Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:13a “Enter ye in. . .”
Without batting an eye, Jesus has straightforwardly set forth in this Sermon on the Mount a manifesto for His kingdom. His expectations for kingdom citizenship have been presented as inward, spiritual, and lofty (higher than the roof, somewhere in the stratosphere). Having clearly delivered His message, Jesus now tells His listeners it is time to decide. The whole Sermon on the Mount led to this point, to a moment of choosing whether or not to enter into the life Jesus described. Each individual in the crowd will now have to decide for or against the kingdom of God.
This invitation to enter Christ’s kingdom is tendered not as an option, but as a command appearance. Jesus, a carpenter of Nazareth, felt He had the right to command for Himself allegiance from men, women, boys, and girls. He presumed the right of authority over issues of human conduct. He spoke as if He were God, for He was. Thus, with regard to Jesus’ words, it is never enough to listen and analyze, nor even to admire them. One must decide for or against. Neutrality is no option.
Our text is a clarion call to subservience. The only way to enter the kingdom is to yield to the King. Conversion is no minor matter. Entering the kingdom is not a holiday outing or a picnic in the park. It is rather a radical commitment of one’s total life and essence to Christ, a forsaking of all other ways of life in order to serve only Jesus. Following Christ is a drastic choice. Many things must be left behind, much has to be cut out of our life. It is like trying to pass through a small entryway.
Matt. 7:13b “. . .at the strait gate:. . .”
“Strait” means narrow, restricting, a tight fit. “Gate” is an entrance, a doorway at the beginning of a life-course. To enter the kingdom we must, to build on the “born again” image, squeeze through a birth canal. The entrance is too narrow to allow any baggage to be taken in with us. We have to drop all that interferes with quick obedience to the King’s laws, and drop all we trust in, apart from the King, for salvation. The strait gate’s two pillars are repentance and renunciation.
To repent means to turn around. Repentance entails turning away from sin. Saying yes to Christ requires saying no to sins. You yourself can enter “the strait gate,” but your sins must be left outside. “You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together. No one sin may you keep” (Spurgeon). We have to check all our sins at the entry. Jesus demands from the first a devotion that costs us dearly. Evil passions have to be crucified, sinful pleasures forsaken, unworthy goals dropped. We must be willing to enter, whatever the cost or loss.
Bad habits and treasured lusts have to be laid down. The successful and ambitious have to undergo the difficulty of yielding lordship to Another. The unkind must struggle with leaving their meanness behind. The covetous and materialistic have to overcome their yearning to smuggle loads of stuff through the gate.
In my travels, some of the angriest and most frustrated people I ever see are those who cannot get all their baggage on the plane. They fuss and fume at the airport officials. I remember seeing one man who was livid, but to board the plane, finally gave in and started furiously throwing away some of his personal belongings. He could not have been more upset. The ordeal was an agony for him. Salvation is often similar. Saying no to self is painful. Adjusting to a God-controlled life is not easy. Realigning life’s priorities is tough. Self-denial is alien to who and what we are by nature. It is easier to turn against the world than to turn against ourself, but this painful repentance has to happen before conversion can take place.
Entering the strait gate also calls for renunciation, the abandoning of hope in all things but Christ for salvation. The original hearers of our text believed in God and the Bible, but this was not enough to save them. They wrongly thought they were safe due to being descendants of Abraham and having undergone the religious rite of circumcision. Similarly, many today erroneously believe they are Christians due to having experienced the rite of baptism, or due to being church members or citizens of a so-called Christian nation. However, if we have not, by renouncing trust in everything other than Christ, passed through the “strait gate,” we are not on the road to heaven. Songs say it well. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.” “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
Many need to renounce trust in their own good deeds to enter heaven. Some believe they will gain heaven on their own merit. Pride swells them up, and the strait gate becomes too small to let them in. Conversion entails bending low as little children–no knighthood without kneeling–but the proud have trouble stooping.
Friend, empty the cargo bay of personal merit. Jettison everything. Bring no dignities, no honors, no claim to goodness. Bring only emptiness. This renunciation is difficult, for it requires saying all of one’s life before has been totally wrong.
Entering the kingdom entails the starkest change a person can undergo. The first entry step requires a revolution in all our life purposes and plans, a surrender of all that is dear to our flesh, an absolute trust in Someone other than ourselves. The remainder of the journey is but an ongoing repetition of this first act of yielding.
Our Lord was always blunt honest. The Christian way starts out demanding, and stays that way. Its obligations are stringent, from first to last. Do not try to enter if you do not mean business, but if you are serious for God, come to the correct door. Enter the strait gate. There is a gate, God has granted a way in. The gate is strait, but not shut. It is always open. Any who want to go through it can do so.
I echo Joshua’s challenge, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (24:15). I voice Elijah’s appeal, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him” (1 K 18:21). Why do you tarry? What are you waiting for? The strait gate will never be wider open than it is now, but there is with every passing day the danger of it being irrevocably shut. Decide. Render your verdict. Come.