I hope that over that past several weeks you have taken some time to look over and meditate upon these two verses:
Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
I have been thinking about and praying over these verses for several weeks. I wish I could dogmatically tell you what they mean, but I can't. I do want to let you know that I could not find anyone who agrees with my interpretation of these verses. That is very unusual, I can normally find someone who sees things the way I do. I trust there are others who see these verses like I do, I just haven't found them. I don't like standing alone, but at this present time I am persuaded that my understanding is correct. I ask and pray that each of you will be a Berean and listen to what I have to say and then study it out and decide for yourself.
Now that I have your attention, let's look at these verses and see if we can make sense of them. The majority opinion is that these verses are talking about eternal life and eternal damnation. Christianity is the narrow and difficult way that leads to life.
To understand these verses, we must again ask the question that we answered in the introduction to this series, "To whom was the Sermon on the Mount intended?" Do you remember my answer? I said that it was addressed to, "All believers". To be born again is to be a kingdom citizen:
Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,
Who is the "us"? Believers! In Colossians 1:2 Paul says that he is writing to the "saints"!
Jesus' audience for this sermon is described by Matthew like this:
Matthew 5:1-2 (NKJV) And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
"And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying." Who is the antecedent of "them"? It is the disciples! "His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying." This sermon, or teaching, is primarily for the disciples. Again confirming what we already know, and that was that the Sermon on the Mount was meant for the already saved portion of society. Though the disciples where the target audience, they were not the only audience:
Matthew 7:28-29 (NKJV) And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
As Jesus taught his disciples, the crowd listened in with astonishment. So, although He is primarily addressing his disciples, the Lord is aware that others are present as well.
So, we could see in these verses that the Lord does not lose sight of the larger audience. Among other things, He warns them to "start out right" by entering through "the narrow gate" (Matthew 7:13). In the light of the rest of the New Testament, this can refer to man's narrow and restricted way to God, which is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Does that make sense to you? It certainly could be what Jesus is teaching, it is clearly a truth taught throughout the Bible. Jesus said:
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
That is narrow! Jesus says that He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.
Have you ever heard someone say, "It doesn't matter what you call Him we are all worshiping the same God but by different names"? There is no such thing as a Christianity that stands side by side with Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, and says, "We worship one God under many names."
Christians believe, fundamentally, of necessity, that there is one true God. This true God is not Allah. This true God is not Krishna. This true God is not the god of Joseph Smith or Buddha or the Jews. This true God is the Lord Jesus Christ!
Titus 2:13 (NKJV) looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
Jesus Christ is God. And as God, He seeks true worship, worship based upon a knowledge of who He is in reality, based upon His revelation to man. He does not grant to man the freedom to worship Him in a manner that pleases the creature rather than the Creator. God is particular about His worship. His worship is intimately, vitally connected to truth. Without truth, there is no worship of the Christian God:
John 4:24 (NKJV) "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Christianity is all about Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. He is the only true God. The heart of the issue is who is Jesus Christ? People need to understand who Jesus Christ really is. Who He is and what He has done can change not only our lives - but our eternity. Who is Jesus? The Bible tells us very clearly in:
Philippians 2:9-11 (NKJV) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The word "name" is the Greek word onoma, which can mean: "name, rank, or personality." Here the emphasis is on title or rank above all ranks - position.
What is the name above all names? The movement of verses 9-11 does not stop at the phrase "gave him the name" but flows straight on to the universal confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, which suggests that the significant thing is the ascription of "LORD".
Verse 10 is a pretty direct quotation of Isaiah 45:23 where Yahweh, having declared himself to be the only God and only Savior, vows that He will yet be the object of universal worship. It is this divine honor that is now bestowed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christianity affirms that Jesus Christ is God, all other religions deny it.
Listen, people, to the words of the Bible:
1 John 2:22-23 (NKJV) Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also
To deny that Jesus is God is to be antichrist. To deny the Son is to deny the Father. This condemns not only Judaism but all other religions as well.
So, Christianity is a narrow way, you come through Jesus Christ or you don't come at all. That is narrow enough but the gospel is even narrower than that. Salvation comes through faith in Christ ALONE!
Most forms of the gospel being preached today are what I would call faith-plus gospels. These say that faith in Christ for eternal life is necessary, but that it is not enough. Works must accompany faith in order for a person to make it to heaven.
Salvation is not of faith plus works, it's all faith! You may think that this is basic and beyond saying, but all religions add human works to faith. Religion teaches that faith alone is not enough. The Judeazers taught faith plus works:
Acts 15:1 (NKJV) And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
They taught that faith alone wasn't enough, you must also be circumcised to be saved. There are many today who teach a "faith plus works salvation".
