Why is the Narrow Gate Hard to Enter?

road

Artist: Unknown

What is the narrow gate? You probably know the answer to this question – the narrow gate is Jesus – but what does it mean to find the narrow gate, and why did Jesus say many would try to enter and fail?

Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24)

As kids in Sunday School, we learned about the broad and narrow roads. We understood that there was a freeway to hell and nearly everybody was on it. There was also a narrow way to life, a secret passage that few would find. But Jesus said the narrow gate isn’t just hard to find, it’s hard to enter: “Many will try to enter and will not be able to.”

That’s the first puzzle: why is Jesus hard to enter? And here’s the second:

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)

Why there are two gates? Shouldn’t there be only one gate? Aren’t we all born on a highway to hell? Aren’t we all lost unless we stumble onto the secret turn-off?

Behind door number 1…

Apparently that Sunday School picture is not quite right. Religion says you were born hellbound but Jesus says you get to choose: You can choose the broad or narrow gate. One leads to death, the other leads to life. A narrow gate, such as you might find in a city wall, is basically a door. Jesus is the door to life:

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9, NKJV)

Jesus said many will try to enter the door and not be able to. The picture is of multitudes coming to the door of Jesus – they’ve heard about him – and they’re wanting to enter, but they can’t get in. The reason they can’t enter is because outside the door there is a bouncer called Religion. This bouncer is a bully and a thug and he speaks the devil’s lies:

  • “You can’t come in here looking like that! You need to get cleaned up before you can approach the Lord.”
  • “Are you sure you want to do this because the way is narrow and hard and only the best make it. You don’t look good enough.”
  • “Entering is not easy. You have to strive to the point of agony and work hard every day to stay the course. We’re looking for marathon runners and you look like you can barely stand. Come back when you’re stronger.”

These are damnable lies but they are effective. Just look at all the people turning away with sorrow. “It’s true, I am a failure. I’m not good enough for God. I need to work before he will accept me.” Instead of entering through the door of Jesus they choose the door of self-trust. Like Adam they believe the lie and choose the way of death.

The narrow gate is not hard to enter because God has high standards. (He does have high standards, but Jesus has met them all on your behalf!) The narrow gate is hard to enter because people are slow of heart to believe the good news and quick to believe the lies of self-made religion. “I am a mess. How could I approach a holy God in this sorry state? I need fig leaves.”

Instead of coming into the House of Grace and getting all their needs met by Jesus, they’re stuck outside trying to clean themselves. Instead of beholding the Lamb, they are beholding themselves. Instead of focusing on Christ and his sublime perfections, they are distracted by themselves and their imperfections.

Strive to enter

Why did Jesus say only a few find the narrow door (in Matt 7:14)? Because in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was preaching to those under the law, and when you live under the law, especially a watered-down version of the law that makes you believe you can qualify on your own merits, you will have trouble finding the door of grace. Exhibit A: The Pharisees. They didn’t find the door because they weren’t even looking for it.

And why did Jesus exhort us to strive to enter the narrow gate (in Luke 13:24)? He is not saying we must strive in the flesh to overcome sin and pass the test. We strive to enter the narrow gate for the same reason we strive to enter his rest (Heb 4:11). It takes effort because walking by faith doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s the nature of the flesh to take control and make things right. (Fig leaves, again.) It takes effort to resist the flesh and allow our hearts to be established in God’s word.

There are two doors, two gates, and two voices. One speaks truth and the other speaks lies. One says, “Come to me all and I will give you rest,” and the other says, “Did God really say…?” One speaks the words of eternal life and the other speaks the words of death.

The narrow gate is hard to enter because our flesh (our sight and understanding) has trouble receiving grace. Our flesh wants to follow Adam. “Don’t worry God, I got this. I can take care of myself.” And the result is death.

We can only enter the narrow gate by faith. “Lord, I don’t got this. I need your help.” And as we receive his grace and abide in the restful persuasion that Jesus has got this, the result is life.

