How narrow is that gate?

How narrow is that gate? January 30, 2006

There are, the famous opening lines of the Didache state, “two paths: one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two is great.” These were some of the lines I was asked to translate when I entered seminary, and we were slotted into an Exegesis class on the basis of such testing. Jokes abound about “there are two kinds of…”. Jesus absorbed the same way of discerning humans, and he sees two sorts of humans: the few who enter the narrow gate and the many who enter the wide gate.

Probably no text is more directly offensive to the postmodern (or modern) pluralistic sensibility. One path, so Jesus states, leads to destruction; the other path leads to life. You can monkey with these words, but their implication is clear: a choice needs to be made to follow Jesus or not.
And let this be observed before we get to quick to announce that is we, and not the others, who have entered the narrow gate: the narrow gate is entered by those who hear the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and do them; the wide gate by those who hear those words and do not do them. So there, each of us, we need to hear that. This isn’t about a simple “I accepted Jesus at five and I’ve lived the devil’s life every since but I’m safe and secure.” There is no reason to talk of the gate or the narrow way without thinking of the Sermon on the Mount.
So what is the “gate”? For a long time I’ve taught that the gate is Jesus himself, or Jesus as he is known through his teachings. To enter that gate is to answer the summons to follow Jesus (you can see why I think the Sermon on the Mount is an evangelistic sermon).
A summary is in order: to enter the narrow gate involves being with the blessed ones (poor, peacemakers, persecuted, etc), being salt and light consistently, following Jesus’ radical way about murder/anger, adultery/lust, divorce, truth-telling, mercy over revenge, loving enemies. And it involves doing good deeds for the right reasons; it involves pursuing the kingdom and God’s justice instead of fortunes and fame; and it involves not damning the others and trusting that God is good.
That’s the narrow gate about which Jesus teaches.
What about numbers here? Is this a calculation of how many will make it and how many won’t? Maybe. It is more likely, as Allison and others have argued, that it is Semitic over-statement in a potent exhortation.
The point is clear: there are severe alternatives when we hear the words of Jesus. To do them or not to do them — and that makes all the difference.

"Scot, is the discussion on Willow's pastoral job description closed? If not, I'd like to ..."

The Letter of Hebrews and the ..."
"Yes, we should all take correction from each other. But the issue is the implication ..."

Christian Hierarchies: Yes or No?
"But a husband is not to do the same right? because she will consider it ..."

Christian Hierarchies: Yes or No?
"Eventually, yes. The easiest way is to block the ads."

The Letter of Hebrews and the ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I think you point to a common problem in the Evangelical and wider Christian world: we believe that “praying the prayer” is enough and neglect to realize that when we name “Jesus is Lord,” it is not a valueless statement, rather it is a radical call to shift allegance.
    Jesus is Lord means Jesus is my Lord, and my life will be His. No Lordship means no salvation, as one’s heart never really changed. I think Romans 10:9 hits it right on the head.

  • Duane Young

    I grew up being taught that the SoM is prescriptive and exhortative–“the new commandments” by which we ought to live. It took years to come to the conviction that the SoM was more descriptive and declarative. This post now suggests that it (or at least parts of it) is highly exhortative. Many questions arise: Which is it? Both? Do (at least) the Beatitudes merely describe who is blessed and thereby give hope? Is it all deliberately ambiguous? Intended to lead to despair so as remove every other possible anchor to cling to? My settled convictions don’t seem so settled at the moment. Any clarifying thoughts?

  • Duane,
    For me the issue comes down to reading it in light of its own ending: an exhortation to obey the words of Jesus. This is the clear, clear, clear implication of 7:13-27.

  • Um, I’d just like to say that I read this post BEFORE the one on Homosexuality 2, where your comments seem to be saying exactly what I just did. Lol. Great minds think alike, and so do we, evidently.

  • Scot, I apologize up front for seeming overly reductionistic, but what I get from this post as to what it means to enter the gate is that one must do something in order to enter.
    How much akin is this suggestion to a works-based salvation paradigm?

  • Georges Boujakly

    Are they not declarative also of those who have responded to the exhortative “repent, or change your mind about the availability to all of the kingdom of God now?” I would cherish the path the Holy Spirit has caused you to walk into the declarative understanding.
    Even if taken strictly exhortatively, the doing of the teachings of Christ is synergistic: I declare, that in Christ, these teachings are true of me as I put them into practice.

  • Duane Young

    I would have to agree that the SoM is evangelistic, but not in the way I was originally taught–“you must be or become as described in the Beatitudes to ‘enter in.'” You did not mean it that way either, right? I’m fuzzy on how you got to “be with . . . .” I certainly agree that the whole of the NT teaches “be with” in spades, but I didn’t discern it just from Mt. 5-7.
    I do cherish this new path and understanding–it is very liberating. To realize that the “call” itself was efficacious empowered the “follow me.” To put my trust in my ability to “follow” as described in the Sermon was (and remains) defeating. “It is impossible so why try!?” What a difference “it is done and finished, just accept it and enter in because it is right under your nose” made!
    There is that great old sermon illustration about the young slave girl on the auction block in the South before the Civil War and hearing the bidding go higher and higher at the insistence of a distinctly northern voice begins to despair knowing she will be torn from family and will never see them again. She crys all night knowing her fate and trying to prepare herself. In the morning the successful bidder arrives and she tearfully tells him she is ready. Instead he hands her papers setting her free and indicating he had bought her only to set her free. After the impact of what he told her settled in on her she responded saying, “Then may I go with you and serve you?”