Last night at my Bible study, we were visited by a missionary from Turkey whose name was Brad. Brad talked to us about his time being a missionary, about the horrors people he's known have faced due to their faith in Jesus Christ, and about how to be biblical, godly men. But one of the passages he read, or cited actually, really hit home to me and struck a fear in my that reached my very core. He cited Matthew 7:13-27, which I will write out for you here in my King James Version:
(13) Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go into thereat: (14) Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (15) Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (16) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (20) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (21) Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven. (22) Many will say into Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? (23) And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity. (24) Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: (25) And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. (26) And every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: (27) An the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.Now I want to say this, and please don't take this jokingly, but that should scare the Hell out of anyone who calls themselves a Christian or proclaims Jesus as Lord... I know that it scares me! In fact, after Bible study last night, I got back to my dorm and listened to a sermon that Paul Washer gave back in 2006 to a bunch of young men and women who called themselves believers. At first they were giving "Amen's", until he told them that he was talking about them. In fact, he wasn't just talking to them, he was talking to anyone in America who calls themselves a Christian because he, as a missionary who works in South America, Africa, and eastern Europe, has seen what real faith looks like, and also sees that Christianity in America has been "Americanized" and has compromised their beliefs. If you would like to listen to this sermon, which is extremely good, here is the link, but I warn you that it will wreck you in a way that hopefully will bring you closer to the Lord: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=52906154239
That being said, I've now listened to this sermon four times in the past six months since my Mom first made me listen to it, and I can honestly tell you that for some reason this time it spoke to me the most.
Back in January, I had the privilege of going to Israel with my school, which was amazing because I was able to go with my Mom, two of my oldest and best friends, and others who I was able to become closer to because of it. When we were in Israel, on the Mount of Beattitudes, we students were each tasked with reading a certain part of the text found in Matthew, which spanned from chapter 6 to chapter 8 I believe, and I was given the task of reading Matthew 7:13-25, "A Tree and It's Fruit" as it was titled in a friend's Bible, though it didn't speak to me nearly as it should have. I didn't realize until I heard Mr. Washer's sermon that the Lord was trying to speak to me and trying to put my life into a different perspective/path, but at the time I was not ready to receive it, so He planted seeds instead.
By mid-May, my Mom had given me this sermon to listen to, and I did, and for two whole days I literally did nothing but sit in silence, not even really thinking (which is odd for me because I'm someone who is ALWAYS in his head), just crushed. I was crushed because I knew that I had issues with loving the world, with idolatry (which I still struggle with but I believe have mostly overcome), and I wasn't sure that I was bringing about "good fruit", in fact, I wasn't sure of my salvation at all. This was, I believe, the Enemy trying to stop me from continuing to die to self and live for the Lord, because I was so stuck in the question of salvation that I didn't do anything else.
It wasn't until I remembered (or was shown this verse, I honestly forget) Ephesians 2 (see below) that I, by God's grace, was able to break out of this hopeless and defeatist mentality that I was able to move on.
(8) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (9) Not of works, lest any man should boast.Now, after listening to it once again last night, I had a very different reaction, I was almost petrified with fear. Fear of God (the bad kind), fear of going to Hell, fear of death, and fear of not being "good enough". I struggled with this all night in fact, to the point where I kept waking up pleading with the Lord to help me. It was bad. And since we know that the Lord is NOT a God of confusion, and after talking to my own parents who have been through this as well, I was able to finally realize that it was the Enemy trying to attack me and that it was a trial the whole time.
Now, I want to be careful saying that because I don't want anyone to NOT feel convicted by this passage, because IT'S CONVICTING and it's supposed to be convicting! That being said, discernment is important when reading convicting passages because there are times where the Lord is trying to convict you and other times it's Satan trying to make you doubt your faith. So, discernment really comes in handy with passages like that. This being said, let me explain to you who exactly I believe Jesus is talking about, at least in terms of our day and age...
First of all, he's talking to "Christians". The reason I put quotation marks around that word is because if we were to take a poll of everyone in the United States right now and ask how many of them go to church or would consider themselves a Christian, I would say probably 75-85% of people probably would. In fact, many of our own Presidents (including the current one) and members of Congress would also call themselves Christians. But I guarantee you that not even 10% of them probably are.
