Sometimes things really are as simple as they sound.
As you will hear in this PODCAST, this little truism was never more true than it is of Jesus’ words here at the tail end of the Sermon on the Mount.
And believe it or not, Jesus swerved right into the middle of what has become a tragic distortion of our beliefs, especially among a younger generation of pastors and the churches that they lead.
It’s time for us to recalibrate our theology, in order for our beliefs to fall in line with what Jesus taught.
You see, there is an alarming trend that I see spreading throughout many of our American Evangelical Christian Churches. Especially among many of the younger, newer pastors. A theological shift, which may not seem too alarming to you, but it is very alarming to me, especially in light of the verses that we are examining this week.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Now, Jesus extended His personal invitation to everyone to enter by the narrow gate. Make no mistake about it. Peter notes this in 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
Now, what blows me away is that today, there seems to be an abundance of “Christians” looking for ways to exclude people, rather than working to include people in coming to Christ.
Rather, Jesus loves everyone and died for everyone.
John 3:16 (NLT)
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
There is no limitation or qualification on the word he used when He said, “the world”.
John said this in 1 John 2:2 (NLT)
He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
Did you hear that? “ALL THE WORLD.” Not only for the “elect”.
If you think that I’m exaggerating when I say that there are many who dangerously believe that “everyone” doesn’t include EVERYONE, I refer to a quote from a recent pastor’s conference attended by over 3,000 conservative evangelical church leaders:
“Jesus redeemed everyone for whom He shed His blood.”
Do you understand what this means? People who are not redeemed, He did not shed His blood for them.
Now, it was troubling enough that somebody passionately said that in the general session of this pastors conference. What I found more disturbing was the internet chat and twitter feed that accompanied this presentation.
Do you know how many objections I read about this statement from the pastors and church leaders that were attending and live streaming the event? Not one.
Think about it…
Are there people who are not redeemed?
Yes, Jesus said so in Matthew 7:
“…wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”
So, did Jesus not shed His blood for them?
Then, a well known pastor – who was the host of this conference – made this statement:
“You hear people say, ‘God loves you unconditionally’, which isn’t really true.”
REALLY?? That isn’t really true??
So, in response to all of this, I turn to 2 Corinthians 5:15
Christ did die for all of us. He died so we would no longer live for ourselves, but for the one who died and was raised to life for us.
Now, this leads me to another point: It is up to each individual to choose his or her own eternal destiny. We can either choose the narrow or broad gate that Jesus described. The choice is ours.
In His unconditional love, God forces His love upon nobody. Based on each individual’s decision, God will honor his or her decision. There is nothing in all of scripture that indicates that God is going to drag people against their will down the difficult path and through the narrow gate – even as His own heart breaks over those who deny His invitation.
We see this from Moses in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Elijah in 1 Kings, and of course Jesus in Matthew 7: The choice belongs to each of us. No one will be dragged kicking and screaming.My third conclusion is this: The line of demarcation, the evidence, that someone has sincerely said “Yes” or “No” to Christ’s invitation is NOT whether or not they ever said what is known as “The Sinner’s Prayer”.
For some ironic reason that I don’t fully understand, we as an American church today place a huge priority on whether or not someone said the “Come to Jesus / Sinner’s Prayer”.
Yet, when we read the Great Commission, we see that Jesus doesn’t want us to go out and convince a lot of people to say “The Prayer”, but He wants us to “go into all the world and make disciples.”
Therefore, the line of demarcation or evidence of someone’s decision is not whether or not they said a particular prayer on a certain occasion, but how they live their lives – both in terms of personal lifestyle choices that reflect obedience to God’s commands and how he or she treats other people, which reflect the Fruit of the Spirit.
In other words, there should be a noticeable and distinct difference between how a Christ follower lives their lives and treats other people when compared to those who have chosen to deny Christ’s invitation.
Here’s my fourth conclusion: Those on the broad road make a deliberate choice to travel that road. So, whenever someone asks the question, “How can a loving God send people – whom He created – to hell?”, I easily answer, “He doesn’t.”
Let me be perfectly clear on something: God loves us far too much to force anyone against their wills into His presence forever.
It all hinges on our own, individual choices. And God honors the choices that we make, even if it breaks His heart.
Romans 1:21 says:
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like.
So, if someone chooses to not acknowledge God for who He is, what should God do?
The most loving expression of God’s love for us is not that He offers to save us, but that He is willing to allow us to reject Him completely and yet to love us, still.
Think of Stephen’s situation, which we read about at the end of Acts 7:
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage…
…57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
All because Stephen had told them the truth about who Jesus is.
Now, what should God do with such people that would react this way to Christ’s truth? Hogtie them? Drag them against their wills to heaven to live with Him forever? They want nothing to do with Him. They don’t want to hear it. They cover their ears. They don’t want to see it. They rushed Stephen, took him to the top of a hill, tossed him off in order to break his legs so that he couldn’t move, then tossed huge rocks on top of him and killed him.
Then we read this in Revelation 6:
Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.”
I ask again, what is God to do with people like this – people who choose to refuse Him and His will?
Too many times, Christians place emphasis on this statement: “Only those who accept Jesus are in heaven.”
I would suggest that scripture places the emphasis on this statement instead: “Only those who willfully and defiantly reject Jesus are, by their own choices, destroyed.”
My fifth and final conclusion deals with Christ’s word, “destruction”. It means to destroy utterly and completely. It is a word that clearly carries a sense of finality with it.
We see it used in Mark 14 in regards to perfume, in Acts 8 in regards to money, in John 6 in regards to food, in Jonah 3 in regards to empires, even in regards to Jerusalem in Micah 4 and Zechariah 14 – all of these contexts use the same word Jesus used to describe things that are here one moment and totally and completely gone the next.
More to the point, it’s used in regards to Judas in John 17:12 where Jesus prayed:
During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.
Paul sums it up by defining what this destruction really is in 2 Thessalonians 1:9
They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.
Separation from God.
By their own choice.
Sometimes things really are as simple as they sound.
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