Which way?

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As we travel the pilgrim path, we are continually confronted with decisions which need to be made. This is true of every child of God, although the nature and impact of the decisions which differ in accordance with our calling and circumstances. So, for example, it might be a Christian woman who is being receiving not entirely unwelcome attention from an unconverted guy at work, and he asks if he can spend more time with her. It might be a Christian parent whose unconverted children are pushing against the boundaries that have been established in the home, or revelling in a lack of boundaries. It might be a young person whose friends are applying pressure to go and see a film that will almost certainly bloody the conscience in some way. It might be a pastor who knows that he needs to deal with some pattern of sin becoming apparent in the life of one of the members. It might be a preacher who knows that the next sermon in his series, if the truth is faithfully explained and applied, will cut into the cherished notions of some of the most generous givers in the church. It might be a church member who has had some holy but hard duty impressed upon the soul. It might be a chance to turn a conversation in a healthy and profitable direction rather than have it meander into bitterness, criticism or vulgarity. It might be as simple as the opportunity to read some improving book, as Jeeves might say, as opposed to the temptation for a mindless and unproductive scrolling through Facebook for thirty minutes. It might be that a saint, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, has had opened to them some new sphere of opportunity or duty, never seen or considered before, and feels the pressure of a past wandering in ignorance and sees the prospect of a new road of obedience. It might be some that some point of doctrine has been derided as unnecessarily pointed, or some cherished practice feels burdensome at present. It might be an opportunity to speak of Christ to an unconverted friend.

Whatever the details, we are confronted with a situation and often, in essence, there are two ways in which we might go: let us call them the paths of compromise and conviction. The path of compromise seems to be a broad and easy way, turning downward and opening out before us. There are any number of others streaming down it, so there will be plenty of company on the road. The path of conviction turns upward, and is narrow and rocky, plainly demanding effort and sacrifice, and there are few who take it, so it may well be a lonely way.

And day after day, perhaps at times minute after minute, the saints reach the point at which the path forks, and we can either take the way of compromise or conviction. The decision we make, and the way we choose, tends to establish a pattern.

Take the path of compromise, and we are likely to develop a downward momentum. The next time we reach a fork in the road, we are already primed by habit and, perhaps, hindered by a guilty conscience, and, probably, conscious that to reach the road we should be on will now cost more effort and sacrifice than if we had taken a right road earlier. The pastor who avoided the necessary confrontation with a wandering sheep might now feel that he cannot deal with someone else lest he be charged with favouritism, or sees the original problem grow worse and worse because it was not nipped in the bud. The parent who has repeatedly given in to the demands of a stroppy child now finds that a pattern has been set which it is becoming harder to break. The single Christian thinks that the first outing with the unbeliever was not so bad, and that developing a relationship need not necessarily compromise one's testimony or godliness. The tendency to make a critical and bitter assessment of everyone else develops into a habit in which every conversation becomes about someone else's failings from the vantage point of our own imagined balance and insight. We invariably find another reason not to witness to God's grace in Christ. Of course, what is not clear is the trend and end of the road. I am not saying that every decision to take the path of compromise ends in unmitigated disaster (though it might). Nevertheless, a life of repeated compromise, without correction, is eventually going to result in a lukewarm, indistinct, shallow, crippled, guilty, disappointed life, a way strewn with the debris of a thousand fudged decisions. If we are true children of God, we will arrive at heaven, but we may go limping all the way, bringing little glory to God, even though we took what seemed the easiest road.

Alternatively, we can take the way of conviction. It is almost never the attractive option, humanly speaking. The price to be paid may appear immediate, or it may loom in the distance. The moment you plant your feet for the right way, there may be difficulty. Those who called themselves friends may begin to assail you. The principled parent faces a concerted campaign of resentment and resistance from the child whose will has been crossed. The faithful pastor gets the cold shoulder from the erring member, accused of legalism, heavy-handedness, a lack of love. The pages of the improving book begin to blur before tired eyes or recede under the pressure of a meandering thought process. The friend or neighbour, hearing of Christ, responds with derision or aggression, politely but coldly informing you that they are not religious, or avoiding you when you are in the vicinity, or cutting you off altogether. But, pressing on in the path of righteousness, there is progress. After the initial storm, the child finds a measure of security and reliability within the framework of parental authority, and the home begins to achieve a measure of order. The reading process becomes gradually easier, and the truths which at first seemed so esoteric and abstruse become slowly clearer and more profitable. Perhaps the rebuke to the sinner secures repentance, or is God's means of pruning the church vine, or encourages some other member to take a stand for righteousness. Perhaps the offended neighbour turns to you at a point of crisis because they are assured of your sincerity and integrity. And, whatever the immediate or distant outcomes, whether apparent or real, there is the peace of a conscience that is void of offence to God and men, the assurance of the smile of Christ, the pleasure of the Father in doing his will, the comforting presence of an ungrieved Spirit, a testimony of commitment to what is unseen and yet real, a testimony which has a crisp edge and a distinct savour. Those decisions to take the road upward may never become easier, but - again - these decisions tend to be cumulative, and so it is vital that we commit to the principle of invariably taking the way of conviction wherever it can be discerned. It is sometimes hard to assess the gradient where the ways part. It is possible to take the wrong way in error, and to find that out only somewhere down the line. However, the child of God who consistently and humbly takes the way of conviction will reach heaven bloodied but unbowed, having gone through many dangers, toils and snares, having faced many enemies and fought many fights, but having walked in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Friend, it will not be long before your path divides again. I do not know what has been your habit to date. I do know that you cannot presume that any decision for compromise will be safe, for there are some who have found that one apparently negligible, seemingly irrelevant choice for what seemed to be the easier way has ended in a life careening downhill with tragic consequences. I also know that for however long you have been taking the downward road, however many times you have found the apparently smooth but eventually crippling path of compromise more palatable, it is not too late to take the way of conviction, to cry out to the Lord to give you grace, wisdom and strength to do what is right rather than what is easy, and to walk in the Spirit along the upward way. I know that all who have never come to Christ, have never set out on the pilgrim way, are graciously invited to take the first step heavenward, to take the road that leads to glory, and that those who take the path of the cross will be given grace for the way. I know, too, that however painful may be the path that leads upward, it will ultimately prove the road of blessing and peace, even if it should at first be a path of sacrifice and sorrow.

It will not be long before your path divides. Which way will you go?
Posted July 6, 2013 @ 6:56 PM by Jeremy Walker
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