During the course of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has debunked legalism, or works-based religion, and has promised His disciples that those who ask for the kingdom will receive it by grace alone. Around the world, there are many ways we are told that we can get into the kingdom of heaven, find peace or fulfillment, achieve nirvana, get to paradise, become satisfied, unite our souls with the infinity, or become one with the universe or cosmos. Even within organized Christianity (and cults produced under the guise of Christianity), we are given different views on how we might get to heaven. Some people tell us that we have to say a prayer or walk an isle. Some people claim that we have to be baptized or speak in tongues in order to be saved. This, in itself is a contradiction because the words “be saved” indicate that we are not the ones saving ourselves. Some people tell us that we have to do good things or be a member of the church or do penance or tithe or practice door-to-door evangelism. Some say that eventually all things will return to God since they are from God and everyone will ultimately be saved. Some claim that there is nothing we can do to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and there are a few who don’t believe that there is a kingdom of Heaven at all.
The question I want to ask is: What does Jesus teach about the method for the entrance of His people into the Kingdom of Heaven?
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.
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
So then, you will know them by their fruits.
There are only two ways (v. 13-14)
We keep in mind that Jesus has taught the Old Testament Scriptures in the first parts of His sermon and is now applying the theological truths that have come from the explicit Old Testament text. As Jesus is making this application, He teaches about two possible paths leading to two possible destinations. There are not many paths or many destinations. There are not many paths leading to one or two destinations. There are only two paths. One path leads to entrance into the kingdom of Heaven and one does not.
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.
Jesus gives this instruction, “Enter through the narrow gate…” Jesus has already explained what He means by the narrow gate in the previous passage. He will continue to explain as He makes application, here. These two verses are a decent summary of Jesus’ whole sermon.
In verse 13, Jesus refers back to the first half of His explanation of the Old Testament Scriptures. In this section, Jesus described how the Old Testament Scriptures had been mistaught as some sort of legalistic, or works based, religion (5:21-48). Then, Jesus described how this misuse of Scripture actually created a legalistic system in which people had to measure up (6:1-7:6). Through the course of our study, we discovered that antinomianism (anti-law) is the same heresy as legalism.
The legalism that Jesus described in the first half of His teaching is mentioned here as the wide gate and the broad way that leads to destruction. Legalism, approaching life in such a way that we feel we have to measure up, that others have to measure up, or that we can be or are good enough actually leads to destruction. Jesus teaches that there are many on this path destined for destruction.
When we think about the religions of the world and the ways of the world, even of secular humanism and many groups who classify themselves as Christian, we see that almost all of it is legalistic. These words that Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago prove true today. “Do this, think this way, believe this, have this set of moral beliefs, have this political or social agenda, say this prayer in this way, make sure you tithe, pray five times a day and give alms to the poor, burn incense, and it is up to you to attract people to your worldview so that you will go to heaven and experience peace, contentment, satisfaction, and joy on this earth;” that is what we hear. This, according to Jesus, is the wide gate and the broad way that leads to destruction.
For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Verse 14 summarizes the second part of Jesus’ explanation and application, including the current passage (Matthew 7:7-29). The kingdom of Heaven being received as a gift by grace alone is the small gate and the narrow way. This is what leads to life. Jesus reveals, to His disciples, that few ever even find this way. This not only means that most people are not on the way that leads to life but also that a vast majority of people, religious and non-religious, aren’t even aware that this narrow way exists and that it is the only way to life. The church is not dying. Organized Christianity in the western world is. Christ’s words are being proven to be true. This should not surprise us. Most people will live their entire lives trying to achieve something great, pursuing satisfaction and happiness, trying to be good enough, trying to simply make this world a better place, and practicing any number of religions so that they can live a good life and somehow profit in the next life. Jesus teaches that they will not even find this narrow way. There are few who will even be able to see it. Jesus teaches the same thing in John 3 when He shares the Gospel with Nicodemus. I wonder why, in majority Christianity today, we have reduced the Gospel to “Say this prayer, join the church, practice the sacraments, and/or advance in your knowledge and you are good!” Throughout His sermon, Jesus has been teaching that this sort of message is the very thing being accepted and practiced by those who are on the broad way to destruction. Few will find or be able to see the narrow way that leads to life.
How to identify false teaching (v. 15-20)
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
After Jesus makes this application, He warns His disciples to beware of false prophets- those who teach what is contrary to sound doctrine. This application follows logically after Jesus has addressed the misuse of the Old Testament Scriptures and after He has described both the way that leads to destruction and the way that leads to life. If most people are on the broad way leading to destruction and will not find the narrow way leading to life, it follows that many people, even with good intentions, will teach the way of the broad road leading to destruction rather than the way of the narrow road leading to life. They will do this sincerely, believing everything that they say and teach to others because they cannot see the narrow way. Paul will later write that those who are perishing are actually blind. The true Gospel is actually veiled to them (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). They are unable to see it even if and when it is explained to them or when they read God’s Bible. So, Christ instructs His disciples to beware of false teachers.
False teachers may look Christian-ish or Church-ish. Christ has already revealed that those on the broad way that leads to destruction are outwardly religious. He reveals, here, that they are inwardly unchanged and are still slaves to their unrighteous nature. They are ravenous wolves- only concerned about doing what it takes to get what they think they need in order to be satisfied both now and forever.
You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Both the good and the bad fruit Jesus mentions in this illustration have already been described for us in Matthew’s Gospel and in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
The bad fruit has been described as outward religiosity. It is not necessarily meanness or evil as we would define it from our own perspective. Bad fruit is the practicing of our acts of righteousness in front of others. Bad fruit is making sure others measure up. Bad fruit is us thinking that we are good enough and making sure that others are good enough. It is a result of our unrighteous nature. This is they way that Jesus gives His disciples to recognize false teachers. False teachers, no matter how good their intentions seem to be and how Christianly they appear to be, are those who teach that things need to be a certain way, that people need to do certain things, that people need to identify a certain way or as a certain thing, and that our receiving of life depends on what we say and do. This is the fruit produced by those who are perishing. So, from those who are perishing (bad trees), we might hear statements like:
- “We have to do [this thing] in order to reach the present or future generations.”
- “You have to do [this thing] in order to be saved or get to heaven.”
- “You have to have [this moral conviction] in order to please God or be acceptable.”
This is the fruit of legalism.
The fruit of those who are saved by grace as God’s gift is fruit that is consistent with repentance (3:8) and it causes one to be introspective and seek greater obedience to God (7:5). This growth in obedience flows naturally from a regenerated heart. Whereas with legalism people try to affect change by doing outward stuff, true salvation first requires that God change our hearts, bring us to repentance, and then sanctify us by grace causing us to grow in our obedience to Him. Root produces fruit. We can’t hang fruit that looks good on a bad tree and expect the roots to change. Soon, that fruit will rot. So, we are not doing stuff in order to get to the desired destination. It profits us not to ask if people want to go to Heaven. God saves us and then we see the narrow road and seek first His kingdom and righteousness. From those who have life, we hear the same gospel of salvation by grace through faith and signified by repentance that Christ is preaching.
- When people say that they are on the straight and narrow, what do they usually mean? Is this a good representation of the Gospel or is it false teaching?
- Does it surprise you that Jesus said not many will even find the way that leads to life?
- What is the real way to the kingdom of Heaven?