The Highway of Holiness

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“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.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said, and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love, and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it, even more, when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw a faulty conclusion from His words that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. Our outwardly, gracious actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects and demands nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, and not yourself. And those who have been blessed or approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Jesus knows that the life of love and self-sacrifice to which He is calling His audience would not be easy. He is fully aware that His words have been difficult to hear and that what He has been commanding them to do would be impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them.

He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path would be quite small. But, in contrast, the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy and rather enjoyable.

Jesus is letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. It would not be due to their ethnic identity as Jews and descendants of Abraham. Jesus is presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches that all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute.

Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive the forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult.

The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea for all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring.

Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So, with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Romans 13:8-14

The Debt of Love.

Romans 13:8-14

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8 NLT

While this verse has been used as a proof text against indebtedness, that was not Paul’s point. He is talking about a Christian’s relationships with fellow believers and, in this case, with those outside the family of God. He has just addressed a believer’s relationship with the civil authorities and now he deals with what is to be the overriding principle that is to control all our relationships: Love. It is the one thing we owe to all men that is never paid in full. We can never love enough. All our other debts should be paid when due and in full. But our indebtedness of love is to be ongoing and completely inexhaustible. Love is the ultimate expression of all the Law of Moses. To not commit adultery requires love. Love for the other person and their spouse. It is difficult, if not impossible, to murder another person if you love them the way Christ loved us. To steal something that belongs to someone else reveals a hatred and disdain for that person, but we are called to love them. Love sacrifices and gives, not takes. Love protects and defends, not hurts. Love is the driving force behind all of the law. Paul reminds us that all of the laws are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does NO wrong to others. So one who loves as God intends, fulfills the law of God.

Paul is simply echoing the words of Jesus. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34 NLT). Jesus calls us to a life of love, but He also provides us with a clear example of the kind and degree of love He is talking about. We are to love other in the same way He has loved us – sacrificially, selflessly, completely, and never expecting any love in return. Jesus loved us to the point of death. His love for us resulted in His death for us. John recorded similar words from the lips of Jesus. “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13 NLT). Jesus would go on to live out the reality of His own words with His death on the cross. And Paul is calling us to live and love in that same way.

Why? Because the time is late. God’s redemptive plan has an expiration date. He will not delay forever. We have been left on this planet to be the hands and feet of Christ. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). We are to express the love of Christ to all those we meet, especially those who don’t know Him. Paul tells us, “The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living” (Romans 13:12 NLT). Paul lived with a sense of anticipation. He lived with a recognition that the coming of the Lord could be any day. He wanted all believers to live with urgency and not in complacency. The day of our future glorification, when our salvation will be complete, is nearer than we think. And with that thought in mind, we should live differently. We should love selflessly. Spiritual maturity should be our objective. Righteous living should be our obsession. Loving others, especially the lost, should be our passion. Time is running out. There is no time to waste. Spending however many days we have left, fulfilling our own selfish desires, or living like the world around us, would be a waste of time. It would be unloving. Right living and Christ-like loving go hand and hand. If we are to love like Christ, we must live like Christ. He was not distracted by the things of this world. He knew His days on earth were limited. He knew He had come to earth for a specific reason, and nothing would deter Him from accomplishing God’s will for His life. What about us? Why are we here? What does God have for us to do? Jesus answers that question for us. “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:16-17 NLT). He chose us, saved us, and appointed us that we would go and produce lasting fruit – changed lives – our own lives and the lives of others. We are to spread the Gospel and make disciples. We are to call the lost back to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And it all begins with love. We have to love the lost like Christ did. He came to save the lost. He endured the pain of the cross for the lost. And ultimately, He died for the lost, including you and me. All out of love. And we are to love others in that same way – regardless of how unloving and undeserving they may be.

Father, You have called and commanded us to love others. And that is so hard for so many of us to do. We can find all kinds of reasons to not love others. And as a result, we end up living selfish, self-centered lives that do not reflect who we really are and who it is we serve. Paul’s call to live and love is hard to hear and even harder to obey. But You have given us Your Spirit to make it not only possible, but non-negotiable. There is no excuse for our lack of love. Give us a sense of urgency because time is running out. Your Son is going to return one day and there are still so many who have never experienced the love of Christ. May we be the flesh-and-blood expression of that love as we live out our days on this earth. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men