A few years ago an article appeared in Christianity Today magazine entitled, “Learning from Gandhi.” The subtitle to the article read: “Thirty-five years after his death, does Western Christianity have anything to learn from the Hindu who learned so much from Christ?” The reason this subtitle caught my attention is that I’m always a little curious and more than a little suspicious about people who reject Christianity and its claims of exclusivity but piously acknowledge their admiration for Jesus Christ. It tells me that the individual is either ignorant or inconsistent. Gandhi was not an ignorant man. Thus his praise for Jesus but repudiation of the Christian faith can only be traced to a manifest inconsistency in his reading of the NT documents. Like many, Gandhi no doubt read the gospels with a pair of mental scissors, cutting out all teachings of Jesus that were offensive and unacceptable to him.
Consider how Gandhi would have read the Sermon on the Mount. According to the article noted above, Gandhi would regularly conduct a prayer meeting each evening at 7:00 at which time he would often stand and read the Sermon on the Mount and then sit down. This makes for interesting speculation! What in the world must Gandhi have thought when he came to Mt. 7:12-14? I am sure he was quite ecstatic when he read v. 12, for the Golden Rule, as it has been called, is generally admired and quoted by all peoples of every religion. Indeed, the reputation of Jesus as a man of peace and love is to some degree based on this verse. But what about vv. 13-14? As if in the same breath our Lord proceeded to declare that apart from him there is no life or hope, and that a rejection of him as the only path to eternal life necessarily entails walking that path which inevitably issues in eternal death! This is why I suggested that if Gandhi cannot be charged with ignorance he must have been incredibly, if not deceitfully, inconsistent.
Let me illustrate. Let’s suppose that Gandhi was invited to lecture before the world at which time he would briefly summarize the essence of his beliefs. In the course of his lecture he says:
“My friends, I declare unto you that it is essential for you to treat one another with love and self-sacrifice, always seeking to do unto them what you in turn would like done unto yourselves.”
Pausing to allow time for the applause and shouts of “Amen, you tell ‘em Gandhi,” to subside, he then resumes:
“Furthermore, let it be know that I, Mohandas K. Gandhi, am the only way to salvation, and that if you do not believe in me, and in me alone, if you do not follow and worship me, and me alone, if you do not embrace the way of Hinduism and Hinduism alone, you will suffer eternal condemnation and punishment in hell.”
The absurdity of such claims on the part of any man, unless, of course, this man also happens to be God, is self-evident. And yet, notwithstanding the fact that this is precisely the claim of our Lord Jesus Christ, Gandhi and many others as well insist on “admiring” Jesus while rejecting Christianity. My point is simply this: If you cannot accept and admire this Jesus who claimed to be the exclusive path to eternal life, you cannot with consistency accept and admire him for teaching that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Repeating the question posed in the subtitle of our article: “Thirty-five years after his death, does Western Christianity have anything to learn from the Hindu who learned so much from Christ?”, my response is: “I question whether Gandhi learned anything from Christ.”
What I propose is that the first thing we must embrace is that the person of Jesus Christ must be viewed in the light of the entirety of his teaching. We cannot play pick and choose with one whom we call “Lord”. The same Jesus who said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes unto the Father but by me.”
Before we examine this passage in the Sermon, two observations are in order concerning its structure.
First, what is the relation of v. 12 to what has preceded in the Sermon? That a clear connection is intended is evident from the word “therefore” with which v. 12 begins. Options:
(1) It may be linked to vv. 7-11; i.e., if God is good to those who seek him in prayer, so also must we be good to others.
(2) It may be linked with vv. 1-6 on judgment; i.e., it would certainly help us control an overly critical and censorious spirit.
(3) It may be linked to all that has preceded. If so, 5:15-17 and 7:12 function as bookends, so to speak, by opening and closing the main portion of the Sermon, teaching us that the kingdom of God fulfills the law and the prophets.
Second, what is the relation of vv. 13-14 to what has preceded, as well as to what follows in the remainder of chapter 7? It may well be a call to pause and reflect on the nature of that life which the previous chapters have called us to live. What is the characteristic feature of the lifestyle Jesus has been describing? . . . it is narrow and constricting, in that it demands of us what the world would never concede. The only restriction the world places on behavior is to insist that you may not place any restrictions on behavior! This narrow way that Jesus requires is developed in the remainder of the chapter: there are only two ways, one of which ends in life (v. 14), produces good fruit (v. 17), leads to entrance into the kingdom of heaven (v. 21), and yields stability (v. 25). The other way ends in destruction (v. 13), produces bad fruit and fire (v. 19), leads to exclusion from the kingdom (v. 23), and issues in complete ruin (v. 27).
A. The Golden Rule – 7:12
All are familiar with the negative form of this rule, for it is found in numerous religions and on the lips of countless leaders: “Do not do anything to anyone else that you would not want done to yourself.” If you don’t want to be beat up, don’t beat up others; if you don’t want to be robbed, don’t rob others; . . . lied to . . . spit upon . . . etc. But the negative form of this rule makes it possible for us to do nothing. The positive form is far more active and demanding: “if you like being loved, love others; if you enjoy being treated fairly, be fair to others; if you like receiving help, help others,” etc. The positive is more searching and substantive: “Here there is no permission to withdraw into a world where I offend no one, but accomplish no positive good either” (Carson, 112).
