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.