may be hard to accept, so please look at the following scripture passages:

1 Sam 13:13 And Samuel said to Saul, You have done foolishly: you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you: for now would the LORD have established your kingdom upon Israel for ever.
1 Sam 13:14 But now your kingdom will not continue: the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be captain over his people, because you have not kept that which the LORD commanded you.

The solution to Saul's disobedience was not simply obedience but a heart after God's own heart that He found in David.

Please consider the faith and obedience of Abraham before the law of Moses was given:

James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
James 2:22  Do you see how faith worked with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
James 2:23  And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was counted as righteousness for him: and he was called the Friend of God.

Gen 22:12 And he said, Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do any thing to him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.

Gen 22:18 And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.

Clearly there is great blessing in obedience, but God looks at our hearts: life and righteousness come by trusting Him.

What about those who followed God after the law of Moses was given?

Mat 5:19 Whoever therefore will break one of these least commandments, and will teach men so, he will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever will do and teach them, the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:20 For I say to you, That except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees were experts at following the code of the law and yet failed to find God's kingdom so how could anyone do any better? And what about those following God now under the New Covenant? True righteousness is still found the same way Abraham found it:

Gal 3:2 This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?
Gal 3:4 Have you suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
Gal 3:5 He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Gal 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Christians can fall into fleshly patterns of seeking life via works. But no efforts of our own can make us any tiny bit more righteous nor accomplish God's works much less make us more righteous than the Pharisees.  Religious teachings about behavior may appear good, but they have no true value according to the scripture:

Col 2:20 Therefore if you be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the age, why, as though living in the age, are you subject to ordinances,
Col 2:21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Col 2:22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Col 2:23 Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in religious worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: but no value against the satisfying of the flesh.

Jesus explained how we should view obedience in a parable:

Luke 17:5 And the apostles said to the Lord, Increase our faith.
Luke 17:6  And the Lord said, If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this sycamine tree, Be you plucked up by the root, and be you planted in the sea; and it would obey you.
Luke 17:7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say to him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
Luke 17:8 And will not rather say to him, Prepare food so that I may sup, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink?
Luke 17:9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not.
Luke 17:10 So likewise you, when you will have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

I would put it this way - on a scale where sin is minus infinity and the righteousness of Christ is plus infinity, simple obedience is a zero. Obedience does not produce faith - faith produces obedience. Likewise, unbelief produces disobedience and spiritually is the same thing. In truth both legalism and lawlessness are different forms of the rebellion that has filled mankind since the fall of man in the garden of Eden and they both come out of not trusting God. In clear terms: If we are not hearing God's voice and obeying, it is because we don't really trust Him. Jesus said it another way:

John 6:28 Then said they to him, What should we do, that we might work the works of God?
John 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.

Remember the "strict obedience" trap that I mentioned? If there is "strict obedience" (sometimes called "strict conformance" or "radical conformance", etc.) to a code or even the Spirit, then there is a range from little to more to "strict". This means that those who try harder can do better than those who don't try as hard. That view allows us to compare ourselves to one another and leads to the pride attitude that Jesus warned us about in this Bible passage:

Luke 18:10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector.
Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not like other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
Luke 18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
Luke 18:13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
Luke 18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself will be abased; and he that humbles himself will be exalted.

As spiritual fathers, we are called to rescue God's children from lawlessness, but not to lead them into legalism or pride. We must not make them into "Pharisees" who think they are better than others for some reason. Pride in following Christ is surely excluded by what He said about it:

Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Is there a better way to follow the road to life then? Consider the obedience of Christ. Where did His motivation come from?

Heb 5:8  Though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered;
Heb 5:9  And having been made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him;

John 8:28 Then said Jesus to them, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then will you know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.
John 8:29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father has not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.

John 14:21 He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me will be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

Christ learned obedience through suffering because of His trust in and love for His father.

Although Christ Jesus was able to endure suffering because He could see the Joy that would come, remember that Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit and not something earned even though it will surely come:

Heb 12:2 Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Psa 30:5 For his anger endures but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

We can obey the Lord because we fear Him or we can obey Him because we hope to get something or achieve some righteousness, but He is only pleased if our motivation is Love! It sometimes seems that obedience earns us blessings and disobedience earns us punishments but the truth is that God loves us and desires to bless us always - A loving father does not give disobedient children gifts, but rather chastens and disciplines them. (Yes, I know that God sends rain upon the just and the unjust. If He did not, no one would survive to repent!) He saves gifts for when they are obedient but He gives them because of His love not because they are earned. Children do not always realize that chastening is also the blessing of the Father nor that the things that they desire may not always be good for them. But God is not bound by our limited vision and understanding:

Heb 12:5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to children, My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him:
Heb 12:6 For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.
Heb 12:7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not?
Heb 12:8 But if you be without chastisement, of which all children are partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons.
Heb 12:9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: will we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?
Heb 12:10 For they truly for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Heb 12:11 Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but sorrowful: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are trained by it.

