"The Old Paths" (June 2007)
“Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” (Jeremiah 6:16) The other day at prayer group one of the ladies was sharing this verse with us. She said that what stood out to her about the verse was the “old paths”. The verse didn’t say the “old days”. We hear so many Christians talking about “the good old days” and desiring to go back to them. This lady went on to say that we don’t need to go back to the good old days, we are in the right time now. We are in the time and season that God has ordained for us to be in, but instead what we need is to return to the “old paths”.
When she said this it made so much sense to me. It’s the “old paths” we have lost and are confusing them with the “good old days”. The reason we are longing for the “good old days” is because back then we were walking more in the “old paths” than we are today-- we have confused the terminology. It’s very obvious that we aren’t living (walking) in the same paths that our ancestors, or the early church, did. We have embraced a more “modern” Christianity- one that is more “update” and “with the times”. This desire to bring the gospel into the “Twenty-first century” has caused us to lose something along the way. Have you ever heard anyone say that we have to make the gospel more appealing to this new generation? I have. We have decided that it needs to be “seeker friendly”- whatever you are looking for we can “twist” the gospel to accommodate it. There is something else we have developed to make it easier for people. It’s called “situational ethics”. We tell people that whatever the situation you are in requires, act accordingly, go along with the situation. In trying to “modernize” the gospel and make it conform to the times, we have done away with the absolutes (those unchanging ethical truths revealed by God- also known as moral law). In doing so, we have wandered off the old paths.
When we talk about the old paths, what do we mean? The dictionary has many definitions for the word path- let’s focus on two of them: 1) A road, way, or track made for a particular purpose; the route or course along which something travels or moves; a narrow walk or way. 2) A course of action, conduct, or procedure. When the Bible talks about the “paths”, there is a twofold meaning. First, it is telling us that there is a particular route that we must travel. Secondly, it tells us that there is a course of conduct that we must follow. When it speaks of the “old paths”, it is talking about something that has been established in the past- not present nor future. It’s is something that originated at an earlier period or date. The “old paths” were established by God in the beginning and are routes that we are to follow, and moral behavior that we must demonstrate in our lives. “Thou wilt shew me the path of life.” (Psalm 16:11a) “Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path.” (Psalm 27:11a)
The first definition of path (a route or course along which something travels or moves) applies to everyone- Christian and non-Christian. For example, everyone has to get on and follow the correct path if they want eternal life. “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.“ (Matthew 7:13,14) “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) The Message Bible says, “I am the ‘Road’, also the Truth, also the Life.” The correct and only path to eternal life is through Jesus Christ- you can’t have eternal life apart from Him. The path to true peace is the same for everyone also. True peace is only found in Jesus Christ. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The second definition (a course of action, conduct, or procedure) is for the Christians. When we come to Christ, there is a certain behavior that we are to exhibit. There is a lifestyle that we are to portray. There are certain responses that are acceptable and unacceptable. There is a way we are to conduct our business affairs, our interpersonal relationships, our dealings with people in the world and those who are in the Body of Christ. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
What are the old paths? As we have already said they were established by God in the past. They are the paths that we are to follow, they are the way we are to conduct our lives, they are absolutes that don’t change with time, culture, philosophies and opinions of man, or “new and improved” ideas. The old paths are found in God’s word. They are His commandments, principles and code of ethics. Let me talk about some of the old paths that we have gotten away from.
One of the “old paths” is salvation through the Blood of Jesus. Many churches are preaching a “bloodless” salvation. They preach that the blood was symbolic not literal. The blood was not symbolic, it was very real. Blood poured from Jesus’ body- from His hands, His feet, His back, His forehead, from the top of His head to the soles of His feet. You don’t hear much about the cross either. Or the fact that there is only one Name that can save you. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22) “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18,19) “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) We have gotten away from the truth of salvation. We have made so many “paths” for people to be saved- paths of church membership, water baptism, good works. We are being taught that all “paths” lead to God, and God is whatever you perceive Him to be. These are all false paths and if you follow them, you will find yourself on the path to destruction- you will lose your soul. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
Another old path is that of holiness. Holiness is as seldom preached as the cross. But it is one of the most important characteristics in the Bible. Holiness means: the state of being holy, that is, set apart for the worship or service of God. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7) “To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:13) “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation, because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15,16) We are told that holiness is too old-fashioned. That is not the truth. Holiness may not be popular in this “anything goes” culture we live in, but it is not old-fashioned or out of date. Holiness is always becoming and fashionable. We are also told that it is impossible for us to be holy. That isn’t true either. If it were impossible, we never would have been given so many commands to be holy and walk in holiness. The path of holiness must be restored- it is a defining factor between those who belong to Christ and those who don’t. God is a Holy God and we must walk in holiness before Him.
