How do you choose the right path? How do you know your leaders aren’t leading you astray?
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:13–23 (NIV)
Which road should I choose?
One of the things that causes the most stress in my life is having to make choices. It’s why I avoid Cheesecake Factory like the plague. There is just too much on the menu. The overwhelming amount of choices we have in daily life can be difficult, but what about when it comes to people? If we are not supposed to judge, how can we choose who to trust, who to listen to, who to associate with and who to follow? And how do we know if we ourselves are really following Jesus or if we are self deceived?
That seems to be what Jesus is telling us at the end of the sermon on the mount. While the first paragraph of the section seems to go against the whole “easy yoke” thing by saying that the road to life is narrow and only a few find it, you need to understand a little context before you jump to conclusions.
Jesus is teaching in the area around Galilee. In his days this was a hotbed for radical Jewish nationalism. It’s why he encounters so many Pharisees. They were the people who wanted to get back to the Bible and follow the laws of God so that God would restore their nation. Remember? Zealots were also prevalent in that area. At least one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot. Those guys were trying to drum up support for a violent revolution to overthrow Rome. The Siccari were assassins (like Barabbas) who had cells in that area too. Like modern terrorists, they looked for opportunities to take out Romans and those who collaborated with them wherever possible. In summary, there were a lot of good old country boys looking for a fight.
Into this climate, Jesus comes warning that the broad road where the culture was moving was headed straight for destruction. He is not talking about heaven and hell. He is talking specifically about Rome. If they choose to persist in this path along with the crowd, things will not end well. Insisting on “eye for an eye”; focusing on outward religion; seeking earthly prosperity rather than God’s kingdom, they are (as my father would say) cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Now this still applies to us. Going with the flow of culture usually leads nowhere good. What seems easy and popular often ends poorly. The road to the good life in our culture seems to be about accumulation of treasure on earth, defending your rights, looking good, and being right. But the narrow way that leads to life is about true goodness from the inside out that expresses itself in love for all people — even our enemies.
Which voice should I choose?
That leads to the next part. Just as there are two roads you can follow, there are two types of people that will try to lead you. Though we are told to give up judging and condemning people, we do have to be discerning about who we are influenced by. Some people look safe but have a darker agenda. They want to use you for their own purposes. How can you tell the good from the bad? Do you have to be an expert in theology? Do you have to have a seminary degree?
Jesus says you can tell false prophets by their fruit. That fruit is not necessarily related to their success in ministry. Notice, he says that some people will be able to prophesy and do miracles and cast out demons in his name without knowing him (or being known by him). Just because someone knows the right words or doctrine or techniques for effective ministry doesn’t mean you should follow them or listen to them.
So how do you know who to listen to? Look at their fruit. What is their life producing in the lives of people around them? A good tree produces good fruit. A bad tree doesn’t. Painting the tree to make it look good doesn’t work. There is a way to make a tree good from the inside out. It goes all the way back to the kind of true inner righteousness Jesus talked about at the beginning of the sermon.
Inside out values
At Mountain View we have four core values that keep us focused on the inside out process of true transformation instead of going the broad way of external conformity. It always starts with authenticity. We have to be honest with ourselves first before we can live authentically with God and others. Out of this authenticity, we move to intimacy with God. Knowing him and being known by him is more primary than knowing about him or doing things for him.
It is only out of this authentic intimacy that we look outward in love toward other people, for love is the fulfillment of the law and love is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us. When the tree is healthy and connected to the source, it naturally produces love and ultimately leads to the restoration of all things. Trying to restore the world or love people when you aren’t yet able to be honest with yourself or when you aren’t intimately connected to God just leads to frustration and cynicism for you and oppression of those you are trying to help.
I hope you will choose wisely and join us Sunday at our new location at Saddleback Valley Christian School as we continue our series!