“Enter through the narrow gate. 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.
How are we to understand this passage? It certainly doesn’t read as a ringing endorsement of democracy! Indeed, the Bible warns us to be wary of populist thinking, and indicates that most people in this world are headed for destruction.
Why? Simply put, sin. The majority of people want money and sex, and are defiant of God. Nothing could better illustrate this than the world in which we live. We’ve developed a system of government that puts the majority of people in power, and the result is a society led by people who preach that self-interest drives human progress forward, committed to breaking the individual and forcing him to work for money, persecuting the most devout followers of Christ, and telling us constantly that we have freedom because a man can dress up like a woman and walk into the ladies’ bathroom!
Maybe this sounds unbelievable. After all, don’t we have freedom? In a manner of speaking, we do, but consider what Jesus taught. He told us to sell our worldly possessions and give the money to the poor (Luke 12:33), that anyone who does not give up all his worldly possessions can not be his disciple (Luke 14:33), and that we are to give to anyone who asks (Luke 6:30). If you do this, you’ll end up homeless and destitute, and we can look at the homeless to see what kind of “freedom” we have.
The church is even more of a problem than the government, because it preaches that we simply don’t have to live in the way that Jesus commanded. This theology has been a long time coming. As early as the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the church was relaxing Jesus’s teachings to make them less burdensome. By medieval times, the church had cleanly segmented itself into those who renounced worldly possessions (the monks) and those who did not (the average churchgoer). The Protestant reformation dealt a further blow to discipleship because the protestants saw little need for monasticism, and the Catholics turned their religious orders into the vanguard of counter-reformation. Today, a protestant monk has only limited support from either protestant or Catholic churches, but there is a silver lining to this cloud. We’re not supposed to be dependant on a religious order. We’re supposed to be dependant on God.
Our churches today are full of people who defy the gospel, and our pulpits are full of ministers who preach that we don’t have to obey Christ. All we have to do is believe in him, and trust in his finished work on the cross. We don’t have to do what he teaches; that would be a religion of works, and we’re saved by grace!
What we need instead is a church that teaches us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers of it, and this includes the hard teachings as well as the easy ones. We’re supposed to be disciples, we’re supposed to sell our worldly possessions and give to the poor, we’re supposed to give to anyone who asks. A disciple has no business standing behind a cash register and refusing to feed people who don’t have money. If you won’t give in to this, you are thrown away homeless in an attempt to break you and force you to work for our immoral capitalist leadership that rejects Christ.
And democracy? It’s based on the premise that a group of people who are defiant of God have the right to rule the world because… there’s more of them. Nobody has this right. There is no group of people, no king, no emperor, no proletariat, no Aryan race, and no majority, who simply has the right to rule over everyone else. Only God has that legitimate authority.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to living in the United States. The worst persecution I’ve personally experienced is poverty, and while the hardships associated with it are real, I’ll take my tent in a homeless camp over a prison cell any day. My website might not be on the live feed at CNN, but it’s not censured. I’ve been trespassed off property whose owners don’t want to hear me speaking, but I can hold a sign in a public park or on a sidewalk unmolested by the police. The most serious legal trouble I’ve been in was a misdemeanour trespassing charge related to a political demonstration, and the outcome was a six month prison sentence and a $3,000 fine, all suspended. If this had happened in China, I suspect that I would have served years in a prison camp.
Yet while celebrating the freedoms that we enjoy, we must not forget some difficult truths. In order for democracy to be what it claims to be, whole swaths of the New Testament have to be wrong. The verse I started with, “…broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” has to be wrong. The economic teachings, that you can not serve both God and money, they have to be wrong. The sexual teachings, of course, have to be wrong. All the stuff about disciples being persecuted and hated by the world must be wrong. Nothing in the book of Revelation suggests that mankind will one day develop a system of government that produces peace, freedom, and opportunity. To the contrary, all man-made political systems in Revelation are presented as beasts who deceive and enslave, and only the return of Jesus Christ for a millennial reign will produce a righteous government. This too, must be wrong.
Do we live in these end times? I’m not certain, but if so, Jesus told us in Matthew 24 that it will be characterised by persecution of the faithful, that disciples will be “hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9), and that the gospel will be preached to the whole world (Matthew 24:11). Pay special attention to that last part. The proper response to wickedness, in any age, is not acquiescence, not violence, not despair, but standing firm and preaching the gospel.
So let’s reject the false choices before us! We’re not to live like the majority, who chase after money and sex, but rather in obedience to God, even though that means persecution. We’re not to blow up airplanes and shoot up movie theaters like the Muslims, but rather pray for our persecutors and respect authority, even if it is wicked. Respecting authority does not mean silence, however, witness how Jesus interacted with the Pharisees. We need to preach the Gospel without watering it down, without getting angry, but with conviction and power.
Where does that power come from? Ideally, from the Holy Spirit. I’ve learned over the years is that if you obey Christ, you’ll be reduced to poverty and that seems, in this world, to be a recipe for total ineffectiveness. The main asset you’ve got is the Holy Spirit, and it’s a powerful, nay overwhelming, force that pervades the life of a disciple. It’s the Spirit that feeds us, that guides us, that makes our witness effective.
Yet “God is not to be mocked” (Galatians 6:4), and the Holy Spirit is not a wimp! Since we’re preaching unpopular truths, obedience to God will often bring us into conflict with people in this world. Remember how Jesus was treated! Remember that Peter and John were flogged for their preaching (Acts 5), yet refused to obey the Sanhedrin’s order to remain silent, telling them that “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).
