Enter by the Narrow Gate
Matthew 7:13-14, Message by Pastor Eric Chang
First, let us read Mt. 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.”
Let us also read Lk. 13:23 & 24:
And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
These two passages are not exactly the same, but they make one similar point, and that is, that being saved is no easy matter. Today we will concern ourselves particularly with Mt. 7:13&14. Now the Lord Jesus is coming now to the close of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. By the time you have studied the teaching of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, you begin to see that it is no easy thing. Let us try to see what the sequence of thought is.
Doing God’s Will Is Hard Because We Want To Go Our Own Way
Last week, we saw that God answers prayer. We saw that God is the living God and that he promises to answer prayer. We saw more than that: that the Lord Jesus is concerned lest we should not ask, and therefore we should not receive. Therefore he says, “Ask!” He is encouraging us, even commanding us to ask. We saw that unless we ask, unless we learn to walk with God, we will live all the time in a spiritual state of poverty. Unless we ask and we learn to walk with God, we will never know God personally as the living Savior. And last week, I shared with you that some Christians are people who believe in God - they believe it all in the head; they have no personal living experience of God. Therefore, they also lack conviction.
We saw also that asking also entails a condition. And we saw that that condition was stated in v12, the verse before the one we are studying now. The condition was that we should, on our part, do God’s will. Is that a difficult condition? It depends on us whether it is difficult or not. Why is the narrow road a narrow one? Why is it a hard road? Why is it a difficult road? Is it because God wants to make life hard for us? Why does he not make being a Christian a lot easier? You will see, in a moment, some of the difficulties. But we thank God - I thank God! - that the Lord Jesus is always absolutely honest with us. Many times I have observed that the Lord Jesus never tempts us with rosy speech. He never coats the pill with a lot of sugar. He does not draw us to himself on false pretences. He always tells us: “Do you want to follow me? You are most welcome to follow me. But I tell you honestly, it is a hard road.” Doing God’s will - is it hard? That very much depends on us. It is hard if we are accustomed to being disobedient. It is hard if we are used to being self-willed. It is hard because we always want to go our own way.
Sometimes when I observe the conduct of children, I am amazed why they make life so hard on themselves. The reason they make it hard on themselves is because they want their own way. This morning, my little girl put on a lovely red dress. The trouble is she found it a little bit short. Today’s style is not so short, you see. You would think at that age, nobody cares too much about the length of the dress. But nothing of the kind! She said, “This dress is too short.” She wants it lengthened by half an inch or maybe one inch. My wife told her, “But there isn’t that much material in the dress.” So, she was grumbling and muttering about this dress. So my wife said, “All right, put on another dress.” Oh, the scene we have over the dress is almost unbelievable. So, finally with much moaning and protests; and only with severe orders that she finally put on the other dress.
Of course, any father and mother would want the child to look nice. We do not want the child to look ugly; that is clear. Why does she not understand that her concern is also our concern? What is she worrying about? But the way the child behaves, sometimes you would think that the parents want to make their child look very ugly, and so, she has to defend herself and protect herself. You see, we are very good at making life very hard for ourselves. Why is it that every time the Lord tells us to do something, we have to fight back; we have to protest; we have to argue; we have to complain. Do we think that God is less concerned for our welfare than we are for our own? That is why, in the previous passage, the Lord is teaching us, “Don’t you understand that your heavenly Father is concerned for you, that he loves you and he cares for you? Haven’t you understood that yet? That if you understand that, why is it so hard to do his will since his will is for your good?” Why do we make life so difficult for ourselves by fighting back, insisting on our own ways? So, we see that God’s way is not hard. It is hard only because, or when, we insist on our own way. I find God’s way quite easy to walk. If he says, “Walk this way,” then stop quarrelling. Just say, “OK, Lord, if you say so, I will walk this way.” But we always want to argue.
