The Narrow Way

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, Berean Study Bible)

Jesus was essentially saying there are only two options: heaven or hell. There is no middle ground. Remember Revelation 3:15-16, where God told the Laodiceans, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Concerning the way of sin and sinners, the gate is wide. It stands open. Inviting. You may go in at this gate with all your lusts about you. It gives no check to appetites or passions. It is a broad way. Truly, it is an easy way. There are no qualifications. There are many paths, and a choice of sinful ways. There is company in this way. But what profit is there in being willing to go to hell with others?

In saying “difficult is the way which leads to life,” Jesus was explaining how hard being a Christian really is. I am reading a book by Kyle Idleman called Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. http://www.notafan.com/ Idleman reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:8: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” We are to be more than whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dust and dirt and spiderwebs and dead man’s bones on the inside. Likewise, it is wrong to appear righteous on the outside, but full of hypocrisy on the inside.

Idelman makes an important comment in his book. Many people take the wrong road, and only a few find the narrow path. If that’s true, then wouldn’t it make sense for us to slow down? Shouldn’t we hit the brakes, pull over to the berm, and make sure we are on the road that leads to life? Is it possible that you think you are on the narrow road but you are actually on the broad road? Could it be that you have set the cruise control, turned up the volume on your local Christian radio station, and are unwittingly traveling down the road of destruction with a Jesus fish on your bumper?

Donald Whitney, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, once said, “If a person is wrong about being right with God, then ultimately it really doesn’t matter what he or she is right about.” So before you continue driving down the road, assuming you are on the “right” or “narrow” path, Idleman is suggesting that you slow down and look at some of the billboards and road signs and ask yourself what road you’re really on. Is it possible that you are wrong about being right with God?

Just How Narrow is the Gate?

Jesus is the door through which all must enter eternal life. There is no other way because He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” (See John 14:6) The way to eternal life is restricted to just one avenue—Christ. In this sense, the way is narrow because it is the only way, and relatively few people will go through the narrow gate. Many more will attempt to find an alternative route to God. They will try to get there through man made rules and regulations, through false religion, through good deeds, or on their own self-effort.

These who are “many” will follow the broad road that leads to eternal destruction, while the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him along the narrow way to eternal life. (See John 10:7-11)

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Entering the narrow gate is not easy. Jesus made this clear when He instructed His followers to “strive” to do so. The Greek word translated “strive” is agonizomai, from which we get the English word agonize. The implication here is that those who seek to enter the narrow gate must do so by struggle and strain, like a running athlete straining toward the finish line, all muscles taut and giving his all in the effort. But let me be clear. No amount of human effort saves us; salvation is by the grace of God through the gift of faith. (See Ephesians 2:8-9) No one will ever earn heaven by striving for it. But entering the narrow gate is still difficult because of the opposition of human pride, our natural love of sin, and the opposition of Satan and the world in his control, all of which battle against us in the pursuit of eternity.

Jesus says the narrow gate leads to a “hard” road, one that will take us through hardships and difficult decisions. Following Jesus requires crucifying our flesh (Galatians 2:20, 5:24, Romans 6:2), It involves living by faith, enduring trials with Christlike patience, and living a lifestyle separate from the world. When faced with the choice between a narrow, bumpy road and a wide, paved highway, most of us choose the easier road. Human nature gravitates toward comfort and pleasure. When faced with the reality of denying themselves to follow Jesus, most people turn away. (See John 6:66) Jesus never sugar-coated the truth, and the truth is that not many people are willing to pay the price to follow Him.

The famous biblical scholar Matthew Henry (Here is a link to his commentary on the entire Bible book-by-book: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/) addressed this issue in such a beautiful and comprehensive manner that I am including his words verbatim. Henry said

