Have you noticed that Life usually offers two ways to do things? My dad always said that there were two ways to approach things, "My way - or the wrong way". The Air Force had three ways; the right way, the wrong way, and the Air Force Way. That actually usually worked out to be two ways too, the right way and the military way. Humor aside, life always seems to present us with two fundamental choices, the easy way, or the hard way. The same is true of spiritual things. There are two ways - and only two ways. It often appears that there are many paths, but in reality there are only two; the path to life everlasting and all of the other paths, which do not lead to life. Even in the Church, they often will tell you that there is more than one way.
Christ offers just one, the hard way. Matt. 7:13-14: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."
Now, I notice that Jesus did not refer to the way . . . that leads to life as "hard". It is, but He did the hard part. He died in our place in awful agony for our sins. Nonetheless, I call the way "hard" because the other way is broad and easy - it is the path of least resistance, the natural way, the way that makes sense and demands nothing of you that you are not willing to give. The "hard" way is narrow - which means it is just this one way, and no other. It requires paying attention. We also know from the other words of Jesus that it often includes suffering and doing things we find difficult or objectionable - such as loving our enemies or admitting our errors. So allow me to refer to the broad way as "easy", in this article, and narrow way as "hard". You can test the accuracy of those titles yourself later.
The thing about the way which Christ has appointed for those who are His is that it is the only way. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through Me." There is no second choice. There are no short-cuts, no easy ways - no "Easy Buttons", as in the 'Staples' commercials on TV. No one comes to the Father, except through the Way, which is Jesus, and therefore through the way - the hard way - Jesus has appointed for those who follow Him. So we will walk the way of repentance, because it is the way appointed for us. We will walk the way of confessing Christ because Christ has set that way before all who believe. We will endure the hatred of the world around us and suffer what persecutions may come because that is the lot of those who share in Christ.
We cannot even fight back in the way the world would fight back. Any people in the Church cannot wrap their minds and hearts around this because it is just plain painful. Jesus tells us to "turn the other cheek." The Apostle Paul tells us not to resort to the courts, saying, "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" Jesus talks about giving your coat also when someone demand your shirt - or going two miles when you are forced to go just one. That's where the phrase, "going the second mile" comes from. Jesus makes it clear that the way He would have us walk (or live) is not the way of the flesh - with the weapons of the flesh, and rights, and all the things we are accustomed to as American citizens. These words are so alien to our human nature, and so hard to live out, that teachers in every age have sought to soften them, blur them, and change the meaning of what Christ has spoken.
Our weapon is the Word of God. Period.
The ways of the world are much more enticing to us. They are rough and brutal and physical and seem to be so clearly and quickly effective. But none of them are for our use; not politics, not voting the right man in, not the right legislation. The history of our Synod illustrates how ineffectual these weapons are in our battles. They feel good to use, sometimes, particularly if we win a battle here or there, but they are not the weapons given to us with which we are to do battle. Not even revolution.
The reason none of these other weapons do work is that the enemy is never really the person or movement or organization we can see and feel standing before us. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." The ways of the world may help us avoid pain or persecution for a time, but they put us in the world's camp and fighting on the world's turf, and we will lose there every time. The one thing that carries the promise of God's blessing - and therefore victory - is using the Word of God. "So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."
Our weapon is the Word of God. Other methods just seem more likely to work, or appear more effective for a moment. Our power is the Word of God. This is the Word which God says is "living and active". Other tools and other techniques may accomplish what we want done, but they do not accomplish what God wants done - and in the long run, what God wants is good, and what we want often fails to be all that we imagined it would be.
Our pathway is the Word of God. It does not deceive us, or mislead us. Where it takes us is not always pleasant for the moment, but when there is trouble because we have been faithful, it is trouble that we have been warned would come to those who are faithful, and trouble which God has promised to see us though and work good for us by means of. Ultimately, we have to keep in mind that the Gospel of John identifies Jesus Himself as the Word, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we behold His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Jesus also said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through Me." So, when we follow the Word of God, we are also following Jesus.
