"URGING A SINNER TO STRIVE"
1. There is a great parallel between Churches engaged in decisionism and political socialism. In both arenas those on the receiving end of the conveyance of benefits and blessings are quite confident that their proper role is to sit passively while the benefits and the blessings are hand carried to them.
2. Yet just as the person with the empty belly and the hungry mouth is responsible, insofar as he is able, to pursue by whatever means his next meal, so is the lost sinner responsible before God to aggressively seek the Lord while He may be found, or, as Jesus said, to strive to enter in at the strait gate.
3. Two weeks ago I delivered to you a message from Godís Word in which the Lord Jesus Christ directed sinners to "strive to enter in at the strait gate." My text was Luke 13.24.
4. In that message I explained to you that there is no conflict in the mind of God regarding salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and the Saviorís command that sinners strive to enter in at the strait gate.
5. Indeed, for centuries before the decisionism brought in by Charles G. Finneyís heresies preachers and Christian scholars of every stripe and persuasion, from Arminian to Calvinist, from Church of England to Baptists, directed and urged and provoked sinners to "strive to enter in at the strait gate" as Jesus commanded.
6. But which so-called soul winners of the last 150 years, which notable evangelists of the last century and a half, have preached sermons on, much less urged sinners to, strive to enter in at the strait gate? Quite the contrary. Preachers and so-called soul winners these days are decidedly against sinners striving to enter in at the strait gate, being unjustifiably fearful that striving to enter in at the straight gate is somehow working for salvation.
7. Excuse me, but no one who does what Jesus tells him to do is working for his salvation. Moreover, if you cannot see the difference between striving to enter in at the strait gate as Jesus commanded, and trying to work for your salvation which Godís Word repudiates, then itís your own false perception thatís to blame, and not that rare preacher who preaches the whole counsel of Godís Word.
8. These things said, I discover that those of you who have experience with other Churches, and by that I mean you have the great misfortune of having previously listened to decisionist preachers and been previously subject to decisionist ministries, are extremely reluctant to strive to enter in at the strait gate.
9. Never mind that the command to strive to enter in at the strait gate is found in the Bible. Never mind that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself clearly directed sinners to strive to enter in at the strait gate. Never mind that Scriptural evidence is strong that those who do not strive are far less likely to get saved than those who do strive. And never mind that the universal testimony of godly pastors and commentators in past centuries attested to the benefit of striving, the orthodoxy of striving, and the necessity of striving.
10. The plain fact of the matter is, and as a pastor I must deal with matters as they are and not as I want them to be, sinners tainted by decisionism are unlikely to strive. So I am faced with the necessity of persuading lost men and women who are set against striving to strive. And should I fail, and should you for some reason stubbornly refuse to strive to enter in at the strait gate, if Jesusí words in Luke 13.24 and following are to be believed, then unless you strive you will not be saved and you will die in your sins.
11. So my goal this morning is to once again attempt to persuade you to strive. To that end, please turn in your Bible to Hebrews 11.6. When you have found that verse please stand for the reading of Godís Word: "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
12. My unsaved friend, recognize that this verse has definite application to you. I know this to be true because the examples of faith contained in this 11th chapter of Hebrews are not all examples of faith found in the lives of saved people.
13. Hebrews 11.8, to be specific, refers to the kind of faith described in our text, though it was exhibited in the life of Abraham while he was unconverted. With that knowledge, letís read: "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." "By faith Abraham" did something while he was still unconverted.
14. Now that it is established that Hebrews 11.6 can very well apply to you who are not saved, letís consider this subject of striving, of struggling with everything thatís in you, of wrestling with your own sinful nature, and perhaps even wrestling with the Savior as Jacob did at Penuel the night he got saved, Genesis 32.
15. To persuade you to strive, to show you that striving is not a waste of time, to encourage you to throw yourself into the struggle to obtain like precious faith, to exhort you to press into the kingdom, I want you to consider three things in our text:
1A. First, CONSIDER THE NECESSITY OF FAITH
"But without faith it is impossible to please him"
We live in a day when words carry little weight, when they are virtually without content or meaning. The result, of course, is that truth is more difficult to pass on to people. But let us recognize that Godís Word is not contemporary speech, where when a man says "Thatís impossible" he means that itís difficult, and when he says "Thatís going to be difficult" he actually means that he will be inconvenienced. Not in Godís Word. There is no use of hyperbole here, exaggeration for emphasis. What the writer of Hebrews literally says here he literally means. Without faith it is impossible to please God. A quick review of the words is important at this point.
