1. Please turn in your Bible to Luke 13.23. When you find that verse please stand for the reading of Godís Word:
23Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
2. This is our text for today, but before you are seated I would like you to read another passage of Scripture. Turn now to Matthew 7.12:
12Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
3. In Matthew 7.12-14 and Luke 13.23-30 the Lord Jesus Christ makes reference to "the strait gate" for the purpose of illustrating important spiritual truths, but not precisely the same spiritual truths.
4. Not only were the lessons He taught separated by three years in time, and at opposite ends of the country. Matthew 7, concluding the Sermon on the Mount, was taught in Galilee at the beginning of His earthly ministry, while Luke 13 takes place in the south in Judea at the end of His earthly ministry.
5. But besides those obvious differences, there is this important difference: Matthew 7.12-13 pictures someone entering by a narrow gate upon a narrow road, indicating the strictness of the Christian life. But Luke 13.24 pictures someone entering by a narrow gate upon a season of festivity, indicating the joyous privileges of the Christian life. So, the perspectives of the two passages are different.
6. As well, even though it begins with the words "Enter ye in," Matthew 7.12-14 seems to illustrate someone leaving the confines of a city and traveling outward, either to the narrow way to life or to the broad road leading to destruction. So, the picture there is perhaps the leaving of the city of the Law behind, by either going on the narrow road to life or the broad road to destruction.
7. But here in Luke 13 we see someone who is on the outside wanting in, into the household of faith, which is sharply contrasted with the condition of those who are left in outer darkness.
8. Let me describe for you the standard pattern in a middle eastern cityís fortifications and defenses. In the middle of the wall surrounding the city would typically be a large and wide gate, with huge wooden doors that would be closed and barred at night for safety.
9. These were the gates to Jerusalem that Nehemiah repaired after rebuilding the cityís walls. And these were the gates Nehemiah commanded to be closed on the Sabbath, in Nehemiah chapter 13.
10. But the Lord Jesus Christ refers not to the type of large and wide gates that permitted free access into the city, when He speaks of conversion in Luke 13.24. O, no. He likens the household of faith to a fortress having a strait gate, permitting only very limited access to the interior from outside.
11. You see, once it got dark and the people prepared to retire for the evening the large, wide gates of a city that were closed and barred could not be opened to permit one person in who sought safety from the night and from the robbers. So, provision was made for the individual person to seek refuge at the corner of the cityís wall, at a place called a strait gate.
12. A strait gate was very narrow, which is what the word strait means when spelled the way it is. To gain access through such a gate was very troublesome. Not only did you have to yell and holler and pound on the door to gain access, but, to prevent the possibility of robbers overwhelming a city at night, one person could barely fit through. This meant most of your baggage had to remain outside if you wanted inside.
13. I think you are beginning to see the parallels between entering at the strait gate and conversion, which parallel in no way conflicts with the profound and cardinal doctrine of justification by faith apart from works.
14. Jesus taught that salvation from sins was full and free. Jesus also taught that salvation from sins was entered into by striving to enter the strait gate. But Jesus was not in any way inconsistent in His teachings. Therefore we dare not, as the decisionists have done, throw Luke 13.24 out and refuse to make use of this important passage in bringing sinners to Christ.
15. Before brother Isenberger comes to lead us in a song before my sermon, let me as carefully as I can make sure we all understand what it means to strive to enter in at the strait gate.
16. Three things:
1A. First, PLEASE BE CLEAR IN YOUR MIND THAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CONVERSION FROM STRIVING
1B. We Know This To Be True Because The Question That Was Asked, To Which Jesus Gave His Answer, Was "Lord, are there few that be saved?"
2B. We Also Know This To Be True Because He Mentioned Weeping And Gnashing Of Teeth, The Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac And Jacob Being In Attendance, And The Kingdom Of God Mentioned Twice In This Brief Passage.
2A. Second, ALSO BE CLEAR IN YOUR MIND THAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A COMMAND TO STRIVE
1B. There Is No Doubt, Whatsoever, That The Lord Jesus Christ Issued This Command To The Lost, Just As Surely As He Issued The Great Commission To The Saved.
