Community Group Study Notes
- Have someone in your group provide a brief, 2-minute summary of Sunday’s teaching.
- Read Proverbs 14:12 out loud in your group. What wisdom did you gain from Sunday’s teaching on this passage?
- What are some of the paths that we go down in an attempt to find meaning and significance? (e.g. the path of success) At what point are these other paths incompatible with following Jesus?
- It’s one thing to say, “I’m following the way of Jesus” and it’s another thing to do it. Read James 1:22 out loud in your group. What does it look like for you to follow the way of Jesus where you live, learn, work, or play? Be specific.
- What is one action step you can take in response to what you heard on Sunday?
I'll ask you to turn to Proverbs chapter 14. Proverbs 14 is where we're going to be today. As we're going to Proverbs chapter 14... Kind of right in the middle of the Bible if you're opening up a hard copy to look at and follow along. As we're getting there, I want to tell you a true story. This is a true story. When I was in high school, having just gotten my driver's license, I remember vividly there was one Saturday where a couple friends from high school and I were getting together for lunch. And in a very inefficient way, we all drove separately to lunch, because when you're a new driver, you get your driver's license, you're just still experiencing the thrill of being able to drive yourself for the sake of being able to drive yourself, not getting dropped off by Mom or Dad, and that humiliating "I hope no one saw me" kind of moment, right?
So we all drive to this restaurant, but my friend James and I got to the restaurant first, and our third friend, who will remain nameless, and you will see why, they will remain nameless in this story, they were detained. So after about a few minutes, my friend James calls her up and he says, "Hey, where are you?" And she says, "Well, I'm driving on Sheridan Drive. How do I get to the restaurant again?" And James said, "You're coming down Sheridan, turn right on the Boulevard, it's a mile down on the left-hand side." "Turn right on the Boulevard, okay."
So, 15 minutes go by, and we still haven't seen our friend, and James calls her again and says, "Hey, where are you? I thought you were close by." "Yeah, I thought I was too. I guess I missed that sign. What was it again?" "Yeah, just turn down the Boulevard, and it's a mile down on the left-hand side." Another 15 minutes pass. Now we're getting frustrated because we're hungry, and this is when we discovered what "hangry" really meant.
So finally, another phone call, maybe after an hour of waiting, after we had finally decided to order our food and just said, "Well, at least we're going to have lunch," James calls her again and says, "Are you okay? Are you alive? Is there anything we need to know?" And just for some context, our friend, like us, had just gotten her driver's license, and so she's a new driver learning how to navigate, and she also grew up in a very remote, distant part of Clarence. So to ask for her to come to Tonawanda for lunch was asking a lot. I'm pretty sure she packed provisions just in case she had to spend the night in town, you know, that kind of a thing, like, "Hey, I'm going in," Oregon Trail kind of a thing.
So finally, that last phone call after an hour, and James said, "Are you alive?" And she says, "I've driven up and down Sheridan Drive so many times, and I haven't seen one single street sign that said The Boulevard." Yeah. She didn't know that it was called Niagara Falls Boulevard, and we didn't think that that needed to be explained. And so my friend James and I had a great lunch that day.
Have you ever thought you had all of the information you needed, only to find out you were missing a really critical piece of information? Have you ever thought you knew where you were going, and then had to stop and admit that you didn't? Or, really fun, have you ever been in a car with someone, and you say, "I think we're lost," and that person says, "We're not lost, I know where I'm going," and you know that you're lost, but you can't say it because they've just said, "I know where I'm going," so then you have to wait in the car while they figure out that you're really lost? Have you ever experienced that? Yeah, a few applause. Okay, don't look at your spouse, all right? That's rule number one. Elbows, you know, don't do that.
See, here's the thing. Nobody wants to admit. Nobody wants to admit that they have miscalculated or been wrong in navigating. Nobody wants to admit that they've perhaps chosen the wrong path. Nobody wants to admit that they don't know which way they're going or how long it's going to take. Nobody wants to admit those things, because we want to give the appearance that we know what we're doing, that we're experienced, that we've taken paths like this before. And so nobody wants to admit, or no one is quick to admit, I should say, when they've maybe gotten it wrong. And sometimes it takes a lot longer to correct that path than it ever did to get lost in the first place.
