Is It Worth It?

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”John 17:3

Across the countless religions, worldviews, and cultures found on planet earth, we all have, at minimum, one common interest. We all desperately want to live. We can’t get enough of it. But have you ever thought about the distinction between living and being alive? They aren’t necessarily the same thing. You can be alive without truly living. To truly live requires more than a beating heart. 

Jesus speaks into our desire for true, real, lasting, eternal life. According to Jesus, to know God is to know and experience eternal life. To know God is to have life that is real, life that lasts, life that means something. This knowing of God is more than knowing information about him though. English doesn’t do the original meaning justice. To know God more accurately means to know through experience. In the original language context, this phrase to know is used to talk about the type of knowing a husband and wife have through the intimacy of sex. So Jesus is saying that to know God is to have a level of intimacy with God that we have with no one else.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”John 10:10

To know God is to know life. That’s what Jesus says eternal life is. Earlier in John, Jesus says that kind of life is what he came for. He says that he came so that through him, we could “have life and have it to the full”. Jesus came so that we wouldn’t just be alive, but that we would truly live. And this living is in knowing him, knowing and experiencing him with a deep intimacy. We find this path to knowing him deeply, this path to life to the full, through following him. Faith in Jesus leads to devotion to Jesus. As we trust him we will follow him down the path to life. And Jesus has much to say about this path. 

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

The path to life, the path to knowing and experiencing God in as much fullness as we can, is narrow. Only a few find this narrow way. Those are Jesus’ words, not mine. This brings two questions to mind: 1) What does the narrow way mean? And 2) Is it worth it?

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For Bonhoeffer, the narrow way meant dying. A German pastor during Hitler’s rise to power and the Second World War, Bonhoeffer was unflinching in his resolve against the Nazis. Unlike most of his ministerial contemporaries, Bonhoeffer did not compromise his beliefs with a watered down, state sanctioned form of Christianity. He remained faithful to Jesus and was outspoken against Hitler and his regime. It eventually cost him his life. Months before the end of the war in Europe, Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in a prison camp. 

For most of us, the narrow way probably won’t include physical death like it did for Bonhoeffer. That’s not to say it’s impossible. One night last year I was having tea with one of my international student friends. He comes from a predominantly Muslim country where Christianity is very much in the minority. As we were drinking our tea, I began sharing the story of Jesus with him. After I finished, I asked, “Do you understand this story?”. I’ll never forget his response. He said, “Of course I understand it, but I can’t believe it. If I did, I could die when I go back home”. For a moderately sheltered American like me, that was a reminder that the invitation to follow Jesus, the invitation to walk down his narrow path, is ultimately an invitation to physically lose your life should that be required. 

Physical death, while probably the most dramatic, isn’t the only aspect of walking the narrow way. The narrow way also includes a death to self. Not a physical death, but a death to who we were before we met Jesus. To die to self is to come alive to the Spirit, and in that to live according to the Spirit within us. It is, as Paul says, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). It means to go against what comes most natural to us. To serve instead of be served. To give instead of take. To slow down instead of speed up. To speak life instead of speak death. To honor instead of slander. To love instead of hate. 

As we walk the narrow way, as we die to ourselves and live according to the Spirit within us, we are continually being formed more and more into the image of Jesus. We are continually being forced to depend on Jesus. And as we depend more and more on him and are formed more and more into his image, we will find ourselves in closer intimacy with Jesus. We will find ourselves knowing and experiencing him and his ways more than we ever could apart from his narrow way. 

“Therefore you must not think that I am unhappy. What is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We have only looked at two aspects of what it means to “enter through the narrow gate”. There are doubtless more. Regardless, we are still left with the second question. Is it worth it? The above quote, from Bonhoeffer’s final letter to his fiancé before his execution, would make it seem that he thought so. Still, my mind immediately goes back to my international student friend. Knowing that following Jesus could cost him everything, that it could very easily lead to his death, is it worth it for him? It seems almost unfair for me, a sheltered American, to ask him to choose that life with Jesus. And if it were just me asking him to do it then I would say it would be unfair. But ultimately it’s Jesus who’s asking him to do it. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself. He knew how much his sacrifice for us would cost him, and he knows how much it will cost us. His invitation remains. Whether the narrow way means our literal and physical death or a metaphoric death to self that leads to a radically altered lifestyle, Jesus’ invitation is to venture down this narrow way into eternal life. Into knowing and experiencing him with supernatural intimacy. Into life to the full.

Author | Jake Stephens 

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