If We Apply Jesus’ Teaching, We Would See God’s Power In Action
Look at the Lord’s teaching. He said, “Now, if the enemy strikes you on one side of your face, you turn the other.” [The response is:] “Huh! No, no, that’s no good. I don’t like his way.” Suddenly, all the non-intellectuals become the very intellectuals. They all begin to see the dangers, the problems, the risks - all that is involved in there. [They say,] “These people will take you as a doormat; they will walk over you. You have to stand up for yourself in this world. Such teaching is impractical!” And so, it goes on and on, and [there is] no end to it. No wonder that when they have finished blowing the hot air, they never got around to doing it. Why not, when the Lord says so, you say, “OK, Lord if you say so, that is the way it is.” Why not find out what happens when you apply that teaching? Find out for yourself and see what happens. Find out whether people will treat you as a doormat or not. You might be so surprised that your pseudo-intellectual arguments will by no means so impress us. When you apply his teaching, instead of arguing about it, you might see - you will begin to see – God’s power in action. You will be amazed to see people’s lives beginning to be changed, and changed through you! Many of you have heard of David Wilkerson, who wrote The Cross And The Switchblade. Wilkerson decided one day to apply this very teaching in his life - to go out to where the gangs were and witness there. Having applied this, notice what happened? People began to turn to the Lord; people were being saved.
Why do we make things difficult, forever arguing over this teaching of the Lord, over that teaching of the Lord? Just try it and see. Sure, the first step is difficult. Everything after that is full of praise and glory - when you see the lives change, when you see the power of God coming into people’s hearts! But every time people preach on the Sermon on the Mount, all I hear is again the intellectual hot air, the objections, the arguments, [as if to say:] “You cannot live this kind of teaching.” How do you know? Have you tried? And if you have not tried it, how do you know you cannot live it? It is because you do not really want to live it! That is the honest truth of it. Why not speak the honest truth? And you say, “Well, it is all right for those simple folks to live by faith. The Lord Jesus said, ‘The birds of the air, God provides for them. The lilies...’ After all, I am not a lily. I am not a bird of the air. This kind of teaching is good for the flowers of the field. It is all right for the birds. But I am their superior; I am sophisticated. I am not these simple creatures. I mean, birds don’t need cars; they don’t need airplanes. I can’t get in the air without airplanes. The birds have these wings, but an airplane costs $10,000,000. Human beings need airplanes, and therefore, you need lots of money.” Thus, the argument goes on, saying that to live by faith, to trust in God is okay for birds.
Have you tried it? You try it and see. You will find it goes for the same. What is more, you will find that it is absolutely true that God cares much more for you than for the birds. So, of course, it is hard when you do not want to do it. Of course, it is hard. The will of God is hard for anybody whose heart is hardened. But it is easy for those who, like Peter, say, “Lord, but at your word, I’ll do it. If you say so, that is good enough for me.” We do not struggle. We do not argue. We just go ahead and do it! And then we find that it was not so difficult. We find that God’s will is one that cares for me and cares for you. Therefore, when somebody slaps you on the face, do not say [to me], “That’s all right. It is not your face that got slapped; it is my face. It is very well to teach me to go and get my face slapped.” We think like this simply because we do not understand that our being slapped is very painful to God. That is why when Saul was persecuting the Christians, the Lord said, “Why do you persecute me?” There is that wonderful verse in the OT where it says that: “In all their affliction he” - God - “was afflicted.” [Is. 63:9] In all the suffering of the Israelites, God was suffering with them. He cares for us! Therefore, why should it be so hard to do his will?
Once God Opens The Door, We Must Apply Effort To Go In
But there are other problems. Let us first continue and look at this [v7]. The Lord Jesus says here, “If you ask, it shall be given to you. If you knock on the door, it will be opened for you.” Well, if the door is opened for you, that is easy enough. So, what other problems are there? Well, once the door is opened, you still have to go in. Notice it says, “Knock and it will be opened to you.” But once the door is open, there is not somebody behind you shoving you in. You have to go in yourself. It shows both God’s part and our part in salvation. The kingdom of God is opened to us when we call upon him. But the door of the kingdom of God is not a trapdoor. It is a door, a gate. Some people teach salvation as though the door of the kingdom of God is like a trapdoor: you press a button, it opens and you drop down into it.
Here is a gate that is opened to you, but you have got to walk in. God, in his mercy and grace, opens the door. That is grace. You cannot smash that door down. But grace in the Bible must never be understood to remove human responsibility. So, when God, in his grace, opens the door wide for us, we still have to go in. But it turns out that this door, though open to us, is a narrow door. To get in requires a certain effort. You have to humble yourself; you have to bend yourself down. You have to take off all the burdens you have piled up on your shoulders. The burdens of your sin must be left behind. You are not going to carry all your junk into the kingdom of God as well. You have to put aside every weight and enter in. So, entering is not so easy.