50 Comments on Why is the Narrow Gate Hard to Enter?

  1. Paul, love it! This confirms some things I have been looking into. Few are those who find it because the fall of man seeks to be justified by works. However, Jesus later said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.”

    He has to show us because we were stumbling around blind and didn’t know how to get to life. But when He reveals Himself, it is not hard to say yes and enter, once our hearts have been softened by His love.

    • John, may I add a comment here – when Jesus said ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” – the word ‘men or peoples’ is in italics ie. put in by the translators. However, to read this in context, Jesus is saying ‘I will draw all judgement to me (judgment being the topic in the previous verse). So if Jesus has drawn all judgment to himself, then our faith or trust in Jesus means we are judged justified and righteous – a part of the great exchange.

      • Yeah, I recently heard a message where the all judgement aspect was highlighted. I’ll need to look into that. Thanks for sharing, John!

  2. Hebrews 3 & 4 speaks of being “unable to enter because of unbelief” as well as “fail to enter because of disobedience.” It’s speaking of entering rest, but Christ is that rest. The only way of going on with God into Christ is thru faith and obedience.

    I’m in the US and we get it wrong so often but you know where I see this principle clearly, in brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, North Korea, India… those finding and following Jesus in persecution are the real deal.

  3. Good work paul, adds some things to the explanation i have not considered.

  4. I’ve lived on both sides of this and what you’re saying is so true.

  5. Amen!

  6. Hi Prasad read carefully and walk according will of god not of Adam which leads to death

  7. Yes,, true true true…
    I’ve been on this journey of letting go ever since I’ve been introduced to the Lord. Every day I realize that is required of us as believers. And boy,did I tell you it’s the hardest thing of all..
    To let go.
    To let go.
    To let go..

    It’s become my alarm tone. And I’ve been failing miserably. But the Lord always wins and victory is mine.
    It’s a lovely message but our inbox(aka mind) always troubleshoots it….

  8. Yes,, true true true…
    I’ve been on this journey of letting go ever since I’ve been introduced to the Lord. Every day I realize that it is the only thing required of us as believers. And boy,did I tell you it’s the hardest thing of all..
    To let go.
    To let go.
    To let go..

    It’s become my alarm tone. And I’ve been failing miserably. But the Lord always wins and victory is mine.
    It’s a lovely message but our inbox(aka mind) always troubleshoots it….

  9. Megan Urlaub // June 23, 2016 at 4:13 am // Reply

    So the secret is to work. To work at resting in the Lord. And that power of His might. Not our own.

  10. Megan Urlaub // June 23, 2016 at 4:15 am // Reply

    So the secret is to work at resting in the Lord and the power of His might.

  11. You never fail to enlighten me more and more on the wonder of God’s grace. And every time I understand more and more the more I am motivated to live and honor my Lord, being always grateful for His amazing grace. Hallelujah!!!

  12. A great explanation of an often confusing piece of scripture.

  13. Thanks Paul, I love this post in that it exposes the lies taught in the guise of religion. I am really blessed by your posts. I pray God unveils more mysteries of His Manifold Grace to you in Jesus name.

  14. Ed Anderson // June 23, 2016 at 6:42 am // Reply

    Love it! love it love it LOVE IT! Another question answered and I didn’t even know the question! Awesome Paul, thank you! So glad I just “happened upon” E2R!

  15. I needed this reminder today. Thank you and may God bless you. And your family.

  16. Great word!
    I love it to have brothers who are that wise ti write all this revelation!

  17. Thank you Grace and Truth Jesus

  18. is that life eternal life or what? Because some believe that passage is referring to heaven and hell.

  19. Deborah Loraine Kean // June 23, 2016 at 5:41 pm // Reply

    Thank you Paul for clarifying! So often I find I think it all depends on me – and I am often told that!

