Q. What about the passages that speak of the way of salvation being narrow (Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:22-30)?
A. Matthew 7:13-14 is the opening statement to Jesus’ conclusion to his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). A summary of his conclusion is “Decide!” Jesus wants us to decide between his narrow way or the broad way of the world (vv. 13-14), between the rotten fruit of false teachers or the good, nutritious fruit of true teachers (vv. 15-20), between doing God’s will and merely talking about God (vv. 21-23), and between making Christ’s teachings the foundation of how you live every day or hearing his teachings but not putting them into practice and so building your life without a foundation. Troubles and critical challenges will hit both builders’ houses (their lives), but only the one will stand firm. The other will fall flat.
Luke 13:22-30 is a similar saying of Jesus on the road to the cross. Someone, perhaps seeing how few followers Jesus had at the moment, asked, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” If this is why he asked such a question, it was a subtle criticism of Jesus based on the false assumption that the validity of his ministry was based on its popularity. It’s like when preachers get together and compare attendance records. We know, however, that many faithful prophets and preachers have labored for years with little or no response. Jeremiah is a good example. God is the one who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6-7).
Why is the way so narrow? Because Jesus announces in John 14:6 that He Himself is the way, and the truth, and the life. Or someone has suggested that it could be translated, Jesus Himself is the true way to life or the true and living way. A life-commitment to Jesus is the only way of salvation, because He is the only Savior. This is an unpopular truth in a world that constantly shouts, “All roads lead to heaven. It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” For instance, the Baha’i religion teaches that everyone comes to God in his or her own way, a doctrine expressed in the architecture of their traditionally 8-sided temples, each with a door. Such human-based doctrine is erroneous, and brands Jesus Christ as a liar and a charlatan. All roads do not lead to heaven; the Bible claims that only one road does, and Jesus is that road.
Our world has sought to redefine tolerance. Until now it has meant permitting someone to hold a point of view different from the one you believe to be true. This kind of tolerance the Bible endorses. But the redefinition of tolerance is to accept another person’s point of view as being equally valid with the one you have, more like food preferences: you like spicy, and I like bland. Spicy is valid for you, and bland for me. But the Bible’s teaching about Jesus and the necessity of our commitment to him and about the life-style that following him demands of us, that is a truth imposed on every member of the human race. We cannot say, “Do it or not, either choice is equally valid.”
Nor does think kind of universally applicable truth start with the teaching of Jesus. In Isaiah, to the idolatrous king of Persia and to the returning exiles of Judah, God says, “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior” (Isa. 43:11), “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5; see also 44:8; 45:6-7, 18, 21-22; 46:9; 48:12; 49:26).
Nor does this start with Isaiah. Moses announces the Lord as the only true God in Deuteronomy 32:39: “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life. I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”
The message is clear: Are you going to choose the popular way or the right one? Will you follow the crowd on the superhighway to hell or join the few willing to commit themselves to walk the lonely path, following, trusting, and obeying the Savior of the world?
Want to go deeper?
For further reading:
“Jesus Only,” 16-23 in Charles H. Spurgeon’s classic, The Wicket Gate, London: A. C. Armstrong & Sons, 1890.
Spurgeon is excellent on the exclusive offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, to be received by faith. He does not, however, go on to explain how saving faith includes our baptism into Christ, the work of God for us that connects us to the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-7; Col. 2:11-15), through which, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we receive forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and incorporation into the Body of Christ, His church (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 12:13).
The following are available for purchase from ChristianBook.com or Amazon.com.
Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism. Naperville, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2008.
Is exclusivism unjust? Is general revelation sufficient? Are other faiths salvific? Must faith be explicit? Do holy pagans exist? Hailing from a variety of Christian traditions, nine respected scholars provide an irenic critique of inclusivism and a defense of exclusivism, ultimately promoting the necessity of evangelism to all people.
Dennis Okholm, Timothy Phillips, and Stanley Gundry, eds. Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.
This book presents four perspectives on salvation by their major proponents. Each contributor not only presents the case for his view, but is also given the opportunity to critique and respond to the critiques of the other contributors. The four perspectives are Normative Pluralism: All ethical religions lead to God, by John Hick. Inclusivism: Salvation is universally available, but is established by and leads to Christ, by Clark Pinnock. Salvation in Christ: Agnosticism regarding those who haven’t heard the Gospel, by Alister McGrath. Salvation in Christ alone: by R Douglas Geivett and W Gary Phillips. The COUNTERPOINTS series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views – both Christian and non-Christian – on important theological issues.
Ronald Nash. Is Jesus the only Savior? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.
Today many question the idea that there is only one way to heaven (or that Christianity is the only true faith) – even some people who identify themselves as Christians. In a world where we are likely to have neighbors of differing faiths, to profess Jesus as the only Savior may be viewed as arrogance and intolerance. Religious “pluralism” is gaining popularity. Ronald Nash believes that one’s position on the issue is crucial to an understanding of the Christian faith and sees pluralism as a significant threat to Christianity. He explores the divergent views of pluralism (“No”) and inclusivism (“Yes, but”) and makes a case for exclusivism (Yes, period”). In doing so, Nash especially confronts the pluralism of John Hick and the inclusivism of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. He presents his case compellingly, in accessible terms and a readable style.