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: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it…Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [Gk. anomia, lit. lawlessness]. – Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23.
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity [Gk. adikia, lit. unrighteousness]. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. – Luke 13:23-28.
What do these hard sayings of Jesus mean in lieu of that radical grace by which we’ve been saved? What grace are we referring to? Nothing less than the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24), that grace by which we are saved and forgiven of all sin, that grace by which we’ve received the free gift of righteousness apart from works (Rom 3:21-28; Eph 2:8-9).
Hyper grace and the hard sayings of Jesus
Many within the grace community, those who preach what many (often derogatorily) call hyper-grace or radical grace, actually shy away from these kinds of texts calling them ‘pre-cross’, as if they no longer apply since Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead. They almost imply that Jesus was under law before the cross, and that they only need pay attention to what Christ or the scriptures say on the other side of the cross, the ‘grace side’. In that sense, they render void the words of Jesus which make up the majority of the gospels.
Worse, they who are called preterists for their end-time theology, in that they basically teach (incorrectly) that all the New Testament was written before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., state that anything said before that time (whether it’s the gospels or the book of Revelation), was all prior to this destruction, and hence, under law! This renders moot any point Christ ever tried to make, as they nullify the word of God through their tradition!
We know that the finished work of Christ accomplished for us what we could never do in ourselves. Our salvation, entrance into the Kingdom of God, and eternal life (all synonymous terms in scripture) was a gift of God, not accomplished by works.
What is meant, then, by the harsh words of Jesus as given in the Sermon on the Mount and other places? What is it to strive to enter in? Wasn’t this a free gift? What is it to be thrust out? What is it to be excluded from that Kingdom in which we were included?
And what is Christ after when He states, I never knew you, to those whom He says work iniquity (Gk. anomia– lawlessness)? Or when He says, I know not from where you are from, to all the workers of iniquity (Gk. akadia– unrighteousness)?
And what is it to be lawless or to be unrighteous anyway? Is there a difference between the two?
Grace and the arduous nature of salvation
First, we need to see that these three terms are synonymous in scripture: 1) The Kingdom of God; 2) Salvation; and 3) Eternal life (Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:23-29; Mt 18:8-9; 19:16-26, 29).
Second, entrance into this Kingdom, salvation and eternal life, is available to all via the grace of God and the free gift of righteousness (Lk 12:32; Eph 2:8-9; Jn 3;15; 17:2; Rom 6:23).
Again, the grace of God that gives us entrance into this Kingdom is the same that keeps us there.
Third, entrance into the Kingdom of God, or into life eternal is spoken of in terms of arduousness (Definition- Arduous: involving or requiring strenuous effort; difficult and tiring) as in the following examples:
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. – Mt 5:20.
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 – Mt 7:13.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. – Mt 7:21.
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. – Mt 18:3.
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. – Mt 18:8-9.
…but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. – Mt 19:17b.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? – Mt 19:23-25.
(and before anyone thinks that Matthew has it out for us, similar texts are told or retold again in Mark and Luke).
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. – Mk 9:43-48.
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. – Lk 13:23-24.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit [i.e. conversion experience- Ezek 36:24-27], he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. – Jn 3:5.
…and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. – Acts 14:22b.
And if the righteous scarcely [Gk. μόλις- molis, with difficulty: – hardly, scarce (-ly), + with much work. (Strong’s) 1) with difficulty, hardly; 2) not easily, i.e. scarcely, very rarely (Thayers)] be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? -1Pet 4:18.
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things [the things listed off to be added to your faith in v.v.5-7], ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. – 2Pet 1:10-11.
Jesus as the Narrow Door
The above verses can be a little ‘frazzling’ to anyone who has a true heart to please God and to be found acceptable with Him, but given the perception of salvation that we have, especially in the ‘grace community’, what is going on? After all did not Jesus Himself also say,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Mt 11:28-30?
This popular invitation of Jesus would seem to be a contradiction to the many verses listed off above, right? Isn’t it laborious to enter? Isn’t it a restless and strenuous effort just to enter salvation?
But we have to consider what Jesus is getting at in His hard sayings- particularly as concerns the straight gate and the narrow way that leads to life.
The Greek word used in Mt 7:13-14 for straight (for ‘straight gate’) is στενός – stenos, narrow (from obstacles standing close about): – strait (Strong’s).
Again, the Greek word used in the above text for narrow (as in ‘narrow is the way’) is θλίβω – thlibo, 1) to press (as grapes), press hard upon; 2) a compressed way; 2a) narrow straitened, contracted; 3) metaphorically to trouble, afflict, distress (Thayer’s). Remember when Jesus was thronged by the crowds, as in Mk 3:9? It’s the same word, the same idea of being pressed, compressed or distressed.
