The Narrow Path

How the Subversive Way of Jesus Satisfies Our Souls

About the Book

A compelling call to embrace the countercultural values of Jesus, which lead to a life of love, peace, and fulfillment, from the bestselling author of The Deeply Formed Life, winner of the Christianity Today Book Award.

“In The Narrow Path, Rich unpacks what living our best life truly looks like. This book is a much-needed heart checkup for every Jesus follower.”—Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel Women

We live in a culture that wants it all. More is seen as better—whether it’s more money, social media fame, choices, or power. For those chasing this way of life, “narrow” seems negative. Who wants to narrow their options . . . or be seen as narrow-minded?

Which is why the most well-known talk in the history of the world—the Sermon on the Mount—is also the most paradoxical one. In it, Jesus holds up the narrow path as the most spacious . . . and the broader path as the more confining one.

Rich Villodas, bestselling author of The Deeply Formed Life, explores what today’s broad and narrow paths look like so you can discern which one you’re on. The answer may surprise you—and will help you pursue the way of Jesus more deeply when it comes to loving God and others, prayer, sexual desire, conflict, money, anxiety, and more.

The Narrow Path reintroduces the counterintuitive wonder of Jesus’s timeless wisdom for this age, one fraught with anxiety, depression, polarizing politics, and online vitriol. The path of Jesus is most certainly narrow, but it is the only one filled with the ever-expanding life of God . . . and it is available now for all who want it!
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Praise for The Narrow Path

“In The Narrow Path, Rich unpacks what living our best life truly looks like. By challenging some of our most basic assumptions about what it is to walk with Jesus and by inviting us to discover whether we are on the broad or narrow path . . . This book is a much-needed heart checkup for every Jesus follower.”—Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel Women

“A book written for all those ‘who are weary of anchoring their lives in the unfulfilling promises of the surrounding culture,’ those who find the broad way, essentially, ‘do whatever you want and follow the crowd,’ to be revealing itself as exactly what Jesus warned—a path toward death, not life—and those who are interested, intrigued, and deeply drawn to the possibility of Jesus and his narrow way.”—John Mark Comer, author and founder of Practicing the Way

“If you’re tired of the choice between a half-Christian, conscience-quieting religion and an exhausting, guilt-inducing moralism, this book is for you. With a map through Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Rich Villodas leads us to the narrow path and shows us how to find joy on that road. You won’t regret the trip!”—Russell Moore, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today

“Rich Villodas is one of the necessary voices of our time. As we wrestle to understand how Jesus speaks to our current day, Rich makes the words of Christ accessible. Leaders like him are rare. This book is needed.”—Lecrae, Grammy Award–winning artist and producer

“Brilliant and beautiful, concise and clear, The Narrow Path helps us remember again the words of our Lord that lead us to the liberating reality of a world in which less is more, in which the hard work of obedience leads to durable joy, and in which the love of Jesus is to be discovered and dwelt in while we travel this road together as a body of fellow pilgrims.”—Curt Thompson, MD, psychiatrist and author of The Deepest Place and The Soul of Shame

“This is Rich Villodas at his pastoral best. Challenging and confronting, these are pastoral reflections for everyone, calling us to the narrow path toward an expansive life.”—Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of Rockharbor Church and author of The Resilient Pastor and The Intentional Year

“By bringing laser focus to the manifesto of our faith—the Sermon on the Mount—Pastor Rich edifies us anew with the wonderful, subversive love of Christ. With clarity, wisdom, and wit, he reminds us that God’s ways are the ways of life, joy, love, and peace—the truly good life.”—Danai Gurira, actress, playwright, and activist

“This biography of the Jesus Way reset me on his way again. I hope and pray it sets and resets you on the Way. But my real hope is that it would become all our autobiographies. This book won’t just do you good; it will do the world good.”—Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
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Excerpt

The Narrow Path

1

Unexpected Disaster (the Broad Path)


Have you ever been scuba diving? I haven’t. But—and I say this with more enthusiasm than I should—I have snorkeled a few times, thank you very much. On one of our wedding-anniversary trips, Rosie and I looked up various excursions in Hawaii. I did extensive research, hoping to get in touch with the risk-taking part of my personality. I watched a bunch of scuba videos on YouTube, finding inspiration and giving myself pep talks under my breath. This was short-lived when I found a simple chart outlining the differences between scuba diving and snorkeling. Suddenly I was jolted back to reality as the risk-taking version of myself hid like a frightened cuttlefish.

I learned that scuba diving can cause something called nitrogen narcosis, which is essentially like being drunk underwater. Or your equipment can fail. While diving, you’re also at risk of pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a blood clot blocks the arteries in your lungs, causing dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Yeah, no thanks.

So I decided to snorkel. When you snorkel, you get sunburned, and, of course, I forgot to apply sunscreen and ended up with a scalded back. But at least I lived to tell the story.

The snorkeling excursion went well. I saw a handful of fish at a safe distance and came up for a quick break when I swallowed a bit of water through my tube. A few days later, I watched more scuba videos, hoping to muster the courage to take the dive. But my internal resistance was real. Cognitively, I knew a beautiful world awaited me in the depths, but I chose life on the surface, where things felt safe and predictable.

What does any of this have to do with the narrow path of Jesus? Many of us want to go deeper, but we find ourselves spiritually treading water on the surface. We try to live like Christian amphibians—half in, half out—but Jesus wants all of us, or, put differently, to give us all of himself. However, he knows nothing of half-hearted discipleship. His invitation is to follow him fully or not at all, using the metaphor of a road: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).