One of the pivotal experiences in my life was the political opposition Occupy, and it was the Holy Spirit that led me into it! I didn’t handle the situation very well, because I ignored the Spirit’s guidance and put myself into a situation where I let atheists dominate the movement, but that’s a story for a different essay (How Occupy Lost). The point I’m making now is that God led me into a situation where I was standing in opposition to established authority, and this is by no means unusual!
Moses stood in opposition to Pharaoh. Elijah stood in opposition to Ahab. Jeremiah was nearly starved to death because of his opposition to King Zedekiah. A common pattern here is that the prophets are primarily to speak, while plagues, fire from heaven, and conquering armies are the province of God. In other words, we’re to preach the Gospel, and warn people of their sins, but leave the punishment to God, and remember that our principle reward comes not in this life, but in the next.
Ezekiel, for example, was led by God to protest and prophesy against Jerusalem in a bizarre and specific way (Ezekiel 4 and 5). He drew a map of Jerusalem on a clay tablet, then erected model siege works on the tablet, and placed an iron pan between him and the model city, to symbolise God’s rejection of Israel. He then laid on his left side for 390 days to bear the sin of Israel, and then laid on his right side for 40 days to bear the sin of Judah. He prepared food for himself to eat during this protest and was to bake it over human excrement to symbolise the defilement of Israel, though God relaxed this requirement. At the end of his protest, he cut his hair and burned a third of it inside the city, indicating that a third of the people would die there by famine or disease, struck another third of his hair with a sword, to indicate that another third would die in that manner, and then scattered the remaining third to the wind, pursuing it with a drawn sword, showing that the last third of the people would be scattered among other nations, but preserved a few strands of hair and burnt it in the fire, indicating that a remnant would be saved, and that from them a fire would spread to all of Israel!
What a bizarre sight Ezekiel must have been, carrying on in this manner for over a year! Imagine what kinds of looks he must have received from passers-by, as he lay there on his side, next to the clay tablet! Of course he explained it all to them, probably dozens of times a day. How trying on the prophet, to undertake such a long protest! Yet to be effective, it had to be done, and in exactly the manner directed by God.
So, holding a sign by the side of the road, or staging a sit-in in a public park, is nothing compared to some of the efforts to which God has led his prophets in the past. The big question is whether God is in the lead, or whether our actions stem from our own anger, however well justified, at the wickedness we see all around us.
There’s really no substitute here for discipleship, a life-long commitment to putting God completely in charge of your life. It may take twenty years of near total dependence on him for matters as simple as what to eat, where to live, what work to do, how to travel, who to talk to, what to say, before you reach a point where you can discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I can offer some guidelines on prayer, fasting, Bible study, and worship. I can describe guidance I’ve received through dreams and prophetic visions. I can tell you about miraculous provisioning that confirms a course of action. None of these, however, can substitute for a lifetime spent in obedience to God. That’s how you really learn to discern his will.
It’s for this reason, I think, that Jesus told us to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). It’s so easy to become self-reliant, to work for money that lets us feed ourselves, lets us rent a house or apartment, lets us provide for all the necessities of life and so many luxuries. Then we become sloppy disciples where the consequences of disobedience are no more than a few brief pangs of conscience. It’s better to live on the brink of hunger, of cold, of pain, because then the consequences of disobedience become real.
Let me illustrate with an example. Several years ago, I did a long fast in the mountains above Anchorage; I went 47 days without food. On day 48, I walked down (slowly), and took a bus to my regular Saturday Bible study. Our leader helped me break my fast by feeding me yogurt, and later took me to a supermarket for a visit to its salad bar. One of the men in the Bible study invited me over to his house, offering me a shower, a bed, and laundry. I declined, because I wanted to return to my own campsite, even though I hadn’t been there in a month and a half. What I found when I arrived was that the tent had been opened, there were several inches of cold water inside, and all the bedding material was sopping wet. I spent a miserable night in forty degree weather, getting no sleep, and had no money to even consider taking a cab to a motel. How many times had I seen this pattern before? When charity is offered, you should generally accept it, or at least pray about it, because often God provides for us through other people. Hopefully, that cold, miserable night will never pass out of my memory, and I pray to God now to remind of it on any future occasion when I’m about to decline an offer that he’s responsible for extending!
There’s really no other way to become a disciple. You have to live it.
This is precisely the kind of lifestyle that will never be embraced by the majority of people. They won’t obey God, because obeying him means becoming dependant on him. They want to be dependent on themselves, in the mistaken belief that men can manage their lives without him. They’ll go chasing off after some depraved philosophy like Marxism or capitalism, in the deluded belief that it “works” in the “real world” because it’s godless and cynical. Millions of people buy into these deceptions, crowing on about how modern and scientific these ideas are, that self-interest drives human progress forward, that all these people trying to make money, that’s what gives us computers and cell phones, supermarkets and fancy restaurants, air travel and beach resorts. The next great invention is just around the corner, they say, being dreamed up by genius entrepreneurs hoping to take their company public in a few years and become billionaires. Jesus told us two thousand years ago where this kind of “progress” is actually leading.
“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
This is where human progress is leading. Men have convinced themselves that they don’t need God, that he can be relegated to a Sunday morning exercise, that we can pray to him and worship him, but we don’t really need him in charge of our businesses, schools, and governments. Christ’s most devout followers are rejected and persecuted, while the rich are elevated as leaders, and the church preaches part-time Christianity. All this is done in the name of “freedom”, and is justified with elections. It’s what the majority of people want, and there’s only one place that this leads – the d estruction of all human life on this planet.