32. Two Pathways—One Leading To Life (Matthew 7:13-14)Related Media
“Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Matthew 7:13-14 (NET)
How can we enter the kingdom of heaven?
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught about the character of those in his kingdom, as seen in his list of Beatitudes. They are the poor in spirit, those who mourn over sin, they are the meek who submit to the Lord’s leadership, they hunger for righteousness, and so on. Ultimately, this leads them to be persecuted (Matt 5:3-10). They practice a higher standard of righteousness than so called spiritual leaders like the Pharisees and scribes (Matt 5:20). While hypocritical leaders are consumed with the outward appearances of religion, true kingdom citizens focus on the inward reality. Their disciplines are done to be honored by God and not by people. They continually confess and rid themselves of sin and seek to help others do the same (Matt 7:1-6).
Here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gives his conclusion—the application of the sermon. He calls all listening to choose which path they will take, which kingdom they will be a part of. No one is born into God’s kingdom, at least not by natural means. It matters not if one’s parents were Christians, if they were baptized or dedicated as infants, no one enters until they have made a decision to enter.
Christ’s command to enter does not deny the fact that salvation is by grace alone; it simply affirms the reality that those who choose God have been given grace to be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” Even our faith—our ability to choose God—is a gift from him.
At the end of Christ’s sermon, he challenges his hearers because many would be tempted to simply stand in amazement (cf. Matt 7:28-29). They would say to themselves, “No one ever spoke like this. ‘Love your enemies. Bless and don’t curse them!’” Many have admired Christ’s words throughout history. Because of his words, Christ has been called a great teacher or prophet. However, few who have heard these words have truly felt the weight of them and been pressed to make a decision. Which kingdom will we be a part of? There are two rival gates with two different pathways, leading to two rival kingdoms—one is the kingdom of this world and one is the kingdom of heaven.
As Christ calls us to choose one of the pathways, he gives us characteristics of each, so we can make an informed and wise decision. This is very similar to the description of two paths in Psalm 1. The Psalmist describes the pathway of the wicked which leads to destruction and the pathway of the righteous which leads to life. The righteous delight in God’s Word and meditate on it all day long. They become like trees which prosper in the various seasons of life. In the beginning of the worship hymnal of Israel, the Psalmist calls worshipers to choose. True worshipers follow the pathway of the righteous and so do true disciples of Christ.
MacArthur’s comments on these two paths are helpful:
There have always been but two systems of religion in the world. One is God’s system of divine accomplishment, and the other is man’s system of human achievement. One is the religion of God’s grace, the other the religion of men’s works. One is the religion of faith, the other the religion of the flesh. One is the religion of the sincere heart and the internal, the other the religion of hypocrisy and the external. Within man’s system are thousands of religious forms and names, but they are all built on the achievements of man and the inspiration of Satan. Christianity, on the other hand, is the religion of divine accomplishment, and it stands alone.1
In this study, we will consider these two opposing pathways, so we can make a wise decision or wisely discern which we are on.
Big Question: What are characteristics of the two opposing pathways?
The Wide Pathway
“Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
Observation Question: What are characteristics of the wide pathway?
1. The wide pathway is the road all begin on.
Though Christ’s parabolic saying seems to picture a person at a crossroads—making a decision between two options—it seems best to picture the person standing in front of only one gate, as the narrow gate needs to be found. All begin on the wide pathway. The rest of Scripture supports this: We are born spiritually dead and antagonistic to God (Eph 2:1, Rom 8:7). In order to be saved, we must repent and turn to God (Acts 2:38). Christ says that one must choose to enter the narrow gate. No decision needs to be made to enter the broad path. This is the pathway the entire world is on. We must choose to get off this path.
2. The wide pathway is spacious and easy to follow.
The Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible said:
The broad and easy way can be followed without thought. There is plenty of space to walk in; there is plenty of space for the attractive things of the world to grow and allure; there is plenty of space for a person to wander about. It is difficult to wander off its path. The broad way is the way of the unthoughtful, the undisciplined, the lazy, the worldly, the ungodly, the materialistic, and the carnal.2
This pathway is inclusive, as it includes the various views, religions, and lifestyles in this world. It is the pathway of self-achievement and works.