Solomon has been dropping wisdom for us, and I think we've gained a lot from that. I have. But in this proverb today that we're going to look at, Solomon's going to share something tangible for us as it pertains to navigating life's paths. It says this in Proverbs chapter 14, beginning in just verse 12. It says this: "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Or, there is a way that seems right to a man, to a person, but its end is the way of death. There's a way that seems right, quite literally, a way that appears to be straight right in front of them. It seems to be an easy path.
There's a way that seems to be straight right in front of a person, and you know, when you're walking on a straight path, you don't really need to pay close attention. You don't need to watch your step, you can kind of just coast. It's kind of like when I'm pushing our one-year-old son in a stroller. The sidewalks in our neighborhood are not a path that appears to be straight. The sidewalks in our neighborhood have been displaced by trees that I think are from the Mesozoic Era or something like that, and so the roots have popped up the sidewalks in a lot of places. So when I'm walking with our son, I got to do kind of a lot of odd things to get over and around these sidewalk bumps. I guess I could just not pay attention, but I don't know what that would do to him. He would experience a lot of turbulence. "We're experiencing rough air, please hold," you know, that kind of a thing.
Compare that to maybe when you're on the bike path, or maybe if you've ever been to Disney World. We went to Disney World for three days earlier this year, because we were not allowed to take out another mortgage on our home in order to stay any longer than that. Three days was plenty, by the way. But we were navigating, we had borrowed a double stroller from our friends, and so we put the one-year-old and the four-year-old in the double stroller. And I was walking around on these, of course, pristine, perfectly paved roads through Epcot, and I could kind of just walk around like this. I mean, yeah, I clipped a few heels every now and then, but honestly, it was fine, and I could take in all the different countries in Epcot and all of that, and these kids were having a great time.
But when the road is rocky or shaky or uncertain, or not so straight in front of you, it requires a lot more diligence, a lot more paying attention. But when it's smooth, you really don't even need that much light, you don't need to be paying that close of attention, you can kind of just coast. But the proverb says, "There is a way that seems straight." There's a way that seems to be perfectly paved. There's a way that appears, there's a path that looks, there's a road that seems to be fine. But the stakes are much higher than just not knowing where a street sign is.
Look at it again in Proverbs 14:12. "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." It leads to death. The Hebrew language is actually much more emphatic than what our English language can even capture. It's almost somewhat clumsy if we try to translate it literally. "In the end are the ways of death," plural. "There's a way that seems to be right, but in the end are the ways of death," plural.
See, deception starts out small, almost appears to be insignificant. And if you're navigating on a path that's straight, you may be lulled to sleep, you may be anesthetized to the danger that's ahead. And so you'll be navigating on a seemingly straight path, but there is a cliff over the crest of that hill. Its end are the ways of death, almost like it opens up new chambers of destruction that you did not foresee. That's the thing about deception. It's sneaky. So this deception starts small, but it ends all-encompassing. Why is that? Because we've based our assessment on the path, on superficial things, and things that we feel like we know about, because this is all based on our opinion. Our assessment of the path is not based on reality, clearly. It's based on our opinion. It seems to be fine, it appears to be right.
There's actually a parallel proverb to the one that we're looking at, the one that we were just looking at, at Proverbs 14:12. There's a parallel just over in Proverbs 12. Look at this in Proverbs 12:15. It said, "The way of a fool seems right, is right in his own eyes. But a wise man listens to advice." The way of a fool is right in his own eyes. In his own eyes. But a wise man listens to advice. What's that saying? I can be so self-convinced of my own path to my own peril. I can be so self-convinced that I know what I'm doing, I know how to get to where I want to go. There's the freedom, there's the autonomy of the human spirit that's fanned into flame by the American Dream, and there I am, I know exactly what I'm doing.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes. His own eyes, her own eyes. That description from Proverbs reminds me of how the nation of Israel was described in the time before the kings. The time before the kings was a season in the life of Israel where Israel was governed by a series of judges, and in Judges 17:6, the author puts it this way: "In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." This is God's people. They lived like there was no king in Israel. There wasn't a throne in Israel, and they acted like there wasn't anyone on the throne in heaven. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. No one's asking, "Is this right in God's eyes?" Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, in his eyes, in her eyes. There was a deception that flowed out of being self-convinced that I know which way is best.
