Calvary Road Baptist Church

“GOD’S GRACE MINISTERED TO THOSE OBEYING CHRIST’S COMMAND THAT SINNERS STRIVE TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATE”

Luke 13.24

PART EIGHT

 Next, WE EXPLORE THE PAIN CAUSED BY STRIVING

 In Luke 13.24, Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Prominent in that verse is the Greek word translated strive, a form of the Greek word agonizomai, from which our English word agonize is derived. John Gill writes about striving, “To strive is to be diligent in the use of means; to search the Scriptures with care; to attend on the preaching of the word with constancy, neglecting no opportunity; to pray earnestly for spiritual light, knowledge, and grace; to contend with every enemy that opposes the salvation of the soul, as sin, Satan, and the world; to bear all reproaches and persecutions, and press through all difficulties, for the prize of the incorruptible crown: the metaphor seems to be taken from the striving, wrestling, and combat in the Olympic games, for a corruptible crown.”[1] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown tell us, “The word signifies to ‘contend’ as for the mastery, to ‘struggle,’ expressive of the difficulty of being saved, as if one would have to force his way in at the strait gate.”[2]

Though the concept of striving has become largely foreign to contemporary Christianity, it is very important to be mindful that striving, such as is portrayed in John Bunyan’s famous allegory titled Pilgrim’s Progress, is the Lord Jesus Christ’s antidote for a condition that many sinners need to contend with. A. T. Robertson informs us that the form of agonizomai found in this verse is the present middle plural form of the word, showing that His directive applied to others as well as the questioner.[3] Fritz Rienecker indicates the word is a present middle imperative, meaning to engage in an athletic contest, to fight, to struggle, to strive.[4] In other words, striving can be a powerful remedy for a serious spiritual affliction. Because striving is painful medicine, we need to be assured that it is powerful medicine to address a serious issue. That Jesus here commands sinners to strive also suggests its importance, and we should consider how serious the consequences of neglecting so potent a measure are.

 To establish the seriousness of the spiritual problem striving is prescribed to counteract, it is important that we understand the complications that result from unresponsiveness to the gospel.

 When I mention unresponsiveness to the gospel, it is crucial to recognize that there are two main kinds of unresponsiveness to the gospel. First, there are those whose refusal to comply with Christ’s directive is obvious by their open rejection of Christ or their obvious failure to embrace Christ. This is the sinner who verbally or behaviorally says “No” to Jesus Christ. Then there are those who do not openly refuse to obey the gospel command, but who have effectively refused to obey the gospel command in that they have embraced false hopes. However one’s unresponsiveness to the gospel is displayed, either by openly rejecting Christ or by secretly rejecting Him while pretending to trust Him (or even wrongly thinking you have trusted Him), there is a great deal of damage done.

I have already mentioned in passing this damage from hearing but not obeying the gospel, so I will now take some time to develop your understanding of the damage I am referring to. The lost cannot walk out of this auditorium lost, even if they intended to trust Christ, without their continued unbelief incurring significant cost. What is the cost incurred?

First, there is the cost of damage done to others by their disobedience to God’s command that they repent of their sins and believe on Jesus.

Have you ever considered the damage done to a congregation that is committed to worshiping and serving the Lord Jesus Christ, who prayerfully sacrifice and labor to reach folks, only to deal with the consequences of their blood, sweat and tears being a refusal of the message they hold up for the world to see and hear?

Perhaps you think that there is no impact on a congregation when a sinner discounts the gospel message, when the sinner questions or criticizes our congregation’s members, or when someone who is a member eventually manifests what was all along a lost condition. Those who fail to recognize the cost of a person’s unbelief and refusal to our congregation betray a lack of familiarity with God’s Word on the matter, and reveal their failure to consider the sinfulness of not trusting Jesus when they think like that. Let me illustrate: In First Corinthians 3.9-15, the Apostle Paul likens the Corinthian congregation to a building that individuals help to construct using various materials. Notice as we read the passage that there is no question of whether someone will or will not participate in the construction of the building, but only the type of materials they will use and will then be judged for using. Do nothing and you are making use of stubble as your contribution to the building’s construction. Paul writes,

 9      For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

10     According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

11     For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12     Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

13     Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

14     If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15     If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Of course, gold, silver, and precious stones are the materials used to build a place of worship, a place where God is honored, a temple. Wood, hay, and stubble are the materials used to build a shanty. The reward mentioned in verse 14 is an allusion to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Of particular interest to us in this study, however, is what is declared in verses 16 and 17:

 16     Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

17     If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

In verse 16, Paul explicitly identifies a church congregation as the temple of God wherein dwells the Spirit of God. Therefore, we as a congregation (not referring in any way to a physical building, but to the people of our church) are in every sense of the word holy, set apart to God for His service and glory. It is in verse 17 that Paul issues the serious warning. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” To paraphrase, if you harm this temple of God, God will make you pay for what you have done. Not Hell, necessarily, but harm, certainly. We see sufficient evidence of the seriousness of this warning in First Corinthians 11.29-30, where members suffered physical ailments and even death as a consequence of God’s chastisement for the harm some in Corinth had done to their church’s spiritual well-being. Though this warning is issued to us, to church members, do you doubt the corresponding consequences for unsaved people concerning their response to our church’s efforts to reach them for Christ? Doubt no longer.

