Anonymous asked a question:
I am a little confused about something and I was hoping you could help. In Matthew, it talks about the narrow path and gate into heaven. How can I, as a Christian perceive that to mean something other than that lots of people walk towards God but very few actually make it. This seems to go against grace? And also the profession of Jesus as a saviour?
Hey dear friend, this is certainly a troubling passage that is very off-putting at first glance: but I’d like to balance this passage with the entirety of Scripture.
Let’s look at the passage in question, Matthew 7:13-14, which says:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
So it looks like most people alive today will end up in Hell, an eternity under the wrath of God, while only a fraction will make it to Heaven.
But then, let’s look at Matthew 25:13 here, known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins (or Bridesmaids). To summarize, Jesus tells a tale about a wedding where ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to begin the ceremony, but only five of the bridesmaids came prepared with extra oil in their lamps to greet him (this sounds like a weird custom back then, but weddings have always had weird customs throughout history, e.g. throwing bouquets or fishing for garters or dancing past a reasonably non-creepy age). So five of the bridesmaids make it, but five don’t. This implies that at least half of the people we know will end up in Heaven.
Lastly, let’s look at Matthew 13:24-30 here, known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. To summarize, Jesus tells a tale where a farmer’s field is sabotaged by weeds. The farmer, instead of pulling up the weeds, decides to let the wheat and weeds grow together, and at the time of harvest he will separate them. This implies that most people we know will end up in Heaven.
So which one is true? Is it the story of the Narrow Gate, or the Ten Bridesmaids, or the Wheat and Tares? Do only a few of us make it, or half of us, or most of us?
Here’s my guess. If we’re to look at the entire context of the whole storyline of the Bible, then God is telling us that humans are more likely to take the path of least resistance (like the broad road and the bridesmaids), but that Jesus also has so much grace for us that he is patient, ever waiting, always open — which is not only shown by the wheat and tares, but also by Jesus calling himself the Door, the Good Shepherd, our Ransom, our Servant, and our Friend.
In other words, we always need to see the big picture before we over-emphasize any one isolated dogma.
It’s too easy to use a single passage to fear-monger a congregation into fighting for the offering plate.
It’s also too easy to abuse “grace” and allow it to enable us and lull us into complacency and lukewarm living.
Any verse taken out of context may seem contradictory to another verse, but taken as a storyline, there’s a tapestry of both God’s Love and Holiness. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), but we also store up wrath if we remain unrepentant (2:5). The book of Hebrews seems like one long letter of rebuke, especially 10:26-27 that says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” But earlier in verse 22, it says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water,” and in the next chapter, about the heroes of faith, it says, “These were all commended for their faith.” Notice: not by works, but by faith.
Peter says the famous verse, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And of course, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
My best estimation is that it’s much harder to end up in Hell than we think, and that God’s grace is wide enough for the tiniest seed of faith.
Somehow, in some way beyond our understanding, God is both perfect mercy and perfect justice. Perhaps when we see the cross, we see both the grief that our sin has caused, but also the love for us that put Jesus there, who was willing to go to such lengths that we may be his and he may be ours. It was Jesus who went through the narrowest gate and was crushed, that we may enter and be free.
– The Error of Narrow-Gate Theology: Jesus Is Bigger Than A Single Bible Verse
– Skipping The Hard Stuff Jesus Said
Photo from Image Catalog, CC BY PDM
10 thoughts on “Theology Showdown: The Narrow Gate Vs. the Broad Road”
Gods grace is sufficient… When it talks about the path it’s merely used as an analogy to individuals choices and what they choose…. Including and most importantly the failure to accept JESUS Christ into our lives as our lord and savior. If you do that wide will be the path through the gates. As it stands now the gates are narrow for the ones who continue living worldly and absence from the body of Christ. Less say you own a company of your own and we’ll call that company(heaven) and you had unlimited positions open. Would you hire mass amounts of people to get a lot of work done or would you choose to hire the best applicants (christian people practicing the word of God) to minimize the discord and chance to make your company more productive. It’s not God choosing to not show his grace it’s us choosing not to accept it.
My understanding of the narrow gate is the very fact that there is only one way. When we were in SC once, there was the threat of a hurricane and we had to leave the city we were in by way of the interstate. Believe me, it got crowded because it was the one sure way out of danger. Jesus is the only Way and that very fact explains the verse. When we look around for roads that lead to heaven, there is only One Way. We go that way or we do not go. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and died in our place. If we are willing to receive that redemption, we go through the narrow gate.
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Well said… Great analogy!!!
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Could you explain how you see the wheat and weeds parable as describing most being wheat? Is it because you think it’s likely that the owner would have sown more wheat than his enemy could have sown weeds? We’re talking about a harvest to be sure, but also bundles of weeds. I’m not sure how any quantities could be assumed based on this story…
I understand how the first two could be talking about the amount of people being saved (though I think the second is less about the numbers than about the benefits of being prepared for Christ’s return). However, the last parable seems exclusively to be talking about how unbelievers will be left among believers (for the good of believers) until judgement day.
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Also, to the original question, I don’t think Matthew 7:13-14 is talking about everyone earnestly seeking the true God and only a few finding him because he’s difficult to find. Instead, it speaks to the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and how most people are chasing after everything else. Verse 7 of the same chapter ensures us that it’s not because people are trying to find God but can’t.
Hey Jason, you very well could be right about all of that. I suppose the analogies could have more details that I didn’t cover. My interpretation came about through various Reformed Calvinists comparing these passages, trying to find a balanced theology on salvation. I think the “plain” meanings are obvious when we strip down the metaphors/visuals to their bottom line. I think the comparisons might have a little wiggle room.
As usual, insightful answer. I agree with the warning of proof-texting one verse at a time. My theological mantra is “context, context”. The other thing is, why are we as humans so eager to challenge Jesus about how salvation works? Even Peter wanted to know what would happen to John, but Jesus said, “None of your business (my paraphrase)”. I choose to have my oil ready, walk a narrow path (the one God calls me to, not the one God calls you to!), and to bear fruit like wheat. And let The Spirit speak and work through me to encourage others. Anything else is God’s work and beyond me!!
Right on. Love the reference to Peter and John. I’m pretty sure that scene played out a little humorously, even.
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Js Park you’ve inspired me again. Great job.