In 1987, while giving a speech in West Germany, Ronald Reagan uttered his now-famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It became a rallying cry for unity, freedom, and peace.
Today, in the church there are similar calls to tear down walls and open gates. Many wonder, “Who are we to declare someone outside of Christianity or judge someone else’s faith?” Lines that once clearly signified orthodox Christianity have grown blurry. Some view those who hold to historical Christianity as being on the wrong side of history. They claim an open table, where all invited and welcomed—no need to be anything other than exactly who you are. Just believe.
These phrases about tearing down walls and wide-open tables in the church have hints of truth, which makes the precarious lie hidden beneath them so much more difficult to detect. Jesus did invite all to believe (John 3:16), but he also gave warnings for us to consider seriously.
The Path Is Narrow and Hard
In Matthew 7:13-12 Jesus instructs, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Jesus wasn’t a proponent of “easy believism” or the health-and-wealth gospel. He preached a narrow gate and hard path for his followers. While Jesus invites all to come, those who find the narrow gate are few. The path is difficult. Those on the path carry crosses and deny themselves (Luke 9:23). They forgo sin (1 John 3:7-9). They walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16). We must carefully explain what we mean by a wide-open table when Jesus himself claimed a narrow gate and difficult path.
Some Mistakenly Think They’re Christians
After directing his listeners to the narrow path, and warning against false prophets, Jesus warned about professions of faith devoid of good fruit:
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:17-23)
Just as the disciples looked at one another in sorrow after learning that one of them would betray Jesus and asked, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matt. 26:22), I read these words with sober reflection and want to ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” Have I professed faith and somehow missed a real relationship with Jesus? I don’t think it’s a bad question to ask. Jesus gave warnings so we don’t rest on false assurances.
We express faith in day to day walking by the Spirit—bearing the fruit of righteousness and putting off the lawless deeds of the darkness. Jesus freely justifies all who call on his name in faith. True faith is alive, powerful, and transformational.
Commentator Matthew Henry explained his concern this way:
We are too apt to rest in a bare profession of faith and to think that this will save us; it is a cheap and easy religion to say, “We believe the articles of the Christian faith;” but it is a great delusion to imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven. . . .You may as soon take pleasure in a dead body, void of soul, or sense, or action, as God take pleasure in a dead faith, where there are no works.
A lack of good works may indicate a lack of saving faith. It is kindness and concern—not a desire for exclusivity—that causes a believer to question the faith of someone living in opposition to God’s Word. We desperately want all to have faith in Jesus. However, faith in Jesus leads to a life transformed by Jesus—any other message isn’t gospel truth. It’s precisely because we don’t want someone to miss the feast that we look for signs of faith.
Consequences Are Dire
It’s somewhat surprising, but more than anyone else in the Bible, Jesus talks about hell. Of the 14 verses that specifically mention hell, 12 of them are spoken by Jesus. He warned against the dire consequences of sin, but had particularly harsh words for those who lead others into sin:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:42-45)
This may not be the verse you share tomorrow on your Instagram feed. But these are the words of Jesus. He’s good and true. He wants a better life for us (one of freedom and fullness) than the chains of sin we’d mistakenly chose for ourselves. We—particularly those who teach and lead others—should listen to his warnings and heed his voice.
Jesus offers the best news the world has ever received. We don’t change the message (or leave off parts that seem unpalatable) because they are hard or might make someone feel excluded. If we hide or gloss over certain things Jesus said, we need to ask an important question:
Are we inviting people to a table that Jesus isn’t sitting at?
Is the biblical Jesus the one you’re inviting people to, or is your version of Jesus just a spiffed up version of you? Jesus—the biblical Jesus—is the better feast. And, he invites everyone:
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Is. 55:6-7)
Come to his table freely—without money and without cost. Your soul will delight in the richest of fare.