3. The wide pathway is popular.
Christ says only few find the narrow path, and therefore, the broad way is popular and tempting. Since crowds are on it, it is very alluring. Those who don’t follow it are looked down upon, considered strange, and often persecuted.
4. The wide pathway leads to destruction.
Destruction does not mean those on this pathway cease to exist. They don’t. All will live eternally either in damnation or blessing. Destruction refers to eternal ruin (cf. Matt 8:12, Rev 14:11, 20:10). However, this ruin doesn’t just happen at the end of the pathway, it happens throughout. The world’s views on marriage, parenting, education, success, etc., all lead to constant ruin. God made this world based on spiritual principles. When these are denied, it causes hurt, pain, depression, and even death (Rom 8:6). The wide pathway leads to earthly and eternal ruin.
Application Question: Which aspects about the wide pathway stood out to you most and why?
The Narrow Pathway
“Enter through the narrow gate…But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
The narrow pathway refers both to the need for conversion and the continuing process of sanctification.
Observation Question: What are characteristics of the narrow pathway?
1. The narrow pathway is hard to find.
Unlike the broad way, the narrow way has to be found (v. 14). For some this is easier than others. Some are raised in Christian homes and are exposed to the gospel from a young age. Others live in places with no gospel witness. Creation witnesses to them of God’s existence and glory (Ps 19), but they lack any opportunity to hear biblical revelation. Others are exposed, as Christians live in their society, but they have either rejected it or not considered it. Whatever a person’s situation, the narrow way is not easy to find. Only few find it and even less accept it.
2. The narrow pathway is unpopular.
In life, people typically take the path of least resistance. Therefore, people are naturally inclined to follow the broad path of the world. To find and follow the narrow path, one must turn away from the crowd—sometimes even leaving friends and family to do it (Luke 14:26). Sometimes it is a lonely pathway; though those who follow it are never truly alone because Christ is with them.
3. The narrow pathway must be entered by one’s deliberate and calculated choice.
The great preacher Alexander Maclaren poetically declared that the side-posts of the gate to the kingdom were the first two beatitudes.3 One side-post is poverty of spirit (Matt 5:3). One must come before God recognizing his spiritual bankruptcy and desperate need for God. He needs God in order to become righteous and acceptable to enter heaven. The second side-post is mourning over sin (Matt 5:4). Because this person is far from being right with God, he mourns his sin and desperate situation.
It is this reality that causes the person to cry out to God for salvation. It causes him to choose to enter the kingdom of heaven’s gates. Romans 10:9-10 says
because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.
To enter this narrow path, we must make a deliberate choice. We must, in faith, accept that we are sinners under God’s wrath because he is holy, perfect, and just. We must cry out for God’s mercy which is found in Christ. Christ bore the wrath for our sin so that we can have his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). Those who accept him shall be saved. Christ will walk with them along the narrow path of the kingdom and take them into eternity.
4. The narrow pathway is restricted because of biblical revelation.
God’s Word guides kingdom citizens. God’s Word is the gate, as a person needs to hear and respond to the gospel to be saved. However, biblical revelation is also the pathway. It guides and, in some sense, restricts both the believer’s actions and attitudes. God’s Word keeps the believer from the broad path of the world. In John 8:31, Christ said, “‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
5. The narrow pathway requires believers to leave many precious things.
Since the path is narrow, one cannot bring everything with them. (1) We must constantly forsake our sins. In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul calls us “to put off the old man and put on the new” (paraphrase). We cannot live in lust, anger, pride, and other vices anymore. We must put on love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and other virtues. (2) We must put off self. As seen in the Lord’s Prayer, we must cry out for God’s will to be done, not only in our own lives but in the world (Matt 6:9-10). In Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (paraphrase). We must give up selfish ambitions for kingdom ambitions. (3) We must give up the crowd, and many times, even, our friends and families. In Luke 14:26, Christ said that if anyone wants to follow him, he must hate his father, mother, brother, sister and even his own life to be his disciple. Christ declared that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword (Matt 10:34). The members of one’s household would often become one’s enemy. This is a sad reality, but following Christ often separates us from our loved ones. To go down the narrow path, we must be willing to leave many precious things.
