“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV)
These words were brought to mind recently listen to someone opine about the love of God. The gist of the argument this person was making was that if God loves us, he would never hold against us such minor things as the kinds of sins most of us do. It would really be unfair and disproportionate to leave in the power of the devil those who do not conform — or aspire to conform — to a high standard of holiness.
And as pleasing as this sounds to my ears, I cannot avoid thinking of Scripture passages that appear to say the very opposite. The above from the Sermon on the Mount stands out the most clearly to me.
The biblical witness appears to describe a black and white choice. With apologies to Adam Hamilton, the Scripture does not appear to see much gray. There is a way of life and there is a way of death.
In his sermon on the two verses at the top of this post, John Wesley pointed out just how broad the way of death is:
For sin is the gate of hell, and wickedness the way to destruction. And how wide a gate is that of sin! How broad is the way of wickedness! The “commandment” of God “is exceeding broad;” as extending not only to all our actions, but to every word which goeth out of our lips, yea, every thought that rises in our heart. And sin is equally broad with the commandment, seeing any breach of the commandment is sin. Yea, rather, it is a thousand times broader; since there is only one way of keeping the commandment; for we do not properly keep it, unless both the thing done, the manner of doing it, and all the other circumstances, are right: But there are a thousand ways of breaking every commandment; so that this gate is wide indeed.
Now we recoil at this description of God and our status before him. I have long lost count of the number of people who have told me that talking about sin with people is the surest way to turn them away from God. I have to admit that all the talk and my own natural inclination to get along with people and not offend has kept me from preaching about the topic nearly as much as John Wesley would have me do it.
In the end, though, my people pleasing side just cannot shut up the voice of Scripture. Both testaments speak of the holiness of God in very clear terms. Neither describes a large mushy gray area between the way of life and the way of death, the holy and the unholy, the righteous and the wicked. As much as we Wesleyans like to talk about both/and, the Scripture trades in a lot of either/or talk about these issues.
So, then, how can I be a faithful preacher and proclaimer of Scripture and not draw attention to passages such as Matthew 7:13-14 and the other places where Scripture teaches us to mind where we tread?