Why should we behave in this manner? “Jesus does not say that we are to do to others what we would like them to do to us in order that they will do it to us” (112). Rather, it is because such behavior sums up the requirement of God’s revealed will. By doing this we are fulfilling the demands of the Sermon on the Mount!
B. The Golden Gate – 7:13-14
A careful reading of these verses reveals that they are constructed around a series of contrasts. Indeed, there are 4 pairs of contrasts, and in each pair the contrasts are absolute: there are two gates, two ways or roads, two destinations, and two groups of people. Several things to note:
1. Which is first, the way or the gate? Does a person enter through the gate in order to walk down the way, or does he first walk down the way in order to reach and go through the gate? Probably the former. Gate is mentioned first, referring most likely to conversion. The way, a possible reference to the Christian life, most likely comes second.
2. Let me describe the scene this metaphor is designed to portray.
The first thing we see are the two gates. The gate leading to the easy way is wide, for it is a simple matter to get on to the easy road. There is plenty of light shining on the path. People are going through ten, twenty, even thirty abreast, all arm in arm. They are driving cars through with luggage racks filled to capacity, some even pulling overloaded U-hauls behind them! As Stott says,
“we need leave nothing behind, not even our sins, self-righteousness or pride. The gate leading to the hard way, on the other hand, is narrow. One has to look for it to find it. It is easy to miss. As Jesus said in another connection, it is as narrow as a needle’s eye. Further, in order to enter it we must leave everything behind --- sin, selfish ambition, covetousness, even if necessary family and friends. For no one can follow Christ who has not first denied himself” (194-95).
I would suggest that the narrow gate is actually a turnstile! No one enters the kingdom as part of a group. Your affiliation with this church, your citizenship in this country, will do you no good. The gate admits only one person at a time. The decision is yours. It is personal. It is individual, not collective. You cannot enter the kingdom on the coattails of a believing parent or spouse or child.
The next thing that strikes us is the way or road on which one would walk depending on the gate through which you choose to pass. The way that is on the other side of the wide and glittering gate has accommodations everywhere: rest stops, a Holiday Inn every few miles, gift shops, gas stations, etc. There are countless people along the way, seemingly happy and carefree, all of them encouraging you to follow: “It’s so easy. It’s so uncomplicated. It’s so free!” As Stott says,
“there is plenty of room on it for diversity of opinions and laxity of morals (no one will ever question your beliefs or criticize your behavior). It is the road of tolerance and permissiveness. It has no curbs, no boundaries of either thought or conduct” (194).
On the other hand, you can also see through the narrow gate. Beyond it there are few accommodations, few people. It is often lonely, difficult, and seemingly barren. But then you do see something along the way: a cross (Mt. 10:37-39). The boundaries of this way “are clearly marked. Its narrowness is due to something called ‘divine revelation,’ which restricts pilgrims to the confines of what God has revealed in Scripture to be true and good” (Stott, 194). Both gates claim to be the way to God. The wide gate is not marked, “This way to Hell.” It is labelled “Heaven,” the same as the narrow gate. But it does not lead there. Satan is a master of religious deception. He constructs his gate so that it will look like the door to heaven. Remember the words of Solomon: “There is a way that seemeth right to man, but its end is death” (Prov. 16:25).
I agree with Stott that “there is considerable danger that the picture I am painting will be thought dull gray, not to say morbid; and so I hasten to add certain caveats to what I have just said. There is a whole spectrum of joys and freedoms for the Christian. The deepest joy is joy in personally knowing God through Christ, just as the deepest human joys have always been close, personal friendships. There is the liberty of sins forgiven and of progressive triumph over temptation. New loves and friendships mushroom with other disciples of Christ [see Mark 10:29ff.] . . . As the Godhead becomes the center of the Christian’s thinking, all of life takes on a new and fascinating attraction as he glimpses the wholeness of things under God.”
Finally, we should note the size of the crowd on the respective roads. This tells us two things. First, God’s way cannot be discovered by appeal to a majority opinion. But can so many be wrong? Yes! Second, the narrow way cannot be pursued as long as we cater to the masses, as long as our actions are motivated by a desire to please others. The narrow way wins few popularity contests.
3. Does this verse say anything about the final number of those who will be saved? There are some texts which appear to say that few will be saved. a) Mt. 22:14 (but this may relate only to the rejection of the kingdom by the majority of the Israelites and the acceptance by the Gentiles). b) Lk. 13:23-24 (but Jesus doesn’t answer his question; rather he exhorts him concerning the difficulty of salvation). c) The concept of the remnant may suggest that they are few who are saved (but see Mt. 8:11 and Rev. 7:9). If considered in themselves and absolutely the elect are many. But if considered in comparison with the number of those who are lost, they appear to be few. What of John 3:16?
4. But are there not as many gates as there are religions and philosophies? No. There are only two ways which lead to one of two destinies: life or death. Gandhi once said: “It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. . . . It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. . . . I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept.”