“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.” Matthew 7:13,14
Once again, Jesus is pointing out to His listeners that follow Him is a singular choice- you either follow or you do not. There is no third (or any other) option. There is one Master and one path of obedience. But what is this path? Is the narrow path about doctrine? Is it about developing an idealistic life ethic? Of course these aspects are present, but this is not what Jesus is primarily calling us to. He calls us to an uncompromising fidelity of love. It is the single-minded faithfulness of a lover.
It many ways, a straight and narrow path is the easiest kind of path to follow. The way is clear and direct. Conversely, a wide and meandering path can leave much room for error. It reminds me of the men who were canoeing down the southern end of the Mississippi River during flood season. They were sure they were following the flow of the river until the floated past a mailbox and a stop sign. The path had spilled so wide that it had not clear direction at all.
The straight and narrow is not difficult because it offers an impossible ethic to live out (for Jesus constantly leaves room for grace in the face of mistakes), but rather it is difficult because of what it costs. Have you ever stood on the high board of the high dive at an Olympic sized pool? Jumping off that height is simple- you just take the step. Yet for most of us, we are crippled by uncertainty, fear and anxiety. It is reminiscent of G.K. Chesterton’s words: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried”. This is so because the narrow gate is the gate of the Cross of Christ, where everything is left behind and we embrace death in order to find resurrection life.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:15-20
Jesus makes it clear that, as we seek to follow Him in obedience to how He calls us to live, there will be those who will seek to mislead us. Unlike the cartoonish villains of pop culture, these false teachers will appear to one of us. While their appearance will be that of a fellow believer of Christ, their hearts will have the intentions of a wolf. Again, in this Jesus is reminding us that it is the heart that is the source of our character.
However, He also reaffirms that out of the heart our real natures will be made evident in our lives. Just like a tree can be known by the nature of fruit it produces, so too does the fruit of our lives give evidence of what kind of person we are. Fruit is the outward product of the inward nature. But what are these fruit? What are we to look for? In the Sermon on the Mount we learn what such fruit is, especially in the Beatitudes. In Matthew 12:32-34, we learn that our words are the fruit borne of our hearts. In John 15, Jesus makes it clear that good fruit that is born from Christ within us will be characterized by sacrificial and selfless love. Later, in Galatians, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
All of these things together represent the fruit that we should look for in peoples lives. However, like fruit that takes time to grow and come into maturity, we must not too quickly rush to judge people (remember this?), allowing instead for their fruit mature and become evident. Jesus is not giving us license to become heresy-hunter or truth-police. We must be careful and vigilant, but also patient and humble. Only God can truly judge.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23
In these words, Jesus is again call us into the tension between right belief and right action. He puts neither orthodoxy nor orthopraxy ahead of the other, but makes it clear that true obedience to Him will be reflect in both. However, even when we believe right doctrine and live righteous lives, this is not enough. Yes, we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts, but this is not suggesting allegiance to a moral, ethical or religious system, but rather to devotion to the very real God- Father, Son and Spirit. God must know us, be in real, active and dynamic relationship with us. He is a very present God who will not be satisfied by the most fervent devotion to His ideals. He wants us to love and worship Him.
Of course, this will produce belief and righteous living. However, Jesus makes it explicitly clear in the equivalent verses in Luke: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). We must do what He says. True belief- like truth- is fully manifested when it is incarnated. Jesus is that incarnation and, as His Body, we are to be incarnational expressions of our beliefs. We are not saved by our works, but faith without works is no faith at all.
This devotion must touch every part of our lives, both public and private. No time or place is exempt from this radical call to absolute obedience. It is the one path, the one gate, the one and only way. It is Jesus Christ.