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Two Pathways—One Leading To Life (Matthew 7:13-14)

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[a] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)

How can we enter the kingdom of heaven?

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught about the character of those in his kingdom, as seen in his list of Beatitudes. They are the poor in spirit, those who mourn over sin, they are the meek who submit to the Lord’s leadership, they hunger for righteousness, and so on. Ultimately, this leads them to be persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10). They practice a higher standard of righteousness than so called spiritual leaders like the Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 5:20). While hypocritical leaders are consumed with the outward appearances of religion, true kingdom citizens focus on the inward reality. Their disciplines are done to be honored by God and not by people. They continually confess and rid themselves of sin and seek to help others do the same (Matthew 7:1-6).

Here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gives his conclusion—the application of the sermon. He calls all listening to choose which path they will take, which kingdom they will be a part of. No one is born into God’s kingdom, at least not by natural means. It matters not if one’s parents were Christians, if they were baptized or dedicated as infants, no one enters until they have made a decision to enter.

Christ’s command to enter does not deny the fact that salvation is by grace alone; it simply affirms the reality that those who choose God have been given grace to be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” Even our faith—our ability to choose God—is a gift from him.

At the end of Christ’s sermon, he challenges his hearers because many would be tempted to simply stand in amazement (cf. Matthew 7:28-29). They would say to themselves, “No one ever spoke like this. ‘Love your enemies. Bless and don’t curse them!’” Many have admired Christ’s words throughout history. Because of his words, Christ has been called a great teacher or prophet. However, few who have heard these words have truly felt the weight of them and been pressed to make a decision. Which kingdom will we be a part of? There are two rival gates with two different pathways, leading to two rival kingdoms—one is the kingdom of this world and one is the kingdom of heaven.

As Christ calls us to choose one of the pathways, he gives us characteristics of each, so we can make an informed and wise decision. This is very similar to the description of two paths in Psalm 1. The Psalmist describes the pathway of the wicked which leads to destruction and the pathway of the righteous which leads to life. The righteous delight in God’s Word and meditate on it all day long. They become like trees which prosper in the various seasons of life. In the beginning of the worship hymnal of Israel, the Psalmist calls worshipers to choose. True worshipers follow the pathway of the righteous and so do true disciples of Christ.

MacArthur’s comments on these two paths are helpful:

There have always been but two systems of religion in the world. One is God’s system of divine accomplishment, and the other is man’s system of human achievement. One is the religion of God’s grace, the other the religion of men’s works. One is the religion of faith, the other the religion of the flesh. One is the religion of the sincere heart and the internal, the other the religion of hypocrisy and the external. Within man’s system are thousands of religious forms and names, but they are all built on the achievements of man and the inspiration of Satan. Christianity, on the other hand, is the religion of divine accomplishment, and it stands alone.1

In this study, we will consider these two opposing pathways, so we can make a wise decision or wisely discern which we are on.

Big Question: What are characteristics of the two opposing pathways?

The Wide Pathway
“Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

Matthew 7:13
Observation Question: What are characteristics of the wide pathway?

1. The wide pathway is the road all begin on.
Though Christ’s parabolic saying seems to picture a person at a crossroads—making a decision between two options—it seems best to picture the person standing in front of only one gate, as the narrow gate needs to be found. All begin on the wide pathway. The rest of Scripture supports this: We are born spiritually dead and antagonistic to God (Ephesians 2:1, Romans 8:7). In order to be saved, we must repent and turn to God (Acts 2:38). Christ says that one must choose to enter the narrow gate. No decision needs to be made to enter the broad path. This is the pathway the entire world is on. We must choose to get off this path.

2. The wide pathway is spacious and easy to follow.
The Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible said:

The broad and easy way can be followed without thought. There is plenty of space to walk in; there is plenty of space for the attractive things of the world to grow and allure; there is plenty of space for a person to wander about. It is difficult to wander off its path. The broad way is the way of the unthoughtful, the undisciplined, the lazy, the worldly, the ungodly, the materialistic, and the carnal.2

This pathway is inclusive, as it includes the various views, religions, and lifestyles in this world. It is the pathway of self-achievement and works.

3. The wide pathway is popular.
Christ says only few find the narrow path, and therefore, the broad way is popular and tempting. Since crowds are on it, it is very alluring. Those who don’t follow it are looked down upon, considered strange, and often persecuted.

4. The wide pathway leads to destruction.
Destruction does not mean those on this pathway cease to exist. They don’t. All will live eternally either in damnation or blessing. Destruction refers to eternal ruin (cf. Matthew 8:12, Revelation 14:11, Revelation 20:10). However, this ruin doesn’t just happen at the end of the pathway, it happens throughout. The world’s views on marriage, parenting, education, success, etc., all lead to constant ruin. God made this world based on spiritual principles. When these are denied, it causes hurt, pain, depression, and even death (Romans 8:6). The wide pathway leads to earthly and eternal ruin.

Application Question: Which aspects about the wide pathway stood out to you most and why?

The Narrow Pathway
“Enter through the narrow gate…But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14
The narrow pathway refers both to the need for conversion and the continuing process of sanctification.

Observation Question: What are characteristics of the narrow pathway?

