Forming Faith Blog

Why Is It So Hard? (Matthew 7)

Jesus teaches that the gate is narrow and the road difficult that leads to life. Is this by God’s design or just the way things are in our broken world?

A group of people walking on a hard mountain trail.
Photo by Eric Sanman on
Learning to Follow

This week marks the end of our time spent in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Two weeks ago, we looked at the Beatitudes and God’s priorities. Last week, we explored Jesus’ instructions on prayer. Now this week, we have a series of shorter teaching. If you are interested in a reflection on the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-29), you can read my post from four years ago “Hearing and Doing.”

Wide and Narrow Gates

In this read-through of Matthew 7, the teaching Jesus gives on the two gates and two roads sticks out to me. These, of course, are metaphors for how we live our lives, just like much of the Sermon: specifically, how we live as disciples of Jesus, citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

Continuing this metaphor, I’m wondering: why is the correct gate narrow and the incorrect gate wide? Were these gates designed and “built” this way for a purpose, or is Jesus being more descriptive of the way things are? Knowing that I’m being oversimplistic, I can see two different explanations:

  1. God designed the universe (on some level) to make it difficult to be a disciple, which ensures that only a few “find life.” Crassly, this is about exclusion.*
  2. Jesus is not describing God’s will here but, instead, is describing our reality: following Jesus is just difficult.

*Note: as I mention below, I’m reading the Sermon in terms of a life of discipleship, not earning (or never being able to earn) a right relationship with God (salvation/eternal life/whatever). The interpretation of Scripture that points to our inability to earn our own salvation, requiring God’s grace in Jesus to bring us into right relationship is NOT what I’m reflecting on here. I’m looking at living this physical life as disciples of Jesus and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

On Interpretation

As with most interpretations, your answer depends on (or is, at least, influenced by) your theological tradition and where you are in relation to it. A traditional Presbyterian will likely answer a bit differently than a progressive Methodist. And that doesn’t even count the complexity of a universe where the answer could be “both” or even (extraordinarily unlikely) “neither.”

While I’m not sure I’ve ever been explicitly taught it, it seems to me that the traditional answer to my question is the first one: discipleship is difficult by design. So, I’m going to explore the second.

Hard and Easy Roads

If I’m starting from the premise that Jesus is simply being descriptive here, the question before us becomes: why is following Jesus hard? I don’t think the answer is that complex. It comes down to the traditional Christian doctrine of “we suck.” (Okay, probably not how most of you would phrase it.)

Human beings, by nature, are selfish. We can argue about the theological details, but a quick look around and reflection inward will prove me right. Our human thinking and acting revolve around “me” and “mine.” That is what our societies and economic systems are built upon (self-interest, if you want to be less judgy).

Relevance? God’s way—God’s kingdom—is based on love. And the type of godly love that we’re talking about is, by definition, selfless. Loving God’s way goes beyond the self to the benefit of another (God and our neighbors).

So, for selfish humans, being disciples of Jesus is swimming upstream from our natures and world (and up many waterfalls, too). It’s hard work. Work that not many people are going to persevere in.

An Exclusive Club?

My Protestant brain wants to interject here that I don’t believe that Jesus is teaching here about our relationship with God (salvation, if you like the term). Discipleship—the practice of following God’s way—is about how we live our lives. Our failing at this life is guaranteed. The only way that we can live the life of love is because God first loves us. God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for us comes first, last, and all the way through the middle. Discipleship marks our response to this.

I personally do not believe that God designed the kingdom of heaven to be an exclusive club. Unfortunately, sometimes we do. Through our judgments (see Matthew 7:1-5) in our lives and in our congregations, we exclude people who we think are unworthy. We exclude people who are different than us. We might not even do this on purpose. But we do it. Our calling—command—is to widen that gate and provide help and guidance along the difficult path.

Faith Formation Connection

This entire section in Matthew 7 is full of visual and other sensory details, from specks and planks (v. 3), to stones and snakes (vv. 9-10), to water, wind, and sand (vv. 26-27). Use these details to bring these sections to life! It will also be best—for your younger disciples—to focus on one or two of these passages instead of trying to cover everything.

If you choose to focus on the wise and foolish builders, you can use our free activity this week called “Crash!” If you decide to look into these narrow and wide gates, you can design age- and setting-appropriate obstacle courses, though I would definitely make sure that you are being intentional about the meaning of the gates and roads you are teaching.

May God’s kingdom be revealed to you this Epiphany season!


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Crash!” from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd, NL) (Year 1, 2022-2023 or Year 2, 2023-2024) curriculum. This activity can be used intergenerationally or with kids or youth individually.

Order Faith Formation Resources

The season of Epiphany is almost finished! Do you have your Spring lessons yet (starting on Lent 1, 2/26/23)? You can order Spring lessons of our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources, or one of our Learning Together units! You can download the lessons as soon as your payment is processed.

Are you looking for resources for the 2023-2024 program year? You can now order resources for the Narrative Lectionary, Revised Common Lectionary, and even a new Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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