Matthew 7: 13-14
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
These two verses can stir up a lot of confusion if you interpret them wrong. For example, here’s the way I’ve heard them:
The narrow way is the way to the Cross. The narrow gate is the Cross. Once we’ve found Jesus we’ve entered into the narrow gate.
So far, I agree with this. But what’s so hard about the narrow way? Is the road after we believe a hard one or an easy one?
This verse seems to say that the road after the Cross is hard and few stay on the path. The easy roads are the ones that lead to destruction. But why? If we are saved by God’s grace, isn’t that all we need to enter heaven? Then why is the road so hard and narrow?
This “narrow way” isn’t a superhighway with rest stops every five miles. It is more like a dangerous mountain road with cliffs on each side and no guard rails. It’s a place where we can fall off at any moment. Yet we tell children that the way to heaven is easy and safe. If the Christian way is so hard, then why would anyone want to take it?
This conflict of the Christian walk as both hard and easy creates conflict. One such conflict is called eternal security. Some Christians teach that we can fall off those cliffs and lose our salvation—in other words, that we start for heaven, but never get there, because we were careless along the way. Another group believes that once we are saved, we’re always saved-- that God guarantees us no matter what we do, we’ll stay on the road. This leads to people not taking the dangers seriously.
Another controversy is Lordship Salvation. One group says that you can’t just say believe in Jesus to be saved. You must follow Him as your Lord as well.
But this also causes problems. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by our own works. (Eph. 2:8-9) It’s His love, and not ours that saves us. If we must be obedient, then salvation isn’t free. Salvation becomes like a car purchase with no down payment, but high premiums for the rest of our lives. That’s not a free gift, because it’s buying on the installment plan.
But if it’s all about just believing, and there’s no effort, then how is that a hard road? Do we think that God is just as happy with us when we sit back and do nothing to serve Him as He is with us giving our lives in service and martyrdom?
One way the church has dealt with this puzzle is to talk about two judgments. One is for who gets into heaven, and one is for rewards in heaven (kind of like flying first class or tourist). But if heaven is perfection, then how can there be more of perfection? It’s already perfect, so how can the way to heaven be both hard and easy?
If we look at the context of these verses in the Sermon on the Mount, an answer presents itself. The narrow way isn’t just going to heaven, but it’s following Jesus. The narrow way is the road in pursuit of the imitation of Christ. The destruction is not only hell, but the destruction is our works due to a purposeless and useless existence. We can never get back the hours, days, and years we lost when we are off this road.
Have you heard the expression “killing time?” It’s more than just an expression—it’s real. Every moment we waste is a moment we can’t get back. If we waste a moment, it’s gone forever.
Sadly, many people come to the end of our days before they have ever really begun to live. The time we have on this world will be destroyed before it is used. This is what Paul writes about in the passage that is often used to describe the second judgment—in I Corinthians 3: 10-15,
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Finding our way to heaven isn’t hard. What’s hard is finding the way of heaven. That’s the narrow way. How can we live today, so that something of worth and value will be left? Will our lives be wasted on trivia, or spent on following Jesus? We want to keep the value of our days and hours, so that something of our life on this earth will endure.
To make our lives count we must stay on the path. It’s narrow and hard, like walking a tightrope. But it can be done. God will help us every step.
Think about walking the narrow way like walking a tightrope. Balance is everything. If we look to the right or the left, we can fall off. To walk the narrow way, we need to know how to keep our balance.
I believe there are four main balances that we need to keep in order to keep walking the narrow way.
1. First, there’s the balance of head and the heart. We must use both our brains and our emotions. God guides us through the intelligent study of the Word of God and by His revelation of the Spirit in our hearts. If we don’t have both, then we can easily lose our balance.
Study God’s word. Read it seriously, studying it like we study anything else, applying our brain, looking at the original source material, consulting with experts, analyzing, reading critically, and testing its truth against whatever else we know. Studying God’s word is a lifelong study, and we cannot afford to be lazy.
Many Christians think Bible study is only for the young. They already think they know it all. These people are sadly mistaken, and cheat themselves woefully. If you believe exactly like you did twenty years ago, you have given up thinking. Keep our minds sharp in God’s service.
We also need to keep our hearts passionate. God doesn’t just speak through the mind, but through our feelings. Don’t lay off worshiping either alone or in community. If you are not regularly worshiping with others, your hearts are already growing cold to Him.
Don’t neglect the importance of feelings in your life or in others’ lives. Feelings are one of the ways we hear God’s voice. All of us have times when our feelings don‘t line up with God’s. We hate people who God loves. We grow tired of compassion. Don’t fear when you discover your emotional life is not perfect, but go to God and ask Him to help you with your feelings. Own up to your struggles, and trust God to help.
2. Then there’s the balance of action and submission. Following God means learning to be still and learning when to move. Before we get involved in serving Him in the world, we must first learn to be quiet and wait. For that we learn the inner disciplines of prayer, fasting, silence, and submission.
When you teach a dog obedience, the first command you teach is “sit.” It is the key command that leads to all other commands. Before a dog learns to fetch or come, it must first learn to sit. So it is with God, before we can learn to preach, teach, lead, or prophesy, we must first learn how to sit in silence and wait our turn. Impatience causes us to miss God’s voice.
But sitting also has a danger. Many Christians stay sitting when they should be moving. They are not so much standing on the promises as sitting on the premises. So, we need to learn the daily habits of obedience in action, which includes public worship, loving one another, forgiveness, witnessing, and works of charity.
3. There’s the balance of self-awareness and community awareness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Let those who will not be in community fear being alone. Let those who will not be alone fear being in community.”
The word “holiness” is really all about boundaries. We must be aware of what belongs to God and what belongs to ourselves. The person who forms his view of Himself based on his relationship to others, is not being holy to the Lord. It doesn’t matter what others say about you. It only mattes what God says about you.
But Christians belong to a greater community. The Bible does not teach a kind of holiness that is purely personal. He calls us to be part of the church in general. Our relationship with other believers is a sacred trust and calling.
4. There’s the balance of heritage and hope. Our relationship with God leads us to the past and the future. Christianity didn’t begin yesterday. We have a heritage two thousand years old, of godly men and women learning how to seek God, making mistakes and learning from them. We have traditions that go back deep in time. If we ignore all this, then we become tumbleweeds, without roots, and driven by every wind of fads and currents.
On the other hand, we must also be willing to change. We must believe optimistically that God can change us, and be willing to change. If we look to the past too much, then we get stuck there. If we look too much to the future, then we can lose our way.
All of this seems hard. Well, that’s why it’s called the Narrow Way! But there is a much simpler way of saying it. Just follow Jesus, and do what He did. He was all these things, and more. Trust the Spirit, too. God’s Spirit can give us the power to change, even when conforming our lives to Him is so very hard.
Follow Him; make Him your model. Don’t worry too much about the sides. Jesus walked this road before you. Most people get tangled up in looking right or left, backwards or forwards, and they fall off the road. Just look to Jesus and you will make it to the end.