Why Is the Gate of Salvation Narrow?

Jesus says His road leads to life, but before it ends, it is narrow and hard. The easy road leads to destruction. The easy road makes no demands, but it offers no rewards. The hard road makes great demands but offers eternal life.

Dave Jenkins
Gated tunnel to the countryside

Christianity is more than a philosophy, and Matthew 7:13-20 is more than a summons to choose a road less traveled. Like Matthew 7:1-12, Matthew 7:13-20 asks Jesus’ audience to hear Him correctly.

As that passage shows, it is quite possible to misuse Jesus’ teaching because we can use it to condemn others’ failures instead of applying it to ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5). We can fall into despair at our inability to obey Him. Jesus gives us three points of counsel to help us hear Him rightly.

First, we must serve God and seek his righteousness. We must love our neighbor and “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 6:24, 33; 7:12).

Second, when these commands seem daunting, we must ask God for help. When we seek his grace, he will grant it (Matthew 7:7-11).

Third, the path of discipleship is harder but better than drifting along with the world. We should choose the harder yet better road (Matthew 7:13-14).

There are two roads (Matthew 7:13-14), a wide road that is easy now but leads to destruction and a narrow road that is hard now but leads to life.

Many take the easy road, perhaps largely by accident. But a few find the hard road, which implies that they are looking. So, which road will you take?

There are two trees (Matthew 7:15-20). Good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.

There are two ways to call upon Jesus (Matthew 7:21-23). Some call upon His name and even prophesy and perform wonders in that name. But they do not know Him and are not saved. Others call upon Him as their true Lord and are saved.

On the last day, when all stand before Jesus, the Judge, there will be one question, “Do you know Jesus as Savior or not?”

Two builders construct houses on two foundations (Matthew 7:24-27). In dry weather, both look sound. But when the rain comes, the rivers rise, and the wind blows — all is revealed. A house built on sand will collapse, but a house built on rock will stand.

The Choice in Biblical Thought

Jesus says there are two gates (one narrow and one broad), two kinds of prophets (true and false), and two foundations (rock and sand). With this language, He enters a deep stream of biblical thought.

Early in Israel’s history, the Lord began to tell His people that there were two ways of life. One could live in covenant with Him, be blessed, or follow the world and be cursed.

David opens the Psalms by telling the worshipers of Israel that they must choose a path of life and an authority for life:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.… For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1-2, 6).

There are several choices here. Will you follow the counsel of the wicked or the counsel of God? And if you choose the counsel of God, will you be serious enough to meditate on it? Will you turn it over and over in your mind to see how it applies to the issues of life?

Or will you claim it as your standard one day and ignore it the next? Which path will you take: The way of the righteous or the way of sinners and scoffers? The way of life or the way of death?

God’s way is the better way since it leads to eternal life. Yet the better road is also the harder road.

The Narrow Gate, the Hard Road

He spoke to a large crowd when He said, “Enter through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13). Most of the people in that crowd were disciples, but only in a loose sense.

They were not full-fledged Christians — indeed, there were none until the resurrection and Pentecost. Most of them were not even dedicated disciples. Jesus wanted to win them, but not by deception, so he told them the plain truth.

Jesus says His road leads to life, but before it ends, it is narrow and hard. To this day, many who are lightly committed to Christ need to hear the same word. On the broad, easy road, people do as they please. The way of Christian discipleship is hard. The gate is also narrow, restricting us in specific ways.

First, the gate is narrow because Jesus’ commands are restrictive. Eight of the 10 Commandments begin with, “You shall not.” When the law forbids certain actions, it narrows our options. But the law is not the restricting principle.

The character of God is the pattern for our character, and that restricts us too. God is faithful. Therefore, we must be faithful and keep our promises. God is generous. Consequently, we should be generous.

God is kind. Consequently, we should be kind. The indulgence of bad moods that leads to meanness or cruelty is not an option. Disciples resist the temptation to break the law and to ignore God’s character.

Second, the gate is narrow because the Bible teaches truths — doctrines — that we must believe. The Bible says that God created the world out of nothing, that Jesus is truly God and truly man, that this age will end when Jesus returns and calls mankind before Him for judgment.

The Bible directs us to think in these ways, not in others, and that restricts us. We cannot plausibly claim to be Christians and reject the cardinal truths of the faith.

Third, the gate is narrow because we can miss it. We miss it if we do not believe in Christ. We miss it if we deny that we are sinners, in need of a Savior. Jesus’ way is hard. The word translated “hard” comes from a family of words that refers to suffering and persecution.

This reminds us that Jesus’ way is also narrow because it can lead to opposition. We enter the kingdom after passing through many hardships (Acts 14:22).

Why Take the Narrow Road?

There are several reasons to take the narrow road.

First, the easy road later becomes hard. If we get up whenever we please for a long enough period, we will probably become poor. If we eat whatever appeals to us long enough, our health will suffer. If we keep only convenient promises, eventually, no one will trust us.

Second, there is great joy in facing a good challenge. Most people want the easy road. Jesus says that many take the easy road through the wide gate, while few find the hard road through the narrow gate.

Third, the hard path is better because it is the true path. We are attracted to the hard road because we want to know how things are. We hate the thought of living for a false faith or philosophy, even if it “works.” Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, said, “All men by nature desire to know.” The simple fact that we prefer to keep our eyes open, rather than closed, proves this, he said.

On the other hand, T. S. Eliot (Murder in the Cathedral) said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Both men are probably right. We often want to deny uncomfortable truths, but we are pleased when we know the way things are.

Why, again, should we struggle for the hard truths of Christianity? Because, finally, the hard road leads to life. Both the easy road and the hard road lead somewhere. One day life ends. One day history will end.

The hard road restricts, then it opens — to eternal life. The easy road leads to destruction. The easy road makes no demands, but it offers no rewards. The hard road makes great demands but offers great rewards.

Photo Credit:©Unsplash/nknezevic

Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOGInstagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.

Originally published November 11, 2020.