Matthew 7:13-14, “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.”
Before our religion was given the name “Christianity,” it was first called “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5) and, interestingly enough, “the Way” (Acts 9:2). We were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It is interesting that the Jews called Christianity “the Way” when they literally denied the Way—Jesus Christ. Jesus said He is the way, the truth, and the life—that no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). There are not multiple ways into Heaven—there is only one way, which is in Jesus Christ. All religions cannot be true because the law of non-contradiction applies to reality. Two contradicting statements cannot both be true at the same time (see the previous link for more). What Jesus said in John 14:6 is an extremely bold statement, but how do we know it’s true? By His life, teaching, and ministry—all are free of hypocrisy and self-contradictions. We cannot say the same about other religions. Indeed, the entire Old Testament points to Him.
The word “Christian” comes from the Greek word Χριστιανός (Christianós), which means “an adherent of one called Christ,” or, “Christ-follower” (Danker, 384). A Christian, then, is one who adheres to the teachings of Christ and does all he or she can to live according to His Word. Personally, I think it would be more accurate to call the Christian religion “the Way,” as the Jews first described us and, furthermore, call us “Wayfarers” (since it means “to travel on foot” and we walk in the ways of the Lord as we bear our cross daily). I just think that sounds cool.
Anyway, what do we make of this narrow gate analogy Jesus makes? He says the way that leads to destruction is wide and easy to walk on, which many enter; and the way that leads to life is narrow and difficult to walk on, which few find. So how do we know if we’re going the right way? I think the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector will help us understand this better (Luke 18:9-14):
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beast his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus told this parable to expose the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and others who are like them, for by their self-righteousness they were being contempt toward other people. They were like the Pharisee in the parable who focused on his works to justify himself, thanking God he’s not like the marginalised people of his society, especially the tax collector. He was saying, “Look at me, God. Look at all these good things I’ve done. I’m so awesome. Unlike this lowly tax collector.” Tax collectors in the culture at this time were especially bad because they made a profit by collecting people’s taxes. We’re no different today, really. People today still look upon tax collectors in the government as evildoers, saying, “taxation is theft.” These people, like the Pharisee, don’t even dare look upon our tax collectors as human beings created in God’s image and, therefore, loved by God. Conversely, the tax collector came before God completely humble. He didn’t even consider himself worthy of looking up to God, admitting before Him that he’s helpless without His grace and mercy, relying completely on His merciful grace. The Pharisee wanted a God like himself—one who is judgemental and praises his works. The tax collector, on the other hand, went to a God who is not like himself—one who is forgiving, merciful, gracious, accepting, and loving.
People today are no different than the Pharisee. Christians and unbelievers alike are eager for their works to be praised, and they single out the marginalised. Today’s wicked thank the god of the self that they are not like the marginalised Christians who give up certain pleasures of life and worldly wisdom in order to follow Christ. For example, when I tell an unbeliever (or even a “Christian”) that I’m waiting till marriage for sex, they laugh at me and call me a prude and say I’m “behind the times.” When the Church lives in a pagan nation, of course we’re going to be behind the times in a world that wants nothing to do with God’s commands.
Conversely, as God’s people we come before God to partake of the Sacraments, relying completely on His grace and mercy as miserable sinners who recognise we are helpless without such grace. Throughout all of history the wicked seek to justify themselves by their self-righteousness, glorifying themselves in their works and are contempt toward others. God’s people, on the other hand, rely on our gifted faith in Christ for our justification. We know we’re going the right way because since Jesus is the Way, He promises no one will ever snatch us out of His hand (John 10:27-30).
Danker, Frederick William. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 2009.