In chapter 7, Jesus has been warning His disciples about correct and incorrect judgment. Remember, Jesus has instructed them that there are two forms of judgment. One is correct and the other is incorrect. There is a judgment that condemns, which is unacceptable for believers, and then a discerning judgment that must be done by all believers. In chapter 7, Jesus also explains how they can have the discernment to make a correct judgment. In verses 6-12, Jesus discussed two very important principles that help with discernment. One is prayer, and the second is love. Now, let’s look at two further principles of discernment. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:13-20).
Many times, when people read this particular section of Scripture, they see no connection between these principles of judgment and what comes before or after. But I assure you, that Jesus knows exactly what He is teaching. There is a clear continuity from the previous statements to what comes after. He is teaching the correct ways of making correct discerning judgments.
What are these further principles for making correct discerning judgments?
1. Discernment comes from fellowship with God.
Jesus begins with a simple command to His disciples and to any who desire fellowship with Him. If you want correct discernment in your life you need to enter into a relationship with Him. You must enter through the narrow gate, and then continue on the narrow way. Entering the gate is one thing, but following the narrow way is another. Jesus is teaching that discernment comes from entering through the narrow gate, and following the narrow way that produces the fruit of life within you. Once you have that life within, then you have the ability to have correct discernment. The overall theme of this sermon is to get His disciples to enter in. What do I mean? In Matthew 5:20, notice what Jesus told the disciples, “I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The important word here is enter. Jesus wanted the disciples to not just know about the kingdom, but He wanted them to actually get into the kingdom. Look at the verse that is right after the present passage we are studying now in Matthew 7:21. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Notice the word enter is again the important point of this verse.
What does Jesus mean when He commands you to, “Enter in at the narrow gate.” The Greek word enter, according to the Dictionary of Biblical Languages, is a word that literally means to experience. You can see the usage of this word in Luke 22:40, where Jesus said, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” It is very clear that Jesus is talking about entering or experiencing temptation. In this verse, Jesus teaches that if you don’t want to experience temptation, then you need to be a man or woman of prayer. The deeper and the more intimate your prayer life is, the more you will be protected from temptation. If you have a very weak prayer life you will have much more temptation to deal with every day. Why would this be? If you don’t pray much, you simply won’t be experiencing His power and His life within. His power and life are only found when you go to Him, and wait upon Him in prayer. Are you entering into His life and power as you wait upon Him, or are you walking in your own power as you live your life?
Be assured that each of you reading these words today have either entered into the narrow gate, and are on the narrow way, or you have entered a broad gate, and you are on the broad way to destruction. Jesus is declaring that there are only two options in life. I can’t give you a third option, or I would be adding to the Word of God and misrepresenting God. I would be lying and deceiving you. There is no third option. There is either heaven or hell. There is no purgatory. Jesus said, you are either with Me or against Me! There is either life or death. That's it. There is no place of neutrality. Jesus will not allow anyone to sit on the fence and not take a position concerning Him. Once you enter into the narrow gate and experience His life within, then you will know the difference between those who are real sheep, and those who are wolves in sheep's clothing. This is why this discernment principle is so important. So, are you sure you know what the broad and narrow paths are, and which path have you chosen?
What is the broad gate and the broad way vs. the narrow gate and the narrow way?
First, let me explain the narrow gate and the narrow way. Once you understand these terms then it is easy to see what is the broad gate and the broad way. So, let’s first define the gate, which is the point of entry into the sheepfold. The narrow gate or door is Jesus Himself. Jesus made this clear when He taught, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). You can't come into the sheepfold except by Him. There are many people who are trying to enter into a relationship with God without going through the door, Jesus Christ. If someone tries to come in any other way, Jesus calls them thieves and robbers, or what Jesus would call wolves in sheep's clothing in the Sermon on the Mount referring to the scribes and Pharisees.
