In the introduction of a newly published work, The Church, by Jeffrey D. Johnson (published by MediaGratiae, © 2020), Johnson begins with the general perception of modern evangelicals with regard to salvation. This perception influences people’s convictions about discipleship and church commitment. There are two camps: one is those who have a low view of God and a high view of man, teaching “easy believism,” which ignores repentance and holds salvation to a simple decision of “accepting Jesus into one’s heart,” whatever that is. The other camp holds to a high view of God and low view of man. These teach “Lordship salvation,” the kind Jesus held when in response to the rich young ruler’s inquiry about eternal life, He advised him to “sell all” he had, “distribute to the poor,” and to “follow” Him (Luke 18:22). It is the kind of commitment specified in Christ’s cost-of-discipleship message (Luke 14:25–43). Jesus saves people to make them disciples—Christ followers, people who leave all to love and serve Jesus and His kingdom. Jesus does not save people in hopes that one day they can be persuaded to follow Him.
Because many have a low view of God, the concept of church is adjusted to suit the goal of encouraging to people to merely support the church with their attendance, giving, and service in some capacity. Thus, leaders must preserve the church by pleasing the people, entertaining them, adjusting the message so as to not offend them, and compromising the Scriptures to placate them. It is this kind of ministry that Jesus labeled a wide gate and an easy way (Matthew 7:13). This way is filled with travelers but leads to destruction.
Thus, Jesus admonished kingdom citizens to “enter by the narrow gate.” That gate guards the way to life, but, sadly, “those who find it are few.” When Jesus was teaching on His way to Jerusalem, some asked, “‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23, 24). The reason for the difficulty is clearly addressed. When they knock at the door, the Master rejects them, “I do not know where you come from” (v. 25). The fact that is lost to many in reading the text is their presumption of their having the right to enter (“We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets” v. 26). The master, however, identifies them as “workers of iniquity.” The Greek term for iniquity describes those who are dishonest and unrighteous in heart and life. They actually confessed that they followed Jesus for what they might gain from Him. This reasoning is similar to that in the sermon before us (7:21–23). In the latter case, the presumption of right was due to service for Christ’s kingdom (preaching, exorcisms, and miracle working). No sinner has the right to enter Christ’s kingdom for any reason.
The basic issue is the same in both cases—the prideful insistence that one deserves entrance. This prideful self-focus makes both entry and progress in Christ’s way of life impossible because the gate is narrow (stenos, an adjective that is based on the verb for standing straight and found only here and Luke 13:24). The picture is of its restrictive nature. The rich young ruler’s wealth prevented his entry. (Do not misunderstand, his wealth was not the issue; his love of his wealth was [Matthew 6:24].) Contrast this with what is found in Matthew 4:20, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Thus, “Any one of you who does not renounce [forsake] all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is what makes the way to life hard. One cannot follow Christ and be encumbered with the things of this world.