Striving For Salvation
November 10, 2019 | Randy Smith
Striving For Salvation
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
Have you ever heard the line, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than ask for permission?” Have you ever applied that logic in your own dealings with a situation?
We’re having a party. The neighbors are not home. Let’s just set the volleyball net up in their backyard. I mean we should ask, but if we do ask, we’ll bother them while they are away, possibly put them in an uncomfortable situation and most significantly have to deal with the unwanted reality that they might say “no.” They’ll never know and if they do find out, we’ll apologize.
Often, we do not want the truth, as Jack Nicholson once said (the pride of Manasquan, NJ) because we can’t handle the truth. We fear being mocked for our question. We fear that the situation will be more complicated than we expected. We fear that we will be forced to change our thinking or actions. We fear that we will be humbled because we thought we were so right when in reality we were so wrong. Only the humble seek our knowledge. The prideful would rather stay cocooned from truth. It’s preserves selfishness. It preserves safety.
Jesus was very unique. His actions were without sin. He taught as one having authority. The bottom line was that He was a teacher. That’s again made clear in verse 22 of our passage. And as a teacher, He not only provoked people to take sides, but He was also a source for students to seek answers.
So, throughout His ministry, people continually approached Him with questions. Some came with wicked motives to trap Him. Others came with genuine motives to learn. Yet it seems in every occasion the people received an answer they were not expecting.
That happens in our passage in verse 23. Look there. “And someone said to Him, ‘Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?’”
That seems like a legitimate question, but before we look at our Lord’s answer, let’s make sure we rightly understand the question. And I am still in the introduction if you are taking notes!
“Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” “Lord” is simple to understand. “Few” – we all know what that means, a minority. “Saved” – now that one makes us pause. “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” Saved from what? Why is Christianity about salvation? Why is Jesus called a Savior? What do we primarily need to be saved from? Physically illness? Low self-esteem? Loneliness? Financial hardship? Unfulfillment? Why did Jesus come? Why do we need a Savior? What do we need to be saved from?
Well, the answer might not be what you want to hear, but since you asked. Ready? You and I are rotten sinners in the eyes of God. We can do nothing to remove our sins. Our attempts with religion and good deeds to make peace with God only further our condemnation. God in His holy nature must punish sin. And according to the Bible, God’s wrath is abiding on us and when we die we will spend eternity away from His benevolent presence in an awful place called hell where there will be (verse 28) “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We need to be saved from that.
In a nutshell, we need to be saved from God. Or we could say, we need the love of God to send the Son of God to save us from the wrath of God.
So back to the question in verse 23. “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” For the answer we begin our first of two points which I am calling, “Those Inside.”
Those Inside (verse 24a)
With the end of verse 23 and into verse 24, Jesus does not technically answer the man’s question. He does not provide numbers as to how many will be saved. He does not answer in a specific sense about the population in heaven and hell. Jesus knew the number, but that’s irrelevant. Rather, He directs His comments to each person in particular and informs them how they may be saved. He avoids the trivia and gets right to the truth. How many one be saved? There is hope in this apparently hopeless situation. The beginning of verse 24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
Do you want to be saved from God’s wrath? Do you want to be completely forgiven? Do you want to be reconciled with Almighty God? Do you want to go to heaven? One line provides the answer from the Lord. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
Now, let’s break that one down.
We’ll begin with the “door.” Let’s just use some common sense. We know a door is a passageway from one place to another. So, what place do we want to enter? What is the context? Verse 28, getting into the Kingdom of God. Is Jesus in verse 24 talking about something in the future? Of course not! He is talking about something in the present. He is talking about entering His kingdom before it is too late. Or think of it this way. Where do we exist before salvation? In Satan’s Kingdom. We do we exist after salvation? In Christ’s Kingdom.
“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:23).
So, we are all in one of two kingdoms. And the way from Satan’s kingdom into Christ’s kingdom, according to verse 24, is through the door.
Now we know that is not to be taken literally. You’ll be running around your whole life in vain if you are looking for a physical door with a sign that says, “kingdom of God” on top of it. This is figurative for a passageway we must enter.
Also, verse 24 does not say “doors.” It says, “door” (singular). There is only one door into God’s kingdom. And what or who is that? Answer? It’s Christ. It’s the Savior.
Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the door. Or as He said Himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:7, 9).
The portal to God, the only portal to the Kingdom of God, is Jesus Christ. For only Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac. 4:12).
So, what have we learned? There is a door to enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the door. Yet there is one more word to consider. The door is open to all people, but the door is very “narrow.” In verse 24, it is specifically called “the narrow door.” What does that imply?
It means that many are so consumed with the trappings of life that they miss it. That many want to bring with them things that won’t fit through the entrance. That we want to enter God’s kingdom on our own terms. It implies that there is some effort required to come through this narrow door. Wait, what?
Yes, look at the first word of verse 24 – “strive.” That’s the translation used in most biblical versions. NIV paraphrases it, “make every effort.” The Greek work is “agonizomai.” It is where we get our English word, “agonize.” According to the Greek Dictionary, “To engage in intense struggle, involving physical or nonphysical force against strong opposition – ‘to struggle, to fight.’”
So maybe you don’t like the fact that Jesus alone is the door. Perhaps you don’t care to hear the door to heaven is narrow and few find it. But now you are hearing that salvation requires effort on your part. I can’t change the Bible, folks! If you want to enter the narrow door of Christ, you are required, according to Christ, to “strive.”
