TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

23 May 2017

The narrow gate. Or door. Either way, tricky to get in.

Not everybody’s making it into God’s kingdom. Don’t join them.

Matthew 7.13-14 • Luke 13.23-24

Most people are universalist: They believe in the end, in the very end, God’s gonna let everybody into his kingdom.

Doesn’t matter how much they want nothing to do with God in this life. They might be full-on atheist. Might embrace another religion altogether. Might not even be good; they’re selfish, wicked, rebellious, downright evil. But people figure God loves everybody, so in the end he’ll just forgive all and let ’em in. Every last bloody one of ’em. Even traitors, child molesters, genocidal mass murderers: You get the kingdom, and you get the kingdom, and everybody gets the kingdom! (That last line works best if you can imagine it in Oprah Winfrey’s voice, but it’s not mandatory.)

The problem is Jesus said he’s not gonna let everybody in. More than once. Today’s verses are two of the instances.

It’s not because God doesn’t wanna save everyone. He does. 1Ti 2.4 It’s the fact not everyone wants to enter God’s kingdom. Certainly not on God’s terms.

There’s an open invitation, an open door, and plenty of room. But people would much rather go to their destruction. Partly ’cause it’s the path of least effort: They can be absolutely self-centered and awful to everybody, and Pascal’s Wager—the worry there are eternal consequences to these actions—doesn’t sway them in the slightest. Partly ’cause goodness, grace, love, kindness, and generosity make them sick: They prefer karma and reciprocity, and they’re gonna hate how the kingdom lets in all these freeloaders.

Partly ’cause they think their path is exclusive and smarter… but in reality it’s still the much, much larger crowd. Yeah, the folks on the road to destruction is the larger crowd. Wish they weren’t. But that’s humanity for ya.

Matthew 7.13-14 KWL
13 “Enter through the narrow gate: The broad gate, the wide road, leads to destruction.
Many are entering destruction by it.
14 The narrow gate, the tight road, leads people to life.
Few are finding it.”
Luke 13.23-24 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.”

In a number of early copies of Matthew, Jesus only said, “The broad, wide road leads to destruction.” Possibly some copyist threw an extra pýli/“gate” in there before the fourth century; it kinda works, so most bibles go with it. As for Luke, the Textus Receptus swapped thýras/“door” for pýlis, mainly to make it match Matthew. Hence the KJV has “gate” in both places.

The idea of “There are two roads you could travel; choose wisely” is an ancient one. It’s such a cliché, people even apply it where it doesn’t belong. (Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” fr’instance; it’s about taking a different path, not the best one, but people constantly assume otherwise.) Anybody who’s taken a wrong turn has learned it by experience.

So the Pharisees liked to use this metaphor to warn about good and evil. There are two paths; one good, one evil; choose wisely. Some of ’em taught the whole of Israel was on the good path, whereas the rest of the globe wasn’t. Others singled out Pharisees from fellow Jews, or people from the crowd. It wasn’t an unfamiliar concept to Jesus’s kids either.

Yet for some naïve reason, pagans and popular culture insist all roads lead to God. So it doesn’t matter which one you’re on. There is no evil way. And if there is—well, if you’re well-directed, then you’re protected from it. You can do what you want to. (And other Journey lyrics.)

Few are finding it.

A number of people take Jesus’s idea that few find the narrow gate, Mt 7.14 and deduce what he actually doesn’t say: That it’s hard to find. Deliberately hard to find. God obscured it for his own personal, secret, possibly evil reasons. He doesn’t want just anybody stumbling upon heaven.

Yeah, they’re reading their own attitudes into God’s motives. They want God’s kingdom to be an exclusive club. They like to think themselves part of a rare breed who care enough about God to seek and find him. Lk 11.9 The average person would never, but they’re better than average. They average person wouldn’t think to, but they’re cleverer than average. They deserve this.

I know; we don’t get saved on merit. It’s totally gracelest someone boast it was on merit. Ep 2.8-9 Intellectually they know this. Sometimes they argue vigorously in its defense. But deep down they still imagine they’re God’s favorites because they’re worthy. ’Cause that’s how humans work, so they imagine God works the same way.

Others still have the exclusive-club idea, and know they’re not worthy of being in it, but they still figure God hides the gate, if not the whole road, ’cause it’s a members-only secret. He’s limited the number of people Jesus actually saved, only invited them, and everybody else is stuck with no option but the wide road. Can’t even see any other options.

These are all ideas Jesus doesn’t say. All he said was olígoi eisín oi efrískontes aftín/“few [people] are the finders of it.” Mt 7.14 He didn’t say why they’re not finding it.

Since Jesus instructs his students to enter by the narrow gate instead of the broad gate, it means the choice is ours. And the fault is ours. If we’re not finding the gate, it’s because we’re not looking. We’ve taken the wrong road despite Jesus’s warning. It’s not God’s fault for making the gate obscure; its ours for not following clear directions. It’s on us.

How do we reconcile this fact with the idea we’re saved by grace? Simple. Traveling the road, finding the gate: Neither of those things are salvation. They’re sanctification—they’re living a holy life, doing good works, following Jesus. Like he instructs. But they don’t get us through the gate. God lets us through the gate—and that’s salvation.

Hence the bit Luke has Jesus emphasize: Strive to get through that gate. But bear in mind not everyone’s getting through.

Few are entering it.

Now if God wants as many people saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 why doesn’t he let as many people in as possible? Why not practice universalism? Why not forgive everybody everything, and pack the kingdom like sardines in a tin?

Because the kingdom is for heavenly people. If you put unheavenly people in it—if you put hellish people in it—it’s gonna suck. Won’t be heaven.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

The kingdom can’t have people like this in it. They’re already ruining the church; you want ’em to ruin the kingdom too?

So there are gonna be lawless people who fully expect to get into the kingdom, and won’t. And if that sounds harsh, bear in mind they’ve had plenty of fair warning.

Matthew 7.21-23 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’ ”

Jesus tells ’em to stop it in the gospels, and they ignore him. The Holy Spirit pokes ’em in the conscience, and they ignore him. Preachers and prophets and teachers and even pagans tell ’em to cut it out, and they ignore them too.

They think God owes them heaven because they said the sinner’s prayer once. It doesn’t work like that, and I hope to goodness they realize this before the fact they actually have no relationship at all with Jesus comes round to bite ’em in the tuchus. It’ll be horrifying.

It’s why Jesus told his students to agonídzesthe/“strive.” Yeah, our word agonize comes from the Greek word, but the original idea wasn’t suffering from worry, but struggling to win a contest. Don’t be the poster child for cheap grace. Fight to get through that door. God may not have saved us because we’re worthy, but we’d better darn well become worthy, Ep 4.1 and follow that narrow path God laid out for us.

Yeah, God wants to save us. Wants us so bad Jesus died for us. Wants us so bad we could totally take our salvation for granted. But don’t be that kind of jerk. Be better than that. Strive.