“THE SINNER’S REFUSAL TO STRIVE”
1. Turn to Luke 13.23-24, where we will once again deal with what is in our time the most neglected verse related to a sinner’s salvation in the entire Bible:
23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
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.
2. Keep in mind that the context shows that the Lord Jesus Christ is dealing with the issue of salvation. After all, the question posed was “Lord, are there few that be saved?” In response to this one man’s question, the Lord Jesus tells the entire audience that they must “strive.”
3. As I have told you on numerous occasions, contemporary Christianity knows nothing of striving because contemporary Christianity has been so tragically affected by decisionism and the wicked influence of the 19th century preacher, Charles G. Finney.1 As a result, many people, in what are often considered the best churches, react negatively when admonished to obey the Lord’s directive to strive. Why so? Here is the reasoning.
4. It is not uncommon for preachers or church members to question our Lord Jesus Christ’s command to strive by saying, “That sounds like works righteousness to me,” or “Sounds to me like your advocating working your way to heaven.” However, it must be kept in mind that it was the Lord Jesus Christ Who commanded sinners to strive. Therefore, how can works righteousness be raised as a legitimate objection? It cannot.
5. Consider what this word translated strive means. The Greek word 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. 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.
6. The word is found in several other passages in the New Testament. In John 18.36, the word is translated by the English word “fight”: “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight . . . .”
7. In Colossians 1.29, we see the word translated “striving” in connection with the apostle Paul’s great exertions in the Christian ministry: “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.”
8. In Colossians 4.12, Paul uses the word to describe the spiritual struggle exhibited by a man named Epaphras during prayer. In this verse the word is translated “labouring fervently”: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers . . . .”
19. In First Timothy 6.12, the word is translated “fight”: “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.”
10. Finally, in Second Timothy 4.7, our word is “have fought”: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
11. So you see, the word obviously has to do with struggling, with fighting, with wrestling in a sense. Thus, the calm and detached contemplation that so often results in a lordship decision to become a Christian is nowhere in sight in connection with the New Testament usage of the word strive. There are no cold and calculated conversions recorded in the Word of God.
12. I am strongly persuaded that Jacob’s experience at Peniel is a classic example of striving after the manner the Lord Jesus Christ advocates in Luke 13.24. Turn to Genesis chapter 32 and read with me of his struggle that culminated with his conversion:
24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
13. As you can see, from the way the word is used in Paul’s epistles, the word strive involves the total person. This means that when a sinner is striving in the manner Jesus speaks of in our text, he is engaged in a physical, emotional, and spiritual struggle in what he hopes is his preparation for the salvation of his eternal and undying soul.
14. One of the great tragedies of our modern era is that such striving is almost unheard of by people who claim to be Christians. This despite John Bunyan’s famous classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, which portrays Christian’s experiences as what used to be thought of as so common and so typical of many Christian’s experiences leading to conversion. Bunyan’s description of striving that led to conversion was so representative of real life experiences that his work was read by Calvinists and Wesleyans alike.4 I have even heard it said that Pilgrim’s Progress was required reading for Methodist pastors in the 18th and 19th centuries.
15. Yet, what professing Christian do you know, in your neighborhood or at work, who has even heard of striving? Pastors typically do not preach about striving. I’ve never known of a teacher who expounded on the subject. Commentators rarely comment about striving anymore. Few, beyond our church’s membership, have even heard of striving, thereby losing out on the benefits of striving to enter in at the strait gate.
16. These benefits of striving go directly to the adverse consequences that arise whenever a sinner hears the gospel and rejects its demands. When this is done, the Spirit of God is grieved by the sinner’s refusal to yield to His promptings, the sinner’s mind is self-deceived by his own excuse-making, his conscience is seared by his refusal to deal with his guilt, and his heart is hardened by his stubbornness.
17. The effect of real striving is to reverse some of the damage done by refusing to repent of sins, and pleading with God to exercise saving mercy in the sinner’s life. Through striving, God is beseeched, the sinner’s mind admits wrongdoing, the conscience is made tender again, and the heart is softened. The end of striving, of course, is to actually enter into the strait gate and be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
18. Though most church people these days have no idea what striving means, and though most in churches these days have never heard a sermon or Bible lesson on the subject, that is not the case with you. You know what striving is, don’t you? You’ve even experienced the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, and know what it is like to be under strong conviction, don’t you?
19. The truth is, you know so much about striving and the feelings that accompany striving that you want no part of it. Isn’t that right? You have considered the anguish involved, the guilt involved, the heartache involved, the agony of the soul that’s associated with it, and the sleepless nights and loss of appetite, and you have decided that it’s just not worth it. It’s just not for you. Isn’t that about right?
20. You are not so much opposed to Christianity and living the Christian life as you are opposed to avoiding by any means the gut-wrenching difficulty associated with becoming a Christian. Doesn’t that just about sum up your thoughts on the matter?
