“Difficult is the Way that Leads to Life” Matt 7:13-14

by Steven Chan

I have been a Christian for more than 45 years. I recently looked through my photo albums. Over that period of time, many fellow believers with whom I had worked closely have left the faith. Only about 10% of those in the church camps, etc… are still walking in the faith. This reminded me of the entire family of Israel who left Egypt but only Joshua and Caleb among those who were 20 years and above who had left Egypt, succeeded in getting into the Promised Land. Similarly, the Scriptures highlighted similar statistics on the great flood that destroyed the world during Noah’s time: “when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism” (1 Pet 3:20-21). Listen to what our Lord said in Matt 7:13-14:

 “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.14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Jesus said that only a “few” would find the way that leads to life. That’s because the gate is “narrow” and the way is “difficult”. Listening to the modern day preachers, it would appear that the way is “easy” and that “many” will find the way that leads to life. They said that Jesus has made it “easy” for us; we can almost waltz into heaven now because Jesus has paved the way for us – they claimed that it is “all by His grace” and there’s nothing we can “add” or “work” towards our salvation. Is that what the Bible teaches?

It is true that Jesus has made possible for us the way into heaven: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9).

Is the way “easy”? Jesus said in Matt 7:14 that the way would be “difficult”. He also said in Matt 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Jesus said that His yoke is “easy” and His burden “light”; so He urged us to “take His yoke” and to “learn from Him” so that we can find “rest for our souls”. What did Jesus mean when He said that His yoke is “easy”? It is “easy” relative to or as compared with the “yoke” or “burden” of the law of Moses. The apostle Paul wrote thus in Gal 5:1-4:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondageIndeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Both Jesus and Paul referred to the “yoke” of “the law” of Moses that could not justify any man as no one (except Jesus) could keep the law perfectly. Listen to what Paul wrote in Gal 3:10-14:

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

So, Jesus urged His disciples to “take His yoke” upon them as His yoke is “easy” as compared with the yoke of the law of Moses.  Unfortunately, some were still “unlearned” and thought that a disciple of Christ must also “keep the law of Moses” as Jesus Himself did. So in the early days of the church, some taught that a disciple of Christ had to keep the Law and be circumcised:

“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved…But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.””(Acts 15:1,5)

The apostles in Jerusalem responded thus: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 15:10-11).  The keeping of the Law of Moses was again referred to as “a yoke that neither our fathers nor we were able to bear”.

Jesus invites us to take “His yoke” instead of the “yoke of the Law of Moses”.  Whilst His yoke is “easy” and His “burden light” as compared with that of the Law of Moses, it is not without any obligations whatsoever. After telling them that He is the Way to the Father in heaven (John 14:6), Jesus said: ““If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). But as compared with the Law of Moses, His commandments are not “burdensome”: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)

We need to take up the “yoke of discipleship”: “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). The “yoke of discipleship” in Christ requires us to be His “true” disciples by doing the following:-

  1. “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32).
  2. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). ““But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)
  3. “I am the vine, you arethe branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:5,7-8).

“And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” (John 12:47-49)

Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 9-11)

We need to persevere and stand firm in our faith: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before uslooking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”(Heb 12:1-2). The Bible says: “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 “For yet a little while, And He[j] who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”

Unfortunately, just like what happened to many of the Israelites who came out in faith from Egypt but later lost their opportunity to enter the Promised Land due to their subsequent unbelief and disobedience, many who have started their journey of faith may also lose their precious faith along the way: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:12)

The beloved apostle Paul was also wary of ensuring that he remained in the faith until the end: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified….Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 9:27;10:12). This is a good warning for everyone and especially to preachers and teachers. How many “preachers and teachers” have similarly fallen along the way.

The apostle Peter exhorted in 2 Pet 1:10-11 that we must “do these things so that we may not stumble”:

“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

What are “these things that we are to do” so that we may not stumble?

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” (2 Pet 1:5-9). There is a need to grow unto spiritual maturity (1 Pet 2:2; Heb 5:12-14; 6:1). Let’s be “diligent” (it will not happen by default or by accident; it must be purposeful) to cultivate these necessary attributes in our lives:-

– How’s my faith? Is it growing? Am I a doer of the Word and not a hearer only? (James 1:22)

– How’s my moral conduct? (1 Pet 2:12,15; Rom 12:17; 2 Cor 8:21; Phil 4:8; 1 Thess 4:12; 1 Tim 2:2; Heb 13:18)

– How’s my knowledge of God’s Word? (Hos 4:6; 1 Cor 13:2; 2 Tim 2:15;3:15-17; Acts 17:11; Heb 5:12-14; Rom 10:1-2)

– Do I have my senses, appetites and temper under control/discipline for the purpose of effective service to God? (Rom 12:1-2;1 Cor 9:19-27;10:31-33)

– Do I persevere in my faith and service to God? Or, do I easily give up on serving God and my fellow brethren? (Acts 20:24-35; Phil 3:7-16; 2 Cor 11:23-28)

– Is God the central motivation for all my conduct? (Titus 2:11-12; Col 3:22-24; Matt 5:16; 1 Cor 15:58)

– Do I treat my brethren with kindness and with a readiness to forgive? Am I impatient and harsh in what or how I say or act towards my brethren? (Matt 6:14-15; 7:12; 18:21, 35; Eph 4:1-3, 25-32; John 13:34-35)

– Are my actions, attitudes and words tempered with love towards all? (1 Cor 13; Gal 5:6,13-14; Eph 3:17; 5:2; Col 3:14; 1 Thess 3:12; 1 Tim 1:5; Heb 13:1; James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 4:7)