What Does Jesus Mean by ‘The Gate Is Narrow and the Way Is Hard’?

Keeping our eyes on Jesus we see that He is the path. He doesn’t really draw a line in the dirt or through the forest; Jesus’ life is our direction.

Contributing Writer
Published Nov 09, 2023
What Does Jesus Mean by ‘The Gate Is Narrow and the Way Is Hard’?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

If Jesus’ call really is available to everyone, why do so many people choose not to follow? How come only a few will find this narrow gate, and what does he mean by that?

The Way and the Gate

A Christian will live eternally in the Kingdom of God, which is often compared to the walled city of Jerusalem as it was during Jesus’ time.

Jesus uses this city to build a metaphor — those real gates were narrow, “designed and built to have an L-shaped entry instead of a straight line of entry. Taking this sharp 90-degree turn would have slowed down an invading army in the final moments of a siege.” Not only was the gate narrow but it was made in such a way that discouraged entry.

This is a picture of the Christian life. We don’t know exactly what is around the corner every day, but we know that the end is written and Christ wins. We win if we place our trust alone in him for salvation.

But what about other ways: what about the prosperity gospel, or the queer gospel, or pantheism? What about secular humanism, Buddhism, or Baha’i? These lay along the wide path which entices us with themes that sound good but do not come from Christ.

Along that path, people ask us, “Did God really say….?” or “If God is good….”. The serpent challenged God’s first people to second-guess God and, in order to experience fleeting enjoyment, they broke their relationship with God.

Five Teachings from Matthew 7

Christ’s teaching found in Matthew 7 tells us at least five things about our walk with Christ.

1. Obstacles are inevitable in the Christian life. One that every person can relate to is death. 100% of people will come face to face with the reality of death.

But there are many others: embarrassment, financial difficulty, change, illness, and more — these are like boulders and dead trees strewn along our path, tempting us to take a detour and try out other ways of coping.

No one will get out of this world without facing at least some of them, not even the most faithful believers. If you think it’s possible to avoid stress, think of Paul’s life. He chose joy in Jesus, and still his way was strewn with hardship.

2. We don’t have to treat hardship as something to avoid or fear. We can do hard things in Christ. So, not only are these difficulties inevitable, but we have a choice about how to view them.

The world wants you to believe that getting old is a curse; that death is dreadful, and that we can avoid it.

The Christian knows that death is not the end and that the faithful in Christ have nothing to fear. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).

3. In order to face hard things, we must follow Christ. Victory is not a matter of finding inner strength. You will not find the key to handling suffering or obstacles by manifesting, by meditating (in the sense of clearing your mind), or by reading a self-help book.

You can’t pray them away, and they aren’t indicative of bad karma. Only Christ can be our Lord and Savior and we must face hardship in Him and to His glory.

4. We need Jesus’ warning about the narrow gate and the hard way because “of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v.15). Lots of people will invite you to follow their path all the way to destruction.

Social media is very good at promoting alternative routes, but we don’t even need computers. Human beings have been wandering off the Lord’s lean trail since the start of time.

Wyatt Graham talks about the ways we are tempted to lust after what the Lord has told us is sinful; to follow what we should avoid.

Jesus’ language around sexual sin was especially serious to the point of being violent. Graham quotes Matthew 5:29 where our Savior asserts, “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

5. Try paying lip service to the Lord, and he will see right through you. Staying on the narrow path requires real, active devotion to Christ.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (v.17).

Your fruit will involve movement, and change. If you have truly believed in Christ for salvation, you are not the same person as you were before you submitted your life to him, and that should be apparent to others.

Maybe you used to look at pornography, but now you realize this is sinful. Though you are tempted, the very fact that you know it’s sinful points to the change.

Now you experience the battle between flesh and spirit, but you’re fighting in Christ’s name, and in His power, not your own. That’s another change.

Inward and Outward Following

There appears to be — in Jesus’ teaching — an implication that religious belief will always be evinced by behaviors. Believers do things that others can see, thereby revealing that they are good people.

But that’s not the case, because we see that outwardly religious behavior was an appalling problem in God’s eyes. One scholar explained that “Israel's religious leaders emphasized that only outward actions mattered and not inward righteousness before God.

Those trusting in their ethnicity, along with their own ability to "perform" the Law — without becoming righteous in their hearts — would follow the path to eternal separation from God.”

They looked like they were following the slender route, but really, they were wearing an excellent disguise.

Our brokenness starts from the inside and works its way out. Even when we can hide it from co-workers and friends, an inner sin life is visible to God.

He sees how our imaginations are overrun by weeds and thorns, and this puts up walls. We can see or hear God when we are immersed in sinful thinking. We might look like we’re following, but really, we are straying off the path.

How do we keep ourselves from thinking what we should not think? How do we steer our imaginations away from unrighteousness? We keep our eyes fixed not just on the path but on the one who leads us — Jesus Christ.

Graham wrote, “We must attach ourselves fully to the kingdom of God [...]. Jesus will take these burdens from us and eviscerate them. In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus calls us to himself with our weakness and weariness. Then he takes away what weakens and wearies us.”

What Does This Mean?

Keeping our eyes on Jesus we see that He is the path. He doesn’t really draw a line in the dirt or through the forest; Jesus’ life is our direction.

How He spoke of God, how He talked to crippled individuals, the scorned, the detested, and the diseased; how he was consistent in his devotion to the Lord: all of these examples and more from the path we are on. We aren’t following a plan; we are following a person — the Person.

For further reading:

Why Is the Gate of Salvation Narrow?

What Does it Mean That the Gate Is Narrow in Matthew 7?

Is Christ Really the Only Way to God?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/theasis

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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