One of the worst things that can be taught in religion is that all roads eventually lead to heaven. It is not true, of course, which is bad enough in itself, for all lies are harmful. But in addition to being false, the idea that all ways are equally good is damnable [“worthy of divine condemnation”] since the one who follows any way other than that laid out by Jesus Christ will perish in the life to come.
This is what Jesus stresses in the concluding section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7.13-27. He has instructed His followers in the way to blessedness before God. He has reaffirmed the abiding importance of the Old Testament, explaining that it demands a true internal righteousness and not merely an outward conformity to certain regulations. He has examined the chief areas of religious piety and has even talked about the relationship of the believer to the world. He has summarized His teaching by the Golden Rule. Now He wraps up His sermon by insisting that the only way to heaven is by obeying or building on His words. All other ways, however wise, plausible, or attractive they may seem, lead to condemnation.
We can put it another way. Having shown what God requires of those who would belong to His kingdom, Jesus now warns His listeners about falling by the wayside through apathy, the deceit of false teachers, hypocrisy, or sheer folly, and thus failing to enter the kingdom. Jesus is impressing on His hearers the difference between real and merely nominal discipleship. In four short paragraphs Jesus calls for wholehearted commitment to Himself and denounces spurious discipleship. He speaks about two ways that lie before people, about the importance of living fruitful lives, and about deeds that back up one’s words. He concludes with the little parable of the two men who built their houses, one on rock and one on sand, and the fate of such buildings when the time of testing came.
What Jesus says in these last verses is that everyone must choose either one or the other of two ways, exactly what Jeremiah said when he wrote of “the way of life and the way of death” (Je.21.8), or what the first psalm urges when it contrasts those who “walk in the counsel of the wicked” with those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” (vv.1–2). Here Jesus presses His points by a series of four contrasting images. He speaks of two gates (and two paths), two trees (or teachers), two claims (or professions), and two builders (or foundations). In each case the choice of the one way leads to heaven; the choice of the other leads to hell.
Today, we will take a look at what Jesus means when He says, “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. For the gate is narrow the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (vv.13-14)? Do we go through the gate to get onto the road? In that case, the gate would be conversion and the road would be the Christian life. Do we enter the path in order to reach the gate and pass through it either to hell or heaven? In that case, the gate would be death. Or is the path continuing in Christ’s teachings until we come to the point of regeneration or conversion?
There have been strong defenders of each option, of course. But each position is probably guilty of making false distinctions. These verses treat the gate and the road alike, which means they are probably two images for the same thing. In other words, there are only two ways, whether you think of them as gates to be entered or roads to be pursued. The important point is that you make sure you enter the gate and travel on the road that leads to life.
Still, “making sure” is probably too weak a way of capturing what Jesus is saying by this first set of contrasts. Jesus is speaking of a narrow gate and a narrow road as contrasted with a wide gate and a wide road, and He is warning us against taking the easy as opposed to the difficult way. At this point the two images work together, which is why He combines them as He does. Both teach the comparative ease of drifting along through life to damnation as opposed to the difficulty of pursuing and gaining eternal life.
Many who preach the Gospel today are out of step with Jesus in this matter. They may preach a gospel, but they make it sound easy to become a Christian and be saved. Jesus did not. William Hendriksen had it right when he wrote, “Our Lord does not follow the method that is used by certain self-styled revivalists, who speak as if ‘getting saved’ is one of the easiest things in the world. Jesus, on the contrary, pictures entrance into the kingdom as being, on the one hand, most desirable; yet, on the other, not at all easy. The entrance-gate is narrow. It must be ‘found.’”
Jesus makes it clear that there are two ways in life, and two ways only, that are set before people; thus, it is important that the right choice be made.
This is an important word for you if you are drifting along in your religion, even if your religion is Christianity. Do not assume you are on the way to life unless you are actually pursuing it in obedience to Christ. Jesus did not teach that it would be easy either to become or be a Christian. He said it would be difficult. Anything worthwhile is.