Today’s Teaching Speaks Of ‘Simple Faith’
Now, people tell us today that all you need to be saved is to have ‘simple faith’. I am sure you have heard this term ‘simple faith’ so many times. What does this ‘simple faith’ mean, I wonder? Is ‘simple faith’ for the simple? By ‘simple’ faith, does it mean that it is very easy? Presumably, that is what it means. If it is an easy faith, what is an easy faith? I am not sure I understand what an easy faith is. Does it mean that faith is easy? Does it mean it is easy to have faith? What exactly does it mean? I suspect what they do really mean is that it is a matter of having an easy trust, that it is an easy thing to be saved; it is just a matter of believing.
But look at what the Lord’s teaching says. Look at the NT teaching and see whether you can find this so-called simple faith, this easy faith, this faith which is said to be very easy to have. The Lord Jesus says there is only one easy kind of road to walk on and that is the road to destruction. If you find the faith you have easy, you had better find out whether that is the saving faith or not. So, right now, if you are going on the easy road, you had best ask yourself: “Am I on the road to salvation?” There is absolutely nothing in the Bible I can see that teaches me that faith is easy.
The Scriptures Speak Of The Righteous Man Being Scarcely Saved
The Apostle Peter puts it like this in 1 Pet. 4:18. If anyone tells you about ‘easy faith’ or ‘simple faith’, look at those words. It says here: “If the righteous man is scarcely saved,” - i.e., barely saved - “where will the impious and sinners appear?” The Apostle Peter says, “If the righteous man”, that is, the Christian. Notice he means, by definition, a Christian is supposed to be, that is, he is meant to be righteous. “If the righteous man is” - barely saved - “scarcely saved, where will the... sinner appear? Now, Peter is very careful about his words. He does not say, “Any Christian is barely saved.” He says “the righteous man” [will barely be saved]. Not all Christians are righteous, unfortunately. Therefore, Peter is very careful about his words. He does not say, “A Christian will barely be saved.” He says, “Only the righteous man” - the righteous Christian - “will be saved.”
Now, then, consider what it means. ‘Scarcely saved’ means saved with difficulty. And yet, today, there are some pastors and teachers who take it upon themselves to tell us, contrary to the Lord’s teaching, contrary to Scriptural teaching, that being saved is a simple matter, [by] ‘simple faith’. Or consider, for example, Acts 14:22. What do we read here? Here, Paul exhorts the Christians. And what does he exhort them? He is “exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Through many tribulations! So, is it an easy thing?
Few Are Those Who Find The Hard Way That Leads To Life
Let us return to the passage of the Lord’s teaching here. Let us try to see the picture that the Lord paints for us. And let us notice the words that he uses. He says, “Enter (in at) the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads...” - where? - “to destruction”. But “the gate is narrow and the way is hard”. Notice the words: “the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” That sounds very different from what we are used to hearing, isn’t it? Now, why should I be different? Why should I not join in the crowd that says it is easy to be saved? What advantage have I got for myself to say in the sense that it is difficult? For, in saying that to others, I am making it difficult for myself, too. But I have to speak what the Word of God teaches. I am not here to be a salesman, selling off cheap wares. What I was saying last Friday in the Bible study is this: the teaching of the Lord Jesus shows that salvation is difficult. So, the church decided to lower the price a bit and arrange a sale for salvation, to sell off salvation cheap. It says, “Here is the Word. It used to be $200. I am selling it for $20. Just come in and get in!” Who gave them the right to arrange a sale?
The Lord Jesus tells us the honest truth. When we look at these words, we can see the picture that the Lord Jesus is painting for us. There is a narrow road, as it were, winding up the mountain. It winds up the mountain of Zion. And on top of the mountain, there is the city of God. And in the city of God, there is the temple, the house of God. Anyone who has been to Jerusalem will see the picture: There is Mount Zion! During the half-a-year that I lived in Israel, I was looking everyday from my window up to Mount Zion, right opposite my window. You know that there are not broad roads going up a mountain. Going up the mountain, you have to wind up the mountain. I am sure anyone who has been to the Rocky Mountains, or been to the Alps of Switzerland, knows that you have to wind the road up the mountain. You cannot build a straight road up; it would be too steep to go up.
