Point of Reference
by Fred Price
“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13,14
I must admit that this scripture has at times bothered and confused me. Jesus said, “…God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 Paul re-enforcing that by stating, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 While explaining that, “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9 Could it really be that easy? It doesn’t seem so when I recall Jesus’ comment concerning the rich man of Mat. 19, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man (even a righteous one – see verse 20) to enter the Kingdom of God.” – I exclaim with the disciples, “Who then can be saved?” I am only partly mollified then by Jesus response of the impossible being possible for God. Matthew 19:16-26 So then the question becomes is it really that hard?
What is this way we are to seek and travel? Jesus characterized himself as a good shepherd, willing to lay down his life for his sheep; the good shepherd who knows and is known by the sheep who follow his voice. ( John 10:11 & 14) His intent is to take those of us who have turned, like wandering sheep , to our own way – straying and losing ourselves among the concerns of the world – He putting us back on the path to safety and prosperous living. (Is. 53:6) He is the good shepherd of Psalm 23:1; the true shepherd of Ezekiel 34:1; the fulfillment of the shepherd to come of Matthew 2:6 and Micah 5:2; he who bore our sins that we might escape its influence in our lives, leading us in paths of righteousness as we travel this new way to effective living on earth and perfection in heaven. ( 1 Peter 2:24,25) He is, “…the way and the truth and the life.”; no one coming to salvation but by him. John 14:6,7 He is the gate through which we gain understanding and regeneration. ( John 10:7 & 9) Jesus assuring us that it is in obedience to his teachings that we realize God’s will. ( John 7:17) Paul, from whom we get so much of our understanding of Christianity, declaring that he had done his best to proclaim the whole will of God, summarized in the need for repentance of sin and faithfulness to our Lord Jesus. ( Acts 20:27 & 21 – see also Acts 26:20 & 1 Corinthians 15:2-4)
In fact, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians ends by listing a number of things either to be done or refrained from (1Thess. 5), mirroring his instructions to the Romans with its call for a renewed mind which will lead us to God’s will, equipping us to fulfill the expectations of faithfulness in a lost world. (Rom. 12) This in turn resonates with Jesus’ own teaching concerning true righteousness recorded in Mat. 5,6 & 7; with which we are to clothe ourselves ( Romans 13:14), acquiring the same attitude (NIV) or mind-set (KJ) of Christ. ( Philippians 2:5)
Yet this raises another somewhat confusing issue – that of works in relation to our salvation. As, “…the gift of God is eternal life.” ( Romans 6:23) We being incapable of earning our way into God’s presence; yet what would Jesus’ love have accomplished if he hadn’t consented to God’s will and become the sacrifice we needed to cover our sin? ( Matthew 26:36-44) (“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” Hebrews 5:8) His great love for us motivated him to do something for our benefit, at great cost to himself; can we do any less and be truly good or righteous? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” and “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.” John 14:15 & 15:10 So obedience may not be the way to secure our salvation but I believe it is essential to fulfilling it. I want to be very careful and not say anything unscriptural. I know Paul’s teaching on faith and grace. ( Ephesians 2:8,9) I am aware of Jesus’ comment that, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29 Obedience doesn’t save us but is, I believe, a natural outpouring of gratitude to God and concern for our fellowman; which begs the question: If we fail to live obediently are we truly saved? Even Paul acknowledging that, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6 While the conclusion to his very specific teaching on grace, faith and works of Eph. 2ends with his assertion that as God’s workmanship, we are, “…created in Christ Jesus to do good works,…” Ephesians 2:10
Many cite Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when debating the ultimate worth of works/obedience. In it he assesses the value of man’s effort in building on the foundation of faith in Christ, its value revealed by fire. Some will be purified, some burned up, salvation being maintained, “…but only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 Barely, only by the skin of our teeth – but is that the way you want it or Jesus would have us do it? At the very least, God has a purpose for our lives. Jesus spoke of our fruitfulness to the Kingdom, comparing us to “fruit-bearing” trees. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”; Our fruit/faithfulness indicating whether we are his followers or not. He goes on to say that, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven .” Matthew 7:19-23 Granted, he then cites some who had done various good deeds as being unknown by him except as evil doers; our first responsibility in doing his will being to acknowledge him as God’s son, admitting to our sinfulness and repenting of evil – but what then? Acquaintance with Christ isn’t enough, Luke recording a parable of Jesus in which some were rejected from entrance through the “door”, who protested by saying, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” The parable ending with, “I don’t know you…” Luke 13:25-27
Immediately following the parable of the talents in Mat. 25 where three servants are judged according to their response to their master’s expectations, Jesus characterizes Judgment Day as being comparable to the task of a shepherd separating his sheep and goats. Doing so by comparing their response to the needs of people; the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and prisoner, the sick and needy. The righteous “sheep”, unknowingly ministered to Christ – and thus fulfilled his will – by meeting the needs of those less fortunate. The unrighteous “goats” unwittingly denied Jesus by ignoring the opportunity to minister to the needs of others. As a consequence of their responses, the sheep were ushered into heaven while the goats were consigned to hell. ( Matthew 25:31-46)
I’m not saying their actions earned them a right to heaven, but that heaven was in some way contingent on their reaction to God’s grace. Just as they had to acknowledge God’s sovereign power and their sinfulness in repentance to activate God’s grace in salvation, there appears to be an expectation of response to that salvation. “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith…” Romans 1:17; as well as an “…obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5
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Fred Price - married (47 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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