Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WORK . . . FOR PREPARATION”

Luke 13.24

 

Our text for today is Luke 13.24: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

I have preached on this text about a half dozen times, yet there are still things that must be said that I want to set before you today. The key Greek word in this verse is agwnizesye, which is the plural form of the word agwnizomai. The word agwnizomai refers to engaging in an athletic contest, to fighting, to struggling, to striving.[1] It is obvious that our English word agonize is derived from this word.

Bauer’s Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature indicates that the word originally had to do with engaging in an athletic contest. It later came to be used to generally describe fighting or struggling.[2]

Enough of my text and the key word in my text for now. Before continuing along that line, I want you to look at the other New Testament verses in which the word agwnizomai is found.

In John 18.36, “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” In this verse, the Lord Jesus Christ uses the word agwnizomai to describe to Pontius Pilate the efforts His servants would put forth to defend Him from assault if His kingdom were of this world.

In First Corinthians 9.25, Paul writes to the Corinthian congregation about anyone who works to become the best he can be at any endeavor he undertakes: “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” Both Christians and the unconverted obviously strive for the mastery, but with different goals and objectives in mind.

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul uses the word to describe both his own and Epaphras’ energetic efforts in the gospel ministry. Colossians 1.29: “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Colossians 4.12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”

Finally, Paul encouraging Timothy, and then a verse summing up his own fruitful life and ministry. First Timothy 6.12: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” Second Timothy 4.7: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

“Fight,” “strive,” and “labouring fervently.” Each of these passages, with the exception of our text for today and Paul’s comment to the Corinthians, shows the word agwnizomai in the context of a Christian’s struggle and efforts to serve God against the obstacles of circumstances, the obstacles of spiritual opposition, and against the obstacles of one’s own sinful nature.

Setting aside First Corinthians 9.25 for a moment, how does the text we are considering this morning differ from those other passages we read that contain the same word? It differs in this respect: Luke 13.24 refers to the efforts of a person who has not been justified by faith, a person whose sins are not forgiven, a person who is not reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

What about First Corinthians 9.25? Let me quote it to you again: “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” To paraphrase Paul, everyone who wants a chance at success strives, fights, labors fervently, with such effort certainly including temperance (or self-control), whether that goal is success in the carnal pursuits of this life or success in spiritual endeavors.

Do you see the implication of Paul’s words? Whether the reference is to a business owner working hard to make his company dominant in its market, or the child of God exerting himself to reach the lost for Christ and serve God effectively, striving, laboring fervently, putting forth a great deal of effort is a characteristic feature of success.

In other words, no striving, no success. Without striving, no matter your natural talent, no matter your intelligence or other attributes, you will fail. The lazy have no chance, either in spiritual endeavors or anywhere else in life.

 

SERMON:

 

Once again, our text for today is Luke 13.24: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” This verse, quite obviously from the context in which Jesus’ words are set, refers to the sinner’s activities and responsibilities in this matter of entering into salvation.

Whatever the Lord Jesus Christ means by these words, there are certain things we can be absolutely sure He does not mean, because of the integrity and internal consistency of God’s holy Word. We can be sure, for example, that this verse in no way contradicts the Biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith.

I remember mentioning to a pastor some years back that I had never heard anyone preach a sermon using Luke 13.24 as a text, nor had I ever heard of anyone use Luke 13.24 in the context of getting sinners saved. That preacher suggested to me that trying to persuade sinners to strive to enter into the strait gate was works righteousness, trying to get people to work their way to heaven. But that cannot possibly be the case with Luke 13.24. Why not? Why can our text not properly be connected to any salvation by works scheme? Because nothing that Jesus ever said or did was ever in any way opposed to the Bible doctrine of salvation by grace. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done,” Titus 3.5. “For by grace are ye saved through faith,” Ephesians 2.8. Nothing that Luke 13.24 means can, in any way, be understood to weaken the thrust and import of those well-known passages. After all, Paul also wrote Romans 11.6: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”

Another thing we should also consider is the certainty that no one completely or fully comprehends God’s ways when dealing with men. Remember what God said through the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 55.8-9:

 

8      For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

9      For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

Whatever else God’s words through the prophet Isaiah mean, they assuredly include in their meaning the certainty that mankind is prone to misunderstanding Him. For reasons related to our sinfulness, as well as the natural disconnect that results from God’s immensity and our own smallness, God’s intelligence and our profound ignorance, God’s wisdom and our own foolishness, we have a difficult time understanding God and His ways of dealing with men.

