Matthew 7:13-14 NASB
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is
wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who
enter through it. (14) "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads
to life, and there are few who find it.
(It’s an interesting fact
that an early name for Christianity was “The Way.”)
The Small Gate
Surely Jesus must’ve understood that the way to getting a
very popular religion would not include telling your followers that only a few
would make it. The idea that your religion requires a tough course of life is
rather unpopular today. In this author’s home church it’s hard to detect a
sense of suffering and sacrifice the earlier followers of Christ found as normal.
So please approach this as a lesson in what Jesus originally said — and I see
no reason to think it’s false today.
The Greek word used for “small” is somewhat unusual. It
carries with it the implication that there are obstacles nearby. That’s a common
metaphor in Christ’s teaching; you might remember the parable of the sower and
In that parable Christ tells us about three kinds of individuals for whom the
gospel message has no permanent effect.
One is the person who hears the word — and is immediately
distracted away from it. Christ’s analogy is that the birds eat the seed; we
need to remember that there is such a person as Satan. He doesn’t want you to
hear the gospel, and will do what is necessary to prevent you from listening.
The next kind of person is somebody with a shallow life. They’re
always searching for the newest and latest thing, and the gospel is just one
more “latest thing.” When it looks like the gospel is going to require lifelong
commitment, they move on to something else with a little less work to it.
Perhaps most deadly is the person who hears the word, begins to
grow and then is choked out by the cares of this world. It’s not that I don’t
want to be a Christian, it’s just that I have to worry about the mortgage, the
car payments, which schools the kids are going to get into and so on.
Surprisingly, when you tell people something like this they
react in a rather unusual way. They have the idea that God is not particularly
fussy; he’ll forgive just about anybody and that it doesn’t really matter what
you believe. Let’s examine that notion. Nature is the creation of that very
same God. You can tell what God is like by looking at nature, and one of the
most consistent things is that God allows nature to act in exactly one way. We
don’t have competing laws of gravity working on survival of the fittest, for
example. We have the fixed laws of nature. If you want stuff to work, you have
to follow the natural laws. In short, you have to do it God’s way. Tell me: why
do you think it would be any different in matters spiritual?
Therefore Christ tells you that you are to “make every
to get through this small gate. That implies that there is effort required, but
it is difficult, and that you need to get to work.
The Narrow Way
If the gate is small, the road leading up to it is narrow.
The Greek word used for narrow has an interesting couple of possibilities. It
can often be translated as “crowded.” You can kind of picture a bunch of people
coming in from abroad area and trying all final in through this narrow little
path. Strangely enough, the word for narrow is closely related to the word for
“tribulation” as well. By this careful selection of words Christ is trying to
tell you that not only will you find the balancing act of staying on the road
quite difficult, but you can have a lot of trouble along the way too. There is
some confusion about this word because of the translation in the King James.
The word used for “narrow” in the King James is “strait.” That’s the same word
we use in “Straits of Gibraltar”, meaning a narrow sea lane that goes by
Gibraltar. Is unrelated to the word “straight”, but they are homonyms and this
has caused some confusion.
It introduces us to the concept of holiness. Holiness sounds
like something that’s very ceremonial, but it actually means something which is
set apart. Something which is holy, in the original sense of the word, is
something which is set apart for a particular purpose. Perhaps an example might
make this a little clearer. But suppose you want to a concert arena to listen
to a concert. You, and all the other ticketholders, are going to go through the
front door in a large crowd. The rock group which you would door, on the other
hand, is going to go through a small door in the back, guarded by a mean, large
and ugly security guard. They are going through “the narrow way”; they are in
the original sense of the word “holy.” They are set apart. The concept is much
the same for us. Most of the world is going to try to get through the front door
with the rest of the crowd. Their motto in life is to get along and go along,
do what the crowd does, and be like other people. The Christian is told that he
cannot do this; he has to try the other path. The result is that you are going
to be “different.” Teenagers in America have an absolute horror of this idea;
youth ministers worked very hard to teach their charges to be different, while
telling them all along that they’re not different, they are really cool, and in
fact are not going the other way, but they are leading. One wonders whether
this sleight-of-hand is actually effective when the high school student reaches
college. The truth is that the Christian is genuinely different; he is walking
a different road and living a different way.