  20. Awesome exposition. (By the way, I love the analogy of the bouncer at the door called Religion.) The message of trusting in our works instead of Jesus (fig leaves) is so applicable to everyday life. For example, I had treated some relatives very badly in the past. And then I felt deep remorse about it, and attempted to fix the situation in my own strength and it only made everything worse. Now I’ve turned the situation over to Jesus, who has fully forgiven me. I just said, “Lord, you don’t remember anymore what I did, so please don’t let anyone else remember, either.” And you know what? He’s brought about a miraculous restoration–something I was never able to achieve in the flesh, and I know it’s all forgotten also because they have never brought it up again. Praise God!

  21. Real Paquette // June 24, 2016 at 5:03 am // Reply

    Thanks Paul. wow, Oh how I love Jesus for His Grace.

  22. I love this! This really helps drive home the point that the flesh is simply a reliance upon self. I need to be reminded of this daily. I think the greatest goal in life is to learn to simply trust Him with everything. I imagine that life would be absent of all anxiety, worry, or fear. This is my goal at least!🙂

  23. How do we receive His Grace and abide in the restful persuasion that Jesus got? Not clear to me and explain please!

    • No worries. Search in the upper right search box for “What Happens to Unfruitful Branches?” and be changed. Also read the previous post to this titled “Is Grace a License to be Lazy?”.

  24. Great word. I heard a minister teach once that the broad way of destruction here was religion.

  25. It’s interesting how we make this passage of scripture about heaven and hell. It follows on from how one is to live. From my understanding, in 1st C they were unconcerned about what happened after death, unlike us to day who focus on it. Life and death to them was in how they lived. You did things that lead to death or life. You bought into your life despair, disrepair and loss, or you bought blessing, abundance and health. Do you think it’s possible this is actually referring to how we live? Our choices either bring us life or death IN this life. Blessing or curse. It actually makes more sense in the context it has been written. I don’t personally think its about heaven and hell.

  26. scbrownlhrm // June 29, 2016 at 11:27 am // Reply

    Paul,

    Thanks.

    That little word holds more than you may think on first glance.
    😉

  27. Thanks a lot. The Holy Spirit was teaching me this last month but I didn’t fully get it. Now I do. Thanks a lot

    • Why Jesus is called narrow gate is confusing as bible ,John3:16 whosoever that means many should reach to heaven whole world is preaching to believe Jesus is our savior ,Lord, redeemed, lamb of Godfor all so the gate must not narrow there is some misinterpration.

      • Joao, I can relate. This used to be a confusing Scripture for me as well. I think what it means is that there is only one way to life, so in that sense, the way is narrow. Few are those who find it because man so often chooses his own wisdom which comes in many different forms (so in that sense the way to destruction is broad). But faith comes from preaching the gospel and illuminates the way to Jesus, the only Savior.

        Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself”. He draw us because we are helpless at saving ourselves.

      • Thank you for incomplete answer, as our preaching is not according to the satisfaction of the Holy Spirit.
        Secondly you quoted Jesus saying ” if I’m lifted up, I’ll take ….) Please clear this properly – was Jesus already lived up or we have to lift Him now explain how to achieve this command of Jesus. I wait for answer please!

      • Dear now that Jesus is lifted up and Jesus said : I’ll draw ALL MEN TO me….so why narrow road still God is favouring us or not!

      • When Jesus said, “If I be lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all men to myself…” He was referring to dying on the cross (see John 12:32-33). There is also the sense He is lifted up in us as we proclaim the gospel. My main point was that Jesus will draw men to Himself so that they can enter through the gate to life, rather than them having to find it out of their own efforts.

      • Thanks very much for clearifying the lifting of jesus.

      • Joao,

        Both are true, the way is narrow and Jesus draws us to it. The point is not that God wants to make it difficult for us to come to him. He wants to make it difficult for us to not find him! The way is narrow because it is only through Jesus Christ that men can be saved. However, Holy Spirit along with believers are leading people through the narrow gate. Hope that makes sense. As a basic rule, never use one scripture alone to form a doctrine. The rest of Scripture will help to make things clear.