2B. Away With This Mentality That Unconverted Men And Woman And Young People Have No Obligations And Responsibilities Toward God, Or That They Have Not Been Given Marching Orders By The Lord Jesus Christ.
3B. If You Are A Lost Man, Or A Lost Woman, Or A Lost Kid, You Have Just As Surely Been Ordered To Strive To Enter In At The Strait Gate To Get Converted As I Have Been Ordered By The Same Savior To Preach The Gospel To Every Creature.
3A. Finally, BE CLEAR IN YOUR MIND ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF STRIVING
1B. The Greek Word Translated "Strive" Is The Word "agonizomai," From Which Our English Word "Agonize" Is Derived.
2B. Listen To Adam Clarkeís Commentary On Luke 13.24: "They seek-wish and desire; but they do not strive; therefore, because they will not agonize-will not be in earnest, they shall not get in."
3B. Here Is What Is Found In Barneís Notes:
Strive. Literally, agonize. The word is taken from the Grecian Games. In their races, and wrestlings, and various athletic exercises, they strove or agonized, or put forth all their powers to gain the victory. Thousands witnessed them. They were long trained for the conflict, and the honour of victory was one of the highest honours among the people. So Jesus says that we should strive to enter in; and he means by it that we should be diligent, be active, be earnest; that we should make it our first and chief business to overcome our sinful propensities, and to endeavour to enter into heaven. This same figure or allusion to the Grecian games is often used in the New Testament, 1Co 9:24-26; Php 2:16; Heb 12:1.
Strait gate. See Barnes for Mt 7:13. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. i. p. 32) says: "I have seen these strait gates and narrow ways, Ďwith here and there a traveller.í They are in retired corners, and must be sought for, and are opened only to those who knock; and when the sun goes down and the night comes on, they are shut and locked. It is then too late."
Will seek to enter in. Many in various ways manifest some desire to be saved. They seek it, but do not agonize for it, and hence they are shut out. But a more probable meaning of this passage is that which refers this seeking to a time that shall be too late; to the time when the master has risen up, &c. In this life they neglect religion, and are engaged about other things. At death, or at the judgment, they will seek to enter in; but it will be too late--the door will be shut; and because they did not make religion the chief business of their life, they cannot then enter in.
Shall not be able. This is not designed to affirm anything respecting the inability of the sinner, provided he seeks salvation in a proper time and manner. It means that at the time when many will seek--when the door is shut--they will not be able then to enter in, agreeable to Mt 7:22. In the proper time, when the day of grace was lengthened out, they might have entered in; but there will be a time when it will be too late. The day of mercy will be ended, and death will come, and the doors of heaven barred against them. How important, then, to strive to enter in while we have opportunity, and before it shall be too late!
3B. Here Is The Comment From The Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Commentary:
Strive--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.
strait gate--another figure of the same. (See on JFB for Mt 7:13).
for many ... will seek--"desire," that is, with a mere wish or slothful endeavor.
and shall not be able--because it must be made a life-and-death struggle.
4B. Here Is What John Wesley Wrote:
Strive to enter in-Agonize. Strive as in an agony. So the word signifies Otherwise none shall enter in. Barely seeking will not avail.
5B. Finally, Here Is What Is Found In Matthew Henryís Commentary:
Those that would enter in at the strait gate must strive to enter. It is a hard matter to get to heaven, and a point that will not be gained without a great deal of care and pains, of difficulty and diligence. We must strive with God in prayer, wrestle as Jacob, strive against sin and Satan. We must strive in every duty of religion; strive with our own hearts, agwnizesqe -- "Be in an agony; strive as those that run for a prize; excite and exert ourselves to the utmost."
1. I have quoted from these old commentaries, far more than I believe I have ever done, for a single purpose: To show you that the need for striving to get converted was commonly understood and accepted by pastors, Christian scholars and evangelists of every persuasion before the decisionism of Finney.
2. Anyone who has read Pilgrimís Progress by the Puritan Baptist pastor John Bunyan, which was accepted by Christians of every stripe and persuasion, from Calvinists to Arminians, as descriptive of a rather typical conversion experience, cannot deny the role of striving for preparing the heart for conversion and then actually coming to Christ.
