Entering Through the Narrow Gate
(Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)
This past Lord's Day at Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, Alabama, where my wife and I have been attending, the Sunday school teacher Stan Reeves, in leading a study concerning the biblical teaching on sanctification, gave a lengthy quote from the classic Christian allegory Pilgrim's Progress. (The entire Sunday school lesson was very good, and I would suggest that any anyone reading this blog listen to it if you get the chance.)
In the section that Stan quoted, the main character of the book, who is named "Christian," meets two charcters named "Formalist" and "Hypocrisy". "Formalist" represents someone who is trying to get to heaven by following either traditions or his own ideas, "Hypocrisy" is (obviously) someone who is hoping to be considered right with God just by keeping up a 'religious' outward appearance.
Here is the quote:
[Christian] espied two men come tumbling over the wall, on the left hand of the narrow way; and they made up apace to him. The name of the one was Formalist, and the name of the other Hypocrisy. So, as I said, they drew up unto him, who thus entered with them into discourse.
CHRISTIAN: Gentlemen, whence came you, and whither do you go?
FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY: We were born in the land of Vain-glory, and are going, for praise, to Mount Zion.
CHRISTIAN: Why came you not in at the gate which standeth at the beginning of the way? Know ye not that it is written, that “he that cometh not in by the door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber?” John 10:1.
FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY: They said, that to go to the gate for entrance was by all their countrymen counted too far about; and that therefore their usual way was to make a short cut of it, and to climb over the wall, as they had done.
CHRISTIAN: But will it not be counted a trespass against the Lord of the city whither we are bound, thus to violate his revealed will?
FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY: They told him, that as for that, he needed not to trouble his head thereabout: for what they did they had custom for, and could produce, if need were, testimony that would witness it for more than a thousand years.
CHRISTIAN: But, said Christian, will you stand a trial at law?
FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY: They told him, that custom, it being of so long standing as above a thousand years, would doubtless now be admitted as a thing legal by an impartial judge: and besides, said they, if we get into the way, what matter is it which way we get in? If we are in, we are in: thou art but in the way, who, as we perceive, came in at the gate; and we also are in the way, that came tumbling over the wall: wherein now is thy condition better than ours?
CHRISTIAN: I walk by the rule of my Master: you walk by the rude working of your fancies. You are counted thieves already by the Lord of the way: therefore I doubt you will not be found true men at the end of the way. You come in by yourselves without his direction, and shall go out by yourselves without his mercy.
To this they made him but little answer; only they bid him look to himself. Then I saw that they went on, every man in his way, without much conference one with another, save that these two men told Christian, that as to laws and ordinances, they doubted not but that they should as conscientiously do them as he. Therefore, said they, we see not wherein thou differest from us, but by the coat that is on thy back, which was, as we trow, given thee by some of thy neighbors, to hide the shame of thy nakedness.
CHRISTIAN: By laws and ordinances you will not be saved, since you came not in by the door. Gal. 2:16. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given me by the Lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of kindness to me; for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go. Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good, since I have his coat on my back; a coat that he gave me freely in the day that he stripped me of my rags. I have, moreover, a mark in my forehead, of which perhaps you have taken no notice, which one of my Lord’s most intimate associates fixed there in the day that my burden fell off my shoulders. I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll sealed, to comfort me by reading as I go on the way; I was also bid to give it in at the celestial gate, in token of my certain going in after it: all which things I doubt you want, and want them because you came not in at the gate.
To these things they gave him no answer; only they looked upon each other, and laughed. Then I saw that they went all on, save that Christian kept before, who had no more talk but with himself, and that sometimes sighingly, and sometimes comfortably: also he would be often reading in the roll that one of the Shining Ones gave him, by which he was refreshed.
The reason I bring this quote to your attention is the following-
It is often very confusing for us as biblical Christians when we hear of people who obviously do many good works and who may even name Jesus as their Savior, and yet they trust in things other than Christ to secure their position of peace with God.
I, like the author of Pilgrim's Progress, am thinking specifically of Roman Catholics who (according to their official documents) trust in sacraments of the church to infuse grace into their lives.
A devout Roman Catholic may hold many very politically conservative family-friendly views, may have a reasonably biblical understanding of doctrines such as the Trinity and may give of their time and money to all kinds of charities. For these reasons, the suggestion that they are all lost if they have not come to trust in Christ alone for their salvation (and not Mary as co-redemptrix- and not sacraments of the church to infuse grace) may seem ludicrous and offensive to many modern Christian ears. But when we realize that we are all lawbreakers in God's sight, having willfully broken His commandments and that there is only one way that God has established for forgiving the penalty that our lawbreaking has earned- that of faith alone in Christ alone, then we realize why any good work outside of biblical faith or supposed addition to the completed work of Christ on the Cross that is meant to contribute to our salvation is actually offensive in God's sight. God's justice against lawbreaking could only be satisfied at the expense of the voluntary suffering and death of His only begotten Son; there is no chance that our loving Father will accept any other way to peace with Him, as devised by sinful men.