Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:13-23
This passage has always been very potent to me. It is as if the Holy Spirit used a supernatural highlighter to ensure that I took notice. I have endeavored to heed and come back regularly, lest I forget. I read in it a warning to not be influenced by appearances or by popular opinion and the stakes are very high. Failure to heed can result in destruction, ravaging by wolves, being thrown into the fire and repudiation by Jesus Himself, none of which I want anything to do with. We are exhorted to find the small gate and narrow road to life and those good trees that are sometimes obscured by the forest of bad ones. We are called to be genuine subjects of the actual Lord and not busy name-droppers. But this alternative lifestyle has temporal consequences that, if we are not careful, can intimidate us back onto the broad road.
It is difficult to choose to be numbered among the few rather than the many. The many do not endorse the choices of the few. There is, temporarily, strength in numbers and the many have a tendency to use it against those who have the audacity to be different. Additionally, the odds are great that people you love and desire the good opinion of are amongst the many and so the pressure increases. But is that any reason to march off to destruction with them?
How about the warning against false prophets and bad trees? Jesus tells us to look for good fruit as verification of a good source. This seems easy, but apparently is harder that we’d like to think. What does good fruit look like? I think Galatians 5:22-23 is an excellent, though not exhaustive, list of what we should be on the watch for: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I just want to point out that the fruit of the Spirit was perfectly on display in the life of Jesus and, if you were to pick out specific anecdotes and put yourself in them, you might realize the problem with objectively acknowledging good fruit. Could Peter have taken offense at Jesus when He responded to his well-intentioned rebuke with, ‘Get behind me, Satan’ (Matthew 16:21-23)? Could James and John have been miffed when Jesus refused their request for favor (Mark 10:35-45)? Is it difficult to imagine someone (surely not Peter, James, John or you) getting their panties in a twist in those situations and making a case that Jesus was not loving or gentle or good? And yet a right perspective readily acknowledges that He was all of those things and perfectly so in those cases. He was single-minded in His mission to serve the Father’s will and lead His disciples to do the same. The issue is that often the only fruit we consider good is the fruit that gives me what I want. That’s what false prophets preach most often and that’s how ferocious wolves disguise themselves so successfully as fluffy, appealing, non-threatening sheep. The best ones give us what we want: affirmation, endorsement, directions to the wide gate and many companions.
To me, the preceding verses are build-up to the stark words in verses 20-23. I visualize the scene with trembling. It is the Day of Christ, the day on which Jesus takes up His authority to separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff. Each of us will stand before Him to receive His righteous judgment. And as He has oft repeated, many will be taken by surprise at what they hear. He clearly states that the frequent use of ‘Lord, Lord’ or even supernatural activity in that name does not qualify one for the kingdom of heaven. Pay attention to what He says as well as what He does not say. Only those who do the will of the Father enter in. He states, ‘Many (there’s that scary word many again) will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Note that He doesn’t refute their claims. They apparently did prophesy, drive out demons and perform miracles (many of them!). And surely, there are a corresponding many who think they are overflowing with godliness. But none of that matters. They are not sent away for false claims. They are sent away because He never knew them. They are not His because they did not do the will of the Father. They imitate the activity of Jesus but do not imitate His obedience. And yet that is the crucial thing. On that broad road populated by the many are the whole spectrum of mankind, from the unapologetic pagan to the busy ministry worker. But they have lots of approving company and so are easily deceived into believing that they must be on the right path. The Day of revelation to the contrary will be grievous indeed.
Jesus calls us to the small gate, the narrow road, the good fruit and the will of the Father. These are the ones He claims as His own. Let the supernatural highlighter mark your spirit with this critical Word. Your eternity depends on it.