Two Ditches and One Way


I am going to give you some biblical encouragement that you probably have never had before.  I am going to encourage you to fight, in the church.  And the biblical support for my encouragement is found in verse 3 of the book of Jude.  Here it is from the NIV:   I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. In his paraphrase of the Bible, Eugene Peterson puts it this way:  I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish.  So I am encouraging you to fight in the church, but you can only fight about one thing.  The only thing that you can fight about is the faith, this body of belief that has been handed down to us through the generations by those who have gone on before us. I want to share with you this morning why it is important for us to contend for, to fight for, the Christian faith within the church.  I want to tell you about a concept that will help you to understand how conflict about the faith can happen in the church.  I will also talk about one two ditches, that is, two ways that individuals and Christian denominations can leave the way of Christian faith and go off-track.  And I will give you 5 positive reasons that we must contend for the Christian faith.  So all that you have to remember is one concept, two ditches and one way, and five for fighting.

I.                   One Concept

First of all, a concept that helps us to understand how conflict about the faith happens in the church.  This concept describes two ways of talking about the church:  the Visible Church and the Invisible Church.  The Visible Church consists of all people everywhere that belong to any Christian church body.  This includes all of the denominations, such as Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, Lutheran, Mennonite, Alliance, Reformed, Baptist, etc.  It also includes all non-denominational churches, house churches, and home fellowships.  All of these people together are called the Visible Church because you can see that they belong to a Christian church of some kind. Visible-Invisible Church

But then there is the Invisible Church.  And the Invisible Church consists of all people everywhere who trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Now the Invisible Church cuts across all denominational lines.  We can say that there are people in the Invisible Church from every denomination.  But notice two things:  First, there are people who are in the Visible Church, but not in the Invisible Church.  In other words, there are people who go to church, but they are not really Christians. Second, there are people who are in the Invisible Church, who are not part of any visible church body.  In other words, there are people who do not go to any church who are Christians because they trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

Now, in which group, the Visible or the Invisible Church, will all the people go to be with Jesus when they die?  Only the people in the Invisible Church will go to be with Jesus when they die.  Which is it more important to be a part of, the Visible Church or the Invisible Church?  The Invisible Church.  But at this point there is a problem, because we cannot see into the human heart, only God can, so we do not know who is part of the Invisible Church and who is not.  We can only go by what people say with their mouths.  We cannot tell if someone is saying one thing with their mouth and believing another.

But we can see from this concept that conflict over the Christian faith happens in the church because we have people in the church who believe something that really isn’t the Christian faith, and we have people in the church who believe what really is the Christian faith.  So people who believe what really is the Christian faith are going to have to fight for what they believe, inside the church.

II.                 Two Ditches and One Way

Now if we imagine this area of the Invisible Church as being like a path, we can see that there is a ditch on each side of the path, and you can remember the names of these Two Ditches because they both start with L.  On the one side of the path is a ditch where people who call themselves Christians deny or minimize their sin.

So here is an example:  A few years ago when Susan and I and all of our children were traveling back from a family trip to Alberta, we were in Vernon and we needed to stop for the night.  So I went into a motel and arranged for a room and during the course of my conversation with the manager he never asked me how many people were going to be staying in the motel room.  I was thinking, “This is great!  We can all pile in one room, some of us can sleep on the floor in sleeping bags, we can get the rest that we need and I will only have to pay for one room.”  So I never told the manager how many people I was planning to sneak into that one motel room.  Was I denying or minimizing my sin?  Yes, I was.  I had left the road and driven into the ditch.

If you like big words, the L word for this ditch is Licentiousness. It means “anything goes.”  If you like plain, straightforward language, the L word for this ditch is Lack, as in Lack of Morals.  And when you or I go into this ditch, when we deny our sin, we leave the one true path and we put ourselves outside of the Invisible Church and we put ourselves outside of the salvation that Jesus Christ has for us.

When someone ends up in this ditch by denying their sin and decides that they want to stay there, we call it “living in sin.”  In our society, we often most often use that phrase to refer to couples who live together before they are married.  And it is accurate to say that they are “living in sin.”  But the businesswoman who refuses to pay her employees a decent wage is also living in sin.  And so is the student who continually cheats on his exams at school and the husband who views pornographic images on his computer.  They are also “living in sin.”

Two Ditches and One WayThe L word for the ditch on the other side of the one, true path is Legalism.  In the Christian Church, we believe that the Law and the Gospel are both very, very important.  The Law is all the good things that we should have done but didn’t and all the bad things that we should not have done, but did.  The Gospel is the all the good things that God does for us.

We believe that the Law and the Gospel are both very, very important, but we also believe that it is very, very important to not get the Law and the Gospel mixed up. Legalism is the belief that we can get to God through the Law.  Legalism is a false belief because it is impossible for us to get to God through the Law.  Everything that we do, even the really, really good things that we do, is tainted by sin in some way and so, even our best deeds cannot be acceptable to a holy and all-powerful God.  As we read in Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

Legalism happens in churches when individuals believe or when churches teach that if you just read your Bible more, or pray more or give more or serve more, then God will accept you and love you.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The ditch of legalism only ends up in one of two destinations:  either people end up in pride because they think that they have read their Bible enough, prayed enough, gave enough and served enough, or they end up in despair because they know that they know that fall short of God’s standards and they will never measure up on their own.  In fact, if you are feeling some pride or some despair about your spiritual life, that is an indicator that you are in the ditch of Legalism.