21. In the next few minutes I want to show you what your feelings about striving reveals about your mind and heart. Because you refuse to strive to enter in at the strait gate, as the Lord Jesus Christ commanded, there are several realities that you must recognize and admit, or you will be damned forever. Your refusal to strive reveals several things:
1A. First, IT REVEALS YOUR LOW OPINION OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
1B. My friend, Jesus Christ is the Lord of glory. He is the One before whom the angels of heaven prostrate themselves. He is the One by whom all things were created and by whom all things consist. He is the one who shook the mountains by the sound of His voice. He is the One who walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden, who spoke to Job from the whirlwind, who spoke to Abraham under the star lit night sky, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, who as the captain of the LORD’s host Joshua bowed to and worshipped, who stood with the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace, who stopped the mouths of lions to protect Daniel, who appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and who stood in the midst of the seven candlesticks and held in His right hand the seven stars. When John saw Him he “fell at his feet as dead.”
2B. Of course, you will argue with yourself that it isn’t your low appraisal of the Lord Jesus Christ that is at fault, you just don’t want to expend the effort or experience the feelings associated with striving. But don’t you see? If you had a high estimation of the Lord Jesus Christ, if you had not despised Him, if you had not hidden your face from Him, if He had some form or comeliness in your eyes, then you would have counted the difficulties of striving as but small things that you might gain Christ.
3B. To illustrate, consider the parable of the pearl of great price, in Matthew 13.45-46:
45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Understand that the Lord Jesus Christ is that pearl of great price. But because you do not see His value or His worth, because you do not esteem Him highly, you are not willing to, as it were, sell all that you have to buy Him. In short, you are not willing to strive because you do not think the Lord Jesus Christ is worth it. Sad. Such poor judgment will spell your doom.
2A. As Well, YOUR REFUSAL TO STRIVE SHOWS YOUR REJECTION OF GOD’S LOVE
1B. “But I don’t reject God’s love just because I refuse to strive.” Please. God, Who is love, knows better than you what is and what is not love. He tells us in His Word that love is walking after His commandments, Second John 6. So, how can you rebel against His will and claim all the while that you love Him? Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
2B. As well, consider what Paul wrote to the Romans: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Yet the suffering and dying of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary is discounted by you. You count not the shedding of His precious blood a significant thing. To you it is not the clarion of God’s love, but merely an incidental event in ancient history.
3B. Beloved, I would like for you to take just a moment to set aside your prejudices and resentments so you can think clearly and objectively. Please consider the consequences of rejecting the most astonishing display of love that can be imagined. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish . . . .”
4B. Refusing to strive is but a portion of your larger pattern of behavior, which is to reject God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, the most profound expression of God’s great love. Do not think you can reject the Lord Jesus Christ by such a refusal to strive, which is ultimately a rejection of God’s love, without suffering the gravest of penalties for it.
3A. Third, YOUR REFUSAL TO STRIVE SHOWS YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT ETERNITY
1B. In Proverbs 22.3 and 27.12, we find the same words: “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” Prudent is a synonym for wise, and simple is a synonym for foolish. Thus, a wise person plans for the inevitable, while the foolish person makes no preparation for what must come to pass.
2B. You are going to die someday. You’ve never met anyone who has not died or who will not die. And when you die you will step off into eternity, with only one of two possible destinations; heaven or Hell. Heaven is the destination of only those who are prepared. Hell is the destination of only those who are unprepared.
3B. Here is the lunacy of someone who refuses to strive: Because striving is unpleasant and difficult for a short period of time the fool will avoid it, knowing that what awaits him is an eternity of unimaginable suffering and torment. But how can that course of action possibly be explained? By what kind of reasoning can such thinking be justified? It cannot be, which is why eternity is simply not thought of by the fool.
4B. My friend, life is not complex for the wise man. Things really are quite straightforward. You are going to Hell if you are not prepared to go to heaven. And if you refuse to strive, you are simply refusing to prepare to be prepared. With all the distractions in life that vie for your attention, it really boils down to the simple reality that you must prepare to be prepared, you must strive to enter in at the strait gate, or you will be lost forever. Eternity is fast approaching you, whether you will admit it to yourself or not.
4A. Fourth, YOUR REFUSAL TO STRIVE SHOWS THAT PRIDE HAS GRIPPED YOUR SOUL
1B. Striving involves pleading with God for mercy, begging God to send His precious Holy Spirit to convict you of your sins, imploring the Father to draw you to His Son for cleansing and forgiveness. That amounts to profound humiliation, no matter how you look at it.
2B. But sinful man is, by his very fallen nature, proud and not humble. And we are encouraged from all sides to be proud, to be self-sufficient, to have a positive self-image, to bolster your ego, and to have faith in yourself. This only stiffens a sinner’s resistance to humiliation.
