The main theme of Jesus’ preaching and teaching is how you can have eternal life, and not lose your soul in hell. Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount by telling who is going to be in the kingdom of heaven. It will be the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who endure persecution.
He continues in Matthew 5:17–19, “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Those who break the least of the commandments, will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, or in other words, they will not be there. “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20.
The keeping of the law must be more than a mere external act that you do to please others, as the Pharisees did. True obedience comes from the heart. Jesus taught this clearly later in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Matthew 5:27–30. It would be better, Jesus said, for you to lose your eye or your hand, and to gain heaven than it would be to have everything except eternal life.
Jesus continues with the same theme in Matthew chapter 6: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19–21. You cannot inherit eternal life if your heart is in this world.
Chapter seven reveals how to obtain eternal life. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Matthew 7:21–23. Only those who do the will of the Father will inherit eternal life.
Jesus taught that there is a hell fire to shun and a heaven to win. Heaven and eternal life are the goal that every Christian should be aiming for—everything else should be secondary.
Step by Step
As we go along the Christian life, at every step there are some who fall off the path. “God leads His people on, step by step. He brings them up to different points calculated to manifest what is in the heart. Some endure at one point, but fall off at the next.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 187.
A person may be a very good health reformer, and very strict in their dress. He may be reading the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible. He may even carefully observe the Sabbath and faithfully pay his tithe. A person may be following the Word of the Lord in every particular, until an incident occurs, that makes him upset. He might say, “That so-and-so! Do you know what he did?” Then he rationalizes that if a person can do something like that and be in the church, then he will not associate with them! He leaves that church and goes somewhere else.
Is God going to be able to take us all to heaven if we are upset with each other and there is division and dissension? If I say, “I am not going to go to church there, because of that person,” is God going to be able to take us all to heaven when we are in that kind of a situation?
Maybe someone really did do something wrong and my feelings are hurt. If I say, “Since that is the way it is, I am not going to have anything to do with it. I am leaving.” At that point I have fallen off the path. This is happening all over the world today. It is happening in Conference churches, in historic Adventist churches, and in home churches too.
The devil wants more than anything else to make us fall off the path. He will bring every attack he can against us. What can we do? If we keep in mind the main theme of Jesus’ preaching while walking up the path and keep looking ahead at our goal, we will soon be with Jesus and the saints. For us the path will not seem too long, or the trials too great. It does not bother us so much that someone hurt us, because we have a goal and we have our eyes on that goal.
Our trouble begins when we stop looking at the goal, and begin looking down or even looking behind. Those who look back and see all the steps they have taken on the path say, “I am so far ahead of everybody else on this path. All the people I used to know are way down there. Look at all these steps I have taken! I had better slow down.” At that point progress stops. They are no longer walking on the path. They are looking back.
It does not matter how many steps we have taken, if we are not at the destination yet, we need to keep walking up the path. If we look down because someone hurts our feelings or does something we do not like, we might become dizzy and fall off the path.
That is a grave danger for Adventists —even for people who have progressed along the path for many years. If we do not keep our eyes on Jesus and we start to look down at all the obstacles, progress stops. Mrs. White talked about this in Testimonies, vol. 1, 187: “Some endure at one point, but fall off at the next. At every advanced point the heart is tested and tried a little closer. If the professed people of God find their hearts opposed to this straight work, it should convince them that they have a work to do to overcome, if they would not be spued out of the mouth of the Lord. Said the angel: ‘God will bring His work closer and closer to test and prove every one of His people.’ ”
She is talking about you and me. Are we going through tests? If we are walking up the path, we will be having tests day by day. If we are not having tests day by day, we should go to our closets and in prayer ask the Lord why. Because, if we are walking on the path, inspiration tells us that God is going to test us.
“Said the angel: ‘God will bring His work closer and closer to test and prove every one of His people.’ Some are willing to receive one point; but when God brings them to another testing point, they shrink from it and stand back, because they find that it strikes directly at some cherished idol. Here they have opportunity to see what is in their hearts that shuts out Jesus. They prize something higher than the truth, and their hearts are not prepared to receive Jesus. Individuals are tested and proved a length of time to see if they will sacrifice their idols and heed the counsel of the True Witness. If any will not be purified through obeying the truth, and overcome their selfishness, their pride, and evil passions, the angels of God have the charge: They are joined to their idols, Let them alone.” Ibid.