And being self-convinced leads to being self-deceived, but not just that. Maybe we could put it this way. Self-deception paves the way for self-destruction. Self-deception actually paves the way for self-destruction. That's exactly what our proverb today told us, isn't it? Proverbs 14:12 said, "There is a way that appears right." There is a way that appears right; that's self-deception. "But in the end it leads to death." That's self-destruction. Nobody chose this for you, there's nobody that we can blame, only ourselves. After all, we may be frustrated and say, "But that's not fair," yet at the same time, we didn't want to invite any wisdom. The way of a fool is right in his own eyes and will not listen to advice. A wise man will; a fool won't.
It seems right, it seems harmless, and who does it seem right or seem harmless to? To me. My opinion. You see, self-deception will always lead you to believe that you and I can see further down the road than we actually can. It will lead us to believe that we've got things in view and we've got it covered. "This is manageable, I got this. We'll just put a little more oomph and a little more gumption behind it, and I've got this." And self-deception will always lead you to believe that you can see more than you actually can, that I can see more than I actually can. But you can't see that cliff. You can't see what's over the crest of that hill.
We know what this sounds like. Maybe these aren't things that you've said, but they're things that you've heard. "It's only one drink. What could come from just one drink?" Or, "It's only one hit, and I can stop any time that I want to." Or, "It's just lunch, it's just coffee, it's just... Yeah, I know that they're married to somebody else, but... I know that I'm married to somebody else, but it's just lunch, it's just coffee." There is a way that seems to be fine and harmless and okay, and that maybe in cultural wisdom is acceptable. But this proverbial wisdom teaches us to look beyond what just we see at the first, to scrape away from just the surface level, and to see what really is going on there, and uncover why we've chosen that path in the first place.
Jesus warned us about this. Jesus warned us about which path we're on, and how to assess it. He said this in Matthew chapter 7, beginning in verse 13: "Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Do you see that contrast? There's two paths with two gates. One is a wide gate and a smooth path; one is a narrow gate and a difficult path. And Jesus says you need to try and look for that narrow gate and that difficult path, because this wide gate and this smooth path have one destination: destruction. Almost as if Jesus lifted Proverbs 14:12 up out of the text and spoke truth right into it, through it, into the hearts of the people who were listening to him, into our hearts.
Which path are you on? And more importantly, how do you know? Which path are you on, and how do you know? Because I know how we typically assess our own path, and I think it leaves things to be desired. Because I hear things, and I know that I even say things like this, and maybe you can find yourself in one or more of these statements that I'm about to provide. This is how we typically, people at large, this is how we typically assess life's paths. It sounds like this.
Here's the first example. "This just feels right. This just feels right." Please don't take these notes and say, "Yeah, Pastor said that that's what we should do today, yeah, this is..." Maybe put those in quotation marks, okay, just so no one picks up your notes and says, "What are they teaching at The Chapel?" Right? That kind of a thing. That's kind of cultural wisdom. "This just feels right." This just feels right, and if it feels right, do it. Why put any thought into that? This would be what I would call the theology of "everything just fell right into place," which is not a reliable indicator. Everything... "Hey, this just feels right, man."
Yet all those decisions that you make, if they're governed by "This just felt right, this just feels right, man, and they even gave me an extra $500 on my trade-in, you know, it just fell into place," I don't see that in the statements that Jesus makes in Matthew 7. That he says actually, instead, the way that leads to destruction is easy. The way that leads to destruction is smooth, and it might seem like everything is lining up perfectly, and it is actually just leading you further and further away from what God has for you. The way is easy. I would be suspect, actually. And I think we could zoom into the life of the Apostle Paul at times and say, "Hey, Paul, how's prison feeling?" I don't think he would say, "Man, this just feels right. I just... I feel at home, you know?" I don't think so.