Living without considering the Word of God in every value and every choice is living on the broad and easy way. You can find leaders and teachers who will tell you that you don't have to pay attention any more to this or that Word of God. They were common at the time of Walther, and at the time of Luther, and even at the time of Jesus. They are called "blind guides". Jesus said that either you are for Me, or against Me, either you gather with Me or you scatter. You will have to judge which part they those that invite you to set aside any portion of God's Word play.
Fighting with weapons other than the Word is walking on that broad and easy way. The way doesn't have to seem easy to be the easy way - it just needs to be other than the way set before us by our Lord in Scriptures. The battle may feel for all the world like a battle - but when you fight it on the world's terms and on the world's turf with the weapons of the world, you are doing what comes naturally to our sinful flesh - and you have lost the war, at least for the moment - even if you seem to be winning the battle. You see, the war is not about our victory: Jesus has accomplished that already! The "war" is about our remaining faithful.
The hard way is sound doctrine - no compromise. Oh, how the world wants you to compromise! But God's promises are connected with the Truth, not with something kinda-sorta like the truth.
The hard way is patience in times of trouble - and prayer, always prayer. Patience requires faith, you know, trust in God that He knows and He will do all that He has promised - and that it is not, after all, just about us and the moment.
The hard way is love — for your brothers and sisters in Christ
— for your neighbors around you
— for your enemies.
The hard way is forgiveness. Holding onto our anger is seductively attractive - but Jesus tells us that if we do not forgive, then the Father will not forgive us either.
The hard way is repentance. It is the only thing more painful than forgiving someone you don't want to forgive! Still, there is no forgiveness without repentance.
The hard way is faith. You need to trust God in tough times. You need to trust that doing things according to the Word of God is going to accomplish the will of God, even when it feels like you are being taken advantage of, or feels like you are losing the game of life. Especially then.
You need faith to know that when you hear the absolution, your sins are actually forgiven. You need to lean on the confidence that it is worth the humiliation and angst that repentance brings - particularly when you are repenting to another person, and not just to God, privately, in your prayers.
They say it takes a lot of faith to die for what you believe. Sometimes it does, and sometimes death is simply what happens, and you don't have a lot of time to wrestle with the impending price of faithfulness: you confess, and they kill you. Living for what you believe - or from what you believe - takes a lot of faith, and usually takes it for a long time. That is why so many fail. We have such short attention spans, us humans. We can begin gripped by the terror of the thing (whatever the thing is), but if it continues long enough, we grow accustomed to the terror, and then bored by it. Then our attention begins to wander.
But keep in mind that the way that leads to life is narrow. If you lose your focus on it, and stop paying attention to staying on it, it is easy to fall off. And many do. They haven't the stomach for forgiving others, they haven't the humility for repenting, or they are just too smart to cling to the form of sound words handed down to us from the Apostles themselves. Resurrection sounds good, but only if you are immediately threatened with death. Forgiveness is precious, but only if you are presently conscious of sin and its danger. The fellowship of the saints is a comfort and a delight . . . unless you have a better offer from a faster crowd, and wealth, and celebrity, and what not.
It takes faith to rest yourself completely in the grace of God and know that Jesus has counted you among His own. Doing works so that you have something to point to, something solid that you have done, is always enticing. Making the decision and the 'good confession' is always a temptation, because then you have done what you needed to do to be sure, and you have that anchor to hold to.
But all we have to point to is a cross that once stood on a hill in the Middle East, just outside of Jerusalem. It was solid once, but no one has actually seen it in a long time, and Christians have changed it from a lethal torture device into a thing of beauty and a piece of fine jewelry of late - and some scholars today even question whether it was real, historically, and openly disavow the resurrection that followed. All we have to hold onto is the anchor of the promises of God, saved for us in Scripture. God hasn't left us anything in ourselves or our conduct or thinking that will make us certain or give us peace - just the Gospel of Jesus' love and the Father's grace. We kind of approach eternity naked - Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
Faith, which is the work of God in us, is all that we have, and all that we need. It is the hard way because we cannot make it happen, nor continue in it 'by our own reason or strength.' We continue only by the gracious work of God in us through Word and Sacrament. It is walking in faith, by faith, according to our faith that makes the hard way hard. It requires our attention, and walks us through many things we might otherwise choose to walk around.
Yours in the Lord,
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