“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14)
This passage is often quoted in reference to the different roads traveled by unbelievers as opposed to believers. Unbelievers are said to be on a broad road with many fellow travelers, all on the way to their destruction. Believers on the other hand are a small segment of humanity and are on a narrow road to salvation. This difference is further defined by some as pertaining to our behavior. The unbeliever’s gate is wide and his road is broad, supposedly indicating that there’s room for all kinds of sinful behavior, while for the believer it’s a small gate and a narrow road suggesting that there’s very little latitude for misbehaving. A careless step or two and you may find yourself being rerouted onto the broad road.
If you look at these 2 verses alone it’s easy to understand why so many see them this way. But in the context of the chapter a different picture emerges.
In Matthew 7 the people in focus all claim to be believers, and the emphasis is on their fruit. The Lord began by admonishing us against judging others,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”(Matt. 7:1-2)
Verses 3-5 have to do with judgment within the community of believers.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We’re all sinners and hypocrites who have a tendency to pounce all over even the “minor” sins of others while ignoring our own massive list of transgressions. Why is it that those who test the Lord’s patience to the max are often the most acrimonious in their accusations of others?
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? (Romans 2:1-3)
Intolerant, judgmental believers are convinced they’re defending the faith and that they’ll receive the commendation due them from the Lord. But these verses indicate quite the opposite.
As much as we ignore the warnings in verses 3-5, our disregard for verse 6 is even more glaring. It has to do with our attitude toward unbelievers.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
Expecting the unbelieving world to conform to our moral standards is ridiculous. And yet to the world the church is known primarily for its holier-than-thou hypocrisy in doing just that. Like the Pharisees of old we demand that others live up to behavioral standards we ourselves don’t keep. For example studies show that our divorce and abortion rates are no different from theirs. And it’s a known fact that we indulge in more than our share of adultery, theft, gluttony, avarice, greed, and so on, as well.
It’s like we have forgotten all about the Lord’s advice that the best way to convert the world is for the Church to become what it was meant to be, an agent of His love (John 13:34-35). Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4) It’s God’s kindness and mercy that bring people to Him, not threats of condemnation.
Some think it’s persecution when unbelievers pass laws that contradict our beliefs and restrict our freedoms while promoting the freedom of others. But maybe it’s just them turning on us for the way we’ve pushed our beliefs on them, like the Lord said they would.
In Matt. 7:7-12 the way to salvation is explained to us. It’s summarized in verse 8. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. If you ask for it, you’ll receive it. It’s this message of hope that’s needed for our time, not judgment and condemnation.
I don’t think it’s an accident that in verse 10 the Lord asked, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” The comparison of bread with a stone takes us back to the Wilderness Temptation when Satan challenged Him to turn stones into bread. He replied, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) God’s Word is life, and Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35). Stones are dead. If we ask for life will the Lord give us death instead?
But the comparison of a fish to a serpent symbolizes the central thought of the entire chapter. The fish stands for Jesus and became the symbol of His followers. The serpent stands for Satan. Jesus called the leaders of His day’s organized religion children of the devil (John 8:44), who with their insistence on a mindless obedience to their laws (Isaiah 29:13) rather than faith in a coming Redeemer, made their converts twice the son of hell as they were (Matt. 23:15). They had turned God’s love into a tool of the devil, and sadly there are many in the church still doing the same thing today.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.(Matt 7:12) The phrase Law and Prophets was a Jewish idiom for their Scriptures, the Old Testament. While we think of the Golden Rule as a New Testament idea, Jesus said it summarized the Old Testament as well. If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge. If you don’t want to be condemned, don’t condemn. If you want mercy, be merciful. If you want to be forgiven, forgive. If you want to receive, give. (Luke 6:36-38)
There’s a reason why verses 13-14 are in the middle of the chapter and not the beginning or the end. Up till now we’ve been looking at misdirected believers who think they’re defending the faith but instead will find themselves defending fruitless lives at judgment time. Now we’ll see examples of those who claim to be in the Church, but will actually be left behind when the Rapture comes.
Matt. 7:15-23 warns us against following false prophets, saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt. 7:22-23)
Appearing to perform miracles in the Lord’s name does not make someone His follower, so we shouldn’t blindly accept them as such, but should inspect their doctrine. Remember Satan will appear to perform miracles and will deceive many. (2 Thes. 2:9-10) Only those who do His father’s will can claim the Son, regardless of what else they say or do. And what is the father’s will? Here’s the Lord’s answer. “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”(John 6:40)
Nowhere is the Father’s will as it regards our salvation stated more clearly. Anyone who adds any requirement or qualification to this declaration (or takes anything from it) is a false prophet even if they perform miracles in the Lord’s name.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27)
Here is the Lord’s summary statement complete with one final comparison, this one aimed at the liberals. In Matt. 16: 16-18 Jesus called Peter’s confession that He was the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God, the rock on which He would build the Church. Paul wrote that the rock Moses struck to provide water for the Israelites represented Christ. For they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:4) From ancient times, the priest would call God’s people to worship saying, “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1) And today we sing, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
A doctrine of salvation that’s built upon anything other than the personal relationship with Jesus that comes from being born again rests precariously on sinking sand. (John 3:3) He alone is the foundation of our faith, and unless our salvation is built exclusively upon this Rock, it will be of no avail to us when we stand before Him on that Day.
From the context of the chapter, we can see that the Lord’s topic was salvation. We don’t deserve ours so we shouldn’t judge others when it looks to us like they don’t deserve theirs. We have no right to think of ourselves as being better than unbelievers, so we shouldn’t try to impose our values on them. We received our salvation simply because we asked for it in faith. There was no merit or worthiness involved, nothing to commend us. But we should be very wary of those who would propose alternatives to salvation by grace through faith alone, whether by adding to or subtracting from it, even if they perform miracles.
Now let’s go back to verses 13-14. Each of the two roads is thought by its travelers to be the way to salvation. But the name engraved above the wide gate is Works and multitudes who call themselves Christians are striving to get there. They run the gamut from extreme legalism to extreme liberalism, but have in common a belief that it’s their behavior that saves them.
The legalist proudly proclaims, “Jesus may have begun my salvation, but I finished it. I have kept the commandments and no longer sin. I have earned the right to call others to account for their behavior. How else will they learn?”
The false prophet says, “I’m a miracle worker, just like the Lord was. Who can doubt that I’m His.”
The artificially modest liberal says “I’m a good person and I’ve tried to live a good life. There are many roads to salvation and as long as we’re sincere in what we believe, the Lord will understand and accept us.”
None of them realizes the road he’s on leads to destruction.
But at the end of the narrow road stands a small gate on which the word Faith is inscribed. As we come alongside the few travelers on this road we can hear them softly singing,
“Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
This is the road to Life.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.(Ephesians 2:8-9)