Note that a strait is bounded on two sides. A parallel for
us would be to look at it that legalism is on the right and “free thought” is
on the left. Satan’s intent is to push you to one side or the other, it doesn’t
matter which. For once he can push you off the path, you’re off the path.
That’s his objective. It doesn’t matter which wrong way you go, you’re going
the wrong way.
Of course one might ask the question: just why does God do
it this way? Well, does God really need more than a few? While it is quite the
case of Scripture says that “whosoever will” can be saved, it’s also true that
God has a taste for using the few, rather than the many. If you recall your Old
Testament, you recall Gideon reducing his forces down to 300 men. This just
might be a matter of self-selection; after all, Marines are volunteers.
Okay, you are wondering where I got that crack about
The Greek word for “few” can also be used as an adjective,
meaning “puny.” There is an interesting parallel in the Old Testament. Paul references
this in Romans 9:27-29, in which he refers to the “remnant.” It is a fact that
over and over again in the Old Testament God winnows out Israel by trial and
tribulation, Exodus and exile, and returns to himself just a very small portion
of those who started out. That portion is called the remnant. God told Elijah
that he had 7000 who had not bowed the knee.
The same concept is at work here.
That may seem uncomfortable to you. After all, we are raised
to believe that the majority is always right — especially in disputed things.
If you want to know which way to go, you hold an election, or at least take a
public opinion poll. What Jesus is telling you here is that the public opinion
poll is likely enough to give me the wrong answer. You have to look for the
truth and act accordingly.
A Military Analogy
Matthew 7:15-20 NASB
"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in
sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16) "You will know
them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from
thistles, are they? (17) "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree
bears bad fruit. (18) "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad
tree produce good fruit. (19) "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down
and thrown into the fire. (20) "So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Pardon this old soldier’s analogy, but I think it a very apt
one. The world is booby-trapped. Things look good, but they’ll blow up in your
face if you let them. We shall now see how this works.
Have you ever noticed that the traffic department tends to
have signs in day glow colors, with flashing lights, simple but gruesome
graphics along with very substantial concrete barriers? There’s a reason for
this. There are things out there on the road that are not good for you or your
car; it’s the traffic department’s job to make sure you don’t run into them.
They understand that you’re not particularly good at noticing the fact that the
bridges out. They have enough experience to know that if you don’t put up a
barricade and a large number of warning signs people will go around whatever
you put there and drive out under the middle of the bridge and off the bridge
and into the river without hesitation. If you give them a chance, they’ll do it
twice. We use bright, visible warning signs because nothing else will work.
Even then, people will ignore them.
Things would be a little easier for you to get Satan to do
the same thing. But in point of fact Satan camouflages his booby-traps so that
you think that everything is just fine; in fact, his booby-traps make you think
that everything is wonderful. Let’s look at the major categories.
Things usually start with the temptations of the flesh. A young
man’s fancy very quickly turns to… A young woman. We are very good at making
excuses and rationalization for our behavior, and it is no secret that most
Christians today believe there is nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage.
As a personal observation, the ministry seems to have given up speaking against
this. The facts haven’t changed however; a promiscuous start in life makes
maintaining a long-term marriage relationship much more difficult. Camouflage?
How about the statement, “how can anything his beautiful a sex possibly be
wrong?” Isn’t that just simply moral camouflage?
The temptations the flesh may eventually fade — though I’ve known
some elderly men who have vintage testosterone — but there quickly replaced by
the temptations of the world. We’ve got to have the right car, live in the
right neighborhood, have a cabin in the mountains, with a boat on the lake, and
our kids in the right schools. All of these things promise us the reward of
success. But have you ever noticed that when you get these things, something else
always pops up to take their place? If you get the boat, well, then you have to
get the right car. Once you have the right car you need to get that cabin. It
never ends — until you die and go to hell.
The best camouflaged of all temptations is pride. Let’s look at
it this way: “I’m too good a Christian to have sex outside of marriage; I’m not
tempted by the newest car and having a boat; I’m above all that. I am a great
Christian.” You might as well brag about how proud you are to be so humble.
Pride is an excellent cure to the temptations of the flesh and the world; C. S.
Lewis remarked that it’s like curing your cold by giving you cancer. How so?
Pride is the devil’s own sin; he wants to be like God.