Christ came to teach us, not only what we are to know and believe, but what we are to do; not only toward God, but toward men; not only toward those of our party and persuasion, but toward men in general, all with whom we have to do. We must do that to our neighbour which we ourselves acknowledge to be fit and reasonable. We must, in our dealings with men, suppose ourselves in the same case and circumstances with those we have to do with, and act accordingly. There are but two ways right and wrong, good and evil; the way to heaven and the way to hell; in the one or other of these all are walking: there is no middle place hereafter, no middle way now. All the children of men are saints or sinners, godly or ungodly. See concerning the way of sin and sinners, that the gate is wide, and stands open. You may go in at this gate with all your lusts about you; it gives no check to appetites or passions. It is a broad way; there are many paths in it; there is choice of sinful ways. There is a large company in this way. But what profit is there in being willing to go to hell with others, because they will not go to heaven with us? The way to eternal life is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we are got through the strait gate. Self must be denied, the body kept under, and corruptions mortified. Daily temptations must be resisted; duties must be done. We must watch in all things, and walk with care; and we must go through much tribulation. And yet this way should invite us all; it leads to life: to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which at the end of our way, should make all the difficulties of the road easy to us. This plain declaration of Christ has been disregarded by many who have taken pains to explain it away; but in all ages the real disciple of Christ has been looked on as a singular, unfashionable character; and all that have sided with the greater number, have gone on in the broad road to destruction. If we would serve God, we must be firm in our religion. Can we often hear of the strait gate and the narrow way, and how few there are that find it, without being in pain for ourselves, or considering whether we are entered on the narrow way, and what progress we are making in it?

Matthew 7:13-14 simply 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 and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (RSV)

I can think of no better way to end this critical discussion than to provide an example. Picture this scene with me. You’re walking along an old country road with thousands of other people, and you come to a dead end. There at the end of the road you see two gates. One gate is very large, and you can see that if you enter through that gate, there is a very wide, well worn dirt road on the other side. The road looks very pleasant and easy to travel on. What’s more, the vast majority of people are going through that wide gate. It looks like easily 95% of them are going in through that gate. It’s very tempting to just go that way. After all, everyone else is going that direction. You think to yourself, all those people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then you look at the other gate. It’s narrow. In fact, it’s so narrow, that only one person can go in at a time. And on the other side of that narrow gate, is a very narrow path. Again, it’s so narrow, that only one person can walk it at a time. Also, this path looks like it will be very difficult. You can see that it heads steeply uphill into the mountains with thousand foot drop-offs on both sides. What’s more, only a few people are deciding to take this path. You stand there, looking at both gates, and both ways. Which one should you take? All of us have to make a choice about which gate we will enter, and which path we will walk. In fact, we have already made that decision. Some of you have entered the narrow gate, and you are walking on the narrow way that leads to eternal life. Others of you have entered the wide gate and are walking on the broad way that leads to eternal destruction. The good news is that it is not too late to change paths! If you have entered the wrong gate, you can still go back to the narrow gate, enter through it, and begin walking on the narrow path that leads to life.

I hope this post will serve to guide you in making one of the most important decisions of your life. One that will effect you for all of eternity. May God bless you and guide you as you ponder the dubious benefits of the “easy life” versus the spectacular rewards of choosing to take the hard road.  As Robert Frost so prophetically said in “The Road Not Taken,”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
©2017 Steven Barto

Does Your Life Reflect What You Say You Believe?

Many of us call ourselves Christians (which by definition means “Christ followers”). Sometimes, when we honestly evaluate our relationship with Jesus, we realize we are not following Him. We are more like “fans” than followers. Though I believe in the assurance of our salvation, I also believe that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12) When it comes to where we will spend eternity, we can’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and take an honest look at the answers that our lives offer. Is it possible that when asked, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” you quickly respond, “Yes,” only to be exposed as nothing more than a fan on that final day when we face the Lord.

Many people take the wrong road in life. Only few find the narrow path. If that’s true, then wouldn’t it make sense for us to slow down? Shouldn’t we hit the brakes, pull over to the side, and make sure that we are on the road that leads to life? This teaching of Jesus is the conclusion of his sermon known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” which is a message about raising the bar of the commitment for those who would follow Him. It’s a narrow road, but it’s a road that leads to life.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to think we’re on the narrow road when we’re actually on the broad road. What if we’ve set the cruise control, turned up the volume on our favorite Christian radio station, and are traveling down the road of destruction with a Jesus fish on our bumper and a small wooden cross hanging from the rear view mirror. Perhaps we should slow down and look at some of the signs and ask ourselves what road we’re on. Is it possible that we can be wrong about being right with God?

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

It would not have surprised me if Jesus said a few will stand before God on judgment day convinced that everything is fine only to find out otherwise. But He doesn’t say few. He doesn’t say some, He says many. Many who assumed they were on the path to heaven will find out that heaven is not their destination. I know this sounds harsh, but it is an extremely important matter.