1B. First, The Word "Without"
This is the word "cwris." It refers to being separate or apart from something. Here the word is used to provide a mental picture of something called "faith" being separated from a person. So, imagine a person without this thing called faith.
2B. Now Look At The Word "Faith"
This is the word "pistis." It means to be persuaded so that you trust someone, you rely upon someone, you have confidence in someone. Faith always has an object, someone or something that is trusted, or else itís not faith. And donít think unsaved people canít have faith. Abraham did. So, even before you get saved you have to have some confidence in God, some faith in God, to get saved.
3B. The Next Word Is "Impossible"
This is the word "adunatos." This comes from the word "dunamis," which is usually translated "power" or "ability." But this word, with the Greek a in front of it, means without power, without ability, impossible.
4B. Fourth, The Word "Please"
This is the word "euarestew." If you have a Roman Catholic or mainline denominational background you may have heard the word "Eucharist." This word is similar. It means to fully gratify someone, to delight him.
Thus, we see that without faith there is absolutely no way you or anyone else can be, or can say, or can do anything that will please God, that will gratify God. Faith, in some small amount, is absolutely necessary.
2A. Second, CONSIDER THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
". . . for he that cometh to God must believe that he is"
Two comments are in order here:
1B. First, "He That Cometh To God"
1C. Please understand that the writer to the Hebrews recognizes that no sinner can come directly to God. John 14.6 records the unmistakable words of the Lord Jesus Christ: "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
2C. As well, the apostle Peter very clearly pointed out that faith in God cannot rightly stand without the intermediating role of the Lord Jesus Christ, when he wrote in First Peter 1.21, "Who by him do believe in God."
3C. Hebrews 7.25 shows perfect harmony with these two verses: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him. . . ."
4C. So, recognize that when the writer of Hebrews comments about coming to God, there is no thought of even attempting to come to God except through faith in Christ.
2B. Second, ". . . He That Cometh To God Must Believe That He Is"
1C. My friend, you must believe that there is a God, that He is real. And donít think that this fact is so basic as to be assumed, because too many of your own children do not believe in God. From little kids all the way up to adults, some of your children simply do not believe in God.
2C. And why should they, in some cases? They do not see you praying to the unseen God. They do not see you sacrificially giving to the unseen God. When was the last time they saw you inconvenience yourself to worship and serve the unseen God?
3C. I wonder, myself, if you really do believe in God. If you didnít believe in God it would explain a great deal, wouldnít it? It would explain the utter lack of fear of God. It would explain your not tithing. Why should a God Who doesnít exist be feared? And what an utter waste it is to throw money away to a God Who isnít real.
4C. So, you see why your kids are unwilling to strive to enter in at the strait gate. They donít believe in God. He isnít real to them because they perceive that He isnít real to you. And can you blame him for denying the existence of God, if you are the indicator of the reality of God?
5C. My friend, you need to get this sorted out once and for all, because unless God somehow and in some way makes the reality of His existence known to you beyond doubt, there is no possibility of you getting saved. You will not strive to be reconciled to a God Whose existence you doubt.
3A. Finally, CONSIDER THE NATURE OF GOD
". . . and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
Okay. Letís say you attend Church to hear about this God Whose existence you sincerely question. And then, one day, something happens to convince you that God is, God is real, He is there! I donít know what would convince you, since itís different for different people. But you are somehow convinced. Now what? Now you consider, What is this God like? He must be big. He must be powerful. But beyond those considerations, God has communicated to us some essentials about His nature that motivates people to pursue Him. And the last phrase of our text, which I have just read to you, contains those essentials.
1B. First, "He"
This is a personal pronoun. God is a "he." That is, He is a personal being. And insofar as we are to conceive of God in terms that we can understand, God shows Himself to be a masculine personal being. And throughout the Bible this truth is stated and reinforced thousands of times.
2B. Next, God "Is A Rewarder"
1C. The English word "is" appears twice in Hebrews 11.6, but our word "is" does not translate the same Greek word in each instance.
2C. The first "is" is the ordinary Greek word for "is," "esti," meaning that God exists, He just is. But this second word translated "is," is a significantly different word, "ginomai," meaning that God comes to be a rewarder.
3C. But what kind of a rewarder is God? Does He reward with salvation those that work for it? No. Romans 4.4-5 clearly shows us that the reward is not of works, but of grace: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
4C. So, God is a rewarder, but He doesnít reward works of righteousness that a person does, or tries to do, with salvation. Reward means getting something wonderful, but it doesnít refer to earning something wonderful.
3B. Finally, "Of Them That Diligently Seek Him"
1C. "Diligently seek" translates a single Greek word, "ekzhtew." The word means to search out, to crave, to demand.