‘Narrow Gate’ In Matthew and ‘Narrow Door’ In Luke Forms A Beautiful Picture
Then I noticed, as I studied this passage, something quite interesting. In Matthew Chapter 7, we have the word ‘gate’. Enter in at the narrow gate. The gate is the gate of a city; it is not the house gate. The word is ‘gate.’ That is why the English word uses the word ‘gate’ because you do not speak of the house door as your gate; you speak of it as a door. The gate always refers to the gate entering, for example, into the city. And that is the normal way the word ‘gate’ is used in the NT - always of the city gate.
Now, Luke Chapter 13 uses a different word in the Greek. It is the word for door, rightly translated as such in English. It speaks of two different doors. The picture is that as you go up to this narrow road, you come to the gate, the gate of the city. When you knock on the city gate, as the Lord Jesus is saying, it will be opened to you. If you ask, it shall be given. When the gate is opened, you have to go in. And then you still have to go up; it is not finished yet. Entering the gate is not the end; it is the beginning. So, you continue up a narrow road and you go up there until you reach the house of the Lord. There you come to the door. That is not the gate; that is the door. When you enter through that door, you are in the house of God. It is a beautiful picture!
We Begin By Entering The City, But We Have To Get To The House Of God Yet
The city represents the church. In Gal. 4:26 we are told that Jerusalem is the church. The church is represented by the city of Jerusalem. But to be in the church is not the end; it is the beginning. You have another door to get to. It is the door of the Father’s house. That is what the Lord Jesus says in Jn. 14:2: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.... I go to prepare a place for you.” [KJV] We are not there yet. We have to get there. But do not imagine that you will get there automatically. Just as the Lord Jesus told these same disciples in the same passage that there are many enemies in the world - “the world hates you” [Jn. 15:18&19] - you still have to take the road [that is] very narrow, going upwards towards the house of God. So, strive to enter in! Strive to get to the narrow door so that you may get through it!
You see the beauty of that picture. The great pity is that many people think that once they are in Jerusalem, once they are in the church, once they have believed and are baptized, that is the end of the matter. Not at all! Once you have entered into Jerusalem, you are on the way to the house of God, but you still have to get there, and the road going there is hard. This word ‘hard’ means difficult. The word itself in Greek means having a lot of pressure put on you. Here we can see the other aspect of what we were talking about a moment ago: why it is difficult to be saved. We shall notice this again in another moment.
Strive To Enter
Thus, the Lord Jesus says in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter (in)....” ‘Strive!’ Nobody wants to preach about ‘striving’ today. If you speak about striving, they say you are preaching salvation by works. Do they want to say that the Lord Jesus is teaching salvation by works? It is because the word ‘strive’ is the word the Lord Jesus uses. What is more, this word ‘strive’ occurs 8 times in the NT. 2 times it is used by the Lord Jesus and 6 times, you guess, by whom? By none other than the Apostle Paul! It is Paul who constantly teaches the need to strive. Then why is it then that whenever we speak about ‘strive,’ we are accused of teaching salvation by works? The very servant of God who taught that we are justified by faith is the one who taught that we must strive in the Christian life. Do you think that faith and works and striving are somehow opposite? It is because you have not understood the definition of faith, either in Paul or in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul never said anything about ‘easy faith.’ He is the one who speaks about striving.
Do you know what ‘strive’ means in the original? It means to strain every nerve. It is the picture of the athlete running his 100-meter dash. When you see the close-up sometimes on television in the Olympics, you see the face straining to reach the 100 meters in so many seconds. Now, every time you think of the word ‘strive,’ think of the face of that athlete, then you will get the idea what this word means in the original. It is the word of the gladiator who is fighting for his life. He ‘strives’ - the word is also used for fighting. It is a word that expresses intense effort. If you have ever tried to run 100 meters in 10 seconds, you will know whether it is easy or not. Then you will understand how you need to strain yourself to the maximum. Now, this is exactly the word that the Apostle Paul uses and exactly the word that the Lord uses here. He is saying, “Strain every nerve to enter into the kingdom of God.” Yet, somebody wants to tell you it is easy to get into the kingdom of God. Not at all! There is no such teaching, as I say, in the Bible.
