Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďGODíS GRACE MINISTERED TO THOSE OBEYING CHRISTíS COMMAND THAT SINNERS STRIVE TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATEĒ

Luke 13.24

PART FOURTEEN

Third, WE EXPLORE THE PROBLEMS THAT INTERFERE WITH STRIVING

A quick review. We first explored the problem addressed by our Lordís directive to gospel resistant sinners to engage in striving. In a word, the problem is pride, the absence of humility, which is the greatest of all obstacles to Godís grace in the life of any sinner. We began by looking at the historical context of those to whom the directive to strive was given. We next engaged in an overview of gospel writer Lukeís build up to the directive to strive that he recorded in Luke 13.24, by considering our Lordís parable of the sower, the deaths of supposedly innocent people that had recently occurred, the parable of the fig tree, a woman Jesus loosed from her infirmity, the short parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the leaven. After that, I established the reality of fruitless responses, the fact that false hopes are repeatedly addressed phenomena in the Bible. As proof, I rehearsed facts about Cain, Esau, Balaam, Judas Iscariot, Simon the magician, the Corinthian fornicator, Demas who forsook Paul, Diotrephes, Hymenaeus and Alexander, those who are labeled as worse than infidels who profess to be Christians but will not provide for their families, Hymenaeus and Philetus, Alexander the coppersmith, those who profess that they know God but in works deny Him, those Paul predicted would endanger the Ephesian congregation after his departure, then those Jesus described as Nicolaitans, a woman identified by Jesus as Jezebel, and finally those branches that are pruned from the vine and cast into the fire. Each is an example or an illustration of a believer with a false hope. I then reflected on the danger and damage that is associated with fruitless responses, namely, apostasy toward Christianity due to disillusionment, abandonment from Christianity due to discouragement, and acceptance into the church as a Christian despite not really obeying the gospel. Few professing Christians imagine the problem of false hopes to be this serious.

Having addressed those major considerations related to the problem of striving, we then explored the pain caused by striving to enter in at the strait gate. Why is the pain of striving worth what is experienced? It is an appropriate question. To begin to understand the pain that results from striving one must understand the many complications resulting from being unresponsive to the gospel; the damage done to others and the damage done to self (your mind, your heart, your conscience, and your soul). Recall that I was very frank about the pain so often associated with striving, while insisting that the benefits of striving far outweigh the perceived negatives associated with the pain encountered while one is striving. I continued with my own observations about the benefits of the sinner striving to enter in at the strait gate, the related comments of Puritan divine Richard Sibbes, and then I provided eight illustrations of striving taken from life experience and scripture. I cannot understand how anyone can reasonably doubt that the cost of properly striving, in terms of the associated pain and discomfort, is far outweighed by the benefit that accrues from properly striving. What is that benefit? Becoming more receptive to the gospel of Godís grace as a result of the humbling effect of striving.

One might well wonder after all this why striving is not a popular and recommended means of grace in Christian circles these days, in light of the fact that striving is clearly an antidote to a serious obstacle to conversion, in light of the fact that striving was certainly prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and in light of the fact that there is so much in Godís Word that supports the concept of the sinner striving to enter in at the strait gate. That wonder, of course, assumes a sincere desire on the part of most gospel ministers and Christians to see sinners converted to Christ, as opposed to eliciting possibly false professions of faith for the purpose of glorying and exalting self. I would strongly suggest that such an assumption is not always unwarranted. I have known many more interested in adding notches to their gospel gun belt than actually seeing sinners converted to Christ. Keep in mind that before the First Great Awakening under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and John Wesley, the clergy had been pointedly indicted by the published sermon of a faithful pastor named Gilbert Tennant titled ďThe Danger Of An Unconverted Clergy.Ē[1] Of course, there were howls of protest and outcries at the time, but history proved that Tennantís concern about an unconverted clergy was on the mark. Would it be unreasonable to suppose that if such a problem existed with the clergy in the 18th century that the same problem is also likely in the 21st century, both with the clergy and also in the ranks of church members and other professing Christians?