Catholic theology says, "By my deeds I can not only earn merit for myself, but if I earn more merit than I need to get into heaven, my extra merit goes into the treasury of merit to be applied to somebody else to get them out of purgatory." What that says is, "Not only can I by my merit earn my own salvation, but I can over earn it and apply what is left to someone else's salvation." This is salvation by faith plus works and this is denying the sufficiency of Christ's work. Those who hold the Catholic views are not Christians, because they trust themselves, not Christ.
The only condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ. Even a casual reading of the Gospel of John, the only book in Scripture whose purpose is evangelistic (John 20:31), makes this clear. "He who believes in Me has everlasting life" (John 6:47). "He who believes in Him is not condemned" (John 3:18). "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24). "Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die [spiritually]" (John 11:26).
Faith in Christ is the conviction that He is the Guarantor of eternal life for every believer. Many add to what Jesus said and end up with this distorted gospel: "He who believes in Me and turns from His sins and perseveres in good works shall live." That is not what Jesus promised.
Some say, "Yes, He is the Giver of eternal life; however, to be saved takes more than just believing. You must also commit your life to Him, turn from your sins, confess Him, obey Him, be baptized, etc., etc., etc." Once again, if a person is convinced that this distorted message is true, then he doesn't believe what Jesus is saying. Jesus made it clear that the only condition is being convinced that He guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him. Add anything to that, and you have a different gospel.
We know that the Roman Catholics teach that we are saved by faith plus works. Lordship Salvation teaches that we are saved by faith that works. But don't both definitions include works as a condition necessary for faith to be valid, for faith to be effectual? Either way, works are a necessary condition of eternal salvation.
To make works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit. The Scriptures are clear that we cannot confuse grace with merit lest we boast (Eph 2:8-9). It confuses Christ's work with what we are required to do. We are required to believe in order to be saved. It is Christ's obedience that saves us:
Romans 5:19 (NKJV) For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.
It's not our obedience that saves us, it's Christ's obedience that saves us. We are the recipients of the blessing of the work that He has done for us. The only requirement for salvation is that we believe the gospel. Not only is believing the gospel enough, but it is the only way to salvation. Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. Do you believe this?
So, Jesus could be teaching in Matthew 7:13-14 that Christianity is a very narrow way; you enter only by faith in Christ alone. This is what the Bible teaches. But I am not convinced that this is what Jesus is teaching in this text.
It seems to me that Jesus is not talking about the gate and road to Christianity but to discipleship. Let me share with you why I think these verses deal with discipleship:
Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Jesus is here saying that this way is narrow and difficult. Let's look at some of the Greek words that are used in these verses. The word for "narrow" is stenos, which means: "difficult, distressful, narrow by reason of obstacles which surround it, difficult to continue or hold up."
I don't see coming to faith in Christ as "difficult", it is impossible apart from a work of God. God gives us life and the faith to believe. What is "difficult" here is the practice of the principles that the Lord Jesus has taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. Living this way calls for commitment, discipline, it is a difficult way. These verses must be taken in context with the golden rule and all the things Jesus taught in the preceding verses. This is a narrow and difficult way.
"Enter by the narrow gate", says Christ at the beginning of our passage, and that this is far from being an easy thing to do appears from His word on another occasion:
Luke 13:24 (NKJV) "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
The Greek word used for "strive" is agonizomai, which is a very expressive and emphatic word, meaning: "agonize." It occurs again in:
1 Corinthians 9:25 (NKJV) And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
The reference is to the athletes who took part in the marathon races, willing to undergo the most self-denying discipline to be at their fittest, thereby hoping to win an earthly crown. This word rendered "agonizomai" is translated: "laboring fervently" in Colossians 4:12 and "fight" in 2 Timothy 4:7.
It is a struggle, a battle, an extreme effort. There is almost a violence implied. Believer, let me ask you, "Is this how you become a Christian? Do you strive, labor, agonize to become a Christian? No! One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous, but I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.
How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is simple - believe the gospel! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ:
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. At that moment, they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ".
The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe - do you see any cost involved here? Do you see any labor or agony? But now notice:
Luke 14:33 (NKJV) "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John 3:16? I don't see how. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples, but many will not pay the price. Discipleship is costly!