3. But youíve never actually strived, have you? It was never your experience to struggle for Christ, was it? After we stand and sing Iíll deal with the actual necessity of striving to enter in at the strait gate.
1. Any objections a decisionist might have to "striving to enter in at the strait gate" would typically ignore the fact that Jesus commanded sinners to strive.
2. A decisionist would argue much more against some imagined problem arising from striving in obedience to Christ than he ever would about the wickedness of seeking to bring sinners to Christ while completely ignoring the Saviorís command to sinners to strive.
3. As well, a decisionist would feel profoundly threatened by the likelihood that he, himself, did not strive to enter in at the strait gate, thus calling into question his own conversion experience.
4. But mostly, a decisionistís objections to striving to enter in at the strait gate would focus on the issue of salvation by grace through faith versus salvation by works, supposing that by obeying Christís command to strive to enter in at the strait gate a sinner was being encouraged to somehow earn salvation.
5. Of course, the Savior never encouraged any sinner to attempt to merit salvation in any way. And nothing He ever said or did was rightly understood to mean that a person could earn salvation by striving.
6. But it must be understood that striving to enter in at the strait gate does not mean struggling or working to earn or to deserve salvation. Such a course of action would never be advocated by the Lord Jesus Christ.
7. What, then, does it mean to strive to enter in at the strait gate? My friends, imagine a narrow passageway between you and the household of faith. There is no other way to access the household of faith but through that narrow passageway.
8. According to the Lord Jesus Christ, you simply will not clear your way through that passageway into the household of faith unless you work, agonize, struggle, strain yourself, exert yourself to get through.
9. Recognize, a number of you truly do want to be saved. O, youíd give almost anything to know Christ and to enjoy the marvelous blessings of God in Christ.
10. But youíll never bring yourself to work up a sweat in order to get converted. Youíll not read anything, learn anything, struggle with anything, deny yourself anything, put off anything, or exercise yourself in any way to come to know Christ. Because of that refusal you will die lost and undone.
11. But some of you over the last couple of weeks have let me know, in one way or the other, that you just do not know what to do to get saved. You know what not to do. You know that some sinnerís prayer, or utterance of magic words, or believing some vital doctrine wonít result in you getting converted.
12. But what will result in you getting saved? Coming to Christ. Believing on Jesus. Trusting Christ. Receiving Christ. Getting converted is simple, itís just not easy . . . because a man who wonít strive to enter the strait gate wonít come to Christ, wonít believe on Jesus, wonít trust Christ, wonít receive Christ.
13. Recognizing that talking to me isnít the same as striving, and crying isnít the same as striving, let me touch lightly on two aspects of striving, in the hopes that some of you will begin to strive to enter in at the strait gate, so you will get converted.
1A. First, RECOGNIZE WHAT STRIVING IS
1B. Youíve Heard Me Read The Comments Made By John Wesley And Matthew Henry And Other Puritans From Long Ago, And You Know That They Had A Firm Understanding Of Striving, And That It Was Not A Foreign Concept To Them At All.
2B. But Because It Was So Familiar A Concept To Them, And So Foreign A Concept To Most People Today, There Is Something You Might Miss In Their Comments That Would Be Helpful For Modern Day Sinners To Know About Striving.
3B. Striving Is Not To Be Understood To Be So Much Working To Lay Hold Of Christ, For A Sinner Lays Hold Of Christ By Faith. Striving Is Properly Seen As A Herculean Effort Against Oneís Own Sinful Nature.
4B. You Simply Will Not Get Through That Strait Gate, That Narrow Passageway, With All The Baggage Youíve Accumulated Over A Lifetime. It Wonít All Fit Through. Some Of It Simply Has To Be Cast Aside.
5B. So, Striving Is Not The Effort That Is Put Forth By A Religionist To Earn His Way To Heaven. Itís The Effort Put Forth By The Convicted Sinner Who Exerts Himself Against Himself Under The Tutelage Of The Powerfully Convicting Ministry Of The Holy Spirit Of God.