"How can you say that?" you ask, "that's not for us to judge"...
Well, I can say that pretty easily for TWO reasons BOTH cited in the Scripture I have quoted above. First of all, because Matthew 7:20 tells us that we will know them BY THEIR FRUITS. Most "Christians" in America still seem to be in love with the world! They love their idols (sports, TV, movies, music, video games, friends/family, etc.), they love wickedness (abortion, homosexuality, etc.), and they love themselves. Now, by no means am I saying all, but the majority of American "Christians" are still of the world even though we're called solely to live in it and nothing more.
Now, what does living in the world entail? Well, it entails working, eating, sleeping, and relaxing. I believe that it can also involve entertainment though for a Christian that can be really dangerous because it's easy to make entertainment an idol and if you don't have discernment it's easy to be deceived (believe me, I know, it's something that I personally struggle with).
Secondly, Matthew 7:14 says that FEW find the straight and narrow gate/path to Life and walk it. If we have millions of people in America claiming to be saved, which believe me I hope and pray is true, yet we know by Jesus' own words that FEW truly find Him and follow Him, then we have to ask ourselves, are we on that straight and narrow path or have we already jumped over the the wide one? This is a question we all have to ask ourselves and answer honestly, because although it's the toughest question to ask your life truly depends on the answer.
However, I don't believe that Jesus is solely speaking to American Christians here, though I think in our day and age this is extremely applicable. I believe he's also talking about different religions that would use Jesus' name and position as Lord to their own causes, yet either add onto Scripture, misinterpret Scripture, or refuse to read, listen to, or follow Scripture at all, all the while saying that Jesus is Lord. A few examples I can think of right now are Catholicism (and don't you DARE tell me that Catholicism is the same as Christianity because it certainly is not), Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam (though they believe He's just a prophet), or any other religion that calls Jesus as Lord yet does not follow Him or His commandments (or His Word).
You see, religion is of the Devil. God never intended religion, He intended relationship. In the Garden of Eden, He had a RELATIONSHIP with Adam & Eve, when He came to Earth as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ He had RELATIONSHIPS with people (Disciples, family, friends, etc.), when He entered into us as the Holy Spirit He then has a deeper and more personal RELATIONSHIP with us! Christianity is NOT a religion, it's a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ! This is what sets it apart from any religion and makes it separate. In religion, people have to work towards god, in Christianity, God came down to us, and it's not by works but by GRACE alone through FAITH (as I said above)!
This is so important, so, so, so important and no one ever thinks about it.
I have to be honest with everyone here, I don't feel like a good Christian (whatever that means). I remember Paul in Romans 7:15:
(15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do.Paul had a lot of internal conflict going on asking himself, "Am I good enough? Why do I continue to do what I hate?", and to be completely honest I struggle often with this exact same issue! I never feel good enough, in fact I feel that my heart is dull to the Word and dull to God and it's something I'm praying often about, but it doesn't stop me from believing, it doesn't stop my faith in Him and His grace that He so freely gives us.
Here's the deal. Matthew 7:13-27 is there to scare us a bit, it's meant to keep us accountable through the good times and the bad, through trials and tribulation, it's meant to keep us focused on Him. Our faith is NOT by works, though if we are saved we will WANT to do works in His name (which is how we are supposed to know that someone is saved, provided they claim Jesus as Lord). If we question our salvation or even our faith, we don't compare ourselves to other Christians, why would we compare ourselves to something else that's imperfect, but we compare ourselves to the Word.
I know that this passage is scary, and I know that it's intimidating, but it's something we need to be thinking about. Are we practicing "American Christianity" that has fully engulfed itself in worldly culture, would we die for our faith if it came to, or are we truly following the Father's will, are we in His Word, are we in fellowship with other like-minded individuals, are we in prayer and communication with Him, and have we rejected our sin nature, this world, in favor of a "forever" mentality and a Jesus-centered life? I can't answer that for you, that's something you have to ask yourself, I know I struggle with it too, in fact a lot more than I'd liked to admit as of recently.
I hope that this passage has been an encouragement for some of you and I hope that this has really made you think. I love you all and I pray that this "essay" will help at least one person find the answers about their faith that they're looking for, myself included. Thanks guys!