Most people who are exposed to a church such as ours without coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, even those who initially profess Christ and who later discover they have embraced a false hope and end up leaving, will say or do something as they depart or after they depart to explain or justify their actions. If what they say or do does not lay blame directly upon themselves for any and all their actions in refusing the gospel, they sin against the church and will be held accountable by God, Himself, for what they say and do. However, rarely will you hear of someone who grew up in our church who leaves, or someone who attended for a while and then leaves, be so honest as to explain his rejection of the gospel by saying, “The reason I do not go to Calvary Road Baptist Church any more is because I am selfish and self-centered, because I am committed to enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season, because I got the hots for someone who did not attend our church, because I am a moral coward who cannot stand up to the unbelief of others in the college classroom or in the work place environment, and because I really have no regard for God and I am not willing to bow down to Him as my Creator.” What is usually said is typically along the line of, “I just didn’t like going there,” “I didn’t agree with their version of Christianity,” or more often far worse. Even when the church is left with no negative comment of any kind is to express some level of dissatisfaction, which reflects badly on the gospel ministry. Thus, there is always damage done to a church congregation when someone refuses the gospel, either by openly and obviously rejecting Christ or by embracing a false hope that results in a lost person rather poorly representing Christianity. There is no neutrality, as some who reject the gospel would try convincing themselves. Did not Jesus say, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad,” Matthew 12.30?

The entire church congregation consideration set aside, disobeying God’s command for sinners to repent and embrace Christ also does damage to individual Christians. Consider the two types of Christ rejecters who do harm to God’s children:

First, there is the person who openly rejects the gospel, whether he is a person who wants no part of church and refuses to let anyone witness to him or a fellow who grows up in church and then gradually slips away into the darkness. He will usually do this by gradually attending fewer and fewer services, allowing more and more work related conflicts with church services and activities to justify his absences, and all the other means he intentionally employs to so emotionally distance himself from the congregation. It occurs so frequently that eventually no one asks him where he was or why he missed a church service. How many times have we seen someone exclude himself in this way and then complain about being made to feel like an outsider so he can justify his departure to himself and others? Anywhere in the spectrum of conduct, from the fellow who has never been to church to the fellow who grew up in church, the damage done to individual Christians is undeniable. You see, Christians are the visible representatives of Jesus Christ here on earth. In Second Corinthians 3.3, the Apostle wrote that the Corinthians church members were “manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ.” Therefore, when Jesus Christ is rejected by any person who wants no part of the Christian life, wants no real involvement in the Christian church, and who ultimately rejects the Savior, he must reject Christians as Christ’s representatives. I am not denying friendly and courteous treatment whenever it is extended, so long as lost people do not try to deny the harm to Christians they invariably cause by resisting the truth, rejecting the Savior, and doing the many things they must do to refuse and resist the gospel message. You see, the lost man must convince himself that the truth is not the truth, that the Bible is not inspired and reliable, and that commitment to Christ is not crucial for the proper living of a life. In fostering such lies, he cannot help but tempt we who are believers to doubt what is true, further tempting us to resist Christ’s lordship over our lives, and also tempting us in a whole host of other ways that we are usually successful in dealing with, but sometimes are not. Thus, when I witness to him, pray for him, try to get him into church to hear the gospel, and seek to bless him in a variety of other ways, he who openly and consciously rejects the gospel sins against me by not agreeing with me and embracing my savior, and tempts me in the way of discouragement for not joining in my noble cause and exalting my glorious savior with me.

