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)
I find the context of Matthew 7:13-14 very interesting.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been focusing on the internal as opposed to the external: the idea that the commandments against murder and adultery also include hatred and lust, that we should give generously without expecting credit for it, and that we need to subject ourselves to the same judgement with which we judge others and do it before we judge them.
The fact that Matthew 7:13-14 lies in the midst of this greater context, reminds us that this internal change is hard. I think a lot of us, if we were being honest, would rather our relationship with God be based on a list of rules we had to follow and tasks we could check off as being completed. You see this even in regards to earthly relationships. How many sitcom episodes have been written with the premise that the man thinks completing certain tasks (like taking out the garbage and putting the toilet seat down) means he loves his wife and doesn’t understand why he needs to be in tune with her emotional needs?
Martin Luther touches on this in Concerning Christian Liberty, when he writes,
“Christian faith has appeared to many an easy thing; nay, not a few even reckon it among the social virtues, as it were; and this they do because they have not made proof of it experimentally, and have never tasted of what efficacy it is.”
Luther knew that genuine faith does not lead to the wide gate and easy path, but the narrow gate and hard path so anyone counting the Christian life as easy had not actually been experiencing the Christian life.
The interesting thing is that although he mentions the “pressure of tribulation” and being “vexed by various temptations,” Luther spends the majority of time in Concerning Christian Liberty discussing the Christian’s obligation to his neighbor, proposing that
“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”
Luther ultimately concludes that,
“Though [the Christian] is thus free from all works, yet he ought to empty himself of this liberty, take on him the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion as a man, serve, help, and in every way act towards his neighbour as he sees that God through Christ has acted and is acting towards him.”
It’s not a coincidence that the teaching about the wide and narrow gates immediately follows the Golden Rule. Treating others as we want to be treated, and as God has treated us, is antithetical to human nature and is completely dependent on the internal change that Jesus has talked about in Matthew 5-7.
Self-righteousness is appealing because it doesn’t require real change. We go to church on Sunday, give a little money to the church and maybe some other worthy charities, try and refrain from cursing, losing our temper or breaking any of the major commandments, and we consider ourselves spiritually well. If we think about it, we’ve made the Christian life seem pretty easy.
Our spiritual wellness, however, is not dependent on any outward action, but on the inward realities they reflect. Examining ourselves as the Sermon on the Mount requires is tough work, requiring a daily denial of ourselves and complete submission to the Holy Spirit working in our lives. But although the way is hard, and those that find it are few, Jesus says it is the road that leads to life.
image by ckgd2