My pastor preached a great message this past Sunday that triggered some thoughts and a memory.
It a scene that is seared in my mind and etched on my heart – the video loop of when I became a Christian and even though it looks a lot like many others in our tradition, it is still my story. At the end of a Sunday night service, I went forward, knelt at an altar, and asked Jesus “into my heart.” My dad and a couple other men knelt nearby to pray and help the six year old me, process what I was feeling as much as possible.
That is the moment when I had “decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back,” as the old song says. Or to put it another way, I started down the narrow path and toward the narrow gate. Even at that age I understood something I didn’t have words for. Buddhism, Hinduism, nominalism, and all other ‘isms were off the table.
Matthew 7:13-14 is a familiar passage to churched people, “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.”
Christians, especially long time Christians, have a tendency to reduce the narrow way and narrow gate to a set of beliefs and therefore settle for holding a philosophical position rather than living a lifestyle. Or we reduce it to Jesus as the leader of a new religion. “I’ve chosen Him over all the other ‘isms. So I’m good. I’ve put my faith in the right leader and embraced His system.” But those are woefully incomplete understandings of what Jesus was talking about and it most certainly doesn’t lead to life.
It is His way that Jesus is referencing.
Matthew records this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a larger message that Jesus is giving about what life in the Kingdom is like. Up to this point He has directly spoken about:
- Who is truly blessed…and they are the exact opposite of who we would imagine; the poor, mourners, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted, and accused. (5:3-12)
- Our role as salt; mixing in, seasoning and preserving life around us. (5:13)
- Our role as light; shining in a way that points people to the Father. (5:14-16)
- Having a righteousness that goes beyond rule following and rule enforcement. (5:20)
- The intent of the heart; hatred = murder, lust = adultery, and taking initiative for reconciliation. (5:21-30)
- The severity of divorce. (5:31-32)
- Integrity; living a life where we are taken at our word, no oathes or swearing necessary. (5:33-37)
- Revenge; whether physical or legal, His way is going beyond what is deserved or required. (5:38-42)
- Loving our enemies; His way is to speak well of them, pray for them, serve them. (5:43-48)
- Humility; neither giving to the needy or prayer or fasting is about you and your goodness. (6:1-13, 16-18)
- Forgiveness; your debts have been canceled now shred your list and cancel the debts of others. (6:14-15)
- Possessions; Jesus traveled light and calls us to do the same. (6:19-24)
- Relying on God to provide; worry is the fruit of a faithless perspective. (6:25-34)
- Judging others; His way does not include pointing out the faults of others as we have enough to deal with of our own. (7:1-6)
- Approaching God like a generous Father; asking, seeking, and mindful of His graciousness. (7:7-11)
- Treating others with kindness. (7:12)
That was the context for His teaching on the narrow gate.
It is not about ascribing to the right religious system (and not being the member of a wrong one), aligning to a particular view of atonement or eschatology.
It is a way of life that does not give the right to be mean, unkind, or unloving no matter how correct we think we are.
It is a lifestyle that requires power beyond ourselves and that He later promises to provide.
It is a way so narrow that even those of us who know what to say and how to pray still struggle to squeeze through.
But “it is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”