In Matthew, chapter 7 we read in verses 13 & 14 Jesus’ words, saying;
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NKJV is used for all references)
Throughout my 20 something years of having been graced to have been counted as one of His, I have heard the idea, the perception people have about what it is Jesus is saying here.
It’s come in different words, but for the most part it is usually expressed something along the lines of; “I’m just trying to ‘walk the straight and narrow’.” Or, those times they were speaking of someone else, someone that was, as we erroneously judge, backsliding, they would say; “They aren’t walking the straight and narrow.”
Although I don’t always hear those words, what I do see is an imitation of those words in the lives of people who still believe that the life of the believer is one that is confining. I could almost agree with folks who choose such a life, but my problem is that when I hear them say they are “walking the straight and narrow” it is usually tinged with fear or regret. Fear of consequences if they were to throw themselves into such and such activity or there is a regret that what used to be enjoyable is still enjoyable, but they just can’t do it anymore.
The Christian life is supposed to be restrictive, is the general idea and knowing as I do that this particular verse is one of the more popular ones heard over pulpits today, I can nearly be sure that these words of Jesus’ are the restrictive force. To put it another way, let’s just say that if I want to commit some crime, these words of Jesus are the handcuffs and leg shackles that keep me from doing it.
His words here, as with every where else are meant for freedom and we know this because we’ve read one of many verses that speak of freedom, for example;
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” which is found in John’s gospel account, chapter 8, verse 36. How are we to be free, as this one verse alleges, while confined to the “straight and narrow” of the other? On the one hand is the offer of freedom, but the other holds our soul in its iron grip.
For so many years I’ve seen people who had been sitting on the “death row” of their own lives until news came of a full pardon and once the prison doors were opened to them, they just sat there.
Let me express this from a more personal experience, perhaps this will be useful to help you see what I mean.
When I first walked through the massive gates of the Oregon State Penitentiary to only begin my 5 year sentence, I was beneath a burden of fear, shame and sorrow that defy any words of man. For the next few years this was to be my life. I was confined and my cell was straight and narrow. I had deprived another of freedom and the penalty for that was that I was to now be deprived of mine. I had stolen things that those people could never replace and now I was to surrender something more valuable than their possessions, I had to give them 5 years of the days I had in which to live.
After some time the governing authority determined that I was to be released. The door to my cell opened wide and I was allowed to leave behind the “straight and narrow” confines of my 10 foot square life into freedom. But, was I really free? Not at all. For the next several months I was ordered to “check in” with my Parole officer and give an accounting of my activities. I was to tell them everything.
They had the authority to tell me what to do and with that, they had the power to imprison me again should I not comply. Where are you working? How much money do you have on you? These questions and many more besides were to be answered to their satisfaction or else. I was told what time to be home, where I could and could not go and who I could and could not associate with.
I may have been outside those ominous walls, but I was anything but free. The straight and narrow confines of my cell were still around me. They were just invisible.
The people over me had set a determined length of time for me to be subject to them and as long as that time had not passed, I was still to do their bidding, I still had to walk the “straight and narrow way” and if I did not, I would be returned to serve the remainder of my previous sentence and not only that, the law allowed for an additional 5 years being added to my sentence. Parole only means a man is no longer confined, but he is anything but free.
Now, I realize that this works in society and is given by God as a restraint against men like I used to be. My difficulty, and the reason for this article, is that although it may “work” beneficially for a society, it certainly doesn’t “work” in the Kingdom.
But, these words of Jesus that are meant to speak of freedom come across more pulpits and are spoken by so many people in a way that makes the “Good News” sound more like a Parole officer than a loving God who gave Himself and by serving our sentence for us has given us a full pardon.
What then do these words mean? Well, they certainly don’t mean what most have us have been led to believe. The “straight and narrow” is not a lifestyle, nothing like it. It is death. The “straight and narrow” is His cross and His cross is ours.
Let me explain it in two ways. First of all, most of us remember the man who proclaimed; “Give me liberty or give me death.” What Jesus is saying here is “Give me death and I’ll give you liberty.”
Keeping that in mind, now hear this true story. Just recently a man walked into a Florida courthouse, took out a pistol and opened fire. A law enforcement officer was wounded and others were under the threat of death. Many crimes were committed in just 2 or 3 minutes. Not only was there the crime of “attempted murder on a police officer” which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, there were other crimes done that day; attempted murder on many people, carrying a concealed weapon, bringing a weapon into a State building, discharging a firearm in public, terrorism and many more besides.
This man is guilty and deserves the penalty for his crimes. There’s one problem though. In the ensuing gun battle, the man died. He will not stand trial for his crimes. In an instant he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death and it was upon two sworn deputies to act as victims, witnesses, jury, State’s attorney, judge and executioner and in less time than it took for back-up to arrive.
That man is dead. He will never stand trial for his crimes, at least, not here and now. As soon as his physical body would no longer support life here, he was taken “there” and now will be tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison in a place from which there will be no pardon, no parole and no escape.