Decoys and Deceptions
Of course, once you’ve gotten past the booby-traps of
temptation there are still the decoys and deceptions. It’s not sufficient to
avoid the wrong things; you also have to do the right things. Decoys and
deception tries to fool you into doing something other than the right thing,
thinking that it is the right thing. Let me give you some examples.
One of the most common is legalism. We’ve been saying all along
that you have to find the narrow way, and that implies that there is one
specific set of behavior that you have to adopt. The deception is that you can
adopt a set of rules and regulations to make this happen. How people can do
this and also talk about grace the same time is always a puzzle — but legalists
seem to be particularly good at solving it.
Another deception, quite common these days, is the message of
cheap grace. Jesus is presented as Savior, but not as Lord. If you’re having
problems with your life, Jesus is the answer. Raise your hand and join the
church and all will be well. Repentance? Well, we don’t really think that’s all
that necessary. After all, you have problems, not sins. This is often presented
as the antidote to legalism. You will not die cyanide poisoning if the
strychnine get you first.
Perhaps the most common throughout Christian history is the idea
that you can be a Christian with a limited commitment. One writer put it that
you “do a corner in Jesus Christ.” Jesus is confined to the holy section of the
house, prominently displayed so that all will know that you are a real
Christian. As long as you do what’s on the minimum to do list, you’re just
By Their Fruits
We have identified several of the decoys and deceptions, and
the camouflage temptations. The problem, of course, is that we can’t give you
every explicit minor detail of how these things are going to work. How do you
know when you’re being misled?
First, you’re going to be misled by people. You notice that
all of those mistakes up there are created by, administered by and
enthusiastically supported by people. So the real question boils down to this:
how do you know which people are misleading you? Remember, some of those people
misleading you don’t know that that’s what they’re doing; they are sincerely
wrong. They may be goodhearted about it, but wrong. To put it in my mother’s
language, “all the other lemmings are going over the cliff…” So you see that
you can’t just look for an evil personality. If I might be pardoned a personal
example: I wear an eye patch just like a pirate. Most of the time the little
children think it’s cool, but every now and then I find a four-year-old who is
convinced that they have found the source of all evil. They judge me by my
looks. We have the same problem as adults, though we are usually not fooled by
an eye patch. But we might be fooled by smooth speech, dignified position or
worldly success. So what are we supposed to do?
We are supposed to judge them by the fruits they produce.
The first thing we have to notice about this is that this will take time and
patience. It’s not something you can tell right away. So be patient about it,
think kindly of people — but be on your guard.
One of the key problems you have here is that these people
will be inside the church. Do you remember the parable of the wheat and
Christ makes it explicitly clear that there will be people who are deceivers
who are in the church; he will not remove them until he comes again to judge
the living and the dead. The reason is very simple; if you were those people
out of their seats at the first sign of trouble, the church will be in constant
turmoil. It is just possible that Christ is being merciful to people like this
in the hopes that they will not continue to be misled, and therefore mislead
others. So then have to face the fact that the deceivers are within us. So what
are we looking for?
The most obvious sign is that they cause dissension and
disharmony. This is necessarily an absolute indicator, but it is something to
watch. The reason it’s not an absolute indicator is that if someone comes into
the church with a brand-new doctrine that smells a little funny, the people who
think it smells funny can also be accused of causing dissension and disharmony.
Spotting dissension and disharmony is fairly easy; knowing who’s at fault is a
little more difficult.
One way to tell which person is causing the problem is to look
for signs of obviously false and unsound doctrine. If your minister is telling
you to light a candle, cross your legs on your yoga mat and recite “Om” then
perhaps you should be on your guard.
Another good sign that you have a problem is in the leader who is
obviously in it for personal gain. The most obvious kind of personal gain is
monetary; this fact causes me to question those who preach the “prosperity
gospel.” As Ray Stevens sings it, would Jesus wear a Rolex? But there is also
the personal gain of status and ego. Please make a distinction here: there are
some of us who are plain pigs for praise and compliments. We do what we do
because of the love of the Lord, but when you tell us that were good at it we
like it. There are others who do it because it enhances their position in life
and strokes their ego. The difference will become plain in time; those who do
it for ego gratification will be reluctant to offend you with the truth. Those
who do it for the love of the Lord will be reluctant to conceal the truth from
you because the damage that would do.