This same kind of language is used of Jesus speaking about entering the Kingdom of God,
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. – Lk 16:16.
Presseth here in the Greek is βιάζω – biadzo, to force, that is, (reflexively) to crowd oneself (into), or (passively) to be seized: – press, suffer violence (Strong’s).
The amazing thing about the above text is that Jesus announces that the law and the prophets ended with John (the baptist), so why are people having to press, squeeze, or force their way into the Kingdom of God?
Because Jesus Himself is the straight gate and the narrow way that leads to life, salvation, the Kingdom:
I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. – John 10:9.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. – John 14:6.
We therefor are not talking about keeping the law, as this can by no means ever justify us (Rom 3:20). Those who labor and are heavy laden were so because they were law-keepers, and were tired and weary of trying in the flesh to please God, failing to establish their own righteousness. Nor yet are we talking about the lawless, that is those who live licentiously without any regard for the moral laws of God. Because this, too, is a weariness and vexation, as the way of the transgressor is hard (Prov 13:15; Ps 95:9-11; Jer 2:19; Rom 6:21).
Yet what is it that in Christ we find rest and peace, but going through He as the Door, He as the narrow way, we’re pressed on every side, and that to enter the Kingdom is through much tribulation? It’s as written,
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. – Heb 4:9-11.
Christ Himself is our peace, and He gives us rest. This rest of which the author of Hebrews talks about is that found in Christ alone. But, we must ‘labor’ to enter into that rest! What a paradox! We have to labor to enter into this Kingdom state of rest and peace?!? But it is precisely for these two reasons that we must labor, must strive, contend and press in:
1. We must cease from our own works, as God did from His; and-
2. We who name the name of Christ must (be) departing from sin (2Tim 2:19).
Thus the two walls, the two sides, if you will, that press in on us, through which we have to squeeze through in order to enter the Kingdom of God are they of 1) religious legalism or dead works on one side; and 2) licentiousness or lawlessness on the other.
It’s Jesus Himself Who is properly the way, not what we do, nor even how we behave that saves us; He is the personification of the grace of God, even Mr. Grace Himself. And yet what is arduous about this great salvation is that of our unrenewed mind after the Old Man, thinking in terms of law-keeping, or of trying to accomplish salvation on our own, that is in the flesh; or else thinking in terms of law-breaking, that is, sinning, identifying with it’s old sinful self which was crucified with Christ on the cross (Rom 6:6; and Ga 2:20).
Why the hard sayings of Jesus?
Before we proceed to understand Christ’s central and essential role in our salvation, we need to appreciate why Jesus said all that He did in the gospels to begin with.
How different people read the hard sayings of Jesus will determine how they interpret them. The law-keeper will point to them and say, ‘See? Jesus is telling us that we have to do a whole lot more in order to be saved!’ And the antinomian (lawless) will say, ‘These sayings are all pre-cross, or spoken to Jews under law (or some other excuse), and not applicable to us today who are under grace!’
Yet instead of excusing away the words of Christ, or worse- making them void through our preterist doctrine- as His disciples, we have to take His words seriously, and determine where and how they apply.
What Jesus is getting at in His hard sayings is the impossibility of our attaining unto the Kingdom, salvation or eternal life!
What? Is this some kind of religious cruelty? No. What Jesus sought to emphasize during His earthly ministry, aiming primarily at the religiously minded, the legalist, the law-keeper, or ‘Torah-observant’ was the sheer and utter impossibility of us keeping the commands of God perfectly, which the law itself demands, and our inability to attain unto the righteousness of the law.
The story of the rich young ruler is a perfect example and explanation concerning the purposes of Jesus in His hard sayings, and in their intent to bring us to the end of ourselves precisely by making it so difficult for us to attain unto eternal life and the Kingdom, that we just throw our hands up in surrender, and allow God to work in us the impossible. After Jesus raised the bar on the rich young ruler (tailor making it to fit him as an individual), Jesus had this interaction with His disciples-
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. – Mt 19:23-26.
Here we see the same kind of hard saying of Jesus concerning the difficulty, the hardship associated with entrance into the Kingdom of God, and the exclamation of how impossible it would be for a rich man (or one rich in keeping certain commandments) to enter. After letting His words sink into His disciples’ hearing, and in answering their utter amazement at the strict requirements of entering in He shifted it from being about us and what we can or cannot do, and made it about God and what He would do. And we know that God made it possible for all of us in and through Christ Himself.
