It really is our natural proclivity to follow the crowds and be numbered among the majority.
If you arrive early at a game where the gates are yet to be opened and you’re not sure where to exactly go, you probably look to see where most earlier people are gathering and go to that spot.
There’s a sale happening in a store. Where are the best deals? Well, obviously it must be where most folks are encircling.
While travelling down the interstate you come upon a slowdown where a backup has developed. Wanting to get around the complication as quickly as possible, you look ahead to see which lane most cars are moving toward. Surely those ahead of you are able to see the opening and most will choose the better lane to best follow.
It is our nature to make these choices because we believe that the majority of people will indicate the path of wisdom. The crowd can’t be wrong. There is surely a foundational reason why the vast majority of people around us are making the decisions that directs them. Safety is in the numbers, right?
But sometimes you find out that the organizers open a different gate, the best sale was in an isolated corner of the store, and the lane you chose on the highway becomes clogged while the other lane is now rushing by.
Though we see in the Gospels that substantial crowds of people sometimes followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, we also learn that significant percentages of them were not truly interested in his precise teaching. They were there for the goodies and the grab bags, not to embrace the teachings about inner spiritual transformation. Most were still oriented toward the crowds who followed and believed that the Pharisees and religious leadership in Israel were correct. That teaching involved displays of outward righteous, not inner repentance.
This populace teaching about faith is the most common and intuitive content that is at the center of religious systems – it’s about what you do: attending legalistically at prescribed times, praying publicly, giving generously and saying all the right things. And while faith disciplines are commendable and even indispensable, they do not constitute the life-giving substance of a true relationship with God. That comes rather from trust and faith and inner repentance; it is not the product of ritualistic performance.
This mindset is counterintuitive, particularly in a work-rewarded and capitalistic society. Jesus called the intuitive way of achievement through outward righteousness the “broad road” that would lead to destruction, even though followed by the masses. The “narrow gate and path” that leads to life is followed and embraced only by the few who trust in his teaching about a righteousness that comes through faith alone. He said …
Matthew 7:13-14 – “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.
Interestingly (but not surprisingly) there is a very similar Old Testament proverb … “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25)
As with most situations in life, most people want to be in total charge of driving their spiritual destiny. As with everything else common to us, the question is, “so what do I have to DO to be righteous and in good standing with God?” And the majority of people are simply not interested in an answer that says that there is NOTHING you can DO, it is about trusting rather in something that has been DONE for you.
And I suppose we could say that there is another broad road being travelled by vast hordes of people. We could call this the “hedonistic highway.” Rather than being wrongly oriented toward a works-oriented faith system, this mindset has eschewed faith and religion altogether. It is the embracing of a pleasure-centered “you only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto” ideology of indulgence. Life is about happiness and laboring for self-satisfying joy.
I can recall the moment and even take you to the very spot where I made a decision to not go down Hedonistic Highway. As a teenager at a community fair event, my crowd of high school buddies agreed to grab some beer and pick up as many girls as possible to go to a remote location. They went one way, while I turned away by myself to walk home through the darkness. It was lonely on the narrow path inside the small gate, but it was the correct choice.
To follow Christ is to knowingly choose the less-travelled path. It will often put you on the outside looking in, on the lonely road through dry places, and at the corner table on Monday morning in the snack room at work where you hear about the weekend “exploits” of your co-workers.
One of my pastor friends within our Evangelical Free Church association has planted a new church in Pennsylvania named Narrow Road. It might seem at first like an unusual name, but it really is embracing the concept of this teaching, pointing to the life-giving entrance at the narrow front door.
And the church, the family of faith, is a place for us where we may find others journeying on the narrow path. Our numbers will never be what they are on the outside, but they are enough for us to find mutual encouragement and support. It is a wonderful gift.
So don’t be discouraged by your outsider status relative to the broader culture. Rather, embrace the counterintuitive life of following Christ on the narrow path toward life eternal.