What Makes The Narrow Path Hard?

Q. In Matthew 7:13-14 it says that wide is the gate that leads to destruction, but it says that narrow is the way and some translations say hard is the path that leads to eternal life. Why is it hard if believing on the Lord’s death as payment for our sins is the only thing we have to do? What makes the narrow path hard?

A. I think it’s a combination of two things. First there’s a lot of false teaching promoting the idea that it takes some combination of grace and works to accomplish our salvation. There are two variations on this theme. Some say we’re initially saved by grace but have to keep ourselves saved by our works, while others say God’s grace only comes into play after we’ve done everything possible to save ourselves. But the outcome is the same. Our works have to be part of the equation. Since God’s grace is constant, our salvation ultimately depends on what we do, not on what Jesus has done.

People who don’t study the Bible for themselves but accept this teaching at face value can be deceived into believing the concept of grace plus work because it’s appealing to our human nature. In fact, one definition of religion is that it’s sinful man’s attempt to justify himself before a Holy God. It allows us to feel good about ourselves, like we’re helping God save us. We’ve been taught that nobody should get something for nothing, so believing that we’re earning what we’re receiving is important to our self esteem.

The problem is that because of our fallen nature this can only bring us to one of two conclusions. We’ll either develop an unhealthy sense of spiritual pride, or we’ll become a slave to fear. (Spiritual pride is the feeling that our behavior is pleasing to God and is earning us a favored position in His sight. Being enslaved to fear means we’re afraid that what we’re doing is not good enough and we’ll be rejected by Him.) Either one of these outcomes can put us on the wide road, because the underlying belief in any grace plus work theology is that by itself the Lord’s death was not sufficient to save us or keep us.

Second, the grace alone position requires us to admit that we have nothing to offer God, and had He not done everything, we would be lost forever. This is a blow to our human nature because it requires us to admit that when it comes to our salvation we’re hopeless, helpless, worthless, and useless to God. Some people’s pride will not permit them to accept this opinion of themselves and that’s what leads them to embrace the grace plus works position.

Of the two, our human nature is by far the most critical factor. The only way the grace plus works teaching can thrive is due to the appeal it has to those who won’t accept the reality that we have nothing God needs, in spite of the Bible’s clear teaching on the subject.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace , we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

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