Peter taught this narrow gate truth in Acts 4:12 when he said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” That means there's one gate and one way into a relationship with the Father. There is one God, and one way to this one God. It's so natural and logical to think that there is only one way to this one God. So, what is that one name that we must call upon to be saved? It is the name of Jesus. But, people say today that it doesn’t make any difference what we call God’s name. Is that true? Are the people who worship and call upon Allah worshiping the same God? No, they are not. God’s name is Yahweh which is used interchangeably with the words “I AM” found in Exodus 3:14. In the Old Testament when Moses stood before the burning bush the Scripture declares, “Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' Moreover, God said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’” (Ex. 3:13-15).
In addition, in the New Testament Jesus claimed to be the I AM. He said in John 8:58-59, “Before Abraham was, I AM. Then they took up stones to stone Him with.” Why did they want to stone Him? Because they knew exactly what He was claiming. I usually bring this particular passage up to Jehovah Witnesses, and I say, “You don't understand who Jesus was claiming to be.” But, the people of Jesus’ time clearly understood who He was claiming to be. In fact, earlier in John 8:24, Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” Jesus was saying that you have to believe something very specific about Him, or you will die in your sins. Believing in Jesus entails believing who He claimed to be. Believing in Jesus will allow you to then enter into the narrow gate.
At another time, Jesus asked the Pharisees a very specific question, which is found in Matthew 22:42. He said, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” I think you would agree that Jesus would not ask a question like this, if it wasn’t an important question. The answer to the question is even more important. In other words, who is Jesus? Whose Son is He? They said to Him, “The Son of David.” Then Jesus responded, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him Lord?” Then Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 where David calls the Messiah Lord. Jesus goes on to say, “If David then calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?” Jesus brought that passage up because it reveals not only the Deity of Christ, because he called Him Lord, but also the humanity of Christ, because He was the son of David. The Messiah had to come through the family lineage of David to be the son of David (1 Kings 8:25). But Jesus was much more than just the son of David. He was also the Son of God, or more literally God the Son, or God come in human flesh.
Also, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Pharisees took up stones to stone Him, because he claimed that God was His own personal Father. This is a very specific term in Greek. They understood Jesus to mean that He was claiming to be equal with God. Notice John’s commentary after Jesus made this claim, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). So, there's no question that this is an important issue to define who you should be calling upon to save you. The narrow gate simply means to come into a relationship with the Father through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
What is the narrow way?
The word way means the road or the path you follow. Therefore, the narrow way refers to the path you take in your continuing fellowship with Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus describes Himself as not only the door to the sheepfold, but He is also the way, or the road, to the Father. In other words, daily fellowship with Him is the road you should take. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” You can't come through any other gate to get to the Father, and there is no other way to know God on a daily basis except through faith, fellowship, and obedience to Jesus. The narrow way is just simply hearing and obeying what Jesus has commanded. This is how you can know the truth, which will lead you to life.
However, many times people enter into the narrow gate, but they do not walk on the narrow way. So, the gate is one thing, the way is another issue all together. Are you walking on the narrow way? If the narrow way is just obeying what He commands you to do, where do you begin? In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said it this way. “If anyone desires to come after Me,” which is the gate that I must enter. He continued, “let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” This latter part of the verse refers to the narrow way that you must walk. The narrow way means you deny yourself, die to self as He did on the cross, and follow Him this way throughout your life. In Proverbs 14:12, Solomon said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” There can be a way that seems right to you, but in reality, it is not. Why? Because it doesn’t require a denial and a death to self. Just examine the fruit of your life, and that will tell you a lot about the way you have chosen to live. Sometimes people reject the narrow gate of Jesus and salvation through Christ alone, because they simply want to continue on their own way.
Why does Jesus say that there are many that choose the broad gate, and few that choose the narrow gate? Jesus gives you the answer in Matthew 7:13-14. “Broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. And difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus knows what’s at stake; which is you experiencing real life. He also knew what was required to walk the narrow path. He said that it was difficult. What does Jesus mean when He says it’s difficult? Why would it be difficult? Because it costs you something. It costs you giving up your life, giving up your rights, giving up the way that seems right to you, dying to self, and following His way. That's why it is difficult. You have to die! But that is what we don't like. Nobody likes dying to their own fleshly desires.
