“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
Given its eternal consequences, understanding what salvation means is absolutely crucial.
Jesus said that those who will be saved are few. Why? Because true salvation means walking a difficult path that few are willing to take.
What are the narrow door and hard way, and the wide gate and easy way?
We don’t have to do anything in order to enter the wide gate. Everyone goes down this path, simply by being born human and living for ourselves, apart from God. Even relatively good and moral people are on this path.
The gate is wide because there are so many ways to enter it. You want to believe in this or that religion? No problem. You want to believe in no god at all? No problem. You want to live a totally lawless life? No problem. You want to be a pretty good, moral person, but don’t think you need repentance or forgiveness? No problem.
The road is easy because to stay on it, you don’t have to do anything at all. Just live for yourself and what pleases you. You don’t have to worry about sin, or repentance, or change, or denying yourself, or obeying Jesus.
In contrast, the narrow door and the hard path that lead to eternal life must be sought out. We must do something to enter them.
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-30
Even people who ate with Jesus, listened to his teaching, were healed by him, and witnessed his miracles, will be among those who are lost when he comes to establish his kingdom, because they never entered the narrow door.
The same is true in our day. There will be many people who went to church, read the Bible, heard gospel preaching, had Christian friends, and knew about Jesus, to whom he will say, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me.”
So what are the narrow gate and the difficult way?
The narrow gate is repentance.
Jesus began his ministry this way:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
Something big is here, something that requires a total change of heart, mind, and life. It’s the Kingdom of God, brought about by Jesus, the King.
If we want to enter and live in this kingdom, we must repent.
Repentance means that we cannot keep living the way we have been. We must renounce our sins and our self-centred, God-denying way of life. We must be willing to be turned inside out, upside down, and hold onto nothing that keeps us apart from God.
Repentance is necessary because we are not ok as we are. We have all walked a path that has led us away from God, we all have turned away in rebellion, we all have sin that needs forgiveness. We don’t bring anything to God for him to save us; we come humbly and empty-handed, admitting our debt and casting ourselves on his mercy.
Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
But repentance is not just about being sorry. It involves change. If we have been doing one thing, we stop and do the opposite. This is illustrated by a man named Zacchaeus.
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The tax collectors were considered “sinners” because they were collaborators with the Roman occupiers. They collected taxes from their fellow Jews on behalf of the enemy; and worse, they were corrupt, charging extra and keeping it.
Zacchaeus demonstrated true repentance by pledging not only to stop doing wrong, but to give up the goods gained by wrongdoing and make restitution.
Repentance happens because something greater is here. When you’re offered a diamond, you will gladly drop the clay beads you’ve been holding onto.
Take up your cross, lose your life
If the narrow door is repentance, living in radical obedience to Jesus is the difficult way that lies beyond that door.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38
What does this mean? Do we have to physically die in order to follow Jesus? No, at least not necessarily.
In biblical terms, a person’s “life” is not just their physical existence, but all that they have and are: self, possessions and relationships.
For a true Christian, nothing and no one is more important than Jesus. We renounce all that we have and are in order to receive him, and give up anything and everything necessary to follow him.
We may not know at the beginning what it will cost to follow Jesus. But when we accept him, he becomes Lord of our life. We give up the right to run it, or to cling to relationships, possessions, or comforts. He is priority above everything else.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:17-31)
This young man really wanted eternal life. But he wasn’t willing to do what was necessary. His wealth was his idol, and he didn’t want to give it up. How tragic! He kept his money, but he lost what was infinitely more valuable.
This is why Jesus said the way was hard. We can’t say he wasn’t clear. If we reject it, it’s not because we don’t know, it’s because we don’t want to do what it takes. That’s why few find this way.
But the few who do can absolutely testify to the beautiful truth that it is worth it. Not only do we gain Jesus and eternal life, we find that as he says, even in this life, he more than makes up whatever we lose for him. By losing our life, we gain it.