Some questions can be answered two ways. If I ask, ‘Is it easy to fit new taps in your bathroom?’, a plumber or a DIY man will say, ‘Yes, nothing to it’. But others would say, ‘No way, I would never attempt something like that’. It does rather depend on your perspective.
In the same way, if I ask, ‘Is it easy to enter the kingdom of God?’, some would say, ‘Sure, nothing is easier. Just call on the Lord for forgiveness. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’.
Now, such answers are true, but there is another side to the coin. It is equally valid to say, ‘No, it is difficult. There is a narrow gate and Jesus said we must strive to enter – because many will try and not be able to’ (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:24).
There are some for whom it is certainly not easy. Jesus said, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’. Just as well, then, that conversion to Christ is a work of God, not man – for ‘with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:24-26).
Nevertheless, from a human standpoint, there are genuine difficulties to be faced. I remember hearing a sermon entitled, ‘True conversion, rare and difficult’. This sums up a truth that is much ignored these days. Let’s look at some reasons why it is difficult to enter the kingdom.
The way is easily missed
In Matthew 7:13-14, two gates are in view: ‘Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction’. The wide gate is very inviting. You can see the ‘welcome’ signs all around it.
It reminds me of casinos. The hotels at Niagara Falls used to advertise their proximity to the magnificent Falls. Now they boast how close they are to the casino (free shuttle buses provided)!
The narrow gate is easily overlooked. Most people are going in the wide gate, lured by such attractions as man-made philosophy, DIY religion, popularity and self-indulgence. How can so many be wrong?
Many of your friends are going that way – colleagues, family, schoolmates and neighbours are walking the broad road. There are lots of nice people there. The broad way seems the natural way to travel.
In fact, if you are not a Christian, you are already on it. Most people hardly give the narrow way a thought.
When I read of the narrow gate, I think of stiles. Many footpaths in Britain cross farmers’ fields, so stiles and other devices have been installed to stop cattle straying.
In the north where there are many stone walls, you often find tapered slots in the walls. They might be eighteen inches at the top going down to almost nothing at the bottom, and they are very effective at keeping livestock in while letting people through.
But if you are overweight, or carrying something large, you would struggle to get through. These gaps are hopeless if you are carrying a large suitcase. So it is, when we enter the narrow gate, there are restrictions and some things must be left behind. Let’s consider some of these restrictions.
That is a huge issue for some, especially young people. As I said, many of your friends are following the broad way, and if you choose the narrow way you may lose friends. You are likely to be ridiculed or shunned.
That is hard and costly. Peer pressure is enormous. Are you ready for that? Jesus said we must take up a cross. That means we must ‘die’ to self, to our self-pleasing desires and our popularity. That is certainly one reason why many do not enter the narrow gate.
These too must be left behind as a means of pleasing God. For those who do not do good works, there is no problem. Some who gathered around Jesus were called ‘sinners’ by the religious people of that day. These ‘sinners’ were people like crooked tax collectors and prostitutes. They knew they were sinners and did not try to hide the fact.
But others, who were respectable, found it very hard to admit that they too were sinners in God’s estimation, and needed salvation just as much as society’s outcasts.
Jesus said it is not the healthy who seek a doctor, but the sick – adding, ‘I did not come to call the righteous but sinners, to repentance’ (Matthew 9:12-13). The ‘sinners’ were those who recognised their sinfulness; the ‘righteous’ were those who thought themselves righteous, such as the Pharisees.
There are many people like that today – nice, clean-living, sometimes religious. They cannot see their need of salvation. They measure themselves by others, and they compare quite favourably.
Are you like that? Do you feel that your good deeds will get you to heaven? Or at least that your good deeds will somehow outweigh the bad?
Sadly, multitudes have believed the devil’s lie at this point. The truth is that trusting in our good works will keep us out of heaven – for the sin of self-righteousness will prevent our entering.
We need to turn instead to Jesus Christ and say, with the hymn writer, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling’. Christ alone can save us.
We must also leave behind our idols – everything we set our hearts upon apart from Jesus Christ. He said we must be willing to give up everything we have, or we cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:33).
Nothing must come before Christ. We may not literally have to abandon everything, but there must be a willingness to do just that.
Jesus met a rich young man who longed to inherit eternal life. He claimed he always kept God’s commandments, but Jesus challenged him in one area – his covetousness. He should sell all he had, said Jesus, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him (Mark10:17-24).
He turned away – his wealth was more important to him than following Christ. It was a stumbling-block. For you it may be your career, some other person, comfort or pleasure. We must give up all our idols – everything and anything that comes between us and God. The young man who came to Jesus was not willing to do that and he went away sad.
Our sins must certainly be left behind. The first words Jesus preached publicly were, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 4:17). Repentance is a radical change of thinking with regard to sin. But it is more than that – it includes turning from sin.
Whatever excuses we make for not entering the narrow gate and following Christ, they really amount to the simple fact that we love our sins too much to forsake them. But without repentance there can be no salvation.
That doesn’t mean perfection – we will never be perfect in this life. But it does mean a determination to forsake sin. We must turn our backs on sin as a way of life.
Is the price too high?
So it is a small gate and a narrow way that leads to everlasting life, and only a few find it. Is the standard too high? Is the way too hard? Is the price too high?
Just think of the alternative. The wide gate and the broad road do not just lead in another direction, they lead to destruction. That is not annihilation, but everlasting punishment in hell. This is not a popular doctrine, but one taught very clearly by the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles.
There are just two ways and we must make our choice now. It will be too late when we depart from this life.
An open invitation
Although the gate is narrow, there is an open invitation to enter. The way may be hard, but the blessings are enormous. When we turn from our sins to the Lord, our sins are forgiven – we are declared righteous in Christ. We are given eternal life and adopted into God’s family, with all the privileges that entails.
The Holy Spirit comes into our heart and works within to guide us, encourage us and make us holy. Above all, we come to Jesus Christ – we trust him, we love him, we enjoy fellowship with him, and one day we shall see him face to face and be with him for ever. Whatever costs we incur in this life will be amply repaid.
Turn from your sins and follow Christ. It is foolish to ignore that invitation.