  28. Thank you… you’ve made this Scripture passage easy to understand!!!

  29. “The picture I now have is of multitudes coming to the door of Jesus – they’ve heard about him – and they’re wanting to enter, but they can’t get in. The reason they can’t enter is because outside the door there is a bouncer called Religion.”

    In the story of the rich young ruler, he wanted eternal life but refused to enter because he he wouldn’t give up his wealth. Sometimes the bouncer is the cross, especially when it’s not viewed as an invitation.

    • Alan, doesn’t it strike you unusual that out of the thousands of people Jesus encountered, only one was told to give his stuff away? No lepers were told this. So why this guy? Perhaps it’s because he came to the Lord with a self-righteous heart asking “What must I do?” There is nothing you can do and Jesus proved it to him. Religion hinders grace, but the cross offends the self-righteous.

      • He may have been self-righteous but he certainly realized lacking something if he’s running and kneeling to Jesus, asking to inherit eternal life. What strikes me is when Jesus lists some commandments and this guy says he has kept all of them, Jesus doesn’t knock him for that. Instead it says Jesus loved him. And from that love says to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell… and give… and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” I think it’s pretty amazing that Jesus sees this man’s heart and the thing that keeps him from following. I mean Jesus could have mentioned something else. But it’s not just this rich guy, Jesus says it’s difficult for everyone who has wealth to enter. It’s not the wealth that gets you, it’s being disheartened when Jesus asks you to give it up.
        You’re right about the cross offending the self-righteous. It’s grace when God reveals the one, or many, things that keep us from following Jesus.

      • He did not ask how to inherit eternal life. He said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The short answer is there is nothing you can do to inherit anything. For you to inherit, someone has to die. The Lord, sensing the self-righteousness of his heart, points him to the law and the man immediately starts boasting. “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

        This kid is a self-made man. He doesn’t need the Lord. He’s looking for a teacher to teach him how to elevate himself. Jesus graciously gives the self-made man what he asks for – more rules – so that the law may do its job and silence the boasting mouth (Rom 3:19). The fact is he hasn’t kept all the rules. He’s deceiving himself for he is an idolater. Jesus applied the plow of the law to the heart revealing the man’s sin. Jesus was not saying you can purchase eternal life. He was using the law to point out his need for grace. Sadly, the self-made man turned away from the only one who could give him what he truly needed.

        Giving up wealth or your right to anything really isn’t hard when you see what you get in return. But it’s very hard when you’re trying to approach God through your dead works.

      • Getting back to you after a long holiday weekend here in the states. I’m hesistant to respond because talking with the wife, she agrees with you, and she’s usually spot on. . . but not always:) I don’t see Jesus’ words as law here. Whenever Jesus invites/directs/commands something, I don’t view it as a work needing to be done to be saved, but a call to follow. In Jesus word to his disciples and the crowd, “If anyone desires to come after me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me,” deny yourself and taking up the cross isn’t for salvation but for sanctification. It’s a response to grace, not a condition of grace, but still a necessity in learning Christ. It’s like Jesus words in Luke, “Anyone who does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” and “…any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” That’s a principle not a law, and an invitation.
        Hey man, I’m not even sure if we’re apart on things that are real and true, and just on different pages in the same book. In any case, I’m keeping the wife.

      • The rich young ruler brags about keeping the laws and Jesus points to a law he hasn’t kept. It wasn’t a suggestion; it was the first of the Ten Commandments. Again, the exhortation to take up the cross and renounce all was not a suggestion nor a self-help guide to sanctification – it’s the way to salvation. How else could Paul say he had been crucified with Christ? “If you don’t renounce all” – how can that be anything other than a black and white option? How can you enter a room and not enter a room? It’s one or the other.

        Many critics of the grace movement claim we preach cheap grace, but the real weakness in the church today is the preaching of cheap law; it’s turning the king’s commands into mere suggestions, even principles, anything but actual commands. This is why I say those who preach radical grace are the only ones who take Jesus and his words seriously.

