by Mike Ratliff
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)
In John Bunyan’s masterpiece The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, reads a book, which is the Bible, resulting in a huge burden appearing on his back. Day after day as he reads God’s Word the burden becomes more an more overbearing. We learn that he is in rags. He learns of God’s coming judgement upon his city, The City of Destruction. He despairs and calls out to God for help. Then he is approached by a man whose name is Evangelist. After a discussion about Christian’s problem, Evangelist tells Christian that the only way to remove the burden on his back and escape the coming destruction is to go to the little wicket gate at the far end of a distant field. Christian asks what he is to do when he gets there. Evangelist tells Christian to knock then he commands him to flee from the wrath to come. Christian then runs out of town to the derision of his neighbors.
On the way to the gate Christian is joined by a friend, Pliable. Pliable wants to go to heaven. He wants to be blessed, but he has no burden on his back. He is simply joining Christian on the path to the gate. Before long they accidently fall into a swamp called the Slough of Despond. This swamp symbolically represents the battle with sin and the flesh trying to keep the ones being drawn to the gate from reaching it. Pliable is very angry with Christian. He complains about the struggle and dirt and pulls himself out of the swamp then returns to the city marooning Christian in the swamp. Christian is stuck because of the great burden on his back. Soon another character comes to assist Christian out of the mud. His name is Help. This man pulls Christian out of the muck and points him back to the path.
The next character Christian runs across on the path to the gate is Mr. Worldly Wiseman. This character tells Christian that Evangelist doesn’t know what he is talking about and the burden on Christian’s back is there because he allowed his weak mind to be overcome by the nonsense in the Bible. He offers to help Christian get the burden off of his back by sending him to a village named Morality to find a man named Legality who is an expert at removing burdens like Christian’s. Christian falls for this, leaves the path and attempts to walk to Morality. However, the closer he gets to it the steeper the hill becomes and before he knows it, he finds himself in danger on an unclimbable mountain named Mount Sinai. Evangelist finds him there, rebukes him, and explains how trying to keep the law will never save anyone for the just shall live by faith. After confessing his sin, Christian gets back to the path and resumes his journey to the gate.
Before he gets to the gate he discovers a castle next to it that belongs to Satan. Those in it fire arrows at Christian as he runs to the gate. He knocks furiously as the arrows hit all around him. The gatekeeper’s name is Goodwill. He opens the gate and yanks Christian in. Thus Christian enters by the narrow gate with much difficulty and danger. Christ told us in Matthew 7:13-14 to enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.
Do you see that those who want heaven, but who are not willing to do what is necessary to enter by the narrow gate, which is to deny self, take up one’s cross and follow Jesus, will reject the preaching of repentance and submitting to the Lordship of Christ? Therefore, there is an alternative for them that promises heaven, but it it is the broad, easy way that leads to destruction. Our Lord says that the way to life is narrow and few find it. Why is it narrow and why is it that few find it? It is narrow because there is only one, well defined way to enter it. Few find it because only those drawn to it can find it and value it and enter thereby. Those who are not drawn, but want heaven cannot find this gate and if presented with the fact that to enter thereby one must die to self, take up their cross, and follow Christ then they reject it and take another way. The broad way is every way of life and religion except genuine Christianity and salvation by grace through faith apart from works.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV)
Jesus Christ is the gate at the head of the narrow way to God. There is no other way. There is no other gate that leads to God. There is only a broad, easy way that appears safer and much more pleasant than what Christ offered.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25 ESV)
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33 ESV)
The way of genuine salvation is begun by those called by God to the gate who is Christ. He then says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. “ He then says that all who do so must count the cost. The cost is becoming His ‘doulos.’ or slave. Those who become His disciples must give up everything including their will and rights to be consumed in His will and His providence. To the unregenerate this is too much. However, saving faith is a gift from God as He regenerates those whom He drew to the Son. This faith enables them to believe and repent. They have died to self, denied self, and are now following Him. This saving faith is not a once and done act of belief or assenting of some facts about the Gospel. No, this faith is continuously believing and working in the believer.
There are two ways. These two ways begin at the two gates. We saw that the narrow, hard to find gate is Christ and leads to a way which is narrow and hard. The other gate is broad and easy to find and the way that it opens to is broad and open. There are two well defined ways.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalms 1:1-6 ESV)
Do you see the two ways defined for us in this Psalm? While the way to life is narrow and difficult, those on it are focused on God and His ways. They prosper spiritually. They have peace and joy and obey God. However, the way of destruction is the way that leads to judgment only. Those who entered by the narrow gate can do so because their sins have already been judged at the cross of Christ. Those who enter the broad, easy way are still in their sins and they will have to bear their own judgement.
Our Lord preached to those who followed Him in such a way that makes the path to God narrow and as hard as it can possibly be by demanding that those who really want to follow Him step out of the crowd and pick up a cross first then follow Him (Luke 14:25-33). My brethren, this has not changed. Also, those who enter this narrow gate and are on the narrow way will be persecuted.
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16:1-3 ESV)
In our day this persecution would come from those on the broad way who believe they are Christians because they prayed the prayer or walked an aisle or assented to the facts of the Gospel. However, they prove they are on the broad way instead of the narrow way by their fruit. They may be very religious and very sincere. However, if they were on the narrow way that leads to life they would not be violating God’s Word nor would they be denying its authority nor would they be seeking to be unified with other religions or other pseudo Christian denominations that are apostate. They would also not be diluting the Gospel by refusing to preach repentance and the Lordship of Christ.
