Conversations Journal is dedicated to hearing from diverse voices united by a common goal. It’s our privilege to set the table, pour the coffee, and welcome into the dialogue everyone who wants to become more like Jesus. We’re drawn together by our shared longing to experience Christian spiritual formation.
But that longing, the goal that unites us, at the same time divides us from others. With record numbers of people waking up to their desire for transcendent spirituality, a good conversation about Christian spirituality needs to be directed by the words of our Leader—all His words, including the tough ones.
Like these: “Enter through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13, NIV All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™ ). What’s narrow about the narrow gate? Isn’t narrowness a cultural sin? Don’t all roads lead to Rome?
“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (verse 13). What’s He saying? Our Leader isn’t earning high marks on the inclusiveness scale. Is he telling us that the popularity of a message about becoming spiritual might indicate not its accuracy, but its error?
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (verse 14). These are tough words. Is He telling us to redefine church growth?
When I first pulled up my chair to this conversation, I worried that if we honor our Leader, several (maybe many?) will be excluded by their own choice. I didn’t like that thought. I’m more drawn to the “whosoever will” idea. I want a big welcome mat in front of a really wide door.
But to honor every understanding of how to be spiritually formed is to dishonor Jesus. Respect everyone? Of course. Dialogue with them with the intent to learn? Yes. But drawing lines that exclude no one, that permit agreement with every view, is not Christian.
What lines should we draw? It’s easy to draw too many and thus exclude members of the family. It’s just as easy to draw too few, to find a big gate that lets us through with too much baggage, that gets us happily walking a brightly lit path that leads into darkness.
One way of thinking about all that you’ve just read in this issue of Conversations is to see us wondering what’s small about the small gate and what’s narrow about the narrow path.
That pretty well describes what makes me excited about this issue.
We’re recognizing that one necessary line in the sand, one truth that makes the small gate small and the narrow gate narrow, is the terrible truth about sin. It’s sin, not suffering, that keeps us from God. It’s not how others treat us that steals our joy; it’s how we treat others. I get excited because this problem has a solution only in Christ.
For too long, we’ve defined sin behaviorally, not relationally. Sin has become a manageable problem, a list of things to do and a longer list of things not to do. Mere effort, and more of it, is the solution. We mistake smugness over not doing bad things for spirituality. The cross is reduced to a symbol of surrender, to nothing more than a good example to follow.
This issue explores sin as grasping and hiding; as seeking a greater good than intimacy with God; as requiring God to cooperate with us, not we with Him; as seeing ourselves, not God, in the center. The solution is Jesus, His forgiveness, His life in us.
Perhaps these thoughts on relational sin will direct us to the small gate marked by these words: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Maybe they’ll lead us into the narrow path of absolute dependence on a power not our own to flow in the Spirit’s rhythm through every circumstance of life for the pleasure of the Father—just as Jesus did for thirty-three years. That’s Christian spiritual transformation. It’s what we must live and offer to a hungry world.
I think every issue of Conversations deserves thoughtful reflection. If one deserves a little extra, it’s this one.