There's a second statement I hear sometimes. "Hey, everybody's doing it." Everybody's doing it. Hey, this is the mantra of every teenager, all right? And I'm sorry, teenagers that are in the room, because I'm about to blow up your spot a little bit. But it's not just teenagers that do it, it's all of us. We just blame the easiest target. "Everybody's doing it. Mom, everybody's going to be there." I'm not going to be there. Not everybody's going to be there. "No, no, everybody is doing this. Everybody's going to that party, everybody's going to that house, everybody's doing this." What are we saying there? That we're comfortable determining morality by the majority vote. "If everybody's doing it, it's got to be okay." We would never say that, but that's embedded in those remarks.
But Jesus warns us about this too, because he says, "Those who enter the wide gate are many." There's a crowd. There's a crowd going in one specific direction. And so you may expect at times to be walking alone, or you may expect at times to be walking, moving against the flow of traffic, when you're actually on the right path. Just because the stream of people is heading in one direction is not in and of itself an indication that that's where you should be. "Everybody's doing it." That may be a clear warning, not a confirmation.
Or this one: "I finally feel happy." "I finally feel happy." And I think close behind this, actually, for those of us who are in Christ, or those of us who know how to talk the talk, close behind "I finally feel happy" is "And doesn't God want me to be happy?" Well, I will say this: God doesn't want you to be miserable. He's not in favor of that. But happiness is not actually an ultimate priority for God. You see, happiness is circumstantial, it's temporary, and God is in the business of eternal things. He's after joy. So happiness is good, but it's not ultimate for God. He's got much more planned for you than just that. And so when we say things like "I finally feel happy," if that's how we're assessing whether or not we've chosen the right path, we could be seriously deceived.
Now, one example of this, I won't pretend to understand all of the reasons why some marriages end in divorce, but I know that there are some marriages that end for really bad reasons, because I talk to people in our church all the time who are on the wrong side of a marriage that ended badly, and the devastation that that creates in their hearts. I talk to a lot of people like that. And so if someone says, "Well, you just don't make me happy anymore," or "They really weren't making me happy," or "I just didn't feel happy when I was with them," I think that's a misguided decision. Because God didn't design marriage to fulfill your happiness, God designed marriage to complete your holiness.
I won't pretend to know every reason, but I know that for some, they've disposed of a spouse prematurely because their happiness reached a limit, and they thought that was the only way to change that. "I finally feel happy. Traded this one out, got a newer model." Jesus said, "The way is hard that leads to life." Few find it. Do you know why few find it? Because many punch out when it gets hard. Few find it because the way is hard that leads to life. Not just that, but my happiness, your happiness, can actually be a mask that we put on to convince ourselves that we've chosen rightly. Inside, you're in turmoil, but because you don't want anyone to know that you're in turmoil, and because you don't want to admit that maybe you've chosen wrongly, you know what you do? Put on a smile. Fake it till you make it.
And so happiness can actually be a deception, or outflow of that deception. Happiness itself is not an indicator that we've chosen the right path. Do you know, in our text, in Proverbs chapter 14, the very next verse, Proverbs 14:13 says this: "Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief." What's he saying there? There is a way that seems to be right, but its end is the way of death, and maybe you've chosen the way that seemed to be right, but now recognize that it is a way of death that takes you further and further away from God. But rather than admit that error and turn around, you put on a smile and laugh, and pretend that everything is okay, because it's easier to laugh and to joke than it is to face the truth and to weep, and to repent. One is easier.
"Even in laughter the heart may ache." You may have thought by determining your own path and finding your way, that you would actually achieve the happiness that you were looking for, but I can promise you that although there may be fleeting moments of temporary satisfaction, nothing in that path will ultimately satisfy. It can't. And so the frustration you will experience is over a path that can't deliver on what it promises. Happiness can be faked; joy can't be. So we put on this façade and say everything's okay, dig our heels in a little deeper, so that we don't have to hear from people who have said, "Hey, are you doing all right? How are you? I'm concerned for you. Have you thought about this? Where are you at?" We don't want to hear those things, so we put on the façade. "I'm okay. I finally feel happy, and that's all that matters." Inside, we know better.
