“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.”
In my younger years, I thought the Christian life might get easier as I got older. Perhaps if I licked the big sins like lust, or learned to keep pride or other evils in check maybe it wouldn’t be so hard.
But as time has gone on what I’m seeing is that the road narrows; I can’t do what I did 20 years ago and have peace. It’s not that those things were necessarily sin, but when we walk close to Jesus, He may ask us to release a few things so we can have more of the abundant life. Then comes the challenge of obedience.
The other side is that I’ve learned too much. I can’t get any kind of sin going without being shredded with conviction. There are times when I’m saying something stupid to my wife or kids and am feeling convicted as the words are falling out of my mouth.
As we spend years studying God’s word, going to church, learning, growing in grace and love, and hopefully, being transformed into an overcomer and warrior (see Revelations 2 and 3) there is an expectation that we will live out the gifts we’ve been given and continue to make the Lord our everything. It’s not that we don’t struggle with the flesh and at times, with sin, but our trajectory must continue to be upward:
There are many people who have been in church for decades but are little to no closer to God than when they started… they’re “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). They can quote a lot of verses, but Christianity is a religion to them. Their hearts are empty, hard, or puffed with pride, and they have little in the way of a genuine heart to heart connection with God.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
1 John 2:15-17
God’s word isn’t merely to be studied, but to be lived. Our google-ized culture has made knowledge supreme. We Americans are great at learning and coming up with answers. A pastor with the right communication skills and education can move a crowd. Putting into practice what we teach? We’re not as good as we think we are. If we were, our churches would be houses of prayer and we would have had revival long ago.
There are times I look at other Christians and what they’re doing, and think “why is it they can do those things and I can’t?”, or at least, I can’t do them without getting convicted.
Recently, the Holy Spirit has been showing me that I need to pray more, and go after God harder. Distorted thoughts must be cut off faster; slacking and allowing “the drift” isn’t acceptable. It’s not that my mind is constantly filled with angry, bitter, lustful, or other thoughts, but that they need to be dealt with quicker. It’s easy to get lazy mentally, then the next thing we know our attitude has gone sour and we’ve given anger, resentment, or lust enough of an opening that it starts throwing a party.
God has also been showing me several lies that have been entrenched in my heart for years that I needed to face and expel. They were the kind of lies that were subtle and floated around from time to time without being obvious. Lies darken our hearts, steal our joy, and can inflict enormous pain on ourselves and others. God alone sees every room of our heart; and thankfully, He brought those lies to the light so I could renounce and be free of them.
As we walk the Christian life, we will come to a place where the walls have narrowed to the point where we can’t move forward until we unload the sin, burdens, lies, or wounds that are holding us back. The Lord is quite willing to intensify the pressure and hold us back, until we surrender, even if it takes harsh consequences.
Is there someone you’re supposed to forgive? He may allow bitterness and hardness of heart to train-wreck your closest relationships.
Are there lies or hurt in your heart that you won’t face? You can keep your pain as long as you like, but it will come at a price.
Is there a sin you won’t cut off? He scourges those he loves (Hebrews 12:6).
Think brutal consequences.
Is there something He’s told you to do but you’ve refused? Disobedience is as the sin of witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23), meaning you could be opening the door to spiritual attack in your life that won’t let up until you obey.
Is your heart lukewarm toward God? Is attending church once a week and being a really nice person all of the Christian life you need, with little to no prayer life?
See Revelations 3:16.
What has become so dangerous about some of our churches is that they’re not warning God’s people of the seriousness of a relationship with Him. When is the last time you went to church and had your comfort zone so undone that you went home and cried out to the Lord, asking that He give you a passion for Him that was second to no other? Do you really go all out in your relationship with Him?
Fortunately, there is always The Remedy for those who are willing to shed their burdens and walk the narrow path:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working
You are meeting with another Christian brother or sister once a week for the purpose of encouragement, accountability, and prayer, right? There are no isolated believers in God’s economy (Proverbs 18:1). We have weekly phone groups available if you don’t.
None of this is to say “try harder” and attempt to live the Christian life in the strength of your fallen flesh. Forget it; this is the breeding ground for the poison of pride-juiced religion. Spiritual power begins and is sustained by an all-out prayer life, where you’re consistently storming the throne of grace and asking God to fill you, give you the strength to do what you can’t, and fashion your heart in a way that pleases Him. Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).
Image credit: romansli