Summary: Everybody here is on a path. The question we have to ask is what path are we on?
Matthew 7:13-16, 21-23
How many of you use a GPS device when you’re driving? When we were driving home from Atlanta a few years ago, it was lunchtime and so we pulled off the highway to pick up some Subway sandwiches. And the moment I turned, the GPS said, “recalculating.” The New Year is a season of recalculating, to get us to make course corrections in our journey of faith. What we find in the journey of life is that it’s easy to make a wrong turn and get off the God path or to get off in the Rest Area and stay there longer, spiritually speaking, than you intended. That’s why The New Year is so important for us because it’s about recalculating our lives.
Everybody here is on a path. The question we have to ask is what path are we on? Our Scripture today warns there is a path that seems right to people but leads to death. Now anytime you discover you’re on a wrong road, you try as quickly as possible to make a U turn to get on the right course. In the Bible, we call that repentance which means to turn and go in the opposite direction you were headed. This time of year we call it a New Year’s Resolution.
The Lord says this, “We are saved by faith.” The problem is we have equated belief with faith, and they are not the same thing. To believe is to perceive a certain truth to be real. A lot of us believe a lot of things: like exercise is essential for a healthy life but far fewer people actively pursue that belief. It’s more than just joining a health club, it’s going there to work out. I did a wedding of the assistant general manager of the health club where I have worked out for the last 15 years and he told me that 60% of their members never come to the health club. Now they belong, which means they believe that exercise is essential for a healthy life but they never go and pursue an active, healthy life by working out. Belief is a noun but faith is a verb. What we believe does not become faith until we actively pursue our beliefs and stick with them. We are saved by our faith not our beliefs. And yet, so often belief does not become faith. This is why it is so easy to get off track on our journey because we have equated belief with faith.
Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” In this passage, the false prophets are religious people. He has been talking about them for the two previous chapters. Do you notice that Jesus doesn’t have any problem hanging with prostitutes or tax collectors but is always criticizing the religious people of His day? Here’s the problem he has with religious people: They have the outward appearance of having a right relationship with God but inwardly they are ferocious wolves, judging others and the lives they lead while giving the wrong impression of what it means to follow God. “By their fruit you will recognize them.” He didn’t say they will know them by their beliefs but by their fruit which is their lifestyle and behavior. Belief doesn’t become faith until you actively pursue a lifestyle devoted to Jesus.
It’s so easy to get off course because there are a lot of false narratives or messages of what it means to follow Jesus. One is that faith will cost you nothing. There is a cost to following Jesus. True faith will cost you everything you have. The false narrative is that you can believe in Jesus without really following or living like Jesus. No! True faith will cost you everything you have. Jesus illustrated this through a parable about a man who discovered a treasure in the field and sold everything he had to buy that field because of this great treasure. (Matthew 13:43) Now in Jesus’ day there were no banks so people put their gold coins in a jar, wrapped them in a cloth and then buried them. The problem was that the average lifespan was 27-30 years and so people would die and no one would know they had buried their treasure. Most farmers didn’t have enough money to own land so they leased it. Well, in this story Jesus is saying this farmer is plowing his leased land and his plow hits something, only to discover it’s a buried treasure. He doesn’t take it but re-buries it. Why? Because he doesn’t own the field. So he goes back to his house and sells everything he can get his hands on to buy the field. He buys the land but he is getting something of even greater value. So what Jesus is saying is that when you find something of great value, the kingdom of God and eternal life, there is no sacrifice or labor too great to attain it. True faith will cost you everything! This is why the New Year is so important for us because we need to recalculate our life to Jesus. It’s time for us to correct where we haven’t been actively following Him. It’s not just turning away from the way you were going. It’s recommitting to the highlighted route.