As profound as Jesus is, I love his simplicity. There are two paths to take: the narrow path or the broad one. The narrow path is the cruciform way of Jesus that leads to renewal and healing. Naturally, we’re interested in the “road that leads to life,” so what holds us back? If we’re honest, it’s the cost. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”1

We’re afraid following Jesus will summon us to a new way of life we don’t prefer or can’t sustain.

We keep Jesus at a “safe” distance because we assume following him leads to a joyless, confined existence of repressing our desires and taking on a mechanical, religious persona.

We avoid Jesus’s narrow path because we believe we will have to deny our yearning for sexual intimacy, surrender all our dreams, and go to multiple church services a week.

We’re afraid of what others will think if we really follow Jesus. We don’t want to be religious fanatics.

We avoid the narrow path because it requires facing ourselves—looking in the mirror with honesty and vulnerability.

I’ve wondered these things too.

To journey through a narrow path takes time. It requires you and me to slow down. At some point, we all must face the parts of ourselves we don’t like. And you know what? Sometimes it’s easier to avoid this invitation altogether. Maybe you’re afraid of going deep because seeing more of Jesus means him seeing more of you. If that’s what you’re feeling, you’re not alone.

As I’ve carefully observed Jesus’s interactions with people in Scripture and felt his presence in my own life, I’ve discovered time and time again that Jesus isn’t repelled by human brokenness; he’s attracted to it.

As a nineteen-year-old, just a few months into my relationship with Jesus, I read a book on his holy presence. For the first time, I realized I could set aside the self-protective façade that ensnared me into a performance-driven life and addictive behavior, and I wept. I wrote in my new leather-bound journal the various secrets I’d been carrying. After each sentence, I’d look over my shoulder, fearing someone was hovering over me like a schoolteacher during a final exam. In what felt like holy angst, I sensed the presence of God within me. I recalled the tenderness of Jesus in the gospel stories, which I was learning for the first time. I continued to name the places in my soul I’d been hiding from God, others, and myself. And I found grace and mercy. Tenderness and compassion. Peace and joy.

Despite that powerful experience, I still lose my way from time to time. Maybe, like me, you’ve had seasons when you’ve been busy or distracted, content to give God the leftovers. In such seasons, Jesus invites you and me to return to the narrow path.

Only Two Paths . . . Really, Jesus?

Jesus’s teaching about two paths—a broad way that leads to destruction, and a narrow way that leads to life—is a bit intimidating. It immediately prompts various questions:

What does the narrow path look like?

What does the broad path look like?

How do I know which path I’m on?

We will spend ample time exploring these important questions, but before we do, can we take a moment to name the elephant in the room? What I mean is, isn’t Jesus oversimplifying life when he gives us just two paths? Isn’t life more nuanced and complex than this? It sounds reductionistic. It confounds us. It even offends us.

In other places in the Gospels, Jesus masterfully outmaneuvers all kinds of ethical and theological conundrums by responding to questions from an angle no one was expecting. But there’s no nuance here. There are two paths: broad or narrow. But before we set aside this teaching, let us acknowledge that Jesus is in good company when he suggests two ways.

He’s in the company of Yahweh in the Old Testament when two paths—death and life—are placed before the people of God (see Deuteronomy 30:19).

He’s in the company of Master Yoda, who preached on the two paths of the Force: the light side and the dark side (kidding, partially).

He’s in the company of Morpheus, who offered the blue pill and the red pill to Neo in The Matrix. Plenty of teachers, religious or not, present two divergent paths and invite their followers to choose one.

When Jesus offers two paths, he’s being clear, not cruel. He’s leading us to life—freeing us from the paralysis of decision fatigue.

When most people read Jesus’s words about the narrow and the broad paths, it’s through the lens of good morality versus bad morality, or perhaps the afterlife. The narrow path is the path “good” people take; the broad way is the preferred route of “bad” sinners. The narrow path is the avenue toward heaven, while the broad way is the road to hell. But that outlook is not what Jesus has in mind. Naturally, the path you choose now has a bearing on eternity, but Jesus also desires to form us today. To bear witness to the radical nature of life in his kingdom. The broad path is life outside Jesus’s rule and way; the narrow path is life submitted to him and his subversive wisdom.

Am I on the Broad Path?

The question burning in our minds is likely this: How do I know I’m on the broad path? The Sermon on the Mount helps answer that question, letting us see that it’s possible to serve God without walking with him. In other words, we can be on the broad path without knowing it. Jesus’s words are a penetrating analysis of the human problem. I can’t say it enough: God wants to form the entirety of us, and a large part of that formation requires us to name our false assumptions about him and the “good life.” Let’s simplify the problems before us in three statements. You may be on the broad path if . . .

1. You believe God cares about only your behavior, not your heart (moralism).

2. You have a superficial vision of what “the good life” is (success-ism).

3. You see spirituality as just you and God (individualism).

The convergence of these three problems serves as the root of our spiritual brokenness. They constitute the broad way—the path taken by most.

About the Author

Rich Villodas
Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-five countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. Prior to becoming lead pastor, he gave oversight to New Life's small group ministry and served as preaching pastor. Rich graduated with a BA in pastoral ministry and theology from Nyack College. He went on to complete his master's of divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary. He enjoys reading widely, and preaching and writing on contemplative spirituality, justice-related issues, and the art of preaching. He's been married to Rosie since 2006 and they have two beautiful children, Karis and Nathan. More by Rich Villodas
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