2C. So you see, itís not only in the Gospels that sinners are shown to be actively pursuing the salvation which is by faith, but in the rest of the New Testament, as well, and in the Old, too.
3C. And in this verse, where God is diligently sought after, let us remember that seeking God is based upon the fact that a sinner can only come to God by coming to His Son, Jesus.
1. My friend, once again, in a completely different part of the New Testament, we have seen that sinners are to exert themselves to get saved, are to strive to come to know Christ, are, to use the words of the writer of Hebrews, to "diligently seek" God by striving to come to Christ.
2. But lest you let it slip by without notice, what kind of a God does one deal with in order to get saved? An arbitrary God? A hateful God? A mean-spirited God? This God is certainly angry, because He has been sinned against. And He is inconceivably holy. But He is also by nature a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
3. In other words, Those who truly ask are answered. Those who truly seek find. Those who actually knock find it opened unto them. Itís just as Jesus said in Matthew 7.7.
4. But if you will not ask you will not be answered. If you will not seek you will not find. If you will not knock it will not be opened unto you. In other words, if you will not strive you will not get saved.
5. Now, brother Isenberger comes to lead us in a song before this morningís sermon.
1. My friend, it is the nature of God to reward those who diligently seek Him. But you must seek Him in the manner He prescribes. You must pursue reconciliation with Him in a fashion that does not dishonor Him, does not denigrate Him, does not exalt yourself in the process, if you want to be saved.
2. Remember, because of your sins you deserve the most horrible punishment. Because God is merciful He sent His Son, Jesus, to suffer and bleed and die as a Substitute, to satisfy the righteous demands of our holy God.
3. Jesus, the ever accessible Savior of sinful menís souls, is seated at the Fatherís right hand on high, having risen from the dead after His passion, in a glorified human body, and ascended to where He now is until He comes again, in power and great glory.
4. With Jesus in heaven until His second coming, and with you down here on earth dead in trespasses and sins, what must you do to be saved? You must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the apostle Paul in Acts 16.32.
5. But where does striving come in? Why is striving necessary? To what end did Jesus command sinners to strive, does Hebrews show that sinners are to diligently seek? What is the benefit to you of striving, of diligently seeking God in Christ? Why is it that sinners are very unlikely to be converted apart from striving?
6. Why it is that you are almost certainly unconverted who did not strive and who did not diligently seek God leading up to that profession of faith of yours that you take so much comfort from?
7. Let me try to answer these questions and others not yet asked by addressing three topics that are vital to real striving, critical to diligently seeking God.
1A. First, THERE IS A CONNECTION BETWEEN STRIVING AND HONESTY
1B. You Are A Dishonest Person. Every Unsaved Person Is Naturally, At the Core Of His Being, Dishonest. And Since You Are By Nature A Liar And Deceitful, You Are A Dishonest Person.
2B. This Inborn Dishonesty Of Yours Is Born Out By Both Your Experience And The Testimony Of Godís Word.
1C. You lie under pressure, equivocate when put on the spot, exaggerate for effect, embellish in order to entertain. In short, you are not an honest person. But your dishonesty goes beyond fooling other people. You are so dishonest you fool yourself, deceive yourself, lie to yourself.
2C. And Godís Word bears this out. You donít need the Bible to convince you that you are not as pretty as you think you are, as intelligent as you think you are, as athletic as you think you are, as important as you think you are, even though the Bible is quite plain and straightforward about these subjects. You began speaking lies, to others and to yourself, when you were born, Psalm 58.3. And to this day your lies cause you to err, Amos 2.4.
3B. Here Is Where Striving Will Help You. If You Will Strive To Enter In At The Strait Gate You Will See How Strait The Gate Truly Is, How Narrow The Passageway To Eternal Life Truly Is. If You Will Diligently Seek Him You Will See, As You Have Never Seen Before, Your Own Corruptness, Your Own Weakness, Your Own Deceitfulness, Your Perverseness.
4B. Striving Makes A Man Look Into The Mirror Of Godís Word, Like A Man Beholding His Natural Face In A Glass, James 1.23. And When You Look Into The Mirror Of Godís Word, And When You Keep Looking, And Keep Looking, And Keep Looking, You Will See Things Youíve Never Before Seen, Things You Donít Want to Admit About Yourself, But Things That Are True.
5B. Your Deadness, The Coldness Of Your Heart, The Callousness Of Your Conscience, The Insincerity Of Your Motives, The Wickedness Of Your Appetites, The Twists And Warps Of Your Mind. All Of These Things, And More, Are Revealed Only To The Sinner Who Strives, The Lost Person Who Diligently Seeks.
