Shortcuts usually seem like a good idea, but unfortunately they don’t always work out. In our Christian lives, they can be even more dangerous.
The year was 1846, and the place was Springfield, Illinois. James Reed, a businessman who hoped to prosper in California and perhaps find a better climate for his wife’s health, decided to head west. His family was one of many that joined George Donner’s wagon train going west.
Some accounts say that 90 people, from infants to the elderly, left Springfield; others say that about 32 people left Springfield, but that many others joined them as they traveled westward. By the time they reached St. Louis, Missouri, their caravan is said to have stretched for two miles while underway.
Whatever the numbers, historians describe the episode they were about to experience as one of the most dreadful tragedies in the record of westward migration in the United States.
The trip went relatively well until they reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming. There the Donner party split off from the main body of the wagon train to take a shortcut that was advised in a guidebook written by Lansford W. Hastings.
Reportedly, Mr. Reed asked an old friend who had just come from California what he thought of the shortcut. His response was adamant: “Don’t do it. … You can’t take wagons that way. Go the old route. Be safe. You’ll perish.”
Mr. Reed replied, “There’s a newer route, and we might as well take it.”
The shortcut was supposed to be easier and cut 300 miles off the trip! However, as is often the case, the shortcut didn’t live up to its promises. It involved traversing narrow, rugged canyons in the Wasatch Mountains, enduring several days without water in the Great Salt Lake Desert and taking a detour south around the Ruby Mountains—all before they rejoined the main trail where they still faced the daunting challenge of crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Pioneers were on a tight schedule to get over the mountains before winter. Unfortunately, the shortcut had put them at this final step in their trek later than expected. Just a few days into the crossing, the party was trapped by an early heavy snowfall.
By the time they could get help, some had resorted to extreme and unimaginable measures in order to survive. Depending on which account you read, only about 45 survived out of the over 80 who took the shortcut.
Sometimes it’s better not to take the shortcut!
On your spiritual journey, don’t take shortcuts
If we are following Christ, we are following a path that will eventually lead us to the Kingdom of God. It may not always be an easy path to follow. As Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life” (Matthew 7:14).
“Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). As we follow this path, we must be mindful of people along the way who promote shortcuts.As we follow this path, we must be mindful of people along the way who promote shortcuts. For instance, some would have us believe that since Christ died for our sins, there is no need for us to be concerned about keeping His laws. But what does God’s Word tell us?
Paul wrote, “Shall we sin [break God’s laws] because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15).
Paul continued in verse 18, “Having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
What does it mean to be set free from sin? “The wages of sin is death” (verse 23). But Christ died in our place to remove that penalty of eternal death from those who have repented. Now that we are set free from eternal death, we are to live a life of righteousness. That’s why Paul said in Romans 3:31, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
Once we come to the knowledge of the truth and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we must repent of our sins and begin living God’s way of life.
John, the beloved disciple of Christ, wrote, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6).
God is symbolized by light; that is, He is holy and pure. He has no sin, which is symbolized by darkness. Therefore, John is telling us that if we live in sin—darkness—we do not have fellowship with Christ.
Unfortunately, there are times when we do sin (verse 8). And because we are human, we are weak and require God’s help to overcome the evil pulls of this world. Nevertheless, we cannot use this as an excuse to not strive to overcome sin. Therefore, it is important to recognize our sins and ask God for forgiveness (verse 9).
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). However, some use this verse to try to say that the law is completed or ended. But the word fulfill literally means cram or fill up or make full. Jesus was simply stating that He made the law more complete by adding the spiritual aspect of the law. (Read more about this in our article “Jesus and the Law.”)
What God expects of us
A prophecy in Isaiah 42:21 about the coming Messiah states, “The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt [magnify, King James Version] the law and make it honorable.”
Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. He did not do away with the law but, in fact, magnified it and made it even more honorable! When you magnify something, you make it larger so that you can see the details better. Originally, people only recognized the letter of the law, but now Christ revealed the spiritual application of the law.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave examples of this magnification, starting with the Sixth Commandment. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Then in Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus explained the spiritual application of the Seventh Commandment. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
There are other examples that Jesus cited, but just from these it is easy to see that Jesus did not do away with God’s law. He magnified it, bringing it more into perspective so that we can more fully understand it and appreciate it. In other words, He made the law even more honorable.
Examining more shortcuts
Another scripture some people use to try to shortcut the need to obey God’s law is found in Romans 3:21: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” They quote this verse to try to show that we do not need to keep the law, and that the law was done away.
If this were true—if the law no longer existed—how could the righteousness of God be witnessed by it? If the law were done away or no longer in force, why would Paul even mention this fact? It wouldn’t make sense.
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Galatians 3:13). Notice that this verse says that we are redeemed from the curse of the law, not the law itself. The curse of the law is the penalty of death that we receive from breaking the law. But we are redeemed from the death penalty because Christ died in our place.
James also wrote, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). For instance, those who believe they shouldn’t steal or murder are still guilty of breaking the law if they do not also observe the true Sabbath day, which is on the seventh day of the week, Saturday (Exodus 20:8-11). (For a biblical study of this subject, read our free booklet The Sabbath: A Neglected Gift From God.)
According to the Bible, if we break the Sabbath, it’s as though we have broken all the law!
Beware of deceivers
The Bible tells us that many are deceived (Revelation 12:9). We should not be surprised, because Jesus warned, “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5).
Paul also wrote of these deceivers. “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:13-17).
To escape from deception and ensure that we are not deceived, we need to draw close to the trunk of the tree. That is, we need to draw close to the Word of God and His laws. In Acts 24:14 Paul said, “But this I confess to you, that according to the way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.”
We also need to believe all things written in the Law and the Prophets.
The end of the journey
If we are living a Christian life, we are on a path that will eventually lead us to the Kingdom of God. But at any given time we could reach our Fort Bridger. There we must decide whether to try a shortcut that is highly promoted in our modern world, or to stay on the path that Jesus and the apostles revealed.
Don’t fall for a deadly spiritual shortcut.
History records that those who stayed with the main body of the wagon train—those who did not take the Donner party’s shortcut—arrived safely in California. And if we stay on the true narrow path, we, too, will arrive at our desired destination—God’s Kingdom.
For a concise, helpful biblical study of the Christian path, download our booklet Change Your Life!