We all have two problems as believers; our will and our fleshly nature. These are the two issues that keep a person from the narrow gate and the narrow way. Let me show you this in Scripture. In John 5:40, Jesus declared exactly what the problem was with the Pharisees, and why they would not believe in Him. He said, “You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Note that He again declared that having a relationship with Him is the source of life. They wanted religion and religious rituals not a relationship with God. They wanted an external religion, not a changed heart. They just wanted to look good. Jesus said that they were “not willing” to come to Him, the narrow gate. This is the first problem we all have. Ask yourself, are you willing to lay your life down for His sake and follow Him, or are you a willful and rebellious person? Does your will fight you at every turn? Before I came to Christ, I resisted Him for a long time. I didn't want to have to admit that I was a sinner. I refused to surrender because I wanted to continue in my sinful behavior. This same struggle against your will occurs even after you come to Christ. This is why Jesus taught us by His example to pray, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Real maturity and growth begin when you surrender your will to Him.
The second struggle that hinders you walking the narrow path is the battle with your fleshly sin nature. This battle rages on inside every one of us. You struggle with your sin nature before you enter the narrow gate, and after you get onto that narrow way. This is a major reason why many don’t stay on the narrow way. It is like having a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde living inside you. One day you are walking and living as a Christian should, and the next day you are completely different. Looking at you, no one would think you are a believer. Sometimes this struggle takes place in your thought life, what you dwell on in your mind, and no one sees it. The frustration and condemnation from this battle within can be overwhelming. You think to yourself, What am I going to do? I can’t continue living this way. Is there any way out? The answer to this question is, yes! What is the way out of this struggle? It is to surrender to God, by asking for and accepting the Spirit’s control over you. Notice what Paul taught in Galatians 5:17. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” This is the battle of a true Christian. You want to do the right thing, but there is a battle that goes on inside of you. This is one of the ways you know you are a true believer. It reveals that you have a new nature fighting with your old nature. So, you use your will and choose to surrender to the Holy Spirit. This makes the old nature die and your new nature to reign inside of you. This action will determine whether you experience life or death within, the broad way or the narrow way. Only as you surrender and experience the power of the Spirit setting you free, will you experience life and have the discernment necessary to comprehend what you need to do in each circumstance. Let me show you how Paul taught this in Scripture. In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul said, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Notice, Christ dwelling in your heart is you entering in the narrow gate. Then Paul said, “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Once you are rooted and grounded in love, then you will be able to “comprehend.” Here is the discernment. To comprehend what? What is the width and length and depth and height and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge. You're going to have spiritual understanding and confidence that you are a true Christian, and be assured of your salvation. You will also be able to discern others who are true believers too. This discernment is a result of your victory over your own will and your fleshly nature.
2. Discernment comes from examining fruit.
True discernment also comes from examining fruit. Jesus addressed this truth in Matthew 7:15-20. Let me illustrate this principle of discernment. Every week we all go to the grocery store, and when we are there, we usually buy some fruits and vegetables. When you are choosing your pieces of fruit, what do you do? Do you just grab fruit indiscriminately and throw it in your cart? Or, do you examine carefully each apple, peach, or plum before you put them into your basket? Of course, you inspect them closely, because sometimes you pick up a piece of fruit, and it looks good on one side, but when you turn it over it is bruised or rotten on the other side. When you find a piece of rotten fruit do you buy it anyway? No, of course not. Why? Because you don’t want to eat something that’s rotten. You make this decision because you have become a good fruit inspector. If you know how to inspect fruit at the grocery store, why can’t you do that as you deal with people? If you can discern physical fruit, surely you can discern spiritual fruit. Do you examine the fruit in your own life? Do you examine the fruit in other people’s lives who profess faith in Christ? You should! This enables you to have correct discernment. This is your responsibility. This is what Jesus commanded His disciples to do in this sermon. The bottom line in all discernment, is fruit inspection. So, let me explain how to do this.