The Gospel is what God uses to draw His people to the Son who is the narrow gate. God does the saving. He does it all. Those whom He saves are changed forever and they are continually being changed by the faith God gave them. Their salvation put them on the narrow way which leads to life and the Father. Those on this narrow way have become part of the war between God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of Satan. Our enemy fights back my brethren. However, the battle itself is used by God to grow His saints unto Christlikeness.
Those on this narrow way are Christ’s disciples and His slaves (doulos). God grows them up into mature Christians as they walk in obedience, pray continually, worship Him in Spirit and Truth, and becoming intimately familiar with His Word. This is how genuine Christians abide in their Lord and run the race set before them. This is what God uses in the life of believers to preserve them so they faithfully endure the journey to the end.
Those in the broad way are not Christ’s disciples. Those who are religious and profess to be Christians may even become Church leaders. Their focus will be more on the social aspects of Christianity rather than the spiritual. They will view fruit as works in this realm. They prove their disingenuousness by abandoning the authority of scripture and by diluting the gospel. They are not faithful, nor could they be since they are unregenerate and do not have the Holy Spirit.
I was on this broad way that leads to destruction from childhood until I was 34 years old. I walked an aisle during a “revival” at our church when I was in the 4th grade. No one spoke with me about the Gospel. No one asked me anything about my faith. I was baptized about a week later. It did not take long for me to understand that what I had done was simply religious. When I was a teen I knew I was not a Christian. However, when I was in the Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C. in the mid 1970’s, I was in a field on a hay-rack ride on Halloween with some friends from the church I attended (yes, I still went to church). I got off by myself and looked up at the sky and asked God to save me. I was joyous for a few days and was baptized again. Again, no one talked with me about my ‘decision.’ I became very religious for awhile, but it did not take long before I was right back into even worse sin than I was before. I quit church. I gave up on Christianity for awhile. I was positive that it was my fault though, not God’s. Why? I was convinced that my salvation and my religion were up to me. Since I had no follow through then I must not be Christian material.
Then I met the lady to whom I am still married. Neither of us were going to Church or even showed any interest in doing so. After we married and our children became pre-schoolers we decided that “they” needed to have the influence of Church. We found out that a friend of mine from High School was a pastor of a church that was not far from where we were living at that time in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. So, we started attending regularly. About five months into this I had found a routine that worked for me. I would go, but I would zone-out in Sunday School and Church until it was over then we would go home. I was fine with this for awhile and I was building up my own ego by telling myself that I was actually becoming a good Christian for the first time in my life by being faithful in my religiosity. However, one Sunday God interfered with this big time.
It was in January 1986 and it was cold outside. We arrived at Church for Sunday School. I took my son to his class and my wife took our daughter to her class then we met in our classroom. The room was actually the Choir room. We sat in chairs on wide steps or platforms. We always sat on the top row as far from the teacher as I could get. However, that Sunday everything changed. Just as the seat of my pants hit that plastic seat of that chair I suddenly came under such strong conviction of my lost condition that I do not remember anything about what happened in class. After class I picked up my son and met my wife and daughter in the auditorium, but the conviction became even stronger. I remember nothing of what happened that morning in church. Then we went home.
All afternoon I wrestled with what was happening in my heart. I knew that my time had come. I knew that my destination was Hell and God was telling me that it was now time to come to the Saviour. How did I know that? I had grown up in church and heard tons of sermons from who knows how many different evangelists. In any case, as evening approached and we prepared to return to church for evening services something miraculous happened. As I turned right onto the main road out of our neighborhood I remember vividly telling God that I believed that Jesus died for my sins, was my Saviour, and that I surrendered and I was his to do with as he pleased. As we drove to church I was filled with a level of joy that I cannot describe. I knew that my sins were forgiven and Jesus was my Lord.
Nothing has been the same since. I was changed forever. The first 4 or 5 years of my walk on the narrow path were tough, but I was growing. However, from 1990 until 2004 I was riding a roller coaster of faithfulness and battling sin. Then on April 19, 1995 I was at work in downtown OKC when the Federal Center just a couple of blocks away was blown up. I went into a tailspin of emotions, anger, and depression. My battles with sin and my repentance thereof became even more dramatic. Then in 2004 God drew me to Himself for healing. From January 2004 through the first few weeks of August I was spending more and more time with God in prayer and Bible study and worship every day until by the middle of the month that was all I was doing. God did a great work in me. He healed the wounds that sin had wrought in me. My conscience became cleansed. He had taught me how to be spirit-filled from His Word. I finally realized that walking this walk was enabled by Him and it wasn’t up to me to attain perfect obedience. No, I simply drew near unto God, abided in Christ and obedience and endurance and faithfulness sprouted in me like fruit and I bore that fruit because my Lord gave me joy so I could.
I have been baptized three times. The first two followed some sort of decision on my part that was nothing more than my own religious works. However when I was baptized in January 1986 I was the most joyous person in line to be dunked in that baptistry. God had saved me. God had given me the faith to believe and repent and He drew me to the narrow gate and I entered in surrender to my Lord. I have been on the narrow way ever since. I know that what awaits me at the end is eternity with my Lord and Saviour. The difference between how I have walked this walk since God saved me compared to the religious me before is quite dramatic. I know that God did this work in me and is sustaining me now. My focus before was on how religious I could be, earning those points. My focus since then has been on lining up my will with my Lord’s. As I have matured I have discovered that the best place to be is with my will consumed in His. Yes, it is a narrow, difficult path, but it is joyous. Our Lord led the way and is helping us walk it every step of the way.
Soli Deo Gloria!