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“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” (Matthew 7:13,14).

HERE IS ONE OF JESUS’ MORE UNPOPULAR SAYINGS. Compared to the wide gate and the easy way, the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. Reconciliation to God, according to Jesus, requires a choice not many will be willing to make.

The ”natural” path is always easier than any other — and it never goes anywhere but downhill. By definition, “natural” means what will happen if no effort is exerted to alter the outcome — we call it “taking the course of least resistance.” Even in our daily lives, we are not usually happy with the degradation that takes place when we simply do nothing. But taking the natural path is even more disastrous in the spiritual realm. Some hard choices have to be made, and we are the ones who must make them.

God will help us, of course. Surrounding us with resources and circumstances that urge us in the right direction, God will open doors of opportunity for us. Without His help we could do nothing. In His love, He will even “discipline” (or “chasten”) us, as Hebrews 12:5–11 indicates. But having been disciplined by God, we will have to discipline ourselves. To be godly people, we will have to exert ourselves to go uphill rather than downhill — and the choice will usually involve more than doing what comes naturally.

Comparing our situation as Christians to that of the athlete, for whom self-discipline is obviously necessary, Paul said, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27).

It does no good to deny this challenging aspect of godliness. If we take God seriously, we won’t seek to soften the force of texts like Matthew 7:13,14 with a quick “yes but.” The fact is, relatively few will be interested in the life that leads to heaven. But whatever others may do, each of us must make our own choice. What will we do?

“Sanctification means . . . a life of discipline such as nine out of ten of us will have nothing to do with” (Oswald Chambers).

Gary Henry — +

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