However, setting aside the objections that one would expect from unconverted ministers and church members for fear of their false hopes somehow being discovered, experience has shown that there is strong resistance that interferes with striving even from committed Christians. Assuming for the sake of our present inquiry that interference with striving is coming only from the genuinely Christian element, there still remains at least five identifiable but interrelated problems that prompt people to oppose our Lordís prescription of striving:

First, there is ignorant opposition to striving. It is so well attested that I will not here take the time to cite the many sources that have established not only contemporary professing Christianís ignorance of Bible truth, but also their woeful ignorance of church history. This ignorance is so deeply rooted at present that pastors and church members are very typically shocked when first exposed to an explanation of the meaning of Matthew 12.20 and the Lordís prescription of striving for those sinners who are not bruised reeds. Striving sounds foreign to so many. Pastors unfamiliar with church history frequently voice the opinion that striving ďsounds like works righteousness.Ē Such a reaction betrays a tragic misunderstanding of what Jesus was seeking to accomplish when He directed sinners to strive to enter in at the strait gate. However, a negative reaction to that which feels foreign and which is entirely unfamiliar is not surprising. Everyone has a natural tendency to oppose that which is perceived as new and innovative. The fact, however, is that striving to enter in at the strait gate is a remedy that is as old as the oldest portions of the Bible, and has been a part of the Christian warriorís arsenal of spiritual weaponry for dealing with gospel hardened sinners since the earthly ministry of our Lord and the Apostle Paul. That striving is so strongly opposed by so many gospel ministers and dedicated Christians is an indication of the great loss to the cause of Christ of what has consistently been a wonderful means of bringing sinners to Christ. Read the Word of God. Review those passages I have dealt with in this series of messages. Read the godly Puritan divines of old, such men as Richard Sibbes, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, and Jonathan Edwards. Dispel the ignorance that is so pervasive in contemporary Christianity. In so doing you will find whatever opposition you might have to striving to enter in at the strait gate rapidly melting away.

Next, there is proud opposition to striving. There is nothing more distasteful to a sinner than humiliation. Keep in mind that Satanís great sins against God when he was Lucifer, the anointed cherub, who led the angelic rebellion, were lying and pride. Therefore, pride is a great portion of the essence of sin and is found to be a significant problem in the life of every lost person. As well, pride is also the greatest possible barrier to the grace of God, since God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, James 4.6 and First Peter 5.5. God is so decidedly opposed to a proud spirit that the word resist in those two verses translates a Greek word showing that God is arrayed against such pride the way soldiers are arrayed in battle against the enemy.[2] Therefore, a sinner does not have to consciously know why he is opposed to striving to greatly resist all instructions and encouragements to strive. He will oppose striving because striving is the means by which God humbles the sinner, and there is nothing the sinner is naturally more opposed to than humility. Let us not be naive enough to think that the reason a sinner avoids talking to a gospel minister is because he does not like the preacher or thinks he is in any way unfriendly. That is utter nonsense. Preachers are typically very nice guys. The real reason the lost avoid serious talks with preachers is because they wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, which the Spirit of God uses to convict sinners to humble themselves. There are people attending our services that are perfectly willing to listen to sermons, but are unalterably opposed to being counseled about the state of their soul. That might lead to them being prompted by the Spirit of God to humble themselves, which the proud must avoid at all costs. What the sinner does not understand because of his spiritual blindness and animosity toward God is that he misreads Godís motives and intentions. The proud man resists humbling himself because he is convinced that humility is a bad thing, a horrible thing that must be avoided at all costs. We cannot allow that error to stand. Is humility a bad thing? Jesus humbled Himself, Philippians 2.8. Is humility a bad thing? It is the posture which finds Godís grace accessible. Is humility a bad thing? James 4.10 promises, ďHumble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.Ē Striving, donít you see, is the means by which a lost man can humble himself before God, and humility is not a bad thing. However, I am speaking about the opposition to striving that Christian people exhibit. How can a Christianís pride make him opposed to striving? Two answers to this question: First, Christians must still cope with a sinful nature that resists humbling oneís self, even after coming to Christ. It is not at all unusual for Christians to be conflicted about striving for no other reason than because striving has so much to do with humility and pride is therefore a Christian can quite thoughtlessly be opposed to it. Second, and this is where ignorance of Godís Word and spiritual immaturity is also a factor, striving is thought by the immature and uninformed Christian to be cruel and harsh. Granted, striving can be painful, heart rending, emotionally traumatic, etc. However, striving should not be thought of as cruel because God is not cruel and because Jesus, who prescribed striving, is not cruel. You be careful who think of striving as cruel and unreasonable, and who conclude that you must protect your loved one from striving. God is always reasonable and Jesus is never cruel. To think otherwise is to become quite proud in thinking you know better than Jesus how sinners should be dealt with to prepare them for faith and conversion. If you succeed in protecting your friends, loved ones, and family members from the anguish of striving, you could very well protect them all the way to Hell.



[1] Sermon is available at http://www.sounddoctrine.net/Classic_Sermons/Gilbert%20Tennent/danger_of_unconverted.pdf

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 737, 765.



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