So what is the way out of the ditch of Legalism or the ditch of the Lack of Morals?  All you have to remember is Stop, Turn and Receive because that is the way that God brings us up out of the ditch and back on the way.  First God stops us, and he does that by using the Law.   When we have headed off into a ditch, the Law is very helpful to us. For the Law is like a big, red stop sign planted firmly in the middle of each ditch which says, “Stop, you are in the ditch of Legalism.  Stop, you are in the ditch of Lack of Morals.”

Next God turns us.  What we need at this point is a change of heart and mind, that is, an admission that we are going in the wrong direction and we need to turn around.

Third, God opens our heart and enables us to receive, that is, accept and trust in the Good News that God has for us that pulls us up out of the ditch and puts us back on the Way.  This Good News contains God’s better version of all the things that we are seeking by our own hand in the twin Ditches of Legalism and Lack of Morals.

In the ditch of Legalism, we try to use the Law to go to God.  But the Good News of the Gospel tells us that God has come to us.  Before time even began, God formulated a plan that would involve God the Son becoming a human being in a sacrificial quest to save the whole human race. Without wavering to the right or the left, Jesus faithfully advanced to his goal of welding his destiny to that of all humanity by suffering and dying on the cross.  In love, Jesus was thinking of you as he hung there suspended between heaven and earth. In love, Jesus was thinking of you as he rose from the dead.  From the moment you were conceived in your mother’s womb, Jesus has been pursuing like a hound of heaven with his passionate, self-giving love.  You don’t need to read your Bible more, pray more, give more or serve more for God to love you.  Jesus comes to you and he loves and accepts you just as you are.  The power, you see, is not in us, it is all in Jesus.

In the ditch of Lack of Morals, we are all seeking something that we desire and need, but we are looking to a source other than God to fulfill our desires and we are using sin to get it.  Therefore, when we acquire what we seek, it never really satisfies us.

The businesswoman who refuses to pay her employees a decent wage may be seeking wealth. But any increase in profit she may accumulate is a pittance compared to the wealth of God.  God owns all the gold, all the silver, all the diamonds, all the land, and all the cattle on a thousand hills.  God owns it all and life with God is far more valuable than a few thousands of dollars here or there.

The student who cheats on his exams may be seeking accomplishment to gain status before his parents and peers. But through Jesus, God the father has already conferred upon the student the same status that Jesus has.  To give a spin on Pastor Karl’s famous question, if someone were to ask this student, “Suppose you were to die tonight and stand before God and He were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ What would you say?”  This student could legitimately say, “Because, in Jesus Christ, I lived my life without sin, I raised people from the dead, I fed 5,000 families with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, I made the blind see, I made the deaf hear, and I made the lame walk.” In God the Father’s eyes, we have exactly the same status as his sinless, perfect Son whom he has loved for all eternity.[1]

The husband who views pornographic images on his computer may be seeking to alleviate his boredom with some illicit pleasure. But whatever pleasure he may experience only dulls his senses to the real pleasure of life with God in the real world.

III.             Five for Fighting

Jesus is the only way to God.  That alone makes the Christian faith worth fighting for.  We do not want people to hit the ditch with their faith.  We do not want people to be lost.  But these are negative reasons for fighting for the Christian faith.  And there are positive reasons for fighting for the Christian faith.  Because when we talk about the Christian faith we are talking about life with Jesus.   So here are five positive reasons to fight for life with Jesus.  In his book Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, J. D. Greear writes,

Jesus is the one essential thing that we must have.  He is life itself.

Jesus is better than money.  God own all the money and He’s our Father; He promises to give us whatever we need.  And God never crashes or dips below 10,000 [like the stock market].

Jesus is better than human love.  You and I have never experienced tenderness and affection like God showed to us when He took us in His arms at the cross.

Jesus is better than any earthly pleasure.  God is the fountain of all pleasure.  Earthly pleasures, C. S. Lewis famously said, are supposed to function like rays of the sun that direct us back to their source.  As the ray warms our face, we look back up along the ray to its source.  Marriage, sex, money, children, friends, good food are all shadows and reflections of true goodness.  For a while, some “cloud” may obstruct a ray from hitting our face. We might remain single when we’d like to be married.  We might be poor when we’d like to be rich.  Death may take one of our children.  The rays of the sun will at times be shielded from our eyes, but the sun itself remains….

Jesus is better than earthly power. There is no greater sense of empowerment than to know that the sovereign God who directs every molecule in the universe is working in all things for our good.  That is real power.

Jesus is better than popularity.  What good is earthly fame if you are famous only to a bunch of nobodies?  To be know and honored by the God of the universe, that is better than the approbations of millions of little no-account earthlings.[2]

2008 07 26 - Warfordsburg - I70 i

2008 07 26 – Warfordsburg – I70 i (Photo credit: thisisbossi)

The one, true Way of God is lined with the guardrails of his law, not to keep people off, but to keep people on the path.  Try to jump over the one side and say that sin is not sin and you end up in the ditch of the Lack of Morals.  Try to jump over the guardrail on the other side and you end up in the ditch of Legalism.  In between is the Gospel highway, the good news that God has come to us, that he loves us, accepts us and forgives us through the perfect human life, the sacrificial suffering and death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   This is the faith that is worth fighting for, even in the church, especially in the church.  We do not want people to be steered into the ditch by false teaching.  We do not want people who are in either ditch to stay there and be lost.  Jesus is better than anything we could find in the ditches along the road.  So let’s fight with everything we have in us for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish.  The Gospel message is worth the fight.  The people that we are fighting with are also worth the fight. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley, BC on September 1, 2013.)


[1] This concept is also from J. D. Greear in his book Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary but I have not yet relocated where in the book the concept is from.

[2] J. D. Greear, Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville:  B & H Publishing, 2011), 78-80.

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