1. The narrow pathway is hard to find.
Unlike the broad way, the narrow way has to be found (v. 14). For some this is easier than others. Some are raised in Christian homes and are exposed to the gospel from a young age. Others live in places with no gospel witness. Creation witnesses to them of God’s existence and glory (Psalm 19), but they lack any opportunity to hear biblical revelation. Others are exposed, as Christians live in their society, but they have either rejected it or not considered it. Whatever a person’s situation, the narrow way is not easy to find. Only few find it and even less accept it.

2. The narrow pathway is unpopular.
In life, people typically take the path of least resistance. Therefore, people are naturally inclined to follow the broad path of the world. To find and follow the narrow path, one must turn away from the crowd—sometimes even leaving friends and family to do it (Luke 14:26). Sometimes it is a lonely pathway; though those who follow it are never truly alone because Christ is with them.

3. The narrow pathway must be entered by one’s deliberate and calculated choice.
The great preacher Alexander Maclaren poetically declared that the side-posts of the gate to the kingdom were the first two beatitudes.3 One side-post is poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3). One must come before God recognizing his spiritual bankruptcy and desperate need for God. He needs God in order to become righteous and acceptable to enter heaven. The second side-post is mourning over sin (Matthew 5:4). Because this person is far from being right with God, he mourns his sin and desperate situation.

It is this reality that causes the person to cry out to God for salvation. It causes him to choose to enter the kingdom of heaven’s gates. Romans 10:9-10 says

because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.

To enter this narrow path, we must make a deliberate choice. We must, in faith, accept that we are sinners under God’s wrath because he is holy, perfect, and just. We must cry out for God’s mercy which is found in Christ. Christ bore the wrath for our sin so that we can have his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those who accept him shall be saved. Christ will walk with them along the narrow path of the kingdom and take them into eternity.

4. The narrow pathway is restricted because of biblical revelation.
God’s Word guides kingdom citizens. God’s Word is the gate, as a person needs to hear and respond to the gospel to be saved. However, biblical revelation is also the pathway. It guides and, in some sense, restricts both the believer’s actions and attitudes. God’s Word keeps the believer from the broad path of the world. In John 8:31, Christ said ,‘‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”

5. The narrow pathway requires believers to leave many precious things.
Since the path is narrow, one cannot bring everything with them. (1) We must constantly forsake our sins. In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul calls us “to put off the old man and put on the new” (paraphrase). We cannot live in lust, anger, pride, and other vices anymore. We must put on love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and other virtues. (2) We must put off self. As seen in the Lord’s Prayer, we must cry out for God’s will to be done, not only in our own lives but in the world (Matthew 6:9-10). In Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (paraphrase). We must give up selfish ambitions for kingdom ambitions. (3) We must give up the crowd, and many times, even, our friends and families. In Luke 14:26, Christ said that if anyone wants to follow him, he must hate his father, mother, brother, sister and even his own life to be his disciple. Christ declared that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34). The members of one’s household would often become one’s enemy. This is a sad reality, but following Christ often separates us from our loved ones. To go down the narrow path, we must be willing to leave many precious things.

6. The narrow pathway is difficult.
It is difficult for many reasons: We will always battle sin. We will fight against ungodly attitudes and actions. We must declare war against our body, as we pluck out our eye and cut off our arm (metaphorically) to be holy (Matthew 5:29-30). Following Christ is a call to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). But this fight against sin is not only to conquer our own sin but to help others conquer sin as well. In Matthew 7:1-6, Christ calls for his disciples to help others to take the specks or splinters out of their eyes. This ministry is marked with a lot of pain and frustration, both at ourselves and others when failing in the battle with sin. Pain also comes as others become angry at us because of our ministry to them.

As mentioned, the narrow pathway is also difficult because of the hate and persecution we will commonly experience. In the last beatitude, Christ said that kingdom citizens will be persecuted because of righteousness (Matthew 5:10). They will be persecuted because of their moral beliefs. Those on the broad path hate any restrictions that hinder their comfort. To teach that adultery, abortion, or homosexuality is a sin will cause an uproar in many societies around the world. But also, simply because one chooses to not participate in acceptable sins like sex before marriage, drunkenness, etc., many will mock believers. It is a difficult pathway. Paul said that “all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). The broad road is easy, but the narrow way is very difficult.

7. The narrow pathway leads to life.
Though difficult, this pathway leads to life. In fact, to enter it is to experience new life. In John 17:3, Christ said, “this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ.” Kingdom citizens, though hated and mocked by the world, have a greater quality of life because of intimacy with God. There can be peace in the midst of a storm—joy in the midst of hardship. Christ said, “I came that you may have life and life more abundantly” (John 10:10 paraphrase). In fact, as we walk with Christ, we will find this difficult path easy to follow. Christ said,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”

Matthew 11:28-30
Ultimately, those who follow this narrow path will spend eternity in the heavenly kingdom. They will rule with Christ on this earth (Matthew 5:5).

There are only two pathways—one leading to destruction, and the other leading to life. One is readily found; the other must be searched for. One is popular; the other is unpopular. One is easy; the other is difficult. Choose wisely, for our eternal destiny depends on this choice. Which will you choose?

Bible References

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,

Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast.

28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:

29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

19 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.

There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,

Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.

His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;

23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;

24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

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You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Responding to Conflict