A question that troubles many is this: are there really only a few who will find the narrow gate that leads to life? Jesus said about the wide gate that many are already entering it, but that few will even find the gate of life. Whatever Jesus intends us to understand precisely by “few,” we must conclude that “few” still means fewer than “many.”
Yet I think we can say that “few” is not an absolute term as far as numbers go, since the saved can still be numerically many even if, relative to those who go the wide and easy way, they are in the minority. For Jesus also says that “many will come from east and west and sit at table…in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). [It is also possible that some of those who don’t find the gate to Heaven during their lifetime will find it through a deathbed conversion, or by being fortunate enough to have been placed on the mop-up list by someone who cares enough for them to do so. Let us hope...]
It’s easy to “go with the flow” of contemporary ideas, beliefs, and practices that contradict or minimize the message of the Gospel—and it’s hard to stand one’s ground, or courageously to move against the prevailing winds of this age. That puts you in the margins, makes you feel perhaps uncomfortably out of touch with the direction of American social, political, moral, and even religious life in the 21st century. It’s hard! There are relatively few who stand for the truth of the word of God. But these are the ones who are finding the narrow gate to life.
In the parallel passage in Luke, some people asked Jesus the direct question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He didn’t give a direct answer, but He still said that many would not: “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). Now the issue takes a new turn. It is not only the crass hedonists and unbelievers—who couldn’t care less about the narrow gate—that are unable to enter, it’s even some of those who seek to enter! Why is that?
The answer is given in a somewhat obscure form in the verses following Jesus’ answer to the question in Luke. It more concise and precise in Matthew 7:21-23. Here Jesus says that not all those who say to Him, “Lord, Lord!” will be saved, but only those who do the will of the heavenly Father. This is the bottom line. This is the content and meaning of walking the hard way and entering the narrow gate. There are no magic formulas or secret passwords for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. There is only doing the will of the Father.
We can’t even presume that doing certain things that are good in themselves means we are doing God’s will for us. For in the following passage concerning the Day of Judgment (“on that day”), Jesus says: “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers!’”
What are we to make of this? If prophets, exorcists, and miracle workers can be kept out of the Kingdom, who can be saved? I think we have to assume that those who were cast away from Christ’s presence must have seriously failed Him in some other way, even though they did certain great things in his name.
There are at least two possibilities here. Prophecy, exorcism, and miracle-working (if they are genuine) are quite extraordinary gifts, and can be rather sensational ones at that. Not many are called to exercise these gifts (though if this is clearly the will of the Father, you should do it). But it may be that some people like the attention, the drama, and the personal adulation that can accompany extraordinary works. If one is doing the right things for the wrong reasons, especially if the soul is thereby poisoned by pride, then one is in fact walking the wide, easy way.
Also, if one is obsessed with the extraordinary, he runs the risk of neglecting the ordinary. When Jesus speaks to the crowds, He doesn’t command them to work miracles, only to believe, to love, to forgive, to hear his word and keep it. If one is focused on doing sensational things but failing to love and to forgive, again, he is not worthy of the Kingdom, for he is not doing the Father’s will.
I hope you aren’t discouraged because of the difficulty of the way that leads to life. This should only heighten our awareness of how precious is the Kingdom of Heaven: the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, as Jesus said in his parables. It should also motivate us to avoid anything that would turn us toward the wide gate and easy way. Avoid it like the plague!
To drive the point home, Jesus gave us a few images—to be taken seriously, but not literally—about plucking out eyes or hacking off hands if they cause us to sin. What is literally true is his conclusion: “it would be better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). That is, no sacrifice is too great to make when your eternal salvation is at stake.
Nothing is worth losing Heaven forever: no luxurious lifestyle, no forbidden pleasure, no political or personal agenda, no emotional leverage; not the satisfaction of revenge or of smug self-determination; not power, wealth, sexual “freedom,” or even universal admiration—nothing. All these pass; all that remains in the end is our relationship to God. Measure your anxious attempts to secure shreds of fleeting happiness against the boundless expanse of eternal peace and fulfillment, the joy and beauty at which your finest dreams can only hint. Judge for yourself.
We needn’t spend any more time speculating on the “few” and the “many” and, frankly, if we want to be among the saved, we just don’t have time for it! The will of the Father is not yet fully accomplished, so we’ve got work to do. We know that God desires the salvation of all, so no one is automatically excluded from the Kingdom.
We need to have compassion and to pray for those who are manifestly on the wrong path. Both they and we need to be aware that grace is offered to all with open, loving hands. Let us also keep in mind that the mystery of Divine Mercy is beyond our understanding—and we will only know the fullness of God’s plan of salvation in the pure light of its ultimate revelation.
The Lord knows, however, what we too often do with our precious, terrible gift of freedom: how we can exclude ourselves from his eternal embrace because of the choices we make. But there is no predetermined number of the saved. Everyone has a fair shot at the prize. Grace plus our free choice to do God’s will equals entrance into Heaven. You want it? Go for it! Run so as to win, says the Apostle Paul.
So, are you ready now to enter the narrow gate? I warn you, it will be hard. I encourage you, it will be rewarding. And you will never, ever regret it. The gate opens to everlasting joy.