You see, none of these things, none of these three statements that I just gave us, none of these are actually adequate to inform the rightness of your path. By themselves, maybe there's some nuance there, and I hope you don't hear me saying that there's no blessing associated with walking with Christ. I'd be the first person to testify that there is. But I want to take Jesus' word soberly, and not be so deluded by the mantras of our culture that we can no longer discern what path we're actually on.
So you might be thinking, "Okay, well, that's all good, but how do I know the way, then? Help me. How do we know the way? How can we know the way?" You're not the first person to ask. Jesus was having a conversation with his disciples, actually on the way from the upper room, where he celebrated the Lord's Supper with his disciples, to the Garden of Gethsemane. He was having a conversation with his disciples along the way, and Thomas asked him this question in John 14:5. Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you're going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
"How can we know the way? Thomas, I am the way." There's so much going on in John 14:6 that we don't even have time to uncover all of it, but Jesus says, "I am the way." He says, "I am the way, Thomas. I'm the way, I'm the leader, I'm the destination, I'm the prize. It's all in me." Now, listen, these statements by themselves would be arrogant statements if they were not true. But if these statements are true, then we would be arrogant to ignore them. If these are accurate, if Jesus is who he says he is, then it's not arrogant for him to say that, it's arrogant for us to think, "Thank you very much, I'll find my own way." He says, "I am the way." Somebody once said, "It's not about following a path, it's about following a person." It's him. He's the way. Or maybe we could put it this way, and this is kind of like the main idea for today. Following the way is the only way to truly find your way. Following the way is the only way to truly find your way.
Last week, Pastor Jerry dropped this truth bomb on us, as he is known to do. He said, "How would Jesus read this proverb?" Man, I wrote that down fast, because I was thinking about this proverb. And for today, how would Jesus have read Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death"? How would Jesus have read Proverbs 14:12? I think he would've read it weeping, thinking about a person who would reject him. I think through tears, he would see that that is a fitting description of those who would reject him. And that's not just fanciful imagination on my part, because as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, while he wept, he said, "If only you knew. If only you knew what was in front of you."
So I think when Jesus heard and read the words of Proverbs 14:12, he read it through tears, thinking of a person who would walk away from him, who would encounter the gift of life and say, "No thank you," because this is exactly what that is. It's a description of rejecting Jesus. "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death," because it is as far from Christ as possible.
But you know, the good news is that Jesus in John 14:6 provides the answer to the problem of the life that's described in Proverbs 14:12. Jesus in John 14:6 gives us the solution to the puzzle that's introduced to the life that's described in Proverbs 14:12. Jesus answers it. By saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," he gives the answer to what we have experienced in real time, in our own lives, in multiple ways, in Proverbs 14:12.
In fact, maybe it would be helpful to compare these verses side by side, so here we're going to put them up on the screen, Proverbs 14:12 and John 14:6. In Proverbs 14:12 it says first, "There is a way." There is a way. But in John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way." Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right." Second thing, it seems right. But Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the truth." Doesn't just seem to be right; is right. In Proverbs 14:12, it says, "There is a way that seems right, but in the end it leads to death." Jesus said, "I am the life." In John 14:6, Jesus answers the puzzle, answers the problem introduced that a life that's oriented this way needs to be confronted with the truth of his way. He is the way, the truth, the life.
This is the Good News of the gospel. And just like Proverbs 14:12 is true, that there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death, do you know the inverse of that is also true? The inverse is true. There is a way that appears to be wrong to the majority of mankind. There is a way that appears to be foolishness to people who don't know Christ. There is a way that seems to be so misguided to the watching world that has rejected Jesus. There is a way that appears to be wrong, but in the end it leads to life.
Church family, there is a way. His name is Jesus. He is the way. He doesn't just show us the way; he is the way. There is a way that appears to be wrong, because the world doesn't understand this. The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. It's foolishness. It appears to be wrong, when in reality, there's nothing more true than his way, his... he himself.
