Earlier this summer, I wrote about how God was leading me to a new understanding of what I endured at Seminary last year (Read here). I had a veritable epiphany while reading An Exquisite Agony by Gene Edwards. (A huge shout out to blogger Adam Desmond for suggesting this book to me!) And I’ve been striving to integrate this novel view of suffering-and-rejection into my daily walk. Because…
It changes everything.
Especially, the meaning of Matthew 7:13-27 for the post-modern Christian and their view of the εκκλησία [Ekklesia: called out from (the world) and to (God); The universal body of believers.]
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one that does the will of my Father in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’
Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.'”
Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)
This is probably one of the most fear inducing passages in the Gospels. Because it speaks to the reality that we can recognize Jesus, do many of the same things He did–in His name even!– and still neglect to do God’s will.
These terrifying verses, part of A series of Warnings in Matthew, follow an all-important admonishment:
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many that take it.
For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Matthew 7:13-14 (NRSV)
We, as would-be followers of Christ, are encouraged to grapple with this frightening reality: there are two ways to live as a Christian. AND, only one results in doing the will of God and our entering His kingdom.
Now, if you’ve been well-churched, these verses may come as a relief.
If you’ve struggled to find commonality with other self-professed Christians in community– feeling as if their understanding falls short of what Christ has shown true discipleship entails– these verses can be liberating! It affirms that the daily struggle of discipleship is indeed a virtue of the path that leads to the Life Christ called us into. Those that would balk at our faith, shaking their heads at us in disapproval (or worse– pity), could just doing be doing it wrong. While they may appear to contend with us, they are actually contending with God. [And every human being has (or will) engaged in contention with the Divine will at some point. God knows I have.]
When I went to Seminary, and prepared for ordained ministry, it was those mistakenly entering the wide gate that I was most concerned about. Did they not realize their own folly? Could they not see how their version of Jesus as a dispenser of ‘cheap grace’ was the very thing preventing them from partaking in all that God in Christ offers to the true disciple?
After Seminary, I am no longer concerned about ‘Christians’ determined to journey through that wide gate. If they are able to deny the presence of the real and living Christ, ignoring His call to forsake all for the sake of Christ, then we will never be sisters/brothers in and through Christ. We will be opposed to each other. Because they are willfully opposed to Christ in settling for mere religiosity in His name.
The Apostle Paul writes how to respond to these ‘believers’, in his letter to Timothy from prison:
“You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.”
2 Timothy 3:1-9 (NRSV)
I’m far from achieving perfect obedience to God’s will.(obviously…) However, it is precisely the experience of my constant failure to measure up that reveals which path I’m on. Because it forces me to acknowledge just how desperately I need to cling to Christ in order to continue on this road. And, since He is the path (John 14:6), I’m right where God would have me.
I do not know where Christ will bring me next. But I suspect it will build upon this truth about our identity as Christians.
When I have endured so much shame, slander, suffering, and rejection at the hands of ‘believers’ on account of my time at Seminary, I have to believe that this is all a part of God’s will for me, and ultimately carried out for the sake of Christ.
I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer would agree. He believed that there was a cross awaiting each and every disciple. And instead of being an “ordinary calamity”, “it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ” (The Cost of Discipleship).
Indeed, experiencing my own crucifixion changes everything. Well, almost everything. By virtue of being handed my own cross, I can have confidence that I have already chosen the narrow way, and am indeed loved as a child of God:
“Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Hebrews 12:7-11 (NRSV, boldface mine)