In the same way, in the exact same way, we are dead. The sentence of death that is undeniable due to our crimes is as sure as it was for this man. Now, let’s take this one step further;
Suppose that when one of those officers aimed his weapon to end this murderous rampage there was another man who deliberately took within his own body the bullet that was intended for the perpetrator? That man would die instantly, but the guilty would live and he would live to stand trial for his crimes. Nevertheless, he would be alive. Alive, but condemned to die. He would be “free” in one sense, but in so many other ways he would be anything but free.
Now, in the realm of our finiteness and our limited understanding this makes sense. But, having been “born from above” there is one other factor we must, if we are to understand Jesus’ words concerning the “straight and narrow” that we have to add to the equation.
Looking back a few paragraphs, let’s resume this thought by also noticing that although the man received righteous judgment for his crimes (sins) he is free from the penalty. Men cannot exact justice from him, on him or to him. He’s free from man’s sentence of death because he’s dead already.
Now, we must take this to the extreme that grace, Gods’ grace, allows and although it makes no sense to our judicial, confining and restrictive minds; Jesus’ words are never meant for just our minds.
We, the jury, must hear testimony from an expert witness and those trial proceedings, as with all courts, has been recorded for us. This expert witness takes the stand and offers, under oath, these words;
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." Galatians 2: 20, 21
Paul, the expert witness, who swore this divine affidavit says that “Yes” I am not only deserving of death because those are the inescapable wages of sin. But, more than that, he is saying that, for a fact “he is dead”. The sentence of a deserved death has already been executed. He, being dead, can no longer be arrested, much less tried and convicted for his offenses. The law is powerless to a dead man.
Before he was even born, this sentence of death was passed upon another in his stead, that is, in his place. There was another who “took the bullet.” And more than that, the one who died so he could live to stand trail also took the stand, the judgment and the capital punishment and more than that, Paul was allowed to go free and more than that, his record was expunged. There isn’t even a paper trail leading up to him. If we were to look at his criminal background, we wouldn’t find one.
When Jesus speaks of the straight and narrow, the only thing on His heart and mind is His cross. There is nothing that will “straighten up” a man more than a cross and there isn’t anything that will “narrow” his gaze to “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
If the life of the redeemed was meant to be so “straight and narrow” then someone, please tell me why “Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested.” 1 Chronicles 4:10
Jabez didn’t ask that his world be “straight and narrow”, no, just the opposite. He asked that the Lord “enlarge my territory.”
No, the life of the redeemed is meant to be abundant, free and more than that, it is meant to be lived. But, it is not for us to live it, it is for, as Paul said in his sworn testimony, that it is to be Christ who now lives His life in us, through us and for His name sake.
The “straight and narrow” is the cross. There will be no resurrection life until there is death and there was, His. You and I were born dead in trespasses and sin, so it stands that there could only be one to “die” and since we were born dead, that couldn’t be you and me. Besides, only the living can die and since we aren’t alive, only He who is Life can, would and did.
If the “straight and narrow” of your life doesn’t cause you to look upon Him who was crucified, then you may want to consider this; you are dead and dead still. Living a certain way will never give life, for the giving of life is something only the Living can do.
Walking, as we say, the straight and narrow will only, in Paul's words, cause us to "set aside the grace of God."
The straight and narrow cross is the only way to life. His cross, His death, His life.
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Hello Don. This article took me to the end, which is an accomplishment for any writer. Your article is very well written. It reveals much meditation on your part about the comparisons between freedom and imprisonment, and presented in such a fashion as to hold the interests of the reader. Well done. From a dreaded theological standpoint, I think it important to recognize "Jesus" is the "straight and narrow" Way. Through Him, we are delivered. His sacrifice on the cross paid the price for all sin over 2000 years ago, past, present and future. This was done for you and I before we were ever born. Yet that alone is not salvation. Even though we were reconciled while we were yet enemies of God (before we were born again), we are still "spiritually dead". Despite being reconciled, we all still needed LIFE! By accepting Jesus as our Lord, Saviour, our Way, our Truth and our LIFE, we in turn get "eternal" life and are transformed in such a way in the flesh that we will then display "evidence of our faith" through obedience of some level to God. Your article touched the edging boundaries of this understanding through the various scriptures you presented and commentary. But in the process of communication, there are two things to realize: 1.Communication is what is said; and 2: What is understood . It is always my goal not to only state things correctly, but also speak in a way that may be better understood by the particular audience before me at the time. I know you know all this... Just giving it mention is all. All in all, it's a very good writ my brother, that maybe with a little more meditation, could be even a bit better, as is always the case with anything I write. When someone gives some good input, I can better recognize what may be a distraction to the readers from my main points. I enjoyed your writ my brother. It challenges the intellect!
I enjoyed reading this article and I love the comparison you use about prison and freedom. Yes, the way of the Christian walk is narrow but to me not restrictive. It is only restrictive concerning the things that will harm me. The measure of freedom you mentioned when they unlocked the cell door and you walked out...I got a picture in my mind that showed how one that turns his back on darkness and walks into the light of the kingdom of GOD. BORN AGAIN. Parole, I am sure, is not enjoyable, but it is a process of being free. Like teaching a newborn how and where to walk to protect him or her. Keep writing. GOD BLESS YOU