I submit to you that misunderstanding God very frequently occurs despite an abundance of evidence that should enable us to understand His ways. Therefore, we should approach Luke 13.24 with the humility that is necessary to admit that while we can be sure salvation is by grace through faith, and that while salvation is apart from works lest anyone should boast, Ephesians 2.9, the Lord Jesus Christ command sinners to strive.

That understood, what can be said about the striving of a sinner? Since we know that athletes and others who seek various types of mastery strive according to the Apostle Paul, and those who serve God strive according to the Apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ, what might we conclude about the striving of a sinner?

What kinds of things would stand in the way of a sinner to prevent him from entering in to the strait gate? Let me suggest three considerations, obstacles if you will, that impede the sinner in his effort to enter in, in his desire to embrace that salvation which is by faith in Jesus Christ:

 

First, THERE ARE THE OBSTACLES OF CIRCUMSTANCES

 

An amateur wrestler, for example, has to train hard every day in order to compete successfully against other Olympic-class wrestlers. But now that he is out of college and pursuing his career, he does not have easy access to training facilities like runners do. Some of the cities he travels to have no accessible training facilities or other Olympic-class wrestlers to train with. Those types of circumstances stand in the way of his training every day so he can fulfill his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. To succeed, he has to figure out a way to get it done.

A young man gradually becomes interested in a young woman who was converted and baptized at his church a year or so ago. But he finds that she lives as far to the east of church as he does to the west of church, and that they both have very demanding careers. Their work hours are long, and their involvement in church ministry is serious, meaning there is not much time for him to spend with her. That circumstance stands in the way of him courting the woman he may want to marry. To succeed, he has to figure out a way to get it done.

A fellow starts a business. Though he devises a thorough plan for the startup business, there is no possible way he could have foreseen the numerous obstacles he has to overcome to succeed. First, he discovers after signing his lease that two other competitors have opened up near him. Several weeks after that his son develops some physical problems that require medical care not covered by his health provider. Finally, and most tragically, his mother suddenly dies in an automobile accident. Those are circumstances that stand in the way of someone succeeding in his business and not losing both his own life savings and the money he borrowed from his father in law. To succeed, he has to figure out a way to get it done.

The man of God enters the ancient city and begins preaching in the central market. Soldiers soon approach him, jostle him around, and tell him it is illegal to do that there. Moving to another part of town, near the port, he begins preaching again, only to face a sudden storm that drives everyone to find cover. Bad weather and lack of money make it hard to start the church, so the preacher finds a poor paying job to work, that makes study difficult. But he just will not stop. Eventually, he has enough converts and interested onlookers that the soldiers leave him alone. As well, the weather finally improves, for a while. Those were some of the circumstances that stood in the way of preachers starting churches in Paul’s day. To succeed, they just had to figure out ways to get it done.

The sinner finds himself sitting under the preaching of the Word of God, or talking to a Christian witness. He has been exposed to a slender sliver of light that pierces the darkness of his spiritual blindness. He has grasped but a slender thread of truth. He does not yet grasp the full significance of his need, but he very clearly recognizes the need to investigate, to inquire, to gather more information. But there is a problem associated with the circumstances of his life. His schedule is complicated. Travel is difficult. But if that sinner is going to avail himself of the means of grace he has to find a way to get it done, no matter what the obstacles.