1. We Have To Overcome The ‘Self’
So, then, why is it so difficult? Let us sum up on this point. Well, first, we have already seen the fact that we are always, in our own heart, fighting against the will of God. That is one point that makes it so difficult. And the reason I mentioned it right at the first is because this is the most fundamental point, the basic point why it is so difficult. The greatest enemy of your salvation is yourself. On the Day of Judgment, you will have yourself to blame if you do not make it. It is because it is in our human nature always to go our own way. When you can overcome that, all the other things are much easier. But if you cannot overcome this basic point, you cannot even get anywhere further. If you are the kind of person who is always complaining about God’s ways of dealing with you, it shows that you really do not understand God’s care and love for you. But it also shows that the ‘self’ in you, the rebelliousness of the ‘self’ is so much in the center of your personality. Unless that is dealt with, you can never become a true Christian. You will never become a true Christian on the teaching of the Lord Jesus. All your so-called faith in God will be purely intellectual exercise. For this kind of person, when he talks about faith, you know exactly what he means. All he means is that he accepts these things to be true, intellectually.
You also know why he becomes a Christian. It is precisely the reason that the non-Christians point to the Christians about. It is because they want to get some moral encouragement and support for themselves. In other words, it is not they obeying Christ; they want to make use of Christ to get some encouragement to do their own thing. You need only to listen to their prayers and you know why they want to become a Christian: “It is how God can safeguard ‘me’ when ‘I’ am on a journey.” Whenever you sit in the airplane, you have the comfort that God will be lifting you up, holding up the wings of the airplane. A poor non-Christian has no such hope, you see. But “underneath” - for the Christian - “are the everlasting arms.” [Deut. 33:27] They like to quote those words. Well, certainly, these everlasting arms are underneath, but whether they are underneath you is the other question. Otherwise, all you have done is what the non-Christians say: “You have got yourself some “精神記託 (jing shen ji tuo)” [moral encouragement and support], there may really be no substance to it at all. God is not holding you up at all. It is the kind of Christian who says they have faith, praying “God, bless my grandfather, my grandmother, my father, my mother, my whole family.” But when they finish, they forgot everybody else!
Little wonder that the world looks at this kind of Christians in disgust! They then think becoming a Christian is not to become less selfish; it is becoming more selfish. They become Christians simply because they want to make use of God and they want to make use of religion. That is all they really want. So, basically, they in their hearts have never learned to do God’s will. It is always that God may do their will. And when God does not do their will, then they are full of bitterness against God. This kind of Christianity is a fallacy of the teaching of Christ; it is a disgrace to the Gospel. And yet, this is the kind of teaching that is accepted so commonly today. But, as we have seen, the Lord Jesus says to you, “Unless you do the Father’s will - and do it not once or twice, but make it a habit of your life to be living in the Father’s will, abiding in Christ - you have not become a true Christian at all.”
2. We Have To Overcome The Pleasure Of Sin
But what else makes the Christian life difficult, even if you have overcome that. Well, there is the pleasure of sin. As we read about in Hebrews Chapter 11, that tempted Moses - “the pleasures of sin.” [v25] Sin does have a genuine pleasure to offer. See, we are mistaken if we think that sin is not pleasurable. Sin can be enjoyed. Oh, yes, it can be enjoyed! You can enjoy it, but for a season, only for a time, until you pay the price afterwards. But while you are in the midst of it, it is very enjoyable. Who would commit sin if sin were not enjoyable? Who would commit adultery if the adultery were not enjoyable? Free sex, very enjoyable! Why should not we enjoy free sex? It is because while you are in the middle of it, oh, it is very enjoyable. That is why people do it.
What about robbery? It is very enjoyable. Just think about it. You can float around in money without having to slave in the office like these poor, dumb people who work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. everyday, and night shift and morning shift, and oh, there is no end of it. You go and pull out a gun and you get $100,000 - all in a few seconds. It is very enjoyable. On top of that, you have the excitement, you see, of the police car chasing you behind. Oh, that is fun! Ah, you need excitement in life. Just do it for the fun of it, if not for the money. Some people really enjoy that - to have a police car screaming behind! Just see if you can outrun that police car. See who is a better driver.
