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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jesus and Tolerance--The Narrow Gate

Jesus’ teaching on the narrow gate is a part of the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matt. 7:13-14.  The question being raised here is whether or not Jesus was being narrow-minded as he spoke of only one gate, of only one way, that would lead to eternal life.  That is a pertinent question in the time in which we live, a time in which many are questioning Christianity making accusations that it is exclusive and intolerant.  Here is what Jesus said:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NKJV) 

As human beings, we sometimes believe and act upon wrong premises that can do us much harm.  To use myself as an example I once believed and acted on the premise that if a person exercised faithfully and intensely he could eat anything he wanted and not have to worry about diabetes.  I found out differently when I developed insulin resistance but until the truth hit me squarely in the face that was what I believed and the way I lived my life. 

In America today we have begun to think that the ultimate good is tolerance and we are acting on that premise.  We are so convinced that this is the case that we are closing our minds to other possibilities much like I had closed my own mind to the possibility of a man like me getting diabetes.  Let me ask a question.  Is tolerance of greater value than truth?  Are we better off with a tolerant Jesus or a truthful Jesus?  If we could have only one or the other which would we be better off with? 

A wholly tolerant Jesus would mean the end of justice, of righteousness.  Would one want to live in a society that was totally devoid of justice, could one live peacefully in such a society?  How does one call heaven a place of joy if tolerance allows in the willfully lawless and rebellious, the evildoers and the vile, the unrepentant?  God is indeed longsuffering but he is not tolerant without end nor would justice allow it.   

If we believe Jesus was God’s son, spoke by inspiration, and never sinned then he spoke the truth about the gates between which men must choose.  There are only two and we all must choose one or the other and thus the corresponding path we will take to death’s door and eternity.  One must either accept what Jesus said as truth or else deem him a liar and no saint at all let alone God and Savior.  If Jesus is a liar then you can forget about heaven and eternal life.

Jesus and Christianity are being challenged in America today by postmodernism, secularism, relativism, multiculturalism, feminism, humanism, Darwinism, atheism, nihilism, hedonism, by just about every “ism” you can think of.  Our culture has changed so much in the last fifty years that today Jesus is no longer seen necessarily as good, as was the case in the days of my youth, but rather as one who is somewhat arrogant, self-serving, and intolerant.  How dare he give us only an either/or alternative—his way or the highway.

The very fact he has given us an alternative to the wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction is no longer seen as grace but rather as a threat of violence if we do not choose it.  Instead of being thankful that we have an option not just of escaping from destruction but of partaking in a glorious, joyful eternal life many of us end up murmuring and complaining.  

It reminds me of what Paul said when he wrote to the Galatians.  “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16 NKJV)  Has Jesus become our enemy because he told us the truth about the two gates?  A man tells us the truth and we resent it.  Many among us have decided to reject what Jesus has said as truth; we will deny it, refuse to accept it.  We reject the New Testament.

Our problem is we want a third gate, one that is not difficult to enter and upon entering is easy to travel and leads to eternal bliss.  Narrow gates, when posted on roads, lead to narrow roads which are anathema in a society that prides itself on tolerance of everything man’s imagination can devise.   

We want broadmindedness in religion and morality but if we had it would we not think it to be somewhat of an anomaly?  Broadmindedness does not work in math, chemistry, medicine, banking, or any other field of endeavor I can think of.  We all want exactness in those things and if we are to have orderly lives rather than chaos we must have it that way. 

Narrowness is not equivalent to persecution as so many think but is rather a prescription for success, success for the reason that truth itself is narrow.  Deviate from narrowness in obedience to traffic lights as you drive in the city and you endanger not only your own life but the lives of others as well and it will be just a matter of time until disaster strikes.  Tolerance says let a man do it.  Truth says your tolerance will get someone killed.

It has always amazed me that man tries to make himself out to be God and make the rules that govern life when he cannot make one hair white or black (Matt. 5:36) and is totally helpless when death’s door opens.  He thinks he can play God, make the rules, and knows better than what God has said, and then has the audacity to accuse God of arrogance.  Perhaps a mirror would be helpful.

I have often asked myself the question why men do not believe or make an effort to live faithful lives.  What is the answer?  Is it unbelief based on the intellect, on the study of the evidence about Christ where the New Testament is found to be wanting and based on myth, fairy tales, and fantasy?  Well, the apostles knew whether or not Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them after the resurrection and if he did not what was to be gained by becoming martyrs?  None of them became rich televangelists.  There was nothing to be gained if it was all a lie, based on falsehood.

People do not reject Christianity based on evidence.  It is rejected, and no attempt is made to live the life, because the human will finds the broadway more appealing.  The gate to that road is broad and easy to enter, the road is wide and easy to travel, everyone is accepted, there are no restrictions, no speed limits, no policing of it so that any lifestyle is accepted, sin does not exist on it for sin is not in the vocabulary of those who travel it, at least not in their own lives.  The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4 KJV), the law of God.  Take God out of the picture and there is no sin.  Men may come up with moral standards but if history teaches anything it is that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to man making moral law.

It is a world without God, without foundation, without any hope other than that God may accept you in the afterlife despite the fact you rejected him your entire earthly life and did so of your own free will.  He told us about this other gate and other way but we said we would have none of it and now at the end of the way we do not like where the road ends.  All roads do eventually end; the road reaches its destination.

“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and my people love to have it so, but what will you do in the end?” (Jer. 5:31 NKJV)

What happens, in the end, is easy enough to explain.  “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Gal. 6:7-8 NKJV)

Two gates, two ways of life, two destinations, life’s choices.  Was Jesus being narrow?  Jesus was being truthful; Jesus was giving grace.  Jesus was as tolerant as truth would allow and showed truth to be the greater value.  Grace, which one could argue is a godly form of tolerance, was shown in giving us the knowledge of the facts and in providing the way of salvation.  All that remains is human choice, man’s free will to choose.  The human heart is revealed in the choice that is made.

One final word, there is no such thing as not choosing a gate.  An “I will decide later” approach is in reality a failure to choose the narrow gate and the difficult way that leads to life and thus puts you in the wide gate and broad way that the many are traveling.  It is not hard to enter a wide gate thus no real effort is required.  A narrow gate is another matter.  You only get in that gate if you want in and make an effort.  The choice is ours but Jesus has already told us which road the many will choose.  We can go with the crowd or take the road less traveled.

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