But then Jesus says in John 14:6, the second part of that, "No one comes to the Father except through me." "No one comes to the Father except through me." That is a narrow statement. That is an exclusive statement. That is a limited statement, it is a particular statement. And it is one that maybe doesn't have a place in the culture in which we live. Our value system in the world, not ours of those who believe, but the value system of the world in which we live doesn't even have a category for statements like what Jesus just made, except that they're intolerant. "That's such a narrow-minded statement. 'No one comes to the Father except through me'?"
Some of you maybe have even tried to get away from such restrictive talk about Jesus. Maybe that's by rejecting it altogether and trying to live as if this isn't true, or maybe that's to have some sort of syncretistic life where, yeah, you've got the Jesus thing on Sunday, but really the rest of the week, he doesn't come up in conversation or in life. Or you try to blend it so that really, "Jesus is just like a great inspiration and an awesome moral teacher, and I think there's lots of really good teachers that are out there," and so we try to blend it and just create this nothingness.
Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father except through me." That sounds restrictive. And so again, in our society, which waves the flag of autonomy, of finding your own way, of blazing your own trail, this is so restrictive, and it seems foolish. It appears to be. But you know that restrictions themselves aren't bad; it's just how we typically view them.
Tim Keller said this in his book Every Good Endeavor. He said, "Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones." In his book, which is tremendous, Keller gives an example of a fish that I want to take and build on. He says, "Suppose there is a fish who is tired of the restrictive environment of the water, and this fish says, 'I have to get out from my oppressive upbringing in this water. I have to see what the rest of the world has to offer.'" And so, suppose that fish were able to break free from the water of that lake or that pond or that river, and to make it onto the grass nearby. That fish is not more free. He is less free, because his ability, his freedom to move as he did in the water, gone. And it won't be long before his freedom to live, destroyed. He's halfway to being a Lenten fish fry sitting on the grass right there, okay, if he stays out of the water for very long.
And so, he is not more free by getting out of the water; he's actually less free. But he sees restrictions as, "Man, these confining, limiting, narrow... Only water?" When in reality, the water is the best place for him to flourish, the best place for him to live and move and have his being. But for the fish to deny... Listen. For the fish to deny the reality of his nature means certain death. So it is for us. For us to deny the reality of our nature means death, and the reality of our nature is that God has made us in his image, he has imprinted his own image onto our very lives and souls, and that we were made to flourish in a relationship with him, the Father. We were made for that.
But in our rebellion, in our autonomy, in a desire that starts in Genesis 3 to make our own way, sin has severed what we were made to experience. And so our souls ache every time we try to find love and meaning and significance in wholeness, which we were designed to experience, but designed only to experience fully and ultimately in God himself, God alone. And so our souls will ache every time we try to grab that meaning, that significance, but it slips through our fingers because we seek to find it without him. And so for us to deny the reality of our nature, that we were made for relationship with God, means that we will experience this frustration in life that will end in our own self-destruction if we think we don't need him every day.
So John 14:6, "No one comes to the Father except through me," is not limiting, it's freeing. It's freeing to life that is truly life, because Jesus is the only way to restore that connection. He's the only way to restore that connection to the Father. "No one comes to the Father except through me." He is the way. He's not just a way. He is not just a way. "Hey, all roads lead up the same mountain." No. They are not even in the same mountain range. There is only one path to God and God alone. It is through the God-man, Jesus Christ. He's not just a way. He's not just either my way, though it has to be personal, it has to be yours. It cannot be vicarious, or secondhand, or inherited from your mom or your dad or your grandmother or your grandfather. It is not secondhand. It must be personal. But he is not just my way, "Hey, I'm just living my truth. You do you, I'll do me." No. That option's not left to us. He is the way. He is the only way, and any other way but the way is no way at all.
Now, you might say, "Well, that's just super narrow-minded. Jonathan, how could you be so narrow-minded? This is the 21st century." I don't know what the year has to do with it. But there's some times where being narrow-minded is actually the only way to live. Suppose, and I hope that this never happens to you, suppose you go to see your doctor and she says, "I have bad news. There's a virus, and it's going to kill you, it's terminal. You have six months to live. But there's good news, because there's a groundbreaking medication. One pill kills the virus. One pill, you'll live."
