The Narrow Way: How Reality Constrains the Christian Faith
As a believer in Christ I have heard many a sermon concerning the "narrow way," as Jesus referred to the life of discipleship in Matthew 7. Typically the narrowness of the way is said to be marked by difficulty, single-minded devotion, self-discipline and practical challenges. Because this narrow way is difficult, there are few who find it. And so it is. But the Christian way is also narrow due to the logic of choice. Simply put: If a person decides to believe in Jesus Christ, he decides at the same time (whether consciously or not) to renounce all other gods and messiahs.
So for example, if a group of radical Muslims were to approach me on the street and threaten me with death unless I profess Islam, and I were to break down and comply with their demands, I would not only pledge a newfound allegiance to the teachings of Mohammed and the Koran, but in the process repudiate my previous allegiance to Christ and the truth of Scripture. This unwelcome, even distressing, state of affairs presses itself upon us, I believe, due to a convergence of the following:
1. The exclusive truth claims of Jesus. Consider the affirmations of Jesus Christ concerning his own identify and what that means for us. Jesus in various places identified himself as "the Son of Man," "the Son of God," "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," "the Resurrection and the Life," etc. These claims communicate eternal import. Jesus said, "Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." This speaks of spiritual and not merely physical death.
2. The rigorous demands Jesus laid upon his followers. "Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has," Jesus said, "cannot be My disciple." While declaring himself the only way to eternal life, Jesus also declares that following him will involve tremendous cost. "If they hate Me, they will hate you;" "Whoever loves his life will lose it;" "In the world you will have tribulation;" Etc. These are the constraints placed upon Christian believers. On one hand there is only one path to salvation, and on the other, that path is fraught with hardship and sacrifice.
3. Abundant evidence supporting the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus, thereby validating his exclusive truth claims and rigorous demands. These are not merely interesting theological questions conveniently detached from reality. Much evidence – from the origin and fine tuning of the universe, to the specifiable complexity of biological structures, to fulfilled prophecy, to historical evidence for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus – supports the proposition that God exists and has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. One reason Christian apologists are often so despised, I believe, is that they call attention to facts and reasons underlying some profoundly disquieting spiritual truths.
Now all this makes things problematic for most anyone who desires to follow after Christ – me included. I do not want to be narrow-minded. I want to be accepting of all points of view. I want to be liked by everyone. I want to think that everyone (or at least all those I personally consider to be good people) will experience eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Of course, as a free moral agent I can do and believe whatever I want. But I cannot do and believe whatever I want and also be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus calls me to the narrow path of discipleship that renounces all competing claims upon my beliefs, behaviors and priorities. Yes, it's unsettling to be disliked, and downright scary to think of being threatened with death. (So much for the notion that Christianity is a "fantasy" or a "wish fulfillment.") But it's far more unsettling and far scarier to think of facing the eternal consequences of abandoning faith in Jesus for another, more respectable and less demanding set of beliefs.