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Stepping Out of the Straight and Narrow Way and Getting Into Trouble, Part 1 (Pilgrim’s Progress According to the Bible #38)

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TEXT: James 1:12-16

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Jesus Christ said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Stepping Out of the Straight and Narrow Way and Getting Into Trouble, Part 1 (Pilgrim’s Progress According to the Bible #38)

A particularly troubling Pew survey came out last week regarding the state of religion in America. According to the survey, which is said to have “big and broad” implications for society going forward, in the past seven years, the number of Americans who identify as Christians has fallen by 8 points from 78% to 70%. Meanwhile the number of people who identify as atheist, agnostic, or as believing “nothing in particular” has risen almost by half — from 16% to 22%. The numbers show further that while nearly 86 percent of Americans say they grew up as Christians, nearly one in five say they are not Christians anymore. Alan Cooperman, the director of Pew’s religion research, said, “Overall, there are more than four former Christians for every convert to Christianity.” In other words, for every nonbeliever who is saved, there are at least four people who once called themselves Christians who have left the faith.

While that last statistic is talking about people who leave the Christian faith permanently, there are many in the church who remain Christians but who sometimes stray from the straight and narrow way. How does this happen? What are the effects of this straying? And how can one return to the straight and narrow way.

In the classic English allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, two of the main characters, Christian and Hopeful, have such an experience. They were told by Evangelist that to reach the Celestial City, they need only to keep to the straight and narrow way. However, we read that even though they are more than halfway through their journey and although they had just experienced a time of refreshment, they stray from the straight and narrow way. Bunyan writes:

Now I beheld in my dream that they had not journeyed very far ahead when the River and the Way divided and began to go in separate directions. For this reason they were very displeased, though at the same time they were also fearful of leaving the straight path. However as they went on they continued to wish for an easier way. And now that the straight path was heading away from the River, it also became more rough and troublesome while at the same time their feet were becoming more tender on account of their travels. So the souls of the pilgrims became increasingly discouraged on account of the harshness of the way.

Now a little ahead of them there was on the left hand side of the road a meadow, and a stile giving access to it over a fence; and that meadow was called By-Path Meadow.

Then Christian said to his companion, “If this meadow runs alongside of our way, then let us cross over to it.” So he went to the stile to investigate, and behold, a pathway on the other side of the fence seemed to run parallel with their way. Christian said, “This is exactly as I had hoped for. Here the going is much easier; so come, my good Hopeful, and let us cross over.”

Hopeful said, “But what if this new path should lead us out of the way?”

Christian said, “That is not likely. Look, does it not run alongside our way, except on the other side of the fence?”

So Hopeful, being persuaded by Christian, followed him over the stile.

How many Christians have looked over to the other side of the road — a side that seemed more pleasant — and left the straight and narrow way? Why do Christians backslide? Why is it that, as the Pew survey indicated, so many Christians depart from the faith? Why are we, as the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;”?

Our passage indicates that those who “err” or those who leave the way are tempted and tried. Six times in these verses, some variation of the word “tempted” is used. When the Bible uses the word “tempted” it has two meanings — one, it carries the meaning of enticement to sin; and, two, it carries the meaning of a trial or trouble. Those who leave the straight and narrow path can be led astray by temptation or by trial. Dr. John Walvoord and Dr. Roy Zuck state, “Believers are in danger of falling before the attacks and pressures of trials. But they are also subject to falling before the attractions and pleasures of temptation… James outlined the source of temptation, the steps in temptation, and the solution for temptation.”

The first type of temptation that can lead Christians astray comes in the form of enticement to sin. James says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” The temptation to do evil does not come from God. Rather, it comes from the devil, the world, and the flesh.

Getting Christians to backslide and to wander from the straight and narrow path is one of the main purposes of our enemy Satan. The Bible says he is like “a roaring lion, prowling about, seeking whom he may devour.” Some Christians think the devil is out to kill them. Not really. The most valuable tool to the devil is not a dead Christian, but a Christian who has ruined his testimony and shamed the name of Christ by his sinful activity. When a Christian ruins his testimony — and especially when he does not confess it and repent of it — the devil has fodder to run a smear campaign against Christianity. So he is definitely in the business of tempting believers to sin.

