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.