Who Is He?
All this leads up to the question: just how do I know what
this narrow gate and way really are? If you want the right answers, you have to
ask the right questions. It’s not “what?” It’s “who?”
Who Is Jesus?
The great paradox of Christianity is that it is not a set of
rules and regulations; it is not so much a lifestyle as a Lordship. The small
gate in the narrow way is Jesus. In that most personal of Gospels, John, we see
Jesus describes this way:
He calls himself the door of the sheep. He is
explicitly telling you that the path is following him wherever it might lead.
He is the entrance portal.
He calls himself “the good Shepherd.” This is a
commonly used phrase; consider its implications. The Shepherd guides his sheep;
Jesus guides his followers. The Shepherd protects his sheep; if you let him, he
will protect you. The question is whether or not you will act like sheep — and
He calls himself “the true vine.”
We’ve been talking about recognizing people by their fruits; it applies to
those of good fruits as well. If you see someone whose life is full of the
fruit of the Spirit then you know that this is someone who is in living contact
with Jesus. Conversely, however, if they are not in living contact with Jesus
you will not see those fruits. It is therefore important that you examine
yourself to see if you find those fruits of the Spirit.
You are what you eat — or at least they told us that back in
college when were eating the food at the dorm. It was not an encouraging
thought. But the principle applies spiritually; Christ tells us that he is the
“bread of life.”
If you spend your time watching salacious sitcoms, filling your mind with the
world’s philosophy, when you should be in contact with your Lord (learning what
he wants you to learn), the results will quickly become clear. Is your
spiritual leader Jesus Christ, or Homer Simpson?
He tells you that he is “the light of the world.” let’s take
that a little more literally than usual. Most of the people in this world have
no idea why the world is so screwed up. That’s why politicians can sell them
any number of crazy ideas; if you don’t know what the problem is, it’s really
hard to pick the right solution. If something goes bump in the night, you turn
on the light to see what it is. We do that physically, but were really
reluctant to do that spiritually. The spiritual equivalent is listening to
Jesus, particularly in reading the Scriptures. Do this long enough, the light
goes on, and you see what’s really wrong with this world. You may not be able
to fix it, but you can at least duck.
In this world he is “the way, the truth and the Life.” That sums
it up about nicely. As one of the great Saints observed, without the way there
is no going. Without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is
It is not just in this world that he is our Shepherd, but also in
the world to come. As he told Martha, he is the “resurrection and the life.” if we have
guidance and light in this world only, we still face the same fate of all
mankind: death. But our Lord has promised to return, bringing with him those
who have died in the faith. We are to be raised to a new body, given the new
life in the new heaven and the new earth. I do not know what this means; but I
know who said it — and I trust him completely. He will make it happen.
The very son of God descended from heaven and became a man
like us. He was sacrificed on the cross, died and then rose again. He ascended
into heaven and will return — soon. The small gate and the narrow way are not a
“what”; they are “who.”
Take up the Cross
There is a curious consistency among those who Jesus best.
They will consistently tell you that the Christian life consists of taking up
the Cross. The three most consistent themes that arise when someone mentions
this are these:
Sacrifice. In this world you going to have trouble, and if you
want to do what is right and follow your Lord and Master, you are going to have
to sacrifice. You’re going to have to give up what the world calls good things.
You may have to sacrifice your possessions; your ego; your desires; sometimes
even those you love. You sacrifice a lower priority for the highest priority.
You are going to endure suffering. Trust me on this one, the
world is going to make it happen. Christ said he is the light of the world; he
also said that you and I are the light of the world. The truth is the
cockroaches don’t like it when the light goes on. Unfortunately, the
cockroaches are in charge.
You must approach all of this with a childlike faith.
Christianity is not the religion of the cynic or the doubter, but the one who
trusts. It is no accident that one of the great descriptions of the church is
as the bride of Christ. Those who been married any length of time will tell you
that trust is absolutely essential to a successful marriage relationship.
That’s true with a man and woman; that’s true with Christ and his church. Keep
This is sort of like the final exam in your algebra class.
You’d like it to be easy; it’s hard. But it’s not optional; if you want to
pass, there’s only one way to solve the problems. Jesus Christ is the way, the
truth and the life.