The Terrifying Question of the Narrow Door

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This is the final article in our series, “Building a Kingdom Culture in Our Youth Ministries.” In this series, we will address passages from the Gospel of Luke, which demonstrates that the culture of God’s Kingdom is that of grace and mercy for the poor, the weak, and the failing. It’s a culture built on grace meeting humility and vulnerability. Read the previous article in this series here.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a never-ending celebration. It is the wedding feast to end all wedding feasts. It offers joy and rest that eclipses all experiences here on earth. And the window of opportunity to enter is closing.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus offers us occasional glimpses of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. In those glimpses, the Kingdom is compared to things like a tree, a party, a wedding, etc. In many of those pictures, there is a certain level of mystery that can make for great and encouraging conversation. But in Luke 13:22-30, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom as a door that is closing.

His message is clear: if you want to enjoy the celebration, you must enter in. You must repent, and you better do it now. Here, then, is a message that is neither mysterious nor initially encouraging. And yet, here is perhaps the most urgent missive regarding the Kingdom. This simple message asks that we not only reconsider how we think of Heaven, but also that we further rethink evangelism, discipleship, and even our own faith.

1) Rethinking Evangelism: The call to repent in the ministry of Jesus is constant and it is universal. At times, its universality comes as a surprise to His audience. Think, for instance, of the Pharisees. In our day, this group has come to define hypocrisy and to stand for everything that is wrong with our world. In Jesus’ day, however, the Pharisees were highly regarded Jewish religious leaders. And to those around them, they were people who had surely lived up to God’s standards. As we know now, the Pharisees were blinded by their own sense of self-righteousness. These individuals, despite their academic training, had failed to understand the point of the Law and the true identity of this Messiah they hated so much. Although their need was a surprise to them, we know they were sinners outside of the Kingdom who, therefore, needed to repent.

In any student ministry one can find individuals who reflect the same self-righteous tendencies of the Pharisees. These are the students who clearly think of themselves as better (cooler, smarter, more attractive) than their peers. These are students who, despite attending various youth retreats and even memorizing many Bible verses, demonstrate no actual fruit. When we think of evangelism and the call for repentance, then, it is often these students who come to mind.

But in making that call for repentance we are never just speaking to Pharisees. The audience in Luke 13, after all, was not Pharisees. The audience was comprised of individuals who had heard Christ’s teaching and stayed around to hear more. They had followed him from village to village. And, in that moment, they were even interacting with Jesus and asking good questions (Luke 13:22-23). Despite all appearance of support for Jesus, these were the people Jesus told to repent. Jesus knew that self-righteousness didn’t always look like a Pharisee. He knew that self-righteousness lies in the heart of every sinful man. Because of this, Jesus was quick to remind even His apparent supporters that they, too, must repent.

This is an important reminder in my own ministry. Just as it is easy to label certain students as Pharisees who must hear the call for repentance, it is easy for me to wrongly label the loving, gracious, and involved student as a disciple. I hear their “deeper” theological questions and I assume it to be evidence of faith, even if I have never actually heard them speak of that faith. This is putting the cart before the horse. This is a dangerous assumption that ignores Jesus’ own teaching regarding the Kingdom. The door is narrow and the need to respond is urgent. Everyone must hear the call for repentance because everyone must repent.

2) Rethinking Discipleship: In my own ministry, it is easy to deride the self-righteous attitude of the unbeliever and then turn around only to encourage a similar sense of self-righteousness in the hearts of those whom I seek to disciple. This tendency creates a culture that runs counter to what Jesus commands.

The culture of the Pharisees was self-righteousness. The common person would observe the life of these religious leaders and be overwhelmed by what they saw as an unobtainable standard (of learning, of religious observances, etc). This allowed the Pharisees to maintain rule over the outsiders. In Jesus’ teaching, he quickly made it clear that this was simply unbiblical. In its place, Jesus spoke of a culture of humility, love, and of constant dependence on Christ. These qualities would impact every other aspect of the life of a Kingdom-citizen.

The question we must ask ourselves in light of this is, “which culture are we building up in our own ministries?” What impression is a visiting student given of the character of a Kingdom-citizen in our own ministry? Is it one of humility, joy, etc? Or is it one of intellectual superiority, of personal charisma? If we are to live out the teaching of Christ in Luke 13, we must strive to build up disciples who demonstrate Kingdom qualities. We must seek to honor humility over pride, and dependence on Christ over dependence on our own God-given abilities.

3) Rethinking personal faith: Finally, it would be a tragic mistake to think of this teaching purely as outside of ourselves. For, ultimately, the reason Jesus’ words make us feel initially uncomfortable is because of the challenge they present to us. Have I entered through that narrow door? Am I really a citizen of Heaven, or am I currently on the outside?

As a teenager, this question and this passage in Luke terrified me. But the awesome fact is, Jesus does not stop with this imagery of the narrow door. Rather, as we finish his teaching and read through verses 29 and 30, we are reminded that there are, in fact, many people from all over who will still make it into the Kingdom. These are the people who understand that their entrance is not the result of their own abilities. Rather, their entrance is entirely the result of The Door, Jesus Christ. Those who will enter through the door understand their own brokenness and respond not in self-righteousness or self-hatred, but in honest repentance. They believe in Christ and trust the fact that Jesus has and will save them, all because they believed.

The answer to that often terrifying question, “Am I in the Kingdom?” then, is quite simple: Yes, by grace alone through faith alone.

The image of the door is ultimately an encouragement to us, the disciple. It reminds us not only of our past and current dependence on Christ, but also our eternal dependence on him. It reminds us of the joyful feast that we will someday celebrate.

As pastors, teachers, friends, etc., let us be quick to speak of the great joys of the Kingdom. But let us also not be shy to clearly communicate the Master’s simple requirement: believe. The opportunity is fading. May we use what fleeting time remains to invite others in.

 

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