6B. Thatís Why I Say There Is A Connection Between Striving And Honesty. For You See, Only The Convert To Christ Acknowledges His Sinfulness To God, And Only The Person Who Has Strived Has Come To See That Sinfulness. First John 1.9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
7B. Such A Confession As This, Which Is Really Wholehearted Agreement, Cannot Rightly Occur Before Striving, Before Diligent Seeking, Has Shown To You What Youíre Really Like Spiritually. So, There Is A Connection Between Striving And The Honesty Seen When Real Conversion Occurs.
2A. Second, THERE IS A CONNECTION BETWEEN STRIVING AND HUMILITY
1B. The Two Chief Sins Of Any Lost Person Are Lies And Pride, The Two Components Of Luciferís Sin When He Sinned Against God And Fell, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28. And This Is Only Natural, Since Unsaved People Are Like Their Father, The Devil.
2B. Here Is How Striving Is Beneficial. Strive To Enter In By Your Own Power And You Will Fail. Seek To Live A Moral And Upright Life That Is Pleasing To God And You Will Fail. Determine To Trust Christ And You Will Fail. Work To Reform The Very Nature Of Your Wicked Heart And You Will Fail. And What Happens When Anyone Fails And Fails And Fails And Fails? He Is Humiliated.
3B. Recognize, Humiliation Is Painful And Agonizing, Just As Gut Wrenching As Being Exposed As A Deceitful Fraud And Being Made To Be Honest With Yourself Is Tormenting. But As Honesty Is Good For You, No Matter How Much Pain That Honesty Has Cost You To Acquire, So Too Is Humility Good For You, No Matter How Painful Has Been The Humiliation.
4B. Does Anyone Think It Feels Good To Get Happy That Youíve Come To Christ, Only To Be Humiliated By The Fact That Youíve Arrogantly Exalted Yourself Instead Of Humbled Yourself In The Sight Of The Lord? Yet This Is What Happens To The False Professor Who Claims Heís Come To Christ Without Striving, That Heís Been Born Again Without Diligent Seeking.
5B. But What Good Does It Do To Make A False Profession Thatís Arrogantly Bolstered By A Fraudulent Testimony? All Thatís Really Important Is A New Creature. So, You Strive And Fail, You Strive And Your False Profession Is Dismantled By A Somewhat Skilled Pastor, And You Are Humiliated By It All.
6B. Itís Hard. Itís Painful. Itís Discouraging. But Most Of All, Itís Humiliating. But Is That Bad? No, Thatís Good. You See, God Gives Grace, Not To Those Who Are Proud, But To Those Who Are Humble, James 4.6 And First Peter 5.5.
7B. And Since Depraved People Are Far Too Wicked To Humble Themselves They Must Be Humiliated. How Are You, Who Will Not Humble Yourself, To Be Otherwise Humiliated? By Means Of Striving, By Means Of Diligently Seeking, By Means Of Struggling and Failing, Struggling And Failing, Struggling And Failing, To Come To Christ.
8B. If The Striving Sinner Gets Converted, If The Diligent Seeker Ever Does Truly Come To Christ, It Will Be When You Have Been So Humiliated That You Finally Give Up All Self-Saving Efforts, You Finally Give Up All Self-Exalting Remedies For Your Soulís Diseases, And Simply Cast Yourself Upon The Lord Jesus Christ As The Savior Of Your Wretched Soul.
9B. So You See, There Is A Connection Between Striving And The Humility That Is Required To Sincerely Come To Christ With Empty Hands, Relying Upon Him And Him Alone For Safety And Deliverance.
3A. Finally, THE CONNECTION BETWEEN STRIVING AND HOPE
1B. If Striving Helps You Come To Grips With The Deceitfulness Of Your Heart, So That You Are Honest Enough To See Yourself A Sinner In Need Of A Savior, And If Striving Helps You To Come To Grips With The Pride Of Your Own Heart, So That You Are Humiliated Enough To Come To Christ With Empty Hands, Then The Connection Between Striving And Hope Looks In The Other Direction Entirely. Not Inwardly Here, But Outwardly, Upwardly.
2B. Striving Is Needed So You Will Overcome Your Own Sinfulness Enough To Come To Christ. This Is True With Honesty And With Humility, By Godís Grace. But The Connection Between Striving And Hope Has To Do, Not With Your Sinful Nature, But With Godís Gracious Nature.
3B. What Good Will It Do A Man To Wrestle With His Own Sinfulness If He Has