“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.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
This was one of the most haunting and soul tormenting verses in the Bible for me when I was growing up. These verses have been misunderstood and misused by pastors, teachers, parents, and youth group leaders to drive people away from numerous “worldly” and “wide gate” habits and behaviors. I’ve seen many people attempt to modify their lives with unhopeful applications of “narrow gate” living. I've done my fair share of white knuckling my way through my own spiritual discipline and moral improvement.
“The gate is narrow and the way is hard. Are you walking the right way?”
This question was repeated over and over by pastors, discipleship leaders, in my own head, and most certainly by the Devil… It was always time for self-examination:
“Am I too comfortable? Is life hard enough? Am I being persecuted enough? Do I have too much? Am I listening to the right music? Am I watching the wrong movies? Should I take a baseball bat to my television or my computer?”
I never passed any of those self-exams.
Keeping my eyes fixed on me and me alone is a terrifying proposition. Having my eyes fixated on my footsteps and my footsteps alone is equally dreadful. But what is a Christian to do?
The peace I was longing for was found in the “I AM” sayings of Jesus. Perhaps this sounds strange, considering how these are some of the most exclusive statements in all of Scripture.
“I AM the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
“I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25)
“I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus made it crystal clear: there is no salvation outside of Him. It’s a radically exclusive invitation. I’ll be the first to admit the exclusivity of the Gospel makes me pretty uncomfortable at times. It seems so hard and narrow. Is this really the only way? Is God really this strict? What about all of that “For God so loved the world” stuff?
It is precisely all of that “For God so loved the world” stuff which makes the Gospel so exclusive. And it is the radically inclusive love of God that makes provision for the narrow way of salvation.
God’s loving desire to save His fallen creation was expressed by becoming part of it, to take on the sin of all of it. In the most inclusive event in human history, Jesus becomes every unholy thought, word, and deed of the totality of humanity. In His death, He pays for the sin of every son of Adam and daughter of Eve. And in His resurrection, He deposits His righteousness into the accounts of the same. Salvation is as inclusive as the universal work of Christ for sinners and as exclusive as Christ alone.
So I don’t fear the narrow gate, because I know the I AM. I know the all-inclusive-exclusive Door and I know the all-inclusive-exclusive Way. I know the One who walked the narrow way of the Via Dolorosa with all my sins and a filthy, Roman Cross upon His shoulders. I know the One with nail-pierced hands and feet, and a crown of thorns. I know Him who spent three days dead in a tomb and then walked out again. I know Him who ascended into heaven.
This gate is wide enough for Him alone. It’s too narrow for my best works, my own righteousness, and my white knuckles. None of these may join Him. Faith and faith alone may pass through. Faith in the nude—stripped of everything but Christ.
I take comfort in the narrowness of the gate, though I still fail every self-exam. But that’s the whole point of them. To drive us back to Jesus because it is indeed a narrow gate. A gate too narrow for more than a single, crucified Man. And this Man is big enough for the whole world.