No matter who we are—an evangelist, a pastor, a teacher, an elder, or a deacon, we must keep moving up the path toward the Holy City. Along the way, we must overcome certain things.
If we do not overcome, the angels of God have the charge, ” ‘They are joined to their idols. Let them alone,’ and they pass on to their work leaving these with their sinful traits unsubdued to the control of evil angels.” Ibid. If there are sinful traits that we are not overcoming, we need to pray, “Lord, do not take the angels away from me. Give me power to overcome.”
“Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation.” Ibid. That is a promise to us, from the Lord. In order to do that, we need to take the long view. I am so concerned when I see Adventist people who are looking down at all the trouble around their feet, or who are looking back to see how much progress they have made.
It does not matter how much progress we have made if we are not at our destination, we must keep walking up the path. In fact, Ellen White said that we need to step fast. She wrote to people and said, “The hours of probation are fast passing. We have no time—not a moment—to lose.” Maranatha, 311. We need to keep walking up the path. We do not have time to stand still. We have a goal to reach.
Seeking a Better Life
Children who are born and grow up in the ghetto generally do not like their environment, especially when they see how other people are living outside of the ghetto. Most of these children have a goal that they will not be like their parents. They would tell you that when they grow up, they are not going to live in the ghetto. It is interesting however, that very often these children do end up living in the ghetto as adults.
When children grow up in a home where one or more of the parents drinks, the children do not like to be with a drunk father or a drunk mother—never knowing what is going to happen next. When still young, most make up their minds that they are never going to be like their parents when they grow up. Statistics show a different pattern. Forty percent of children who had one alcoholic parent will be an alcoholic. Eighty percent of the children who were raised in homes where both parents were alcoholics, will become alcoholics as adults. How can this be when all of these people decided when they were children that they were never going to be alcoholics?
First of all it is because of what they saw. Your adult life typically becomes like what you saw while you were growing up. That is the law of the human mind. “By beholding you become changed.”
There is another factor that operates in the ghetto. A child may decide that he is not going to be like his parents. However, his parents were probably in the ghetto partly because of a lack of self-discipline. If he is going to escape the ghetto, he must develop something that his parents did not have.
Striving For the Goal
Suppose that there are two brothers in the ghetto. They look around and say to themselves, “When we grow up, we are not going to be like our parents. We are not going to live in the ghetto. We are going to get an education and become physicians.”
They are determined and press forward all through high school. After graduation, they are accepted at the state university where they begin their pre-med courses. They have their eyes on a goal.
One of these young men is talented athletically and he is invited to become a member of the basketball team and accepts. The other boy looks over the situation and says to himself, “I think I should use every spare moment that I have to study.” He joins a special study group.
As time goes on, both brothers get part time jobs. One of them uses money from his part time job to buy a car. The other decides to save his money to pay his medical school expenses, and he puts it in the bank.
One of these boys develops a friendship with a girl. Considering the situation, his brother decides: “I want to get into medical school. I do not think I should take time to have a girlfriend right now. I will devote all my time to my studies.”
The one that has the car, is on the basketball team, and has a girlfriend, earns enough money so that he can buy some nice clothes. The other one says, “I think I am going to wear my old clothes and just put my extra money in the bank.”
The time comes when they both graduate from the university. One of them put everything he had into achieving that one goal. His brother had the same goal, but he was enjoying life along the way.
The brothers apply at a medical school. Suppose one of these boys is accepted, and the other one is not. He still has his girlfriend, his car, his nice clothes and he has won a lot of basketball games. But when he sought to get into medical school, he was not accepted. He says, “What is the matter? This has been my goal for years. Why am I not accepted?”
Jesus speaks about this. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13, 14.
“Strive [struggle], to enter in through the narrow gate.” Luke 13:24. Some would say, “Is not eternal life free? Why does He say to strive and struggle?”
Is there a chance that even though all Adventists have the same goal, some of them will be much more likely to reach that goal than others? When Jesus comes, there will be many who will stand outside the door that was shut by the master of the house, and knock saying, “Lord, Lord, open for us.” And He will answer and say to them, “I do not know you. Then they will say, “We ate and drank in your presence. You taught in our streets.” But He will say, “I tell you, I do not know you. Depart from me all you workers of iniquity.”