Many struggle with that word for one of two reasons. One is because they have believed a watered-down, cheap grace, easy-believism Gospel. What do we hear? Pray a prayer and you are in. Repentance and good works are optional. Invite Jesus into your heart. There is no “striving” in those invitations. Most of the time people have no idea what they are called to believe in. And therein lies the problem!
But even the true church struggles with this striving stuff. Isn’t it all about resting in Christ? Aren’t we saved by faith alone? Isn’t salvation all about God’s grace? Aren’t we heretical if we add works to get into heaven? Striving, agonizing, sure sounds like work to me! Don’t we just “let go and let God” bring us into the Kingdom? Don’t we just stroll through the door? You seem to be telling me that not only is it hard to find the true door, but now it’s also a personal struggle to enter that door? Why did Jesus say this? What did he mean?
We’ll just stay in Luke. It means when we come to Christ, we must count the cost – Luke 14:28. We must repent of our sin – Luke 13:3. How about Luke 9:23? “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” What are the conditions to come to Christ according to Christ (Lk. 9:23)? Self-denial. Suffering with Jesus. Following Him in obedience. I’d say that’s striving.
Aren’t those works? No, they are evidence of the true faith that our Lord demands.
The Greek word for faith is “pistis.” It does not mean belief that someone exists. It means to rely upon, depend upon, totally trust, surrender. That’s why many people find the narrow door, think they have entered it, but in reality, they never did. Listen, there will be people who believe in Christ in hell. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Before we go to the second point, let me read a great quote from the theologian A.W. Pink.
“Salvation is by grace, by grace alone. Nevertheless, divine grace is not exercised at the expense of holiness. It never compromises with sin. It is also true that salvation is a free gift, but an empty hand must receive it and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world. Something more than believing is necessary to salvation. A heart that is steeled in rebellion against God cannot savingly believe. It must first be broken. Only those who are spiritually blind would declare that Christ will save any who despise His authority and refuse His yoke. Those preachers who tell sinners that they may be saved without forsaking their idols, without repenting, without surrendering to the lordship of Christ are as erroneous and dangerous as others who insist that salvation is by works and that heaven must be earned by our own efforts.”
Verse 24, “Strive to enter the narrow door.” Or we can take the parallel passage from Matthew. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt. 7:13-14).
Those Outside (verses 24b–30)
Alright, our second point. More verses, but much less to say.
The rest of verse 24. “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Once again, clear teaching from our Lord. Not just will many ignore the door, but “many” will even “seek to enter [it] and will not be able.” So, to in a sense answer the man’s question from verse 23, “Are there just a few who are being saved.” And our Lord’s answer is clearly, “yes.”
So, point one was, “Those Inside.” Now point two is, “Those Outside.” What does Jesus have to say about those who do not enter the “narrow door?”
Beginning in verse 25, “Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers’” Lk. 13:25-27). Stop right there.
My friends, do you see how tragic these verses are? These are not the heathen and atheists and fools and those that mock God. These are moral people. These are people that claim to have identified with Jesus (identified in verse 25 as the “head of the house”). They ate and drank with Him (implies intimacy). They listened to His teaching (implies discipleship). These are people who are knocking and want the door opened. These are people according to Matthew 7 that claimed to do all sorts of religious activities.
These are people that think they are saved, and they come to realize they are on the outside once the door is shut. They “believed” in Jesus. Their main reaction that comes to my mind when I consider them must be utter shock. Again, my friends, these are moral people, religious people, people that have identified with Jesus. The door is shut, they freak out in confusion because they are on the wrong side, they bang on the door and Jesus says, verse 25, “I do not know…you.” There never was any true relationship and they realize it when it’s too late. So frightening!
So, a few questions?
When is the door shut on a person’s life? There is one of three times. It’s either when he or she dies or when the Lord returns or when the Lord because of their persistent rejection turns them over to their own hard heart.
When the door is shut will I ever have another opportunity? No.
Were they locked out because they were “evildoers” (verse 27)? Yes, that is what the verse teaches, but in a general sense we are all evildoers. No one is righteous enough to get to God based on their own righteousness. The only hope we have is to gain the righteousness of Christ when we receive Him on the basis of faith.
Philippians 3:9, “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
You say, how do I know I have truly received Christ? Faith! But according to these verses it’s clear these people believed in Jesus and these people were not going to heaven. Answer? True salvation, getting Christ’s righteousness, always results in Christ producing righteousness in you. Spiritual fruit. This there any evidence that God is changing you?
So, the door is shut on their opportunity. In verse 28, our Lord uses vivid language to describe their predicament in hell. “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.”
Again, words like shock, despair, suffering, regret, darkness, deception come to mind – all the descriptions of hell. This is hell, folks. This is something we all deserve, but God in His grace and mercy has provided us an opportunity to be saved. He so loved the world that He gave us Christ. Only through Christ do we get the removal of our sin and the addition of His righteousness. And we receive Christ, we enter the narrow door by striving with biblical faith that relies upon Him as our only Savior.
And as for those who have entered the door, verses 29-30, “And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
So, the question was asked in verse 23. “Lord are there just a few who are being saved?” Aren’t you glad he asked Jesus the question? We now have the answer from Jesus.