Self-denial is another old path, but you don’t hear much about it either. Jesus taught it. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:34,35) We live in a self-absorbed, “if it feels good do it”, “you only go around once in life”, and “it’s all about me” society. Sadly, this thinking has invaded the church also. Everything centers around “me”- if I feel like it I’ll do it, if it doesn’t inconvenience me, if it fits into my schedule, if it makes me happy, if there is something in it for me to gain. Where is the preaching to take up our cross, to relinquish our rights to the Lord, surrender our hearts to Him, give up our lives, put Him first and me last, and make Him Lord? What ever happened to living a crucified life? “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:210) We don’t know what it’s like to live a life of self-sacrifice; which is what the Lord has called us to live. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) Whatever happened to it being all about Him? It stopped being all about Him and started being all about us when we got off the old path.
There is not enough room for me to talk about the many other old paths like the doctrine of hell, sin, death, righteousness, obedience. We have gotten away from them also. Most believe that hell is not real, sin is a religious fanatical thing, death is just a state of unconsciousness, righteousness is not necessary, and obedience is not mandatory. We have also left the path of grace and perverted it’s goodness by living any way we want and believing that it’s no big deal God will forgive us. I could go on and on- these are only a few.
Are the old paths really necessary? Can’t we make it without them? Won’t we be better off by telling people what they want to hear, what will make them happy, what will not make them feel so uncomfortable, and giving them what they want? Can’t I just make a profession and it be enough? If the old paths weren’t necessary, God would not have told us to ask for them- “ask for the old paths”. To ask for something implies that you don’t have it. When the Lord says to ask for something it’s because it is necessary.
When my mother in law was a little girl, they lived in an area where you had to walk across a stream to get to where you wanted to go. In order to cross the stream you would have to walk on a log that was used as a bridge. Most of the travel they did was on foot and often at night. They didn’t have lights to help them see so they would have to make sure they did not venture off of the path or they could wind up lost or in the stream. Staying on the path kept them safe. God’s paths are necessary because they lead us somewhere- paths to eternal life, paths to peace, paths to victory, etc.- and help us arrive at our destination safely. If we stay on the paths that God has placed for us to follow, we will not “wind up in the stream”. Our opening scripture calls them “the good way”. Staying on the old paths will keep us from a lot of grief and heartache. They will make us wise. They give us direction to navigate through this life. They are the paths of peace. Many think that by getting rid of them our lives would be better. On the contrary, when we forget and forsake the old paths we are asking for destruction. For example, prayer was taken out of school (which happens to be an old path). Did it make getting an education better? Did it solve the problems that young people were facing? Or did it open up a whole new set of problems because it removed the absolutes and gave access to immorality, selfishness, addiction, rebellion, abortion? “The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace.” (Isaiah 59:8- NKJV)
The old paths are established paths and have served as a firm foundation for thousands of years. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-NKJV) Although they were established from the very beginning, they are not obsolete, they are relevant for today. There are benefits for walking in the old paths. “And ye shall find rest for your souls.” Rest for your souls indicates peace, an inner peace, the lack of struggle and fear. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? Isn’t the cry of the world- “peace”? Peace is a benefit of staying on the old path. When you stay on the old paths, you receive nothing but benefits. Let me share some more of them with you. “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.” (Psalm 65:11)-- abundance. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalm 24:10)-- mercy and truth. “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11)-- life.
“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:10,13-16- NIV) At the time of this writing by Jeremiah, Israel’s condition seems very much like ours. The word of the Lord was offensive to them, they had no pleasure in it, they rebelled against it, they were living like they wanted to live, their evil lifestyle didn’t bother them, they were lulled by a false sense of peace. They had forsaken and turned from the old paths and were following new paths of their own making. As a result, they were facing judgment. God warned them and gave them the solution-- return to the old paths. “Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein”. This is our solution today also-- return to the old paths and walk in them. Israel rejected God's solution and would not forsake their own paths to follow His. Because of it they suffered the consequences- they brought destruction upon themselves. Will we heed God’s warning and stop our compromise and rejection of God’s paths? Or will we continue to go our own way following our own paths? The decision we make determines the outcome. If we don’t return to the old paths, we will face certain destruction and judgment. If we do return and reestablish the old paths, we will gain life, peace and safety.