      • The rich young man probably was trying to justify himself, but maybe the reason it says that Jesus, looking at him, loved him, was that for the 6 commandments Jesus cited, he actually had not violated them. I think it’s heart issues that Jesus sees, and his call to this man to sell all he had and give to the poor revealed the heart of this man for his possessions. His sorrow in going away may have been he only saw loss, and never saw Jesus, that he was worth following, or the treasure he would have in heaven. What Jesus told him, “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor” isn’t a command or law in Old or New Testaments as far as I’m aware.
        In all the gospel accounts, this story follows Jesus showing that it is only as a child that one receives the kingdom of God. There is always a heart issue of loving Jesus involved in doing anything Jesus commands. “If anyone desires to come after me, he must…”, “If you love me, you will keep…” That Paul can say “one thing I do, I press on…” is because God revealed Jesus in his heart. Paul saw him, and seeing him, loved him, and loving him, followed him. The sayings of Jesus are commands, there is a ‘must’ about them, but there is also this sense of invitation, that there’s a going on and going deeper. Following Jesus, learning Christ, can be hard, it is hard on the flesh as you mentioned, but hard is not a measure of grace. Many take Jesus’ words seriously but never find rest… they just do, without having seen or loved or come to Jesus.

  30. I think Jesus was actually preaching the law to Jews in the Matthew and Luke verses you are referring to. These verses are not instructions for Christians. He is essentially saying to the Jews something similar to what he said to the rich Jewish man and similar to what he said in Matt 5 to the Jews about being “perfect just as your father in heaven is perfect”. Note that the beginning of Matt chapter 7 is about the law and not judging so they won’t be judged- law based instruction. So in this context Jesus is referring to the narrow door as the door that only the perfect law keeping jew could enter. The narrow door is the law. The broad door was for the lawless -ppl who didn’t keep the law. I think Jesus’ way of speaking is similar to other passages, which is “I’m showing you the perfection of the law and how unattainable it is”
    This illuminates more clearly the verse in John which says that Jesus is the door…Ie Jesus is law for us, we keep the law via Jesus.
    Much of what Jesus taught was to the Jews and it’s easy to think it’s for Christians to follow too. This leads to strange conflicts. Just my 2cents

    • Simon,you are spot on.When we read the bible we must be aware of who is being spoken to. While all words of the Bible are written for us,they are not all written to us.Jesus is speaking to people under the law and therefore showing them how futile it is to try and keep it. They need to know this,so because he loves them,he needs to tell them this truth. just as he did with the rich young ruler. The Gate is often a place of judgement in the Bible. The gates of a city is where punishment is doled out such as stoning.

      The best option here is one that allows few to enter. This doesn’t sound like good news and,in fact,it contradicts the good news.Jesus doesn’t talk this way to people who believe on him. When he talks to people who believe on him in just the simplest way,he will praise them for their unwavering faith and heal them and tell them that they will be in Paradise with him this very day. In the parable of the prodigal father,we find that when the son turned toward his father,his father ran toward him. Jesus is giving these people a dose of the truth so they will repent/change their minds. Change their minds from what,to what? Change their minds from themselves toward him.

      If Jesus was talking to believers here,he would have told them some good news such as
      “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,so buy the obedience of one shall MANY be made righteous.” Romans 5:19

      If you try to enter through the narrow gate/the Law,FEW will enter.
      If you try to enter through the door/Jesus,MANY will enter.
      Which one of these truths is spoken FOR us?
      Which one of these truths is spoken TOO us?

      Which one is the good news of Christ Jesus?

  31. John Grant // July 7, 2016 at 7:05 pm // Reply

    Jesus my righteousness!

  32. John Andra // July 10, 2016 at 12:40 pm // Reply

    This is awesome. Yes, I do believe more will not make it than will make it. I think most people believe the opposite, and I think I used to be one of them.

  33. Shaun odell // August 26, 2016 at 6:57 am // Reply

    Awesome word, all the article I have read and awesome please don’t stop bring light and truth

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