This same idea can be stated in the terms of union and communion. Positionally, we are united with Christ - this is our union. Practically we are called to walk in fellowship with Christ - this is our communion. God has given us a picture of union and communion in marriage. When a man and a woman get married, they enter into a relationship, a union. As the years pass, their relationship, their communion, may be good or bad. But whatever their experience, the fact of their union remains. In a similar way, we enter an eternal union with God at salvation, but our communion is based upon a living, active faith. We can drift in and out of communion with God, just as we can drift in and out of communion with a spouse. The conditions for fellowship are seen in:
1 John 1:6-9 (NKJV) "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness [disobedience], we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Willful disobedience breaks our communion with God; when we are in communion with God, we are constantly cleansed by Christ's blood. This is a beautiful description of the intimacy and fellowship that our union in Christ should bring.
The Bible speaks about our communion with Christ in many ways. In John 15, it is called "abiding" in Christ. In 1 John, it is "fellowship," or "knowing" Him. In James, it is "living faith" or being a "doer" of the Word. Throughout the New Testament this communion relationship is referred to as "discipleship":
John 8:31-32 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Is salvation narrow and difficult? No! Salvation comes to us by grace through faith. But discipleship is a call to obedience, to live out the principles stated in the Sermon on the Mount.
You might object to this view of mine by saying that these two roads are said to lead to destruction or life. Isn't that speaking of eternal destinies?
One commentator says, "When Jesus refers to life in these verses, He is talking about eternal life." How does he know this? The Greek word for "life" is zoe, this term is often joined with "eternal" (some 30 times), and with "everlasting" (some 17 times). This would clearly denote "eternal life" or "redemption". But the term zoe by itself can refer to a quality of temporal life. Over and over the Proverbs talk about righteousness leading to life:
Proverbs 11:19 (NKJV) As righteousness leads to life, So he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.
Proverbs 14:30 (NKJV) A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.
Here envy causes physical problems but a sound heart is life - this speaks of a quality of life.
Proverbs 19:23 (NKJV) The fear of the LORD leads to life, And he who has it will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil.
Here life is satisfaction and the absence of being visited with evil
Proverbs 22:4 (NKJV) By humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches and honor and life.
Humility doesn't bring physical life but a quality of life.
The word "life" as used in our text can refer to a quality of life - fellowship with God. If he wanted to refer to eternal life, he could have said that. By "life" is meant that glorious state of unclouded fellowship with God, the heart's being satisfied with Him, the realization of His unspeakable excellency and the fullness of joy there is in His immediate presence.
What about the word "destruction", doesn't that imply eternal judgement? Not necessarily! Let's look at this Greek word. The word "destruction" is the Greek word apoleia, which means: "ruin, loss, destruction." It is translated "wasted" in:
Mark 14:4 (NKJV) But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted (apoleia)?
This verb form is used of physical death:
1 Corinthians 10:9 (NKJV) nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed (apollumi) by serpents;
This verb form of the word is also used of unbelievers being eternally damned:
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish(apollumi) but have everlasting life.
But this same verb is also used of believers:
Romans 14:15 (NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy (apollumi) with your food the one for whom Christ died.
As those who hold to the Reformed faith, we know that if Christ died for them, then they are believers, and this could not be referring to eternal destruction. You can't cause a believer to go to hell, it's talking about some kind of spiritual loss. Apollumi is used to speak of loss of reward:
2 John 1:8 (NKJV) Look to yourselves, that we do not lose [apollumi] those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
Jesus could be using apollumi in Matthew 7:13 to speak of loss of spiritual blessedness or physical death or a wasted life.
I believe that the "narrow and difficult" way that Jesus is referring to is that of discipleship. He is referring to all He has said in this sermon. He is calling us to live radically different lives. Let's review just a few of the things that Jesus has commanded us to do in this sermon:
Matthew 5:44 (NKJV) "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
How many Christians do you know that love their enemies? Jesus gives us some very specific, very practical examples of what it means to love our enemies. Love blesses those who curse you. The word "bless" in this text is taken from the Greek word eulogeo, which means: "To speak well of, to bless or invoke a benediction upon, to pray for their prosperity, bless or praise." That means when they speak evil of you, curse you, you speak well of them. You speak of them with a heart's desire for their welfare. You do not bring defamation upon them or their name. You do not stoop to their level. We usually bless those who persecute us, don't we? Ouch!
Love not only blesses, it prays. Jesus said, "Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you". Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. He is not saying that we should pray for them to be struck by lightning or that a house should fall on them. Rather, He is saying that we should pray on their behalf to God. It may be prayer for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.
How many Christians do you know who live like this? When is the last time you prayed for an enemy? When is the last time that you prayed for someone who mistreated you and persecuted you? This is how the disciples of Jesus Christ are to live!
