26 OF THE SERIES OF REFLECTIONS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The narrow gate of salvation
way to the Kingdom is difficult
and unattractive, but those who
take it will receive eternal life'
THE Sermon on the Mount ends with four
warnings, each presented by a pair of contrasts. Jesus' audience,
who included His disciples, had to choose between two ways (vv
13-14), two trees (vv. 15-20), two claims (vv. 21-23), and two
builders (vv. 24-27).
choice would have serious implications on their relationship
to the Kingdom of God about which Jesus had been speaking.
first pair of contrasts has to do with two ways leading up to
two gates. The first gate is narrow and the second gate is broad.
The gate and road here are to be taken metaphorically. The narrow
gate points to the difficulty of this way.
a spatial metaphor is used here, the intention is to refer to
the difficult demands of Christian discipleship and the persecution
that those who belong to Christ must endure. Jesus warned His
disciples that the way to the Kingdom was difficult and unattractive,
and He later predicted that only a few would take it. But those
who did would receive eternal life, that is, life in the eternal
presence of God.
second, more popular way, is the broad road that leads to the
wide gate. Again, the metaphors are spatial, and they imply the
ease and comfort of those who choose this way. Those who walk
this way will not be met by any significant demands to order
their lives according to the ethical precepts that Jesus has
explained in the Sermon. They do not need to bother with discipline
or with obedience to God's Word. They are free to live their
lives as they please, free to have other allegiances, free to
abandon themselves to their lusts and desires. This way is surely
more attractive, and there are many who will take it. But this
way leads to ruin.
entry by the narrow gate brings life, entry by this broad gate
brings destruction. And the word for "destruction"
refers to that which is definitive: eternal separation from God.
Thus, the two roads are not ends in themselves, but lead to two
distinctive and opposite destinations. Thus, there are two roads,
two gates, two crowds, two destinations.
passage suggests that choice of the way to either life or destruction
has already begun in the here and now, although there is a reference
to the future. Those who chose to walk the narrow road and enter
the narrow gate have already received life in the here and now,
and those who chose the opposite route are already condemned.
idea of the immediacy of salvation or judgment is clearly found
in the Gospel of John. In John 5:24 we are told that those who
have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have already passed from
death to life. In the same way, those who rejected him are already
condemned. The eschatological judgment has already begun to take
effect in the here and now (John 3:18; 9:39; 2:47).
passage also makes clear that Jesus did not come to judge but
to save. His coming has made the road to salvation possible,
even though Christian discipleship and obedience in this world
of sin and contradiction is never easy. This truth is made explicit
in John 3:17: "For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."
This verse states that the supreme reason for the Incarnation
- the coming of the Son of God in human flesh - is salvation.
But how can this be reconciled with John 5:22, which says that
the Father has given "all judgment to the Son"?
God's grace persuasive,
be sure, Scripture teaches that the Son has come to save, and
therefore judges no one. But the Word that He speaks will bring
judgment. Those who reject His Word, and as a consequence also
reject His gift of salvation, have therefore brought judgment
upon themselves. Although the Saviour made no judicial decision,
some decision has nevertheless taken place. Those who chose to
reject the Son of God were judged and condemned by the Word that
He had spoken.
'The grace of God honours human freedom and invites
human beings to
God's gift of salvation out of their own volition.'
concepts of hell and eternal damnation have become very unpopular
in modern culture. Modern man finds the idea of a God who assigns
those who refuse his friendship to eternal punishment repulsive,
especially in the wake of the horrors and atrocities of concentration
camps. It is impossible to think of a God who would condemn unbelievers
endless suffering in an eternal Auschwitz. Those in earthly concentration
camps can at least hope for an ultimate deliverance - death -
if escape or release have proved impossible. But those in hell
will suffer for all eternity without any hope of emancipation.
the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell, it is argued, cannot
really fit into the Biblical concept of the God of love. For
moderns, then, eternal punishment is inimical to the Biblical
portrayal of a loving God.
some the solution to this so-called "problem" is found
in the concept of universal salvation. Those who hold this view
("universalism") reject the idea that God will banish
people to eternal punishment in hell because it is God's will
that everyone should be saved. The concepts of eternal punishment
and hell belong to a medieval notion of God that is fashioned
after archaic notions of justice and punishment and therefore
cannot be a part of Christianity that preaches the Gospel of
the love of God.
universalists meet the objection that the Bible speaks explicitly
of hell by arguing that hell is real from the point of view of
the person making the decision, but ultimately it is an impossibility
for God. As universalist John Robinson puts it: "In a universe
of love there can be no heaven which tolerates a chamber of horrors."
Hell therefore becomes a psychological rather than a metaphysical
reality. Finally, universalists argue that the reality of hell
contradicts the sovereignty of God. For if the God who wills
that all should be saved is truly sovereign, then the universal
salvation of human beings will surely in the end be realised.
LIFE IN THE HERE AND NOW
does not allow a detailed response to universalism. Suffice it
is to say that in this passage Jesus makes it very clear that
there are two possible destinations for all human beings. The
love of God does not negate human freedom, and God's offer of
love can either be embraced or spurned by His rational creatures.
chose to walk the narrow road and enter the narrow gate have already
in the here and now, and those who
chose the opposite route are already condemned.'
works on an erroneous idea of omnipotence because it insists
that divine sovereignty will in the end negate human freedom
- those who continue to reject God will be forced in His presence
against their will. Universalism therefore works on the same
notion of divine sovereignty as the doctrine of double predestination
that it rejects. Furthermore, universalism fails to take the
human sin that sent the Son of God to Calvary's Cross seriously.
The Cross and resurrection of Christ are made available to all,
but only those who believe in the Son of God will appropriate
them. Although the Bible teaches that salvation is universally
accessible, it does not teach universal salvation.
passage brings out the creative tension between divine grace
and human freedom. The grace of God has opened the way to salvation,
but it is through the exercise of their God-given freedom that
human beings appropriate this salvation. The grace of God is
persuasive, not coercive. It honours human freedom and invites
human beings to receive God's gift of salvation out of their
invites sinful human beings to enter into a covenantal relationship
with Him, but He never forces humans into that relationship.
Seen in this way, God never really sends anyone to hell. The
negative outcome of His offer of salvation comes about because
of the individual's rejection of that offer.
is the destination of those who chose to reject the offer of
life and chose instead to enter through the broad gate.
Dr Roland Chia, a lecturer at Trinity Theological
College, is also the Director of the Centre for the Development
Ministry at TTC. He is a member of Fairfield Methodist Church.