Thus, we find that sin has a great many attractions, until we pay the price. Clearly, the person who pulls the gun out is not thinking of spending the rest of his life in jail. He hopes he will never get there. He always remembers that 10% - 20% of people get away; they are never caught. He hopes to be among the 10% - 20%. After all, I mean other sins - who knows about them? When you commit those sins, nobody knows about them! But sin always has a way of coming back to you. The Scriptures say, “What you sow, you reap.” It is an inevitable principle. You sow it, you will reap it. But the strange thing is here you see again the whole matter of the person’s will - they want to enjoy for a season; they do not want to think about the consequences.
Take, for example, the people who are smoking. You have it on every cigarette packet. Every time they pay their money however much it costs them, on the packet there is a warning: “The Surgeon General warns you that this is dangerous to your health.” Who cares? “Ah! I enjoy the taste, you see. It has a very nice taste.” And so, they carry on. Enjoy it now and pay later. These days we have been visiting a person in hospital. Everyday he was smoking one or two packets of cigarettes. He is only in his fifties and he is dying in the hospital now. Is it worth it? You enjoyed it before? He enjoyed the cigarettes - look at him now! The other day we went in and he was fighting for every breath of air. But every time he has a packet, the Surgeon General’s warning is that it is dangerous to his health. But now what happens -cancer in the lung, cancer all over the body; fighting for a breath of air - is it worth it? His wife was saying to my wife Helen on the phone the other day, “It would be better if he could just die of stroke than die by being choked to death like this.” She added, “It is so much better to have a choice how we die.” Well, you have a choice. He chose this way of dying. For years, people have been telling him, “You do this, you are going to die that way.” He did not want to listen, and then you say you have no choice. You chose the way to die!
But such is human nature that they do not want to listen to the Word of God. For, if they do not want to listen to the words of men, how are they going to listen to the Word of God? What advantage has the government to tell you of something untrue when it warns you that cigarette smoking is dangerous. But this is the thing: the attraction of sin. That is the point that we are looking at: the attraction of sin, the pleasure of sin. Once you get hooked onto it, it is very hard to get rid of it. And so, we can see why it is difficult to walk the narrow road. Oh, the attraction of the world is pulling us all the time. You have not been a Christian if you have not been tempted. All the time we are tempted along the road. We have all the time come under the pressure of temptation. There is a temptation to sin in one way or another. You make one slip somewhere along the road and you will have plenty to be sorry for.
I shared with some of you that I have been tempted more than once to sin, for Satan is always there waiting to get you. I have been tempted in situations where people are trying to pair me off into a room with some girl at a hotel, and the girl was willing. I really do not understand this girl. I have never seen her before. She has never seen me before. Just because there are not enough rooms in the hotel, people want to pair us off into one room, she is quite willing. I do not understand this. Clearly, the pleasure of sin has powerful attractions. We are tempted all the time, either by money, or by sex, or by one thing or another. Satan makes it so easy for us. So easy! Nobody knows you. You are in a foreign country. It is so easy to do these things. But you make one step and you have the rest of your life to be sorry for it. You enjoy it then; but there is tragedy afterwards.
3. We Must Overcome The Attraction And The Opposition Of The World
We notice that the world attracts us, the temptations come to us. You just let your mind be idle for a little time, especially when you are tired and see what kinds of thoughts come to your mind. Every one of us knows what the temptation is. Satan raises them like a flood. It is again money, or sex, or something. Oh, the flood of temptations attacks our mind. And I am no exception. Therefore, I try to overcome this. How? Constantly, by meditating on the Word of God! As the psalmist says, “In Thy Word, I meditate day and night.” I never dare to let my mind be idle. Once your mind is doing nothing, when your mind is sort of blank, then, as they say in nature, there is always a vacuum. Then everything comes in. That is why I often work and work until my mind is too tired to think about anything else and I drop off to sleep. Being a Christian is not easy. There is the powerful attraction of sin in the world. It is a hard road. It is hard because of the pressure put on us. The pressure of money! We all know that pressure. Especially when your bank account goes down and down and down, the pressure gets bigger and bigger in proportion. Every preacher must know the pressure of money very well. There is no preacher who has a very big salary. And so, you see your friends getting richer and richer, when you are struggling on this side or the other side of the zero mark. So, you have to think: “How do I manage this?” Thus, you find that pressure is built up on you again, instead of trusting your heavenly Father.