Where does one get that Love that God is looking for? And how can you totally trust in and surrender your will to someone, even God? 

1 John 4:19 We love him, because he first loved us.

Our love is a response to His love. When we see His total unconditional Love for us, we cannot help but respond with love. We see that love by faith (trust in Him). If you don't feel that total trust and love, perhaps He does not love you and you should tell Him to go away. Oh, did that thought scare you? Then you are double minded about God loving you! You must decide whether God loves you totally or not. The following is a short story about a personal encounter with God that happened to me some time ago.

At a certain time period in my life, I enjoyed great times of God's presence, blessing, and guidance. But I also experienced times of doubt and confusion and darkness. In desperation one day, I went up on the side of a mountain to pray alone. I knelt down expecting the longest most intense struggle of my life in prayer. I started like this: "God, I am sick of the ups and downs of my spiritual roller coaster experiences. I want something solid and consistent in your presence at all times and I am not leaving here without an answer." Before I could finish my prayer, He spoke to me strongly, "Give it up." "What?", I asked in confusion. "Let it go!", came His voice again. I said "Yes, Lord.", still not understanding but obedient to my King. He spoke again with the clearest thing I have ever heard Him say to me: "My desires for you are higher than anything you can imagine for yourself!" Then He poured out His Spirit on me more intensely than I had ever experienced it. I did not feel like my feet were touching the ground for a long time. Eventually I matured enough to realize that I learned more and grew the most spiritually in my times of failure. But I share this story in hope that you will realize as I did that if I obtained anything and everything that I wanted from God, I would have obtained such a far, far, remote second best that it could not even compare with His great desire and plan for my life! Does that give you any small idea of His love for you? Do you see why it is so important to trust Him totally and surrender everything to Him?

To be clear about what I am saying here: It is good to sacrifice your life for the Lord and it is important to obey His voice and do His will, but what He really wants is our complete trust and the Love that comes from knowing Him. That will not only please Him but show fruit in our obedience and hearing His voice.

Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

(You can love someone without trusting them. You can even know someone loves you without trusting them. But we trust someone who we know always does what is best for us even to laying down their life for us because they love us.)

If God does not have a great desire for us to achieve righteousness, we will never get close for no human power can move us one step closer to that life. But if God desires for us to reach true righteousness, He will provide all that is needed for us to achieve righteousness!  (I am not speaking here of the temporary "imputed" righteousness that allows us to first receive God's mercy and grace, but of the true righteousness He wishes to robe us with through the limitless power of His grace: Rev 19:8) Some people believe and teach that God has enough power to "cover up" sin but not enough to remove it from us in this life! For them that is true.

Mat 15:14 Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch.

There is no formula to follow God. God perfects us in obedience and righteousness through chastening and suffering if we are willing to receive it. Rest assured that if we are willing, God will move heaven and earth to perfect us. But learning obedience and Love through suffering is also a constant choice for us to make. They are a fruit that grows in us not a gift wrapped package that God can just hand to us as some believe. The true path to life allows no human effort (works) because those lead to pride and a ditch:

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

In case anyone thinks that this message is somehow "new", let me remind you that both Jesus and Paul clearly stated that anything less than perfect love motivating our actions is a failure to reach God's goal for us:

Mark 12:30 And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment.
Mark 12:31 And the second is like, namely this, You will love your neighbour as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

1 Cor 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.

I have tried to explain the ditches alongside the road to life and the truth about following Him. Now consider the problem of  rescuing God's children from lawlessness and legalism. Ask yourself these questions: Why did Christ not do many miracles in places where people did not believe in Him? Why did Christ often command people to "stretch out your hand", "take up your bed and walk", or something such as that when He healed them? Why did Christ often tell people "your faith has made you well"? Remember that God does not give gifts to the disobedient (unbelieving). Christ Jesus was always concerned for the eternal purpose of God and wished to move people to a place of faith and obedience so that God's blessings could help them rather than hurting them. To bless a disobedient child is to encourage and confirm that disobedience (unbelief). This destroys faith rather than building it. Likewise to let them think that they were blessed because of some human goodness rather than simple faith is harmful to them. So why does God not correct the disobedient children now? Many believe that "bad things" (which is how they see chastening) come from Satan, not God and therefore they cannot receive His correction. These children will have great trouble understanding the shaking that God is sending upon us all.

God has a plan to save many of the lawless children. As you may know, this will involve restoring judgment to the house of God and the "severity" as well as the goodness of God to His people. Many of His people will lose everything, some even their lives, in the near future. Persecution will become very intense. The near future will be the time of great mourning predicted by many prophecies of scripture. There will be much sorrow, but He will turn it into joy in His time for those who are faithful.

Rom 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness: otherwise you also will be cut off.

Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Isa 61:2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
Isa 61:3  To reward those that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

Jer 31:13  Then will the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

Scriptures from BSV except where noted otherwise.
October 1, 2008
Kermit Kiser