Are you striving, are you struggling? Have you decided that this goal of having eternal life is the all-consuming passion of your life? Or are you like the boy who is going through college and says, “Yes, I want to get there some day, but I am going to enjoy life now.”
Paul had his eyes fixed on the goal when he said, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12–14.
Do you have your eye on the long term goal. Are you pressing forward with one goal in mind. Can you say with Paul, “This one thing I do”? If that is your attitude, you will make it. No one at the end will say to the Lord, “I chose to make this the number one priority in my life, and I have pressed toward the goal, and now I am lost.”
Fanaticism to Apostasy
One of the reasons that so many fall off the path today is because of fanaticism. Fanaticism is going beyond what is written. It is also beating the drum on one point. To those who are in fanaticism, one subject becomes everything, and they go beyond what God has written. “The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church. Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden.” The Great Controversy, 289, 290.
There are things that God has not commanded, but neither has He forbidden. When someone dictates to another person that they mustdo something that God has not commanded—that is fanaticism.
Where will it lead? “Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden, she ended by forbidding what He has explicitly enjoined.” Ibid. That is apostasy. If we go into fanaticism, and add to what God has told us, the end-result is apostasy.
According to the Spirit of Prophecy, all the types of fanaticism that appeared at the beginning of the Advent movement will reappear at the end. That is what is happening today. All the controversies that we thought were solved years and years ago, are reappearing.
In the early ages of Christianity there were many fanatical theories that arose concerning the nature of Christ, the nature of God, and the nature of the Holy Spirit. The same theories are all surfacing again.
What can we do to keep on the path? David wrote in the Psalms, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105. Jesus is the way, He is the path. As we follow up the path, the light moves and we must keep pace with it. Jesus said, “Walk while you have the light.” John 12:35. If we do not walk while we have the light, the light will keep moving and eventually we will be left in darkness.
Strive! Keep walking up the path. So often people come up to a certain point and stop. They are afraid that if they learn truth, they will be obligated to change something. It is written down beside their names in the kingdom of heaven, that they do not want any more truth. If they do not overcome that attitude it becomes for them the unpardonable sin. We each need to ask ourselves this question: Is there something in my life where I am not following the light? If we are not following the light, it is only a matter of time until we will be in darkness.
Jesus Leads On
If we keep looking at the goal and keep walking, we will arrive at the destination. It will not be too long. The journey will not be too hard. The obstacles will not be too great.
This was a major focal point of the very first vision that the Lord gave to Ellen White. Quoting from Early Writings, 14: “While I was praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell upon me, and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned to look for the Advent people in the world, but could not find them, when a voice said to me, ‘Look again and look a little higher.’ At this I raised my eyes, and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were traveling to the City, which was at the farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind them at the beginning of the path, which an angel told me was the midnight cry. This light shone all along the path and gave light for their feet so that they might not stumble. If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, Who was just before them,leading them to the City, they were safe.”
Jesus is leading us up the path. He is at the head of the line and He is leading us up the path to the Holy City. If we keep our eyes on Him, we will be safe. “But soon, some grew weary and said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising His glorious right arm, and from His arm came a light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted, ‘Alleluia.’ Others rashly denied the light behind them and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out,leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus, and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below.” Ibid., 14, 15.
As we go up the path, an immediate goal is to receive more of the Holy Spirit’s power. In order for us to receive the Holy Spirit, we must be overcomers. The latter rain cannot come until we have overcome sin. (See Early Writings, 71.)
Before Jesus comes the second time there will be faithful ones, who are waiting and preparing for His arrival. There will be some who will stay on the path until they arrive at the destination. Will you be one of them? The following questions will help you to see if you are pressing up the path:
- Do I take time to attend a prayer group or prayer meeting every week where we can study the Bible and pray?
- Do I take time for my personal devotions every day? Do I have time to study the life of Jesus every day, to memorize His Word, and to pray?
- Do I have time to actively witness to the world that Jesus is coming soon?
- Who do I love and who do I like to talk about?
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33.