What you believe matters a great deal

Hiro Onada died in Tokyo on Jan. 16 of this year. You may not be familiar with his name, but many of you know his story. Onada was the last Japanese soldier to surrender after World War II. From 1944 to 1974 he hid out on a jungle island in the Philippines. All efforts to coax him out of hiding failed. He refused to believe the truth the war was over and Japan had lost. Because he believed wrongly, he behaved foolishly.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives three examples of right and wrong thinking that leads to either right or wrong behaving. The first involves choosing the narrow gate and path rather than the wide gate and path. The second involves choosing to be a good tree bearing good fruit rather than a bad tree bearing bad fruit. The third involves choosing to build your spiritual house on solid rock rather than on shifting sand.

What we believe always precedes how we behave. Each of us has choices to make regarding our spiritual well-being. Do we choose to merely believe in God and then go merrily on our way, pursuing material and hedonistic pleasures? Or, do we choose to really fall in love with Jesus and take discipleship seriously by forsaking much of what the world has to offer and live as a servant of God?

In the parable of the two gates and the two paths, the gate and the path are but two segments of the same way. Jesus admonishes us to choose the narrow gate and the narrow path. The narrow gate is rejected by all who refuse to believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Then there is the path the narrow path is rejected by all who refuse to take discipleship seriously. The sacrifice necessary to be a devoted disciple is too much for them to bear.

They believe they can have a life of pursuing luxury and pleasure while ignoring the Bible’s commands to live humbly, to give generously, and to forsake sinful pleasures like sexual immorality and the use of mind-altering substances.

To think so is to think like Onada. He believed a lie that led him to trade 30 years of living among family and friends in Japan for 30 years of fear and scrounging around in the jungle.

To believe wrongly about Jesus and discipleship will lead you to trade a meaningful life of service to the Lord for a life scrounging around in the rat race of the world. If you believe correctly, you will behave correctly, and it matters a great deal.