The athlete, the businessman, and the Christian. Do you see the common ground between the wrestler, the businessman, the Christian, and the sinner? In each case there are obstacles that stand in the way. But they are nothing more than circumstances, inconveniences, disruptions to plans and schedules. However, to be a successful athlete, to be a successful businessman, to be a successful Christian, and to end up getting saved, you have to overcome the obstacles of circumstances. You have to find a way to get it done.

My lost friend, attending church and serving God is never convenient. God does not allow it be convenient. It is supposed to be inconvenient. So, if the athlete is willing to overcome inconveniences in pursuit of a medal, if a businessman is willing to overcome inconveniences to succeed in business, and if a Christian is willing to overcome inconveniences to serve God, what causes you to think you, too, will not have to overcome inconveniences to enter in to the strait gate and become a Christian? You simply have to find a way to get it done.

 

Next, THERE ARE THE obstacles of spiritual opposition

 

It is quite obvious that the spiritual opposition faced by an athlete, or by a businessman, are either nonexistent or are not a prominent feature in scripture. So, the spiritual opposition that an athlete must face to achieve the mastery of his sport, or the spiritual opposition that a businessman must face to achieve mastery in his undertaking, is either minimal or related to his testimony as a Christian if he is a Christian athlete or a Christian businessman.

Where spiritual opposition is very prominent, however, is in the life and ministry of the Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ made mention of His servants fighting in John 18.36, when He spoke to Pilate. Paul made mention of the same no less than five times in his writings. Therefore, it should be recognized that spiritual struggle and conflict is part and parcel of the Christian life. There is just no getting away from it.

Familiar to many of us is Ephesians 6.12, where Paul wrote, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” As well, there is Second Corinthians 10.4, where Paul denies that he fights physically, but shows the spiritual nature of the conflict he is engaged in: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.”

So you see, every Christian finds himself involved in some sort of spiritual conflict. Every Christian is enlisted in the Lord’s army and is rightly described as a soldier of the cross. That is the reason we are to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, Second Timothy 2.3. To sum it all up, the Christian life is a life of overcoming the obstacles thrown up against us by spiritual opposition, whether it be opposition from the devil himself, from the demons of the spirit world, or ungodly sinners who are opposing the plan and purpose of God in the Christian’s life.

That being the case, my unsaved friend, do not think you, too, do not have to deal with spiritual opposition in your life. Of course, you will have no spiritual opposition to continuing in your unsaved state. The only opposition you will face is when there is a threat to your unsaved condition, such as when you are exposed to gospel, or when you begin giving thought to the claims of Christ. When that happens, I promise you spiritual opposition. But spiritual opposition is the lot in life of every Christian, and every sinner who is thinking of becoming a Christian. So, if you wish to face no obstacles of spiritual opposition, give up and stay home, and continue on your way to Hell without any interference. But if you think about becoming a Christian, if you are moving in the direction of embracing Christ, you will face spiritual obstacles of all sorts that need to be overcome. How? You just need to find a way to get it done.

 

Finally, THERE ARE THE OBSTACLE’S OF ONE’S OWN SINFUL NATURE

 

The obstacles of circumstances are external impersonal impediments to becoming a Christian, which you must deal with in order to come to Christ. The obstacles of spiritual foes and adversaries are external personal impediments to becoming a Christian, which you must deal with in order to come to Christ. But there are also internal obstacles you must wrestle with.

You see, we are all sinners by nature. Being a sinner means that you are naturally opposed to the plan and purpose of God. You are naturally God’s enemy, even if you are not God’s enemy by conscious choice. Romans 5.10 clearly shows that every unsaved person is God’s enemy, and Romans 5.12 clearly shows that your sinful opposition to God is a trait inherited from Adam, the first man and the first sinner.

Do Christians wrestle with their sinful natures after they are converted to Christ? To be sure, according to the Apostle Paul, in Romans 7.15-20:

 

15     For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

16     If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

17     Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

18     For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

19     For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

20     Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

 

Thank God, for enabling Christians to experience a hard fought victory over sin in their lives. But if the indwelling Spirit of God and the means of God’s grace make it possible for a Christian to experience victory in the ongoing struggle against sin, do you not think the unsaved person without those advantages will not also face obstacles from his sinful nature? Of course, you will.