6B. After All, Will A Man Yield To The Wooing Ministry Of The Holy Spirit To Come To Christ While, At The Very Same Time, Refusing The Holy Spiritís Poking And Prodding Against A Particularly Nasty And Offensive Sin? Not Likely.
7B. Recognize, The Holy Spirit Will Never Urge Or Prompt You To Strive For Sinlessness. No One Knows Better The Folly Of Such An Effort To Be Sinless Than The Holy Spirit Of God. But There Are Some Sins The Holy Spirit Takes Serious Issue With With A Man, And Wants Some Movement On Before He Will Tug You To Christ.
8B. So, Is This The Same As Working To Earn Salvation? No. Is This The Same As Laboring To Prove Yourself Worthy Of Salvation From Your Sins In Godís Eyes? No. Quite The Opposite. This Is The Increasingly Perceptive Awareness Of Your Own Lack Of Merit, Of Your Utter Helplessness, And Of Your Own Sinfulness.
2A. Now, RECOGNIZE WHAT STRIVING DOES
Just a couple of comments for you this morning, and weíll be done.
1B. Some Of You Have Heard Sermon After Sermon After Sermon, Studied Passage After Passage After Passage, Been Taught Lesson After Lesson After Lesson . . . And You Are Still Lost, With No Indication That You Are Any Nearer To Getting Saved Than You Ever Were. Unbelief Doesnít Trouble You. Fornication Doesnít Horrify You. Lying Is Commonplace. Nothing Troubles You.
2B. Want To Know The Problem? You Have Been Taught Too Much. Too Much Bible Teaching. Too Much Instruction. There Is With You Too Much Knowledge. Do You Doubt What I Say? Turn To First Corinthians 8.1-2 And Read With Me: "Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know." Facts Without Real Impact.
3B. O, How Unscriptural Are These Expository Sermon Ministries, These Bible Teaching Ministries, That Just Throw Out Facts And Information For The Lost To Nibble On And Graze On. According To Paul Such Knowledge Does No Good, But Only Puffs A Sinner Up. That Refers To Pride.
4B. And Why Is It That Bible Teaching Only Makes A Lost Man Proud, By Puffing Him With Knowledge That Does Him Little Good? First Corinthians 2.14: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
5B. My Friend, You Think You Know The Gospel. You Think Youíve Got It All Figured Out. You Think You Are Up To Speed On These Things. But According To Godís Word, Not Only Do You Not Know, But You Cannot Know.
6B. Here Is Where Striving Comes In. If You Will Strive You Will Conclude That You Do Not Know What You Do Not Know. If You Will Strive You Will Conclude That You Do Not Know What You Really Think You Do Know. If You Will Strive You Will Conclude That You Cannot Know. More Importantly, Striving Will Convince You That You Cannot Do, Either; That You Are Completely At Godís Mercy In This Matter Of Salvation.
7B. When A Sinner Strives He Will Begin To Lose Confidence In His Intellect, Which Is Good. Paul Wrote In Philippians 3.3 That "we . . . have no confidence in the flesh." And When You Strive More You Will Become Increasingly Aware Of How Contrary To God Your Cold And Wicked Heart Is, How Sinful Your Sins Are, And How Very Lost You Really Are.
8B. Thus, You Will Become More Convinced Of Your Need Of A New Heart, Requiring The New Birth. And You Will Become More Convinced Of Your Own Depravity, Requiring That Your Salvation Really Be Of The LORD.
1. Look, my friend. You do not fear God, which proves that you are a fool. You have not yet come to Christ, which perfectly shows that you do not believe Jesus is the "Pearl of Great Price" or that you think you really even need a Savior.
2. You donít even want to be saved. Not really. But if you want to want to be saved, if you would like to see the Holy Spirit begin doing wonderful things to your heart and mind to prepare you to come to Christ, if you have a desire to see your own estimation of God heighten and magnify, youíre going to have to strive to enter in at the strait gate. Thereís just no way around it.
3. Understand, your effort will not be to earn a place in heaven, or to make yourself more deserving of salvation. Rather, striving has to do, ultimately, with a sinner cooperating with the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of God works to prepare the sinnerís heart to come to Christ, because it is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness, Romans 10.10. Do you want to get saved? Then strive.
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