Please turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7. Take a look at verses 13 and 14. “13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Jesus here mentions a narrow gate and a wide gate. He seems to be talking about the way to heaven and the way to hell. He speaks of the narrow gate leading to life and the wide gate leading to destruction. He also talks about the wide gate being the easy way and the narrow gate being the hard way. We believe that we are saved by Christ alone, not by works. But a hard way seems to suggest a works based salvation. Like we are working hard to make our way, because while it is the hard way, the narrow gate is the way that leads to salvation. I admit I was struggling with where to go with these two verses. I think that I have always had a wrong picture of this in my head until one of the commentaries helped me to picture this in a different. I think that I have always tended to picture this as two paths leading to two gates. One path is wide and open, level, with no obstructions leading to the wide gate. And on the other side is the narrow path, which is rocky, more uphill, difficult, tight constricted, but it eventually leads to the narrow gate. And then beyond the wide gate is destruction or hell and beyond the narrow gate is paradise or heaven.
That is kind of how I have pictured it. When I think of the entrance to heaven I think of a gate, so I think that I naturally picture the path leading up to the gate. But that picture doesn’t really fit with my theology of salvation by grace rather than works. Because it would point toward working really hard to get to the narrow gate so that we could get into heaven. And if we are saved by grace and not works then that doesn’t fit with what I believe.
I think some people have this image of heaven, like you need to work really hard, do a bunch of good things, give a lot of money, so on and so forth to earn a place in Heaven. And so if we were talking to someone who believes that then we would probably tell them that no matter how hard we work, we can’t earn salvation. We can’t get back to God on our own, but God loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.
The image in my head of the hard and narrow path leading to the gate to heaven and the easy and wide path leading to the gate to hell, didn’t really work.
But William Hendricksen, in his commentary, pointed out something that helped me recognize the flaw in the way that I was picturing this. He pointed out that in the passage the gate comes first and then the way. I had not noticed that before. With this image in mind it begins with Christ’s work, and not our own. He saves us and starts us on a life of following him. We pass through the gate first. Salvation is ours. The hard path on the other side of the gate is not talking about earning our way to Heaven, it is talking about what it really means to be Christ’s disciple. It is the life of discipleship that is compared to the narrow road. So this means that it is not about us working hard to be saved, but rather recognizing that the life of a Christ follower is tough. Being on the narrow way is not easy. We are called to take up our cross daily and follow him. We are called to deny ourselves. We are called to be salt and light. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to be witnesses and to make disciples and to use the gifts he has given us to bless one another. We are called to live in unity and harmony and to not give in to our anger and to choose to do things God’s way rather than our own, and all the things we are called to do as Christ’s followers. Not because doing those things save us, but because that is what Christ following looks like. So we pass through the gate and become followers of Christ at the moment of salvation. But the gate represents the beginning of the journey, not the end of it. And while our salvation does not depend on how we do on the journey, the journey itself is tough.
Understand it is natural for us to want to choose the easy way. And it is natural for us to choose the way that most people are traveling. But that is not what we have been called to do. Throughout Scripture we see this image of discipleship not being easy. We see the idea of facing trials, temptations, suffering, persecution, carrying our cross, denying ourselves so on and so forth throughout the Bible. Do you ever feel like the life of a disciple is tough? Is it okay that it is tough? Why would we want to expose ourselves to a tough road like that? Is it just so that we can get to Heaven? No. It is because God has a better plan for us as we follow him and do things his way. Just because it is tough, does not mean that it is worse. Tough can also be good. Think back to the disciples, they gave up their lives to embark on a journey with Christ and I am sure it was tough. They left family and their regular lives behind. They faced what was probably many exhausting days of following Christ. But it was good. Do you think they would have traded that journey for some other easier one? No.
Just because the way may be tough, does not mean that it is not good. I look at it this way. Many people follow Christ enough to be fed. They follow him enough to ask him to be their Savior. They may even attend church and pray and ask him to meet their needs and stuff like that, but when it comes to giving up their lives to embark on a journey with him they draw the line there.
So going back to our passage, they have walked through the gate, but they basically want to go through the gate and then take the wide and easy path. But I believe that Christ is calling us to more than that. I believe that he is calling us to embark on a journey with him. I believe that he wants us to be his disciples. Denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following him. This is about Lordship. It is about sanctification. It is about letting Christ decide how we are going to live and what we are going to do with our lives. It is us following him above all else, being willing to follow his path even when the way is hard and tough and may not seem to be going in the way we want to go.
Why would we do that? Why would we put ourselves through that? Because God has a deeper life for us! It may not be easy, but it is better. It is his Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. It may not always be easy but God is calling us to be apart of his Kingdom.