“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14). I used to think the way to eternal life was narrow because few are willing to work hard enough to get to Heaven. Christianity requires discipline, self-control, and self-sacrifice. The wide path of pleasure is much easier! While that’s true, it misses the point of the verse.
In fact, it misses the point of the entire Sermon on the Mount: we can’t work our way into Heaven! No amount of discipline, self-control or righteous deeds can get us there! The Pharisees didn’t get this, and I didn’t get it either.
I used to think the Sermon on the Mount was a new law. I thought, “Wow! Jesus set the morality bar even higher than the Law of Moses, but if I work hard enough at it, I can make it to Heaven.” That’s a fail. The very first line in the sermon is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (5:3). Jesus says the key to getting to Heaven is to realize we’re completely unrighteous!
If we’re tempted to think we’re good enough on our own, here’s the standard: “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5:48). Still feeling righteous? Jesus doesn’t just set the morality bar high; He sets it at God Himself to show us just how wicked we really are.
The Pharisees missed this, which is why Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (5:20). He wasn’t telling us to work harder or to be more self-disciplined than the scribes and Pharisees. He was teaching us about a different kind of righteousness entirely.
It’s a righteousness that comes from God despite our unrighteousness. It comes by faith that God will forgive us and declare us righteous through the sacrifice of His Son.
The apostle Paul, an ex-Pharisee, described the difference in Philippians. He wanted “to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (3:9)
The way to life isn’t narrow because people aren’t willing to work hard enough for Heaven. It’s narrow because too many people think they can. Most people won’t submit to the righteousness from God by faith. Few will admit their spiritual bankruptcy. Few will admit their utter dependence on Jesus.
I agree most people are unwilling to live disciplined, self-controlled lives for God, but that’s not just because it’s hard. It’s because they don’t understand the reason to do the work: not to earn Heaven by our goodness, but to glorify the God who saved us despite our wickedness.
The way to eternal life is narrow because most people, like the Pharisees, are content with their own version of righteousness and simply will not confess their need for Jesus.
Which path are we on?
Have you ever thought of the New Testament as a new law to follow to get to Heaven?