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Narrow And Wide Gates

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave instruction that has been used by Christians for centuries to demand strict obedience to various scriptural commands–most of them negative. The “Thou Shalt Not” sort of commands. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” It sort of sounds like we’ll be fighting each other at the very end of the road, trying to get into that narrow gate.

There are plenty of negative commands to go around, and it’s not my intention to denigrate them. Rather, I think it’s important to look at this passage of scripture a little differently sometimes.

Just in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set a pretty high bar for his followers’ lives–not in terms of the negative but in terms of the positive. The beatitudes alone are enough to give us a lifetime of work–and grace–based on the positive. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, etc.

And then, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Seek reconciliation with your brother. Settle disputes quickly. Just say “yes” or “no”–tell the truth. Go two miles instead of one. Give to the one who asks you for something. Love your enemies. Give to the needy. Forgive. Fast. Ask. Seek. Knock.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Moving on to the judgment scene in Matthew 25 (the judgment of those who chose the wide road and those who chose the narrow one?) feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to strangers, clothe those who need clothing, care for the sick, visit prisoners.

The positive creates just as narrow a road as the negative. In fact, adhering to those positive directives may be more difficult than adhering to the negative. If you think about it, we can remain idle and comply with the negative. To follow the positive admonitions of Jesus, we must do something.

So when confronted with the narrow and wide gates, realize that at least part of the narrow one is filled with the love and grace of God.

4 comments… add one
  • John B. Phillips November 10, 2017, 3:51 PM

    Very good.

  • Frances S, Smith November 9, 2017, 10:02 AM

    We can climber a ladder to heaven or there is a highway to hell.
    Gives you a hint about crowd expectations .

  • Bill Bauman November 9, 2017, 9:25 AM

    Great reminders John! You have keen insight and are a great writer. Question: Based on the summation, is our salvation works based in your opinion? I’d love your thoughts.

    • John Phillips November 10, 2017, 5:24 PM

      As always, you’re way too kind, Bill. The question you raise has produced volumes of commentary and opinion. Theologians of all stripes have tried, and some would say failed, to answer this question. I doubt that I can do any better, but I’ll give a thought or two. In Romans 3:22-25, Paul writes: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the reception that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith.” However, works-based salvation is given a boost by the letter of James. I’m inclined to believe that James is saying that if we have received God’s salvation, we will behave in a particular way, not that we have to behave in this way to be saved. So, works cannot be ignored, but works do not serve as the basis for salvation. I think the overriding theme in the New Testament is that salvation is received by faith/grace, not earned by works. Blessings, John

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