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

by K.W. Leslie, 21 February

Matthew 7.13-14, Luke 13.23-24.

Most people are universalist, meaning in the end—if not at Judgment Day, at least way, way further down the road—God’s gonna relent, and 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; they might have to spend a few thousand years in hell first, but eventually they’ll get out and go to heaven. 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.

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 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 πύλη/pýli, “gate,” in there before the fourth century; it kinda works, so most bibles go with it. As for Luke, it uses the word θύρας/thýras, “door” instead—but in the Textus Receptus Desiderus Erasmus swapped it for pýlis to make it match Matthew, which is why the KJV has “gate” in both places.

There’s a broad gate and a narrow one. A wide road and a tight one. An easy way in, and a somewhat difficult way in. You wanna take the difficult way; that’s the right one.

It’s not because Jesus wants to make it difficult. Not because God doesn’t wanna save everyone. He does. 1Ti 2.4 But entering God’s kingdom means we gotta do it on his terms. People would much rather define the terms ourselves, or take a “shortcut” which turns out to be no such thing. Even when Jesus warns us away from it!

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.

Two paths.

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 than the usual one, and it turns out not to be the best one. But people constantly assume otherwise.) Anybody who’s taken a wrong turn has learned it by experience.

Pharisees liked to use this two-paths metaphor to warn their students about good and evil. There are two paths—one good, one evil—so 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 non-Pharisees. 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.)

On the other extreme, some Christians take Jesus’s idea that few find the narrow gate, Mt 7.14 and claim God deliberately made it hard to find, for his own personal, secret, possibly evil, reasons. He doesn’t want just anybody stumbling upon heaven. It’s an exclusive club, and very few are elected to join; they’re part of a rare breed who care enough about God to seek and find him, Lk 11.9 whereas the average person would never, or isn’t clever enough.

Jesus actually doesn’t say the narrow gate is intentionally hard to find. For it’s not. He only said ὀλίγοι εἰσὶν οἱ εὑρίσκοντες αὐτήν/olíyi eisín i efrískontes aftín, “few are the finders of it.” Mt 7.14 He never says why they’re not finding it.

Christians who presume the kingdom is exclusive, are projecting their own attitudes onto God’s motives. They want the kingdom to be exclusive; they wanna be special, or smarter, or more devout, or more deserving. But we don’t get saved on merit. God’s kingdom totally runs on grace—lest anyone boast it’s not. Ep 2.8-9 We don’t get it because we’re worthy; we get it in spite of our unworthiness.

Jesus isn’t hiding the narrow gate. Nor the narrow road. He’s pointing it out to us! He wants us to point it out to everyone else. He’s not limiting atonement, like Calvinists claim, and compelling the people he wants to walk the right or wrong roads: The choice is ours. And the fault is ours. If we go to the wrong gate, it’s because we’re not looking for the right one. It’s not God’s fault for making the gate obscure; its ours for not following clear directions. It’s on us.

Strive to get through the right gate. But bear in mind not everyone’s getting through.

Few are finding it.

Now if God wants as many people saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 why doesn’t he get rid of that wrong gate, broaden the right gate, and pack as many people in as possible? Why not practice universalism? Why not forgive everybody everything?

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 5.21 KJV
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

It’s not that envious people, murderers, drunks, and partiers are never getting forgiven. They can be! But these traits can’t be brought with them into the kingdom. They’re already undermining the church; they’re not gonna be allowed to wreck the kingdom too. They have to give up those things before they enter in. And if they won’t… then they have to stay outside.

If that sounds harsh, bear in mind they’ve had plenty of fair warning.

Matthew 7.21-23 KJV
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Jesus tells them—tells us—to cut it out, throughout the gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. And people ignore him. The Holy Spirit pokes ’em in the conscience, and they ignore him. Preachers and prophets and teachers and even fellow pagans tell ’em to stop it already… 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 ἀγωνίζεσθε/agonídzesthe, “strive.” Yeah our word agonize comes from the Greek word, but the original idea wasn’t about suffering from worry, but straining to win a contest. Don’t be the poster child for cheap grace. Fight to get to that gate. God may not have saved us because we’re worthy, but let’s darn well become worthy, Ep 4.1 and follow the 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.