My unsaved friend, you can be sure that any consideration of the gospel, any thoughts that are settled upon the Lord Jesus Christ, will instantly give rise to internal opposition from your sinful nature. You see, God gives grace to the humble, but you are naturally proud. As well, Jesus said that the truth will set you free, but you are very naturally prone to deceitfulness and lying, according to Jeremiah 17.9 and First John 2.22.

I could go on and on, but time considerations limit the examples I could easily give to show how your sinful nature works against any thoughtful consideration of the gospel, works against any honest appraisal of Biblical truth, works against any unaided willingness to die to self so you might live unto Christ. Suffice it to say that your own sinfulness is an obstacle that you must wrestle with in order to come to Christ.

 

Striving is a part of everyone’s life, except those unsaved people who are miserable failures. Have you not observed, as I have, that every unsaved person who enjoys a measure of success in any area of his life will strive in that area of life where success is experienced? We see this principle everywhere.

Striving is rightly seen to be a vital aspect in every kind of success, be it athletic success, be it business success, or be it spiritual success for the Christian. The only person who does not strive is that unsaved person who succeeds at nothing, that lazy good-for-nothing who will end up his life with nothing, and on his way to Hell.

Therefore, make certain it is well understood by each and every one of us that striving is an absolutely necessary part of living. You are going to have to fight and labor and struggle to succeed at a sport or hobby, at a business or career, or in service to God as a Christian. You just cannot get around it.

That being the case in all these endeavors, it should be no surprise to anyone that striving is also needful for the sinner who wants to become a Christian. Not that striving constitutes works righteousness by which any sinner can hope to earn salvation, for that is not at all the case. Salvation is by grace through faith, and is apart from works of the righteousness done to merit salvation.

But there are some obstacles sinners frequently have to deal with that must be dealt with by striving: First, there are the obstacles that arise from circumstances. Whether it be illness, or distance, or schedule, or bad weather, such things as circumstances must be overcome to get to the church house, to get to where the Bible is preached, to somehow avail yourself of the means of grace.

Next, there are the obstacles that arise from spiritual opposition. The devil is opposed to anyone getting saved. As well, there are demons and unsaved people who will intentionally impede any exposure you have to the gospel and the means of grace. It is necessary for you to make choices, to avoid certain people and follow the direction of good Christians, so that you can successfully address the spiritual opposition that would blind you from seeing the truth and prevent you from coming to Christ.

Finally, there are the obstacles that arise from your own internal sinful nature. Sinners do not love God. That means you do not love God. Sinners do not love Jesus. That means you do not love Jesus. So, in order for you to properly deal with your natural spiritual aversion to the things of God and any intelligent consideration of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are going to have to struggle against your own sinful nature. You are must wrestle with your own tendencies, your own appetites, your own longings and cravings that are real obstacles to you coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

In the end, it must be understood that striving does not save anyone. In the end it must be understood that salvation is always and only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus told sinners to strive. How can striving to enter in be reconciled with the gospel of grace?

It is not my job to reconcile two doctrines that seem difficult for both to be true. “Whosoever will may come” and “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” are doctrines that may seem opposed to each other, though both are clearly scriptural. I am convinced that salvation by grace through faith and the command to strive to enter in at the strait gate may be similarly difficult to reconcile in our minds, but both are obviously true.

My own opinion is that although a sinner does not gain salvation through any effort, through any righteous deed, or through what might be called works; there is some benefit to doing what Jesus said sinners must do. Maybe striving, without knowing how striving will help, is a rudimentary demonstration of faith. I do not know. I do know that Jesus Christ commanded sinners to strive to enter in at the strait gate, so you had better figure out a way to get it done.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 181-182.

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 17.

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