The hard sayings of Jesus, therefore, can be perfectly understood without diminishing them, excusing them away, or else reinterpreting them according to some artificial narrative- and just let them be the impossible demands that they are (impossible in ourselves, or in our unrenewed state).
In His hard sayings, Christ was not just using hyperbole for shock value. Instead, while doing away with the letter of the law in His death, He let the righteous requirements of the law stand. And this is not done through one or two commandments that we’re to obey to the exclusion of all the others, as is often said- the Great Commandment is to love (Mt 22:38-39), thus fulfilling the law. What His emphasis on love teaches is that the entirety of the law itself is a unitary whole based on love, that to break one command we’ve broken them all (Dt 27:26; Ga 3:10; Jas 2:10-11). So, His commandments to love is another way of raising the bar to the impossible, that none of us have it in ourselves to love perfectly, which the righteousness of the law demands.
Christ and the anguishing grace-walk.
This is precisely where Jesus enters the picture, after raising the bar to the nth degree, that is restoring the righteousness of the law beyond the reaches of legalistic observance and fleshly human ability, He is presented as the answer through grace:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. – Rom 8:1-4 [most manuscripts omit v.1b, being an interpolation of v.4].
Through what Jesus did in the finished work of the cross, there is now no more condemnation- period. No matter what you’ve done, how you’ve failed to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, you’re no longer under condemnation but under grace.
But what is the answer for the hard sayings of Jesus? What was impossible with man, as it was for the rich young ruler, is possible with God. He Himself came down as a man in the likeness of our sinful flesh, and our sins, our falling short of the righteous requirements of the law, was condemned and put to death in Him. As we walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh, we enter into that higher law called ‘the law of the Spirit of life’- this enables the righteousness of the law to naturally be fulfilled in us. This has to do with renewing our minds in the truth, and trusting in Him to live out that perfect life in us- and not about trusting in ourselves to do what is for us impossible.
What makes this grace walk anguishing? Anguish coming from the Latin angustus– narrow; and angustia-tightness, used for it’s relation to the Greek thlipsis, as in Acts 14:22. Isn’t it easy-believism as many claim? While we have received the free gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17-18) and grace itself hyper-abounds toward us, even in lieu of the occasional sin or even of an ongoing sinful habit (Rom 5:20), and all our sins have been forgiven- past, present and future, we have to understand what the grace walk is exactly, because many err right here.
Christ Himself is the grace walk, as we trust Him solely and completely to provide for us all things that pertain unto a life of godliness, there are yet two-sides pressing in on us as we follow Him.
In early Church history there were two groups who, unrelated to each other, presented a danger to early Christianity. These two groups also represent for us two sides that press against us, compete against us (as in sports), and seek to overthrow our faith. These two groups were:
1. The Judaizers– a group of Messianic Jews mostly from the Pharisee party, who went about trying to ‘Judaize’ the Gentile believers. They would put a stumbling block of religious rules, and the 10 Commandments in front of the early believers, tripping them up from a life of grace into one of religious dead works.
2. The Nicolaitans– a group of believers who under Nicolas the proselyte of Antioch, went into error, most believe, adhering to antinomian practices of sexual immorality. These would use the concepts of grace as a license to sin.
These two early groups are representative of two extremes and all shades in between that today seek to take us away from Christ, and to be crushed on either side of the narrow way as we seek to enter in.
Consider the all-inclusive and radical nature of grace itself in saving all of mankind, forgiving all from sin (past, present and future). In fact, the apostle Paul was often accused of teaching a gospel that promoted an antinomian license to sin (Rom 6:1, 15; Ga 2:17-18), and that’s why he had to qualify his stance often. In fact, if one is not being accused of teaching antinomianism, then they are likely not teaching grace properly.
Instead being under grace presents an anguished walk between legalism and licentiousness, law and lawlessness, as we squeeze through the two, taking from neither. To lean toward either side of this narrow passage way is to either fall from grace or else to transpose it for some antinomian counterfeit.
Are we falling back from grace through the law, or exchanging grace for lasciviousness?
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. – Galatians 5:4.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of [lit. to fall short of, fall behind from, come short of, fall back from, to lack of] the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. – Hebrews 12:15-17.
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning [ Gk. transfer, transpose, transport, exchange, pervert] the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:4.
The texts above show that in our grace walk two different things may occur: either we may fall back or from grace through dead works of legalism, or else we may transpose, and exchange grace for lasciviousness (as a kind of counterfeit grace).
