“Strive to enter through the narrow gate!”
“What a bizarre saying,” thinks the modern Charismatic who knows full well that the gate to everlasting life is wide, and the road easy (and in fact, a simple ‘salvation prayer’ away). One must call Jesus “Lord, Lord” without further ado. Having spent a number of years in independent, Charismatic churches, I am familiar with the inner dialogue that takes place when someone from my theological persuasion is confronted with the hard sayings of Christ. To ease the psychological blunt trauma of His actual message, I convinced myself that Jesus merely spoke in radical ways to get people’s attention, but did not intend for believers to literally “strive” to enter His kingdom. I learned to group passages like this with the blatantly metaphoric passages, such as: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” This provided a backdoor of escape from the difficult saying of Christ while preserving the essential message of the Gospel—believe in Christ, and you will be saved (John 3:16). Anyone who preached more than this was merely parroting old-time religion that lacked not only spiritual sophistication, but also had the devilish intent of stealing away the believer’s liberty in Christ. Such preachers were the true enemies of the faith; the only heretics that mattered.
But what was Jesus’ real intent by commanding those who would follow Him to strive to travel the “difficult way” through the “narrow gate” (Matt 7:14)? Was He leading us back to obedience to the dreaded Old Law, was He teaching a “works based” salvation?
The “broad way that leads to destruction” is the one which the many take (by definition). The “many” have always trusted in their own goodness to be the standard of their entrance to the kingdom. If this was Christ’s message it was by no means radical, but rather the status quo. No, Christ’s message is not a mere reiteration of what mankind was already convinced of. It was instead a call to renounce the way of the crowd and to enter the narrow gate where the crowd cannot enter. Just as in the battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans held off the Persian armies by forcing them through a narrow pass, so God holds back the crowds and takes in each person one-on-one. One cannot hide in the crowd. He or she must confront their Creator alone and be held to account for who or what they followed in this life.
And the gate narrows!
To be held to account as to what or whom one follows means an honest evaluation of whether or not one has followed Christ. Paul said that one who lives in the Spirit must also “walk” in the Spirit (Gal 5:24). This is not at all the same as self activated salvation. “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh…those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:16, 24). One cannot “walk in the Spirit” and fulfill his/her own lusts at the same time. Even Christ was “led by the Spirit” to the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He was tempted with lust, fame, and power, and had to resist; Jesus had to strive against the flesh and He calls us to do the same.
Jesus’ command to “strive” to enter through the narrow gate is the call to an either/or resolution—either follow Me (the way of self denial and peace) or follow the crowd (the way of self adulation and unrest). The more the gospel is preached as an easy, non-sacrificial, Sunday morning changing of the guard, is the more it loses relevance in a world crying out for something real.