The most important place to begin with fruit inspection, is to determine if there is fruit in your life? Why? Because you have been called to bear fruit, and that fruit should be good fruit. Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” Notice, that Jesus connects fruit in this verse with prayer and relationship with the Father. That is interesting. Fruit is something every one of us as believers is called to bear. If you are to ever be able to examine someone else's fruit, you need to know what good fruit looks like. You have to see it in yourself first. Remember what Jesus said earlier in this sermon. “First remove the plank out of your own eye, then you'll be able to see the speck in your brother's eye.” I must first deal with myself. I have to first see good fruit in my own life. Then I can see clearly to observe it in others.
What was Jesus talking about when He used this term, fruit? Fruit is the proof of life within a tree. The fruit of the Spirit is the proof of a healthy spiritual life, a true life of faith. If you have fruit trees in your yard at home, what would you do with a tree that doesn't bear fruit? You would chop it down, and get rid of it. This is why Jesus said in verse 19, “Every tree that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” It's worthless. Why would you want to keep watering and feeding a tree that doesn't produce any fruit? You wouldn't. But sometimes fruit trees get diseased. You feed them and spray them to kill the disease, because you know that if you don’t, the disease will kill the tree. If it still doesn’t bear fruit, then it is good for nothing except to be cut down and thrown into the fire. Fruit is a sign of a healthy life.
Paul explains what a healthy life is like in a believer. It is the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This is the fruit that you should see when the Holy Spirit is living in and reigning supreme in your life. There is also the fruit of righteousness. These are attitudes and actions that will also be revealed in your life when the Holy Spirit is in control of you. In Hebrews 12:11, it says, “There is no chastening that seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We go through trials and correction so that God can do some pruning on our tree, so that we will bear more fruit of the Spirit and greater righteousness.
The Bible also talks about the fruit of your thoughts. In Jeremiah 6:19, the Lord says “Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words, nor My law, but rejected it.” In their minds the people of Israel rejected Him. They were rejecting Him in their thoughts by not obeying His word. Your thought life is a really important thing. This is why you should govern what your eyes see and what you allow yourself to dwell on in your mind. If you do not control what you think about, you will eventually act on those thoughts. The fruit of your thoughts is the fruit of your heart. Remember Jesus said, “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts” (Matt. 15:19). If your thinking is evil, then your heart needs to get right. You need to repent in your heart. If your thoughts and heart are playing with wickedness, then you cannot continue on the narrow way.
There is also the fruit of your lips that you must be concerned with. In Hebrews 13:15 the Scripture declared, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Not being concerned with the fruit of your lips will cause you to engage in gossip, speaking evil of others, using flattery to gain advantage with others, foul language, and many other sins that reveal bad fruit. The fruit of the Spirit, righteousness, your thoughts, and the fruit of your lips, are all issues that you must be concerned about. What kind of fruit is coming forth from your life? Is it good fruit overall?
I believe that it is important to think and look at the issues of fruit in your life. You must ask yourself questions like these. Does the fruit of my lips line up with the fruit of God’s Word? Am I saying what the Word of God says? Or, am I adding to the Word, or subtracting from it? Does the fruit of my life line up with the Word of God and what He commands? Or, am I living contrary to His Word? Is the fruit of my attitude in harmony with the love of God? Or, is my attitude like the rest of this world?