You do not say to your doctor, "Doctor, thank you for your opinion, but that just seems so narrow-minded. One pill? Doctor, this is the 21st century. Are you going to take us back to the Dark Ages? One pill? You cannot possibly... Doctor, let me see your degree. Where is it from? You know, because I heard a podcast, you know, and that kind of a thing, right? Doctor, that's so narrow-minded. One pill? One. Out of all the medications that are in the world, you're saying there's only one that's going to really kill this virus? I appreciate that, but I think I'll just try my essential oils first, you know, that... I'll just put some lavender on my earlobe and it'll be fine." Yeah, right?
Nobody tells their doctor that that's narrow-minded. You know what you tell your doctor when she says, "It's terminal, but we can cure it"? You know what you say? "Bring it. I'll take whatever." You don't say, "That's narrow-minded," or "How could you be so obtuse," or "How could you be so limiting," "How could you be so restrictive?" No, you say, "I need that medication. I don't want this virus to kill me, so Doctor, please, where is it, how much does it cost, and I will sell everything to go and buy it." You see, without Christ, you and I are sick, and it doesn't look good. It's terminal. It will end in certain death. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death." The wages of sin is death.
In our Foundations class here at the church, we define sin this way: doing what we want instead of doing what God wants, in both action and attitude. Sin is anything or any time I do what I want instead of what God wants, in action and in attitude. And the path of sin is laid over the path of self-deception that leads to self-destruction. The path of sin takes you away from the only one who can heal your virus.
And so you might think, "Jonathan, that's not very progressive." We hear that a lot, don't we? "It's not very progressive the way you're talking." I think we need to redefine what we're progressing toward. C.S. Lewis, in a way that only he can, says this in Mere Christianity: "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road. In that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive." You're not progressive by staying on the wrong road and saying, "It's fine, I've got a smile on my face. I'll make it work, I'll blaze my trail, I'll find my way." You won't.
The most progressive person is the one who says, "I was wrong," and in humility humbles themselves, denies themselves, turns around, picks up their cross, and walks in the opposite direction. That is progress. The other thing is delusion. This is progress, to turn back, get to the right road. But listen, pride will keep you and I on the wrong road much longer than we should be. Pride will keep us on the wrong road. Pride will keep us from admitting our error. Pride will keep us from saying, "Yes, I missed it, I missed the turn." Pride will destroy that every single time, because when we're self-convinced, that leads right into self-deception, which paves the way for self-destruction.
But God doesn't want it to be this way. God doesn't want it to be this way. He says this through the prophet Ezekiel. He said, "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?'" And so this word to Ezekiel, or through Ezekiel to the people of Israel is a word that stands for us today. Go back to that first slide for just one second. He says, God says, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather." You know what that means? Do you know what God does take pleasure in? Do you know what brings joy to the face of God? Do you care what brings joy to the face of God? It's when a person turns from their way, from their way.
You want to know what pleases God? Saying, "I missed it. I was wrong." Because it's only then that he can say, "Follow me. I'll show you the way. It's right over here." Because God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that people would turn from their ways and embrace his way, his Son. The reason that God takes pleasure in that is because he's not a mean judge sitting in the sky, casting down judgment upon you, saying, "How could you be so stupid? How could you be so foolish? How could you be so idiotic?" No, he says, "Come to me. Don't go that way. I don't want you to go that way. Turn, turn." You see how he repeats it? "Turn, turn." He's pleading with you. This is not a God who just drops lightning bolts from the sky. That's a caricature. That's not who God is. But rather, he says, "It's this way." Like a loving father, he gets down on his knees and he says, "Come on, I'll show you." This is who God is. Pride will keep you from that. Pride will keep you from that.
