How Few is Few?
I decided in September of 1988 that I believed what the Bible said about God, the world, and the afterlife. I still had tons to learn (and still do), but I understood the core message well enough to know that I knew it was true.
From then on, the larger message I heard generally sounded like this:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son…
[M]y yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
“Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.”
I realize now that I had subconsciously developed a theology that God wanted me to be happy and comfortable. I can name several verses right off the top of my head that I knew then and that seem clearly contrary to that position, but I was very good at not thinking about those.
Thing was, I have been successful — in a lot of different ways of describing success — ever since that time. Couple that with the American Dream and the fact that we are constantly wrapped in the message that stuff equals happiness, and it’s nearly impossible for God’s message not to being to take the shape of America’s.
One verse gave me so many problems that I pushed it under my bed out of sight:
[C]ontinue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
I just couldn’t even begin to reconcile my theology with what Paul was saying there. It wasn’t even in the same ballpark. Why would I have any “fear or trembling” if all I had to do was “believe”? I mean, how hard was it to just believe something?
I can see now that one of the reasons God has had us outside of traditional church for so long was to force us to read the Bible with no outside influence, to let the Holy Spirit do what he said it would do.
One of the main things I’ve begun to see is how overwhelmingly different God’s definition of believing is from mine. The last few things I’ve written here reflect that, and this morning he led me back to a passage that he started teaching me about many months ago:
[T]he gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
I’ve known that verse for as long as I can remember — which makes it that much more astonishing to me just how much depth he has shown me in it. We just keep going deeper.
This morning it was more instruction on just how few “few” is. I mean, just look at who Jesus said a few verses later aren’t part of the few:
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
You have people who prophesy, who drive out demons, and who perform many miracles — and that’s not good enough to get in. I was always fine with that, though, because “it’s not what you do, it’s who you know.”
Look at what he says right before that, though:
[E]very good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 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. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
It is important what kind of “fruit” I’m producing, because that’s the only indicator of my true condition. Prophesying and casting out demons and performing many miracles seems like pretty good fruit, though. Do I have any fruit that compares with that?
I can see now where the “fear and trembling” comes in. Jesus set such a high bar for entry in the Kingdom (one that we’ve brought much lower). When we honestly analyze ourselves in the light of his demands, it ought to cause some anxiety. Am I so confident that my life is more reflective of a changed person than those who prophesy, exorcise, and perform miracles?
Am I finding the road to be both narrow and difficult?
This commentary on Matthew 7:13 from The New American Commentary stuck out to me this morning:
The fulfillment of the Great Commission does not imply that a majority will respond with genuine faith. The percentage of true believers in places and times in which being “Christian” is popular is perhaps not that different from the percentage of Christians in times of persecution, when few dare to profess who are not deeply committed.
Just how few is few?