James refutes those who try to blame God for their temptations. Although God may test us or put us through trials, He will never tempt us to do evil. However, this passage reveals another source of enticement to sin in the life of the believer — and that is the Christian himself. Verse 14 reads: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” This type of temptation stems from our sinful flesh. No matter who we are or what our background is, each of us have a sin or sins that “easily beset us.” Each of us have a temptation that is more difficult to resist than others. You probably already know what yours is from past experience.

James calls this source of temptation “lust.” Lust is an evil desire or inner craving. The phrase “drawn away” comes from a Greek term that has to do with hunting and fishing. The words are meant to put us in mind of using bait to catch a fish or using a snare to trap an animal. However, in this verse, it is the Christian who is in view as both the hunter and the hunted — he builds and baits his own trap.

As Christians, we must be aware of our own weaknesses so that we can be ready to use Scripture to combat them. We must be willing to put in place safeguards that will help us avoid giving in to those temptations. We must be on guard against our desires that can lead us astray.

Looking at the excerpt that we read from Pilgrim’s Progress earlier, we see that Christian and Hopeful were led out of the straight and narrow path by their desire for ease and comfort. They had just come out of a time of refreshment at the banks of the River of the Water of Life where they had rested, eaten, and slept before continuing on their way. And now that they were traveling once again, they saw a path which appeared to be easier and which also seemed to run right alongside the straight and narrow way. However, once they got on that easier path, they soon found that it led them out of the way.

How often have we gotten off-track in our walk with Christ thinking that we are doing something good, when in reality, we are being led astray by our own fleshly desires? John Blanchard said, “Backsliding never begins with a loud bang. It begins quietly, slowly, subtly, insidiously. It is possible to be diligent in our religion, yet distant in our relationship.” Christian and Hopeful thought they were doing something good for themselves when they got on the easier path. But they quickly found out that their desire for an easier way had led them astray when they met up with a man named Vain Confidence who encouraged them in their straying from the path and were later captured by the Giant Despair.

The devil loves to make us think that our own desires are harmless. He will have us to believe that whatever thoughts and desires come from us must be good for us. However, the Bible lets us know that man’s heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Jesus Christ said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man.” Perhaps, as a young Christian, you were told to compare what someone who claims to be a leader says with the Word of God. If what that person is saying is not in agreement with God’s Word, then you should not listen to that person. We must also line up our own thoughts and beliefs with the Word of God. If something that we think or desire does not agree with God’s Word, then we must conclude that that thought or desire is coming from the flesh and not the Spirit of God.

You may think that an intimate relationship with a co-worker which you are hiding from your spouse is good for you. You may think that cheating on your taxes is good for your finances. You may think that hiding something in your past that you know you should divulge is a good way to get ahead. But all of these things simply set you on the path to abandoning the straight and narrow way. The more you indulge in such activities, the further you get away from God.

True Christians will want to avoid both the temptations of the devil and the temptations that come from our own fleshly desires. However, we can do this, not by our own abilities, but by depending on the grace of God, the Holy Spirit of God, and the Word of God. For God does not tempt us with evil, rather, we are told in First Corinthians that He makes a way of escape for us so that we will remain on the straight and narrow path. Backsliding does not have to be a part of the life of the Christian. Yes, we will all be tempted, but by the grace of God, we can resist that temptation to turn away from the straight and narrow way.

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If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, allow me to share with you briefly how you can be saved from your sins and be guaranteed a home in Heaven with God today.

First, please understand that you are a sinner, just as I am, and that you have broken God’s laws. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Please understand that because of your sins, you deserve eternal punishment in hell. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death…This is both physical death and spiritual death in hell. That is the bad news.

But here is the good news. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. I am sorry for my sins, and today I choose to turn from my sins. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. I trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and I choose to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.

If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God! Congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light Society.com and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door.” Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

God loves you. We love you. And may God bless you.