Difficult Is the Path
At the beginning of His ministry Jesus laid out a fairly robust overview of His teaching and expectations for those who follow Him. Known as the Sermon on the Mount, many of these lessons challenged the conventional religious teaching of the time.
They included the idea that those who suffer for righteousness and for the name of Christ are blessed; that sin begins in the heart; that we love our enemies and those who persecute us; that we not call our attention to our good deeds; that we invest in things of eternal value; that we avoid worrying; and that we not judge others. Jesus then concludes His introductory sermon by encouraging His followers to "enter by the narrow gate" explaining that "narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14, NKJV).
Jesus minces no words and leaves no room for ambiguity. Those who follow Him face a challenging life fraught with difficulty and trials. Because of that difficulty, Jesus observes that few individuals actually find and follow the path that leads to eternal life. Jesus's declaration that becoming His disciple yields a challenging life contravenes what most of us learn about Christianity. Often the church teaches us that life becomes easier once we profess faith; that God wants to bless us with a comfortable life. So, how do we reconcile the disparate teachings of Jesus and the twenty-first century American church?
In my book, Difficult Is the Path: Why Life as a Disciple of Christ is Not for the Fainthearted, we explore this subject in considerable detail. We identify examples Jesus provided, parables He shared, and lessons He taught about the challenge of living as His disciple. We investigate Scripture to understand the expectations Jesus establishes for everyone who wants to follow Him, and how He transforms our lives when we commit to Him as Lord. The content will challenge most of us to re-examine our faith in light of these biblical truths, even as Jesus' challenged His contemporaries with the same teachings.
Sadly, many of us reject these challenging lessons despite the fact that Jesus taught them again and again. We decide that such teachings do not comport with our view of the Christian faith; that we prefer to remain ensconced in a compromised faith that we like, rather than pursue an authentic faith we find unappealing. Such an approach to faith, however, likely represents the broad gate that leads to destruction according to Jesus (see Matthew 7:13).
In our modern culture where advertisers promote comfort, emphasize the individual, celebrate luxury, and promise happiness, a marketer could not have created a less appealing slogan than, "Follow Jesus, His way is difficult." Yet that accurately reflects the substance of what Christ taught and captures the opportunity He offers us. It is not a life for the fainthearted.