6. The narrow pathway is difficult.
It is difficult for many reasons: We will always battle sin. We will fight against ungodly attitudes and actions. We must declare war against our body, as we pluck out our eye and cut off our arm (metaphorically) to be holy (Matt 5:29-30). Following Christ is a call to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48). But this fight against sin is not only to conquer our own sin but to help others conquer sin as well. In Matthew 7:1-6, Christ calls for his disciples to help others to take the specks or splinters out of their eyes. This ministry is marked with a lot of pain and frustration, both at ourselves and others when failing in the battle with sin. Pain also comes as others become angry at us because of our ministry to them.
As mentioned, the narrow pathway is also difficult because of the hate and persecution we will commonly experience. In the last beatitude, Christ said that kingdom citizens will be persecuted because of righteousness (Matt 5:10). They will be persecuted because of their moral beliefs. Those on the broad path hate any restrictions that hinder their comfort. To teach that adultery, abortion, or homosexuality is a sin will cause an uproar in many societies around the world. But also, simply because one chooses to not participate in acceptable sins like sex before marriage, drunkenness, etc., many will mock believers. It is a difficult pathway. Paul said that “all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). The broad road is easy, but the narrow way is very difficult.
7. The narrow pathway leads to life.
Though difficult, this pathway leads to life. In fact, to enter it is to experience new life. In John 17:3, Christ said, “this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ.” Kingdom citizens, though hated and mocked by the world, have a greater quality of life because of intimacy with God. There can be peace in the midst of a storm—joy in the midst of hardship. Christ said, “I came that you may have life and life more abundantly” (John 10:10 paraphrase). In fact, as we walk with Christ, we will find this difficult path easy to follow. Christ said,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
Ultimately, those who follow this narrow path will spend eternity in the heavenly kingdom. They will rule with Christ on this earth (Matt 5:5).
Application Question: Which aspects of the narrow path stood out to you most and why?
Application Question: What are some applications we can take from Christ’s call to pursue the narrow path?
1. Christ’s call to follow the narrow path reminds us of our need to teach people about the costs of following Christ when presenting the gospel.
Christ was not like many modern evangelists and revivalists that boast in how simple and easy the gospel is. In Matthew 7:13-14, Christ essentially calls people to count the cost (cf. Lk 14:25-34). The narrow road is hard to find and difficult to follow. One can’t bring everything with them. He calls for people to consider this reality. However, with this hard road there is life. Yes, we must share that following Christ brings eternal life, but we also must share it is a costly road—it may even cost people their lives. Christ’s message reminds us to present the full gospel without sugar coating it. If the Lord has called them, they will respond (John 6:37).
2. Christ’s call to follow the narrow path reminds us of the importance of asking for a decision when presenting the gospel.
Moses laid before Israel a blessing and a curse, as he challenged them to follow God (Deut 11:26-28). Joshua did the same as he called for Israel to choose who they would serve (Josh 24:14-15). Elijah asked Israel who they would follow—Baal or God (1 Kgs 18:21). We must not be scared to be prophetic. Yes, we must plant the seed of the gospel, but we must also ask people to decide. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 paraphrase).
3. Christ’s call to follow the narrow path reminds us of the importance of application in our teaching and studying of the Bible.
As mentioned, Matthew 7:13-14, marks the beginning of the conclusion and application of the Sermon on the Mount. Christ taught the character of the kingdom and its citizens and now calls for a commitment. In the same way, biblical teaching must not just disseminate knowledge. It must also challenge people to action. Paul taught Timothy to devote himself to exhortation and teaching (1 Tim 4:13). Exhortation, or preaching, is the application and call to obedience part of the message.
Similarly, as we study the Bible, we must not just aim to understand but to obey. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (paraphrase). We must study God’s Word to apply it to our lives and that of others. Christ’s call to enter the narrow gate gives us an example for both our teaching and study of the Bible.
Application Question: What are some other applications that can be drawn from Matthew 7:13-14? What are some tips for finding applications when studying the Bible?
There are only two pathways—one leading to destruction, and the other leading to life. One is readily found; the other must be searched for. One is popular; the other is unpopular. One is easy; the other is difficult. Choose wisely, for our eternal destiny depends on this choice. Which will you choose?
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 451). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible – Matthew I.
3 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 243). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.