“Belonging to the Way”
1. The earliest, and loveliest, and most meaningful designation of the church for itself is hardly ever used now–but it would help us if it were.
2. We hear it first when Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, is preparing to go to Damascus “so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2).
a. Those “belonging to the Way” are the same as “the disciples of the Lord” mentioned here, who are the same as “the church” Saul was ravaging (Acts 8:3).
b. This is one of Luke’s favorite terms for the Lord’s people and what they believe. Five other times in Acts he refers to “the Way” or “this Way” (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). In three other instances, he speaks of Christianity as “the way” with a qualifier like “of the Lord” or “of salvation.”
c. The word for “the Way” means “road, highway, way of life.” (ESV Study Bible, 2098) It is an easy metaphor because any person on a public path becomes known, and his goal and purposes are revealed by the road he takes. (H. L. Ellison, New Bible Dictionary, 1244)
3. That brings us to the question of why this concept so much a part of the thinking of the early church. What was the message it communicated to them? And shouldn’t it mean something to us now?
1. Belonging to the Way means Following Jesus.
a. In his book Word Pictures In The New Testament, A. T. Robertson noted that some North American Indians called Christianity “the Jesus Road.” (114)
i. That seems fitting. Like most readers of the New Testament, I expect, I can’t think of “the Way” without thinking first of him.
ii. I remember the conversation recorded in John 14:4-6.
iii. I think of the rich Old Testament background he was drawing on.
(1) Isa. 30:20-21
(2) Isa. 35:8-10
(3) Isa. 40:3-5, 10-11
b. Being “of the Way” means being committed to the idea that Jesus Christ is the one through whom anyone must come to the Father.
i. It means being so convinced of the proposition that he has been made both Lord and Christ that you will follow him wherever he leads.
ii. It means relying on what he has done and is doing, obeying him from the heart in all things, and abiding in him, no matter what.
iii. Belonging to the Way means being under the control of the word of Christ, under the care of the work of Christ, and in the company of those who walk with Christ.
c. There is, of course, challenge in this kind of talk about “the Way.”
i. There may seem to be a note of exclusiveness in it: Jesus, because of who he is and what he has done, is “the Way,” not “one of the ways.”
(1) F. F. Bruce wrote, “Christians spoke of their movement as ‘the Way,’ for to them it was the true fulfillment of Israel’s faith and the one way of salvation.”
(2) Everett F. Harrison observed, “...this group was asserting that it possessed the secret of salvation and life in an absolute sense. Christianity was not regarded as one way among many possible choices.”
ii. I wonder if that isn’t one of the reasons why some in those early days called “the Way” a sect (Acts 24:14) and persecuted it (22:4).
iii. People like to think “there are many paths to one Truth” (someone wrote an article with that very title, and I have a copy of it), but Jesus still says “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
iv. Any exclusiveness in the Way is Christ-centered, because of who he is and what he has done, not us-centered, as if we were somehow better than others.
v. He is the way for all of us, but there is not another way like him for any of us.
2. Belonging to the Way means a Manner of Life.
a. There are some important implications about the Christian life that arise from the passages in Acts which speak of Christians as “belonging to the Way.”
i. They had something about their lives in common, so much so that some people called them a sect (24:14).
ii. They could be found (9:2), that is, some things were so characteristic of Christians that they could be recognized and identified, no matter where they lived.
iii. They were such a contrast to the world in how they thought and behaved that they were sometimes spoken against, even persecuted (19:9; 22:4).
b. Following Jesus produces a way of life. E. M. Blaiklock observed that “the Way” is “a natural enough metaphor for a religion involving a code of moral conduct...”
i. People who are committed to the Lord model their lives after him. Their attitudes, goals, values, words and deeds are patterned after his example.
ii. It is not possible to truly believe in Christ and to come to God through him, and then to claim that we can go our own way in how we live.
iii. There is a lifestyle in “the Way.” You can see it in any of the New Testament letters.
1 John 2:3-6
1 Peter 2:21
a. In this sense, everyone is of some kind of “way.”
i. Harvey Porter once pointed this out in a piece he wrote.. He observed that some are confused and mixed up. Some are totally self-centered. Some know they are contrary to the way of God, but don’t really care. They fear no punishment in eternity, or may not even believe in eternity. They are selfish and do as they please. Some follow the crowd. But all of these become a “way of life.”
ii. Then he said, “Any of us can put down what is important to us in life, and what we give most of our time, talent and treasure to, and that is our way of life.”
iii. Jesus simplified the choices in Matthew 7:13, 14.
3. Belonging to the Way means Going Somewhere.
a. “The Way” is used in connection with the hope of life.
i. Acts 24:14-15
ii. Ironically, “this Way” which Paul said he once persecuted to the death (Acts 22:4) is actually the way of life!
iii. When a person hears the gospel, he learns “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). When he obeys it, he begins the journey that leads to life.
b. It may be that the likeness of the Christian life to a journey is why the thought of “the Way” appealed to Luke so much.
In his book on Acts, William H. Willimon points out that about half of the Gospel of Luke is an account of the Lord’s final journey toward Jerusalem
Then he reminds us of Luke’s account of the two despondent disciples’ journey toward Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection. They walked along in blindness, gloom, and abandoned hope. A mysterious companion walked along with them, charged them with lack of faith, then persuaded them that all that had happened to Jesus was nothing other than the way to glory. Finally their eyes were opened and their hearts were warmed.
Willimon then observes, “In recounting the last journey of Paul in Acts, Luke surely intends to convince Theophilus that the Christian way, though not without suffering, is no solitary, melancholy journey but a walk with Christ, who has not abandoned his faithful ones, like Paul, but will lead them through grief to glory.” It’s a great thought! Those who walk the way with Christ are going somewhere! (Acts, 149)
a. Psalm 107:4-9
All of us who are in Christ should understand ourselves as “belonging to the Way.” We are following Jesus. We are living like him. We are going somewhere.
There is a truth here that must not be missed.
The way has to actually be traveled, and all the way. It is necessary to begin the journey, and also to complete it.
Jesus has entered heaven as a forerunner on our behalf (Heb. 6:20), but he did not do it without enduring the cross (Heb. 12:1-2).
Remember that what the Way leads to is worth whatever walking it may demand.
1. The thought of “the Way” quite naturally confronts every person with a choice: do I belong to it, or not?