In the end of chapter 6, Jesus says that we are not to worry about our lives:
Matthew 6:33 (NKJV) "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
The "kingdom of God" signifies the rule of God; to seek the kingdom of God; to come under His kingship; to come into subjection to Him as King. The word "righteousness", as used in our text, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness," comes from the Greek word dikaiosune, which means: "a pattern of life in conformity to God's will".
The word "seek" here is the Greek word zeteo, which means: "to seek, to desire to worship." It is to seek with a desire to worship.
But not only must we seek His kingdom and righteousness, it should be our supreme priority. The word "first" in our text comes from the Greek word proton, which means: "first in order or importance, first or "chiefest" of all, holding the highest place in all our affections." The Lord is saying that the first place in the priority of our affections must be His will.
When He is speaking of His kingdom, He is talking about our coming under submission to His reign, setting our priorities straight so the authority of His Word occupies the first place in our lives. It means: "to walk under His reign, to live in obedience to the Lord."
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness..." Now please notice the end of the verse "...and all these things shall be added unto you." What things? They are all the things the Gentiles seek and strive for. The Lord is telling us not to worry about those things. Just walk in obedience to Him, and He will provide them; we do not need to strive for material things. "...and all these things shall be added unto you," is the great reward for those who walk in the obedience of faith.
I believe that this is the "life" that the "narrow and difficult" path leads to - it is the blessing of God. Joy, peace and contentment come from Christ being the priority of your life. Nothing else can bring the joy that an intimate relationship with God can bring, and once you learn to base your peace and contentment on your relationship with God, nothing in the world can take it away from you. It seems that few Christians today live at this level spiritually, which is why we have so much anxiety and dissatisfaction in our lives.
In Matthew 7:14 Jesus says, "And few there be that find it." There are many on the broad road but there are "few" on the narrow and difficult way. Among the many who have trusted Christ, there are few who truly follow Him. Do you think that is true? Again I ask you, "How many Christians do you know who live their lives according to the principles taught in the Sermon on the Mount"? Most Christians I know are dominated by pride and selfishness. They spend very little time seeking the Kingdom of God; they're too busy pursuing their own desires and goals.
In his book, What Americans Believe, George Barna states, "One of the most penetrating and inescapable questions that confronts Americans is: 'Why am I alive?'"
The answer he found was most surprising. "Most adults conclude that we exist to gratify the flesh. Sixty-three percent concur that the purpose in life is enjoyment and personal fulfillment."
Let me share with you some alarming statistics that I found on an atheist's web site. He writes, "WARNING! Christianity Doesn't Work as Advertised. The divorce rate for Christians is HIGHER than for Atheists. More than half of Christians are habitual LIARS. Few Christians have personal happiness - all this from Christian pollster Barna. Do you still think Christians are better than Atheists? You'd better think again!!!"
He then goes on to quote some Barna statistics:
Pollster, George Barna reported: "Born-again Christians have a higher rate of divorce than non-believers; fundamentalists top them all. And 87% divorced after accepting Christ, presumably aware of the biblical teaching on divorce."
75% of "born-again" Christians lie regularly - conscious, premeditated lies.
Desiring to have a close, personal relationship with God ranks sixth among the 21 life goals tested among born-agains, trailing such desires as "living a comfortable lifestyle." "Are people's lives being transformed" by Christianity? Barna has asked. "We can't find evidence of a transformation."
Although his statistics often show self-described Christians living lives no different from those of atheists, Barna's faith never has wavered. "The issue isn't whether Jesus or Christianity is real," he said. "The issue is, are Americans willing to put Christ first in their lives?"
I agree with Barna, the problem is that Christians are not willing to put Christ first in their lives. Why are Christians not willing to put Christ first in their lives? I think the answer is because we are a lazy selfish people and walking in fellowship with God is difficult.
Proverbs 2:1-5 (NKJV) My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; 3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God.
Do you seek for an intimate relationship with God as you do for earthly treasures? Let me pose a question for you to think about: "Which road are you on?" If you are on the narrow road your life will be lived in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Christ will be your life. His will will consume you. He will have the preeminence in your life.
Jesus ends his sermon by stressing the importance of doing what he says. He says it isn't easy to do what He says, the road is narrow and difficult, but it is vitally important that we do so, it is the path to a blessed life:
Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJV) Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
The narrow road leads to a blessed, peaceful, satisfied, joyful life. The broad road leads to destruction, misery, pain, turmoil. Which road are you on? I think that Moses' words in Deuteronomy are a fitting closing this morning, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life..."
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