To engage in the deeds of the law, to pursue dead religious works in order to try and become more holy, acceptable to God, or in seeking to establish our own righteousness is to fall back from grace. Having begun in the Spirit, do we now seek to be perfected by the flesh by our own efforts (Ga 3:3) as the Judaizers did?
Likewise, notice the Greek definition for Jude’s ‘turning’ the grace of God…for grace itself cannot be changed, as God Himself cannot be changed. But what may happen is an exchanging, a transposing, a trading in of God’s grace for the cheap counterfeit of antinomianism- as the Nicolaitans did.
Remember the workers of iniquity?
Just in case we forgot, in Christ’s words in our opening texts (Mt 7:13-14, 21-23; Lk 13:23-28), He mentions a group of people who will fail to enter into His Kingdom (salvation, and eternal life), and He speaks about them in two ways:
1. I never knew you, to those whom He says work iniquity (Gk. anomia– lawlessness); and-
2. I know not from where you are from, to all the workers of iniquity (Gk. akadia– unrighteousness).
Are these two different groups of people? Unlikely, as they seem to share the same fate, and at the same time. And though two different Greek words are employed, one for lawlessness (toward Matthew’s Jewish audience), and another for unrighteousness (toward Luke’s Greek audience), they are alike translated as iniquity into English. But what, if any, is the difference? Anomia points toward lawlessness and adikia toward unrighteousness- but the apostle John shows us that both refer to sin:
Sin as anomia: Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. – 1Jn 3:4.
Sin as adikia: All unrighteousness is sin – 1 Jn 5:17a.
So in both instances, be it lawlessness or unrighteousness, iniquity is sin. Lawlessness points to the fact that transgressions fall short of God’s righteous standards and moral laws; whereas unrighteousness points to the transgressing of what is the right thing to do, what is right or righteous- and this is in accordance with God’s very nature and of the moral universe, what is wholesome and good, and what thus ought to be chosen instead of sin. And sin can always be boiled down to self-gratification in lieu of what is the opposite and morally obligatory choice, that toward love or benevolence- a seeking of the highest good and well being of God and of neighbor.
Concerning Christ never knowing the lawless is a matter of identity, because law keeping or law breaking is not who we are.
Concerning Christ not knowing from where the unrighteous are from is a matter of origins, because one born of God does not commit sin (1Jn 3:9), and when we live from our true Source we perform the works of God.
What both the lawless and the unrighteous have in common are that they work, or are workers at their iniquity. This is important, because it brings us back to the law- and to the dead works of religion. Notice what the apostle so famously said,
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Rom 6:23.
Here the two ways are juxtaposed and become apparent in Paul’s words here, that one has to work at being iniquitous, work at being lawless or unrighteous, because one may be working to do the right thing, working to establish their own righteousness, or holiness, but in the process smash up against the walls of either legalism or licentiousness, and thus fail to enter the Kingdom of God.
The true nature of our grace walk is neither in shrinking back into law-keeping and the dead works of the flesh, nor is it the transposing of grace for the cheap counterfeit of lawlessness and living sinful lives as if with impunity. Paul taught Titus as to the real nature of grace:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. – Titus 2:11-14.
Living under grace means a changed life, it doesn’t look like the world, as if we’re to make peace with wrong doing or sin, and settle into a life of fleshly lusts. Yet neither does it mean straining and stressing to fulfill the letter of the law, nor yet of a set of moral codes.
Living under grace means- the Lord Jesus Christ, and our co-crucifixion and co-resurrection in Him. He Himself is the straight gate and the narrow way through which we agonizingly squeeze through (though with great joy, peace and love!) into His eternal Kingdom in the Spirit. Anything more than Jesus (laws and rules), or anything less than Jesus (falling short of the divine Image, and what that looks like) is to be smashed against the walls, and fail to enter in.
Repentance simply means a change of mind, to where we come into agreement in heart with the truth presented to us by the Holy Spirit, and a changing direction away from ourselves and toward Jesus.
What of those who fail to enter in, the workers of iniquity?
In God’s mind, all are righteous (Rom 3:22), all are reconciled to Him, not having their trespasses imputed to them (2Cor 5:19), and all are saved (1Tim 4:10).
So it is not fully known what will be their fate- although involving hell as taught by Christ- other than that there’s hope that even after death, and even if one were to fail to enter into the Kingdom at the Millennium, that the gates of the city are always open during the Age of Ages (cp. Rev 21:25-27 and 22:14-15), and that the perfect work of Christ manifest through grace can never be fully retracted, just its enjoyment postponed by man’s impenitent and unbelieving will.
Be blessed in Him.Invite Leon to Speak