3B. But you need to remember Who it is you are dealing with. Your conflict is with God, Who is high and lifted up, Who is terrible in majesty, and Who is the Lord God omnipotent Who reigneth. He deals with no creature as an equal, for no creature can possibly be the equal of the infinite and eternal God. Therefore, in His presence, you’d better humble yourself, because He resists the proud and gives grace only to those who are humble.
4B. Think about this, because it could very well be that you are acting without thinking this thing through. You are proud because it is natural for a sinner like you to be proud. You are proud because your spiritual father, the devil, was proud and is proud. Pride is what led to his rebellion against God, and pride is what causes your continued rebellion against God.
5B. Think about this. What is good for you, to be proud like the devil? Or to humble yourself? God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, so it is better for you to humble yourself than to continue in your pride. Remember what James 4.10 tells us: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” If you are humble enough you will strive. And if you strive you will become more humble. This done, grace will surely follow.
5A. Finally, YOUR REFUSAL TO STRIVE SHOWS THAT SLOTH HAS OVERWHELMED YOU
1B. Striving requires that you expend great efforts in the struggle to enter in at the strait gate. But there are some who are not willing to expend great effort for anything, especially something they cannot immediately see or feel, such as the forgiveness of their sins. Such are called in the Bible slothful, and are designated sluggard.
2B. In Matthew 25.26, the Lord Jesus Christ describes the unsaved man as a “wicked and slothful servant.” In Proverbs 15.19, the lifestyle of the slothful is contrasted with the lifestyle of the righteous. But it is Proverbs 15.30-34, which gives us the perfect picture of a slothful person, putting off what needs to be done now, not preparing for the future that must inevitably come:
30 I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
31 And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
32 Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.
33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.
Will you receive instruction from this picture? Will you overcome your desire to rest and relax and instead take the necessary steps to prepare for an eternity that must come? The slothful man will not.
3B. In Proverbs 6.6, we read of the sluggard being exhorted: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” What does the ant do? In the summer, the ant prepares for the winter, without being told. And in the winter the ant prepares for the summer, without being told. It is a species that prepares for the future, without being told. But we are a species which must be told.
4B. In Proverbs 6.9, the sluggard is again exhorted, this time to wake up and take action: “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?”
5B. And in Proverbs 26.16, we see the sluggard’s tendency to justify his laziness and inaction: “The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.” Why will the sluggard not strive to enter in? He can come up with many reasons for doing nothing, but the real reason is that he is just too lazy to put forth the effort that might eventually lead to the salvation of his eternal and undying soul.
1. Though lost people are reluctant to admit it, we live in a cause and effect universe. God has so structured our physical existence that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. But in the spiritual realm it is somewhat different.
2. In the spiritual realm there is not an equal reaction to every action taken. Called the law of sowing and reaping, in the spiritual realm the result is a greatly multiplied consequence of the initial action taken. Thus, the consequence of your behavior ends up being so much greater than the original deed done.
3. Let me illustrate: Adam took one bite of a forbidden fruit. Was the effect of what he did equal and opposite? Oh, no. For that one sin that he committed, Adam and all mankind that sprang from his loins has suffered the most tragic consequences.
4. So, do you think you are any different? You have heard the gospel, how that Jesus suffered and bled and died so that you might received the forgiveness of all your sins and be reconciled to God. He was buried and rose from the dead after three days and nights in the tomb. And now He sits at the Father’s right hand until the time of His glorious second coming in power and great glory.
5. But when you heard the gospel, you did not respond by coming to Christ for the salvation He so freely offers. When He was offered to you through the preaching of the cross you rejected Him, you refused God’s offer, you rebelled against the Holy Spirit’s promptings and wooings. Do you not realize that the most profound consequences arise from your preference for your sins over the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you not realize that an already angry God is outraged by your arrogance, by your stubbornness, by you scorning His love?
6. But you did not only refuse the Lord Jesus Christ once. You have scorned Him again and again and again and again. You have not grieved the Spirit of God once. You have grieved Him again and again and again and again. And you have not turned up your nose at God’s loving offer only one time. You have snubbed Him again and again and again and again.
7. What an outrage, to thus refuse the thrice holy God, to reject His offers, to snicker at His grace, to smirk at His mercy. Do you think there are no consequences for such sins as these? I tell you there are, because the Lord Jesus Christ told us there are. And the only way to overcome those consequences is by striving.
8. Oh, my friend, get up from your spiritual recliner and set aside your pride. Consider your eternal destiny and the yawning pit of Hell that awaits you, with its brimstone and sulfur, and the tormented cries of the damned.
9. Account God’s love as important. Esteem the Lord Jesus Christ as lovely, a prize to be gained, a Savior to be sought for. Strive. You have no good reason not to.
 Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 181-182.
 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.
 John 14.15
 Romans 5.8