Now, a word of caution at this point. This does not mean that you are going to be perfect, or have perfect fruit every day of your life. Let me illustrate this point. When you go to the grocery store to buy fruit, do you only buy perfect fruit? No! Why? Because there is no perfect fruit. There is a difference between a speck on the skin of the apple and it being rotten. Some fruit is overripe and some is underripe. Does that mean you don’t buy it? No, in fact sometimes you want only overripe fruit for canning, and other times you want underripe fruit so it will last longer on your counter. My point is that there are flaws, and small specks that can be removed before you eat it. Remember, this is why Jesus spoke about the difference between taking the beam out of your own eye, before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye. That means specks are there and can be removed. We are all removing specks on a daily basis from our lives. You do that through repentance and prayer. It is important to note that when Jesus speaks about this issue of fruit, He is talking about what is consistently in your life. In verses 17-18, He says, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” The word bear in all cases in these verses is in the present tense. That means Jesus is referring to a tree that continuously bears good or bad fruit. He is saying in verse 18, a good tree cannot continuously bear bad fruit. Again, the word bear in verse 18 are all in the present tense. This helps you understand that this is referring to the consistent practice of a person’s life, and not some perfect person. There's no Christian who has perfect fruit. I don’t, and you don’t either. But the consistent practice of your life should be producing good fruit. When you get upset, you get angry, and you yell at your mate or yell at your child, or get into a conflict with someone; then when you recognize that you have some bad fruit coming from your lips, what do you do? You repent and get your heart right. Then you go back and you ask for forgiveness, which ultimately, produces good fruit.
Let me give you some examples.
Each of the examples I'm about to give to you are from real people that I have counseled over the years in my ministry. This is why you need to make a discerning judgment. This is how you make a discerning judgment. There are some individuals I've met that are extremely nice people. They seem like very loving people. They seem to say the right things, but at the same time they are using drugs or they are sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend, or someone else's spouse. Or, these nice people are compulsive liars and get caught in their lying on a regular basis. Or, these nice people are involved in some illegal business practice, and all of a sudden one of these contrary practices comes to light. At that moment you see a big red flag waving over their head! You realize there is something wrong with this picture. Their profession of words does not match the fruit of their behavior. There are other people that you meet who seem to be doing what is right externally like the Pharisees. They look like true sheep, but they are a false-believers. You realize, that in private, they are extremely harsh and abusive with their spouse, they are exclusionary, they are prideful, they are self-righteous, which is the exact opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. When you see these contradictions, you must come to the conclusion that something is wrong. The fruit of the Spirit is missing. The fruit of righteousness is absent, and you realize that the profession of words is empty and deceitful.
Jesus said in John 13:35, that this is how you will know those who are mine. “By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is not talking about a person’s external actions. The fruit of the Spirit is love, which is the proof of life within. If you don't see that fruit, you need to examine yourself and question if you have truly entered through the narrow gate, and if you are on the narrow way. Have you really come to Jesus by faith? Are you really walking with Him? If not, you need a course correction. You may need to pare the speck on the fruit. You can do this through repentance. The important thing is to come to Him by faith, and He can transform anyone and change any heart. Believe Him to do it!
In conclusion, remember, fruit is the ultimate means of discernment. This is why Paul warned the Corinthian church, “Let no one deceive himself” (1 Cor. 3:18). Why did Paul say this? They were professing faith in Christ, but they were practicing immorality at the same time. Paul told them, “You will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). In other words, you won't enter in. What a sobering thought that someone could be in the church and still miss entering into heaven. This is where Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount, by encouraging His listeners to examine themselves. This will be our next study.
I want to encourage you to do just that, examine yourself. That's the ultimate discernment that you need to have. Begin with your own life and be sure that you are truly born again. If you are born again, then walk on the narrow road. One road is leading to life, and the other is not. Please pray!
Father, I pray that You would help each one of us to examine ourselves today. Lord, we want to enter that narrow gate, and we want to follow your narrow path to experience the life you have intended for us. We want to have that personal relationship with You where we can experience Your life. Lord, Your life is like living water that satisfies our soul. Lord, we want it. And Father, we know You are willing to give it to us. You said, if we ask of you, it will be given. Father, for every believer, I ask that You would help any that need a course correction to get on that narrow road of denying themselves, taking up their cross, dying to self, so they can follow You without distraction. I believe You will do that.