Then, of course, there is the opposition of the world, what in Hebrews is called the “contradiction of sinners”. [Heb. 12:3-KJV] That is, sinners contradict you, oppose you. That means that you find being a Christian is difficult in your college, in your office, because people laugh at you a bit, ridicule you a bit. But this kind of pressure in this part of the world [North America] is relatively light compared to what the other part has to endure. Sometimes you simply have to bear the criticism or the opposition of your parents. But sometimes the pastors who preach the Word of God have to endure attacks and criticisms from all quarters. However, this is not a point that I would like to emphasize here. If I were to preach to you in China, I would spend a lot of time on this. The pressure of society over here upon the Christians compared to what our brothers and sisters in China have to endure is nothing. It is next to nothing.
4. We Must Overcome The Pressure That Comes With The Cost Of Discipleship
Thus, we have to conclude with the last point. The pressure comes with the cost of discipleship, the high demand that Christ makes upon us. You say, “Why does the Lord Jesus make the cost of discipleship so high? Any of you who have studied the teaching of the Lord [would know that] he says, “Except a man denies himself, takes up his cross and follows me, he cannot be my disciple.” That is, you cannot be a Christian. You can say having faith is easy, so long as you do not talk about the conditions of discipleship that the Lord has taught. But the Lord Jesus tells us that it is not so. “You cannot follow me,” the Lord Jesus says, “unless you take up your cross.” “Now,” you say, “why does the Lord make it so difficult? Why does he say, ‘If you don’t do this, you cannot be my disciple’?” Some people ask, “Doesn’t Jesus want us to be saved? Maybe he can bring the price down a bit. Otherwise, he says, ‘I want you to be saved,’ but then he set it so high that we cannot reach it.”
After this point, we must close. I want to share this point because this point is very important. The standard the Lord Jesus set for us on discipleship is not the maximum; it is the minimum standard. What do we mean by saying that it is the minimum? It means that less than that, you will not be able to attain to salvation. What does that mean? When the Lord Jesus says, “You cannot be my disciple”, what does that mean? It does not mean that he does not want you to be his disciple. What he means when he says this is that unless you fulfill this condition, you have no way of being able to live, to survive, as a disciple. This does not mean that he will not let you survive as a disciple. It means that the realities of life in this world are such that you will not be able to survive. It is the world that will not allow you to survive, not Christ. He would like you to survive, but you will not be able to, unless you meet that requirement. And the minimum requirement is to take up your cross and deny yourself. That is the minimum. Again this is not a question of theory or argument. If you do not do this, you will find that you cannot survive as a Christian. You cannot be a true Christian. The world will destroy you long before you get very far.
Overcome The ‘Self’ By Denying Yourself
That is why the first point and the last point are connected. We saw the first point that what prevents people from being a Christian is the ‘self.’ It is that unless you overcome that ‘self’, you cannot become a Christian, because you have always been disobeying God. You cannot have faith, since the very definition of faith in the teaching of Scripture is to be doing his will. If you do not have faith, you would not do his will. Only if you have faith, you will be doing his will. As you will find, you cannot do his will so long as your ‘self’ is in the center of your life. So, the basic condition of discipleship is the denial of self. That means to take up the cross. What does that mean in everyday life? What happens when you have denied yourself? Denying yourself means to say ‘no’ to yourself! And when you say ‘no’ to yourself, you can then say ‘yes’ to God. Only then you can be doing God’s will. Can you see?
Now you can see that the Lord Jesus did not make it more difficult for us than necessary. He tells you the honest truth, that less than that, you simply will not be able to do God’s will. You will not be able to have faith. But if you do this, if you are willing everyday to say ‘no’ to yourself [then you are denying yourself], that is what it means to take up your cross everyday. It is to everyday say ‘no’ to yourself and always say ‘yes’ to God! Whatever he tells you to do, you say, “Yes, Lord!” Then you are on the way! If you can do that, you will be entering through the narrow gate. You will find that the narrow road is not so hard to walk because you will find that on the narrow road, you will find Jesus there.