So, does your life reflect what you say you believe? For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not considered part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of  following the Lord it was definitely in the fine print. This seems especially true of Christians in the United States. I might get some negative feedback for this, but I believe it has a lot to do with the collision of  Christianity with American capitalism.

Many churches have become companies that measure success by the number of customers they have attracted. And how do we get more customers? By trying to make the customers feel comfortable, important and happy. We want the product (in this case following Jesus) to come off as appealing and as comfortable as possible. So when someone comes in “church shopping,” we try to show them what we have to offer. This actually undermines the invitation of Jesus to deny ourselves. The church sends the message, “Whatever you want you can get it here.” The invitation of Jesus is, “Give up everything.” The message of the church sounds less like “Deny yourself,” and more like Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way.” This is what creates a church full of raving fans, but not many followers.

The obvious superstar in the so-called prosperity Gospel is Joel Osteen. As of 2012, Osteen’s net worth was reportedly $56,508,500. He lives with his family in a $10,500,000 home. He tells his congregation that God is a loving and giving God who rewards believers with wealth and happiness. It’s the centerpiece of all of his sermons. Osteen says he chooses to focus more on the goodness of God and on living an obedient life rather than on sin. He says that he tries to teach Biblical principles in a simple way, emphasizing the power of love and a positive attitude. This sounds a lot like do good things and God will reward you. During an interview on Larry King Live, Osteen said, “I don’t come at it from a theological point of view, and I think that’s part of my success in that I’m not trying to just explain Scriptures.” Osteen said a lot of what he teaches is simply how to live a great life. He avoids Scriptures like Romans 6:23, which says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Many Christians are being deceived today by charismatic and theatrical preaching because it tickles the ear and satisfies their desire to be entertained. They don’t want to be corrected, admonished, or be told they are living a life of sin. If your pastor relies on theatrics, philosophical illustrations, or the Holy Spirit to “fall” during service to the point where he can’t even preach because the glory is so heavy, then he is not preaching or teaching. Rather, he is entertaining his congregation. Many people are deceived by the easy going and welcoming demeanor of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. These guys barely ruffle a feather when they preach, but they sure do reel you in by motivating you to live your best life now or to be driven by your purpose. They often quote a Bible verse to use as a basis for promoting their personal philosophy.

Motivational speakers need to have personal charisma. They typically have huge egos. Biblical preachers should be humble in order to be anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. They are a conduit through which God delivers His message. Charisma influences emotions in the direction of self-actualization. The Holy Spirit influences the soul in the direction of godliness. Biblical preaching lifts up Jesus Christ. Motivational speaking tends to exalt man’s ability to fix his own issues. Biblical preaching proclaims the Gospel message of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It talks about salvation. It does not steer the congregation away from the existence of Hell. We must repent. Turn away from our former sin-filled life. We are sanctified by the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. This is something I never hear Osteen talk about in his sermons or in his books. Motivational speaking might tack on the sinner’s prayer at the end of a how-to message, but that’s as close as they get. They display no real evidence that they are followers of Christ. Quite the opposite, they are marketing Jesus for profit. Osteen’s church averages $32 million in tithes every year.

Self-esteem is sought by those who have not yet “died to self” and risen to live for Christ. Healthy believers, on the other hand, hunger for God’s Word like a baby hungers for food. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2,3) Jesus never seeks to build up a person’s self-esteem. That is a dead end street as far as God is concerned. Paul said it best in Galatians 2:20, which states, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” That experience is a far cry from a life of self-esteem that needs to be constantly propped up by a motivational speaker. Such a person needs constant validation and ego stroking.

As humans, we tend to attribute worldly success, good works, ministry size, popularity, and number of followers with godly success. Therefore, the bigger the church, the more popular or successful a preacher, the more success we think a person or organization has. We even credit these successes to God’s blessings. This is particularly true with Osteen, who repeatedly tells his congregation that God wants to bless them richly. But worldly success, good works, the size of your church building, or even a large number of followers, is not necessarily the measure of godly success. A person can have all these, yet not be godly. This is what creates a church full of raving fans, but not many followers. Christ tells us to follow Him. Serve Him. Be His hands. Minister to His children from the Word of God. Only when a pastor does this can members of his congregation become true followers of Christ.