Only Two Ways

In an age of too-many options—too many cable channels, too many brands, too many things—I’m not sure we can believe there are really only two ways when it comes to life. Now I would be quick to add that there is lots of variety within each of these ways, but would still contend with the wisdom of the past that there are only two ways to live and one leads to life and the other, destruction.

Jesus, when speaking about living in the kingdom, taught there were only two ways, one broad and wide, the other narrow and tight; he even said that only a few folks find the nar-row path of the kingdom of God. His longest-living disciple John wrote about the “two ways” to point followers of Jesus within the way of life, not death. Later, an early Christian document called the Didache (Or, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), begins, “There are two ways…” then repeats much from the Sermon on the Mount.

However, way before even Jesus, Psalms and Proverbs employed the “two ways.” For example, the first Psalm does this with poetic flair.

In Psalm 1, there are only two kinds of people: the righteous and the wicked. There is no gray here. Life here comes only in black and white. We, with all our options, bristle at the no-tion but deep down most people are willing to admit that one can live either wisely or fool-ishly.

The Psalmist describes the righteous in three main moves. The righteous does not keep bad company, is devoted to God’s law, and is fruitful as a tree by a river. Conversely, the wicked will not be found in good company (when it really counts), doesn’t care about God’s law (notice that this should be vs. 4 ½ but the psalmist is silent on this point), and is like fruitless chaff from the wheat harvest.

The psalm ends with a final contrast showing God’s perspective: God is attentive to those in the path of righteousness but the way of the wicked can only lead to destruction.

The Psalms were the songbook of ancient Israel. So I think we should give notice that the first song in the book contains instructions for wise living. Is there a connection to be made here? Perhaps it is that worship has something to do with the kind of people we are become. If that is the case, then let me ask you once again to consider: there are only two ways. Pick carefully, ok?

Our Role in the Mission of God

A favorite New Testament book of mine is 1 Peter. I’m drawn to it often because the world it imagines is so much like the one I experience. In this letter, Christians are called to live as a contrast society to the world around them. The world around the Christians consisted of an evil empire, many forms of idolatry, and wild parties every weekend, if not every night.

Living among people committed to empire, idolatry, and indulgence, the author of 1 Peter commissioned his readers with these words:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12 NIV)

Framing our relationship to the world, even empire, as “aliens and strangers,” the writer reminds us that we are “only passing through” this world, but more so, since Jesus’ kingdom does not belong to this world, neither do we. If we are indeed “aliens and strangers” to the empires of this world, we should not over-invest in them but rather give much more attention to the kingdom that will never end.

The biblical writer calls on his readers to do two things. 1) Give attention to spiritual formation; and 2) live out that formation among those who live around us. Regarding the first task, God seeks to remove the war within our own lives. Therefore, we should “abstain from sinful desires.” However, there is the second and larger concern here: That our lives (now at peace because of Jesus) might announce the kingdom of God to those who might even accuse us falsely. The end result of our lives, according to this text, is that others might be prepared to worship God when he comes again.

So let’s commit again to live the good life for the good of others.