So why will you continue on the path of self-destruction? Here's the truth. For some, you've been walking your own way, and maybe checking in with God from time to time or not. You've been walking your own way, and you're just determined to make it work, and you've been frustrated, and you haven't been able to express in words why you're frustrated. But you feel like you keep hitting dead end after dead end after dead end. Maybe it's because there was a way that seemed to be right, but now you realize the error that that is. Turn. Embrace the way.
For some, for some others, you've been trying to have one foot on two roads. You've tried to have a foot on this path and a foot on this path. And so what that looks like is, "Yeah, Jesus, I... Hey, I need heaven, definitely don't want hell, but I need to live my life how I want to live it." And so you've tried to actually walk on two different roads simultaneously, but not only is that impossible, they're actually going in different directions. So you cannot walk on two paths simultaneously; you will either hate the one and love the other, or despise the one and be devoted to the other. It doesn't work. And so you've been trying to give this façade that, "Yeah, I'm good with Jesus," but really, he doesn't have any sort of say over your life. I think about when Jesus said, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things that I say?" To follow him daily means that it's not just lip service, but that there's a life of service to him.
Or maybe you're here, and you're at one of our campuses, and this is maybe your last Sunday before you go off to college. And so you're getting ready, and maybe this is kind of like the last Sunday with the family and everything, and you'll be going off to school, maybe in a couple weeks or so. And you've got a decision in front of you that's really important, and I know at 17, 18, 19, the weight of that decision sometimes feels crippling, and there's a bunch of expectations that people are foisting upon you all the time, and I know what that feels like.
But through all of that, I need you to hear me. Decide before you get to school which path you're going to be on, because when you step foot onto that campus, wherever that is, you will be bombarded with multiple paths that will seem right. And in the short term, you may even evaluate them and say, "There's nothing bad that's happening to that person." But don't take it on the short term, don't take it on your opinion or your assessment. Take it on what God has said. He is the way, he is the truth, he is the life.
There is no deception in God's way, and if you want to live a life of no regret, then live a life of following Christ. I didn't say to live a live without any difficulty, but I said to live a life of no regret. Decide in advance that you're going to stay on the path of following Christ no matter what, because there's a way that appears to be right, but leads to death, and there's a way that appears to be wrong to all of your friends, but leads to life. Which will you choose? Following the way is the only way to truly find your way.
Let's bow together for a word of prayer. Before we're gone, and we'll dismiss here in just a moment, if you're here today and you don't know God personally through Jesus Christ, you can't say for sure that you know him. Maybe you've been trying to walk your own path, blaze your own trail, and you see the error of that way. Maybe you've been trying to live with feet in two different worlds, and it's been frustrating. Maybe you've never heard a message like this about Jesus, and what impact that has on this life. Maybe you thought, "Yeah, Jesus is there for eternity, but what does that have to do with today?" Everything. Everything.
In any case, or any other case, here's my encouragement to you. If you're here and you know you need Jesus, then when we dismiss in just a moment, I'm going to ask you to be bold, and I'm going to ask you to take a step of faith. And that first step will be so, so difficult, because everything inside you will be warring against that decision to take that step of faith, and it will be hard. But I promise you, once you say yes to him, to Jesus, the rest of those steps become so much more simple.
And that really means literally taking a step over to a room called the Fireside Room, which is right here on this campus, right across the atrium, and you'll walk in there, and there's some prayer partners who would love to come up next to you, pray with you, explain what it means to follow Jesus, give you a Bible if you don't have one, so that you can read it and daily find direction in life from the Lord of your life, Jesus. We would consider it an honor to do that today. If you need prayer, if you need encouragement, maybe grab the hand of the person that you're next to or that you came with. Maybe pray right in your seat, or maybe walk over to the Fireside Room as well. Say, "I need to get my way right."
So, God, I pray that there would be nothing in what I said or what we heard today that would give an indication that it's too late. It's not. God, that this is not a church of perfect people, because there's no such thing, but this is a committed place of people who want to follow you. I pray that we would encourage one another with this, that we would help those who are weak, and have compassion on those who doubt, but that together we would walk full of faith in the direction of following you. Will you lead us, guide us, direct our steps, and confirm your presence in our lives today. For we pray this in Christ's name, amen.