When Faced With A Choice, Always Go On The Narrow Road
That is why I said to you last week and at other times before, if you have a choice between two ways in everyday decisions, choose the harder one! Always choose the narrow road! The broad road is comfortable and easy, but the end of it is destruction. Always go on the narrow road. You will not be sorry at the end of that road. I have applied this principle of the two roads that the Lord is teaching here. If you find the road you are walking on is easy and comfortable, you know you are on the wrong road. But if you find the road you are walking on is tough and full of opposition, and temptation and difficulties, you know you are on the right track. If you want to know God’s will - many people say, “How do I know God’s will in particular decisions?”- remember the principle right here today.
The Christian who thinks that because he has to choose between two jobs - one job offers $20,000 a year; the other $5,000 - [may conclude] it is God’s will to take the $20,000 job because God always wants us to have more money. That is the reason. That is the blessing from God. If anybody teaches you like this, he does not know the Word of God. I have tried this principle. I know it all the time. Walk the narrow road! Many times I have had to make this choice. I have taken that road and I have found how wonderful it is to walk with God! Even as a young Christian, the Lord taught me to walk this way.
Illustration Of Overcoming A Great Temptation
I have to close with one illustration of this point because it is very important. When I went to Hong Kong as a young Christian - I had just come out of China and I was just passing through Hong Kong - some person made me this fantastic offer to send me to the United States on unconditional scholarship. A Christian organization approached me like this. They had heard of me from somewhere; I do not know where. They came over and said, “We’d like to make you this offer. Go to the United States and we will pay for all your studies. We will pay for your passage. We will arrange your passport, your papers, everything!”
I said, “How can I go to the United States? I have just come out of China. I’m holding a Chinese passport.” In those days, China and the United States had no diplomatic relations. [They had a] very tense relationship.
They said, “Oh, we take care of all these. You leave all the big problems to us. We take you to the States. You just have to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
I asked, “What strings are attached to all these? Why are you doing this for me?”
“Oh,” they said, “there are no strings.”
So, I said, “Do I have to pay all this money back? I mean, how am I going to pay all this back?”
They said, “No. Nothing to pay back.”
I said, “What are you doing this for me for?”
They said, “Nothing! Except that you will always be a friend of our country.”
I said, “Why is it so important to you that I should be your friend?”
“Well,” they said, “we can foresee that you are going to be one of the leaders of your people.”
“Wow!” I said [to myself], “These guys are really fortunetellers. They do character studies before [hand].”
So, they said, “We want to do this for you.” This is a Christian organization; it is not a political organization. The point here is that they are not themselves a political organization. So, they said, “What is your answer?”
Well, have you ever had something like this dropping out of the sky for you? You would have said, “Oh, God opened the way for me!” Well, I prayed about this thing. I had next-to-no money, I have visa troubles, I do not know what the future holds, and here I have an unconditional scholarship to study anything for as long as I like.
I said, “If I study medicine, you will support me for 6 years?”
“Any length of time you study. Anything you want to study.”
Oh, wonderful! Ideal, huh? And here was my alternative. My alternative was: I do not know where I am going; I have no money; and outside, I have hardly made friends having just come out of China. They do that as temptation. Or shall we just say that this is God opening the way? I knelt down before the Lord and I prayed about it. The Lord said, “Take the narrow road! Take the hard road! On that road, I will be with you.”
So, I said to them, “No, thanks! I don’t want this scholarship.” I dare to say that in all the history of that scholarship, nobody has ever turned it down.
The Narrow Road Lets Us Experience How Wonderful God Is
Take the narrow road. Go with the difficult problem. Go with the financial difficulty. What a wonderful road! It is so wonderful because it has so many problems. Then you see God dealing with all the problems. Oh, it is wonderful how God then took me another road. Then, on that narrow road, there was miracle after miracle before my eyes - year after year of miracles - until my faith grew from strength to strength, until my timid faith in God became a burning conviction. Take the narrow road; that is the road to life. And there is nothing more important than life. If you have not got life, you have not got anything worth living for. So, we thank God for this wonderful teaching that the Lord Jesus gives to us here. But unless you are willing to walk that way, you will fall into all kinds of pitfalls. You will never get to the road of life.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church