Then there is that person who seems to know Christ as his savior, but is a church member who embraces some type of false hope. In other words, he professes to be a Christian, perhaps even thinks he is a Christian, but does not live the Christian life in reality because as an unsaved person he is not indwelt by the Spirit of God, does not possess or display the fruit of the Spirit in his life, and cannot therefore display the Christian graces that he does not possess. How can such a pretending Christian really encourage me? How can such a pretending Christian give me truly wise counsel? Should such a pretending Christian be my mom or dad, what am I to then make of the Christian faith because of their graceless professions? Should such a pretending Christian be my spouse, I am left to serve God and raise my children quite alone because I have a partner I cannot pray with, I cannot truly serve God with, and because there is no real communion when it comes to the important matters of life and eternity. When you are with a pretending Christian, who ministers grace to you? Who exhorts you? What confusion is created in the lives of baby Christians, when their zeal for the things of God, their willingness to forgive, and their desire for reconciliation with others is met with hostility or indifference. Thus, anyone who does not know Jesus Christ cannot help but sin against you, and has (even if unknowingly) chosen to sin against you, God’s child.

What will be even worse is when the pretend Christian with the false hope is exposed for what he truly is, an unbeliever. That pretend Christian had position in the lives of others, status in the opinions of others, love in the hearts of others. Yet it was based upon the lie of pretending to be while not truly being a child of God, one who trusted and loved (but not really as it turns out) the Savior. Please understand that it is needful for the false hope to be discovered, for the lost pretend Christian to discover his true spiritual condition. Recognize, however, that damage is always done by sin. There is no such thing as sinning without harm being done. Perhaps the child of God becomes suspicious of people in the future. Perhaps a reluctance to invest the lives of others grows in the bosom. When the child of God is sinned against, his responses and reactions to the sins committed against him are not always exactly right. Sometimes there are scars.

What is the cost of rejecting Christ? There is a cost to the church congregation when a sinner rejects Christ. There is a cost to individual Christians when a sinner rejects Christ. There is also the cost to unsaved onlookers. We know from such passages as First Corinthians 2.14 and Second Corinthians 4.3-4 that lost people have no spiritual discernment, are blind to the truth of the gospel, and the gospel to them is lost. Because of this, as well the tendency of lost people to look to others to help them make up their minds about important matters instead of reasonably and rationally weighing evidences and using sound logic such as is encouraged in Isaiah 1.18 (“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD”). Imagine a little boy growing up in the home of an unsaved mom and dad. How long do you think it will take for the child to discern the tension that exists between his parents and his Christian grandfather, or between his parents and the pastor of the church they attend from time to time? Wanting to identify with his mom and dad, as any normal child would, the child forms opinions about Christianity and about the person of Jesus Christ Himself based upon the actions and attitudes of his parents he is so sensitive to. The gospel is not to be embraced because he is convinced there is something wrong with the gospel, since his parents have issues with Christians, with gospel ministers, and with the church. Everyone knows churches are unfriendly, and that they constantly pick on helpless people who are not just like them. That is the feeling the little boy picks up from his mom and dad. So you see, whether it is a kid who grows up in church, a kid who only occasionally comes into contact with the church and Christians, or prospects and visitors that visit from time to time, their view of God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, Christianity, the church, and who knows what else may very well be determined by something other than a serious appraisal of the facts, such as the baggage of people they know, trust, and love who are not Christians themselves and therefore have their own entirely unrealistic view of Christianity and the gospel.

Whether the damage is done to a congregation, to Christians, or to other unsaved people, sinners cannot avoid committing terrible sins and bringing great harm to others by their failure to turn to Jesus Christ with repentance and faith. To be sure, sin is always ultimately committed against God, as David’s sins of murder and adultery are shown in Psalm 51.4, where he writes, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” “. . . for sin is the transgression of the law,” First John 3.4. Keep in mind, however, that the Ten Commandments were comprised of two tables, one containing prohibitions most directly related to God, with the other containing prohibitions most directly related to other people, such as thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not commit adultery. Thus, whenever you sin against God, you are also in some way and to some degree sinning against your fellow man. The unsaved, therefore, do constantly sin against others by their rejection of the gospel and their refusal to bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

What does this mean for the lost? It means more severe condemnation on Judgment Day. There will be a Judgment Day, of course. We know this to be true, even while the unsaved make jokes about Hell, trivialize Hell in their conversation, and pretend that no one of any sophistication could accept the notion of an enraged Deity forever punishing those whose only crime is to reject His Son, Jesus. Their blindness, deafness, and stubbornness to the truth betrays them, for there will come a time when they will be cast into the lake of fire. Throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity they will shriek in torment, wishing they had committed one less sin, bemoaning the sins they have committed against God and against His church, His children, and others suffering eternal torment with them for refusing the reasonable remedy for sins offered in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.



[1] John Gill, The Baptist Commentary Series Volume I, John Gill’s Exposition Of The Old And New Testaments, Vol 7 (Paris, Arkansas: the Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., reprinted 2006), page 626.

[2] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Vol 3, Part One, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), page 281.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol II, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1930), page 190.

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



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org