Gospel Faithfulness: Keeping on the Narrow Road
Most people can get behind the teachings of Jesus—that is, until they come to His exclusive claims. These are hard to swallow, tough sayings of Christ, and they prove to be a stumbling block to many who read them. We cannot escape them. Neither could those who heard them in person. It is recorded in the gospels that many who heard those hard sayings turned away from following Christ soon after. But, that was Christ’s intent.
To our ears, it is unthinkable that Christ would intend such. We have turned the narrow road into the broad road, allowing anyone and everyone to huddle under the Christian umbrella regardless of their beliefs. In a sense, we have become practical universalists. A recent survey conducted by Lifeway and Ligonier Ministries found that 52 percent of evangelicals believe people are good by nature. To the question of whether the smallest sin deserves damnation, almost 60 percent said no. Our understanding of sin is closely connected with our understanding of salvation, and this was shown in their findings that 51 percent of evangelicals believe God accepts the worship of all religions.
Christ’s teachings about Himself run directly in opposition to these belief. He is the only way, truth, and life (John 14:6). He taught that the gate to the road of life is narrow and difficult.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
This passage in particular has massive implications for how we understand the gospel, the Christian life, and salvation. If the way is narrow and few find it, our task as Christians is preciseness, not wide acceptance. Accordingly, we will not be concerned with numbers or influence, but fidelity to the gospel. We will not sacrifice the clear teaching of Scripture for the opinions of men. It matters not if we offend people, so long as we do not offend God.
Another implication this passage brings is a reliance upon the Holy Spirit to produce salvation in the hearts of people. Since Christ is the narrow way, we do all we can to proclaim Christ. We do not entice by way of emotional manipulation, such as is found in an altar call or stressing the decision for Christ over Christ Himself. We do not add to Christ, nor direct our attention away from Him. As Paul says, we preach a foolish message to those engulfed in their intellects and a boring message to the adrenaline junkies (1 Corinthians 2:22-23). By doing so, we rely wholly on the Holy Spirit to produce true and saving faith in the listening ears; only He can set us on this narrow path.
The gospel is not new. And in an age where only the new is exciting, the gospel is not exciting. But it is life and hope and peace. In the gospel, we truly find the answer to all our problems, particularly our impending judgement on sin. Perhaps, then, our view of the gospel must be unshaped by the culture around us before we possess a faithful gospel. If we get the gospel wrong, we get our understanding of salvation wrong, and when we get that wrong, we will produce a crowd of people who believe themselves to be Christians, do all the right things, but never experienced the new birth.
This is where perhaps the greatest of all the hard sayings comes to bear on us.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23
If it were not enough that the way is Christ, and that way is narrow, here we find many who believed they were on the narrow path while skipping along the broad path. This is not a trivial matter, but requires sobriety of mind.
Am I on the right path? How do I know?
The answer is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We are to be transformed by renewing our minds, not conforming ourselves to the world (Romans 12:2). Essential, we are always to reform ourselves according to God’s Word. That is our standard for truth. It is our standard for a faithful gospel and true conversion. By it, we are saved and produce good, lasting fruit, and by it, we can discern between good fruit and bad fruit.
Faithfulness to the gospel causes the Church to flourish in purity, even when the number of people in the pews dwindles. May we hear the words of Christ and continue the task of pointing people to the narrow road.