I have written much about the glorious expectation of heaven. If you are like me, you find strength and solace in allowing your mind to dwell on the wonders of that eternal home of the soul. But in focusing on heaven, and cherishing it as the home we have been created to inhabit, we must be careful not to generate false expectations. Not everyone will make it home. In fact, most will not.
“…the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14, ESV)
Of all of the inconvenient, unpopular truths that have ever been spoken, these few words of Jesus, uttered near the end of His sermon on the mount, may be the most troublesome for the average person.
Why is the way hard that leads to life? What makes it so hard?
The way is hard because believing can be hard. Whoever believes can receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16), but believing isn’t easy. There are impediments! Satan makes sure of it. He veils this world in the darkness of man-made philosophy, human suffering, false teaching, and misplaced priorities. The apostle Paul describes this sad reality in these words: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
The way is hard because you have to obey the gospel and keep commandments. The Bible declares that God will punish “those who do not obey the gospel” with “flaming fire.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). As we’ve said, some hear the gospel, but choose not to believe it. Others want to change or adulterate it to suit their personal preferences. And still others believe it, but choose not to obey. They may even express contempt and disdain for the very idea that one must obey to go to heaven. Yet, all over the pages of the New Testament, we see that obedience is necessary for salvation, and that failing to obey is the sure path to doom. “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).
The few who enter heaven “are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
The way is hard because you have to give up things – passions, pleasures, possessions, and sin. A wealthy young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life (Matthew 19:16-26). Although he’d been keeping the commandments, Jesus told the young man that he lacked one thing: He needed to give up his possessions. “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” “And the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
It’s strange, but just like this young man, many find it hard to give up things they cannot keep in order to gain things they could possess for all eternity. Jesus makes the point bluntly in Mark 9:43-48:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Yes, the way IS HARD that leads to life. But, what an adventure it is, and what a glorious end awaits! In the amazing words of an old hymn…
There are so many hills to climb upward,
I often am longing for rest,
But He who appoints me my pathway
Knows just what is needful and best.
I know in His word He hath promised
That my strength, “it shall be as my day”;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing,
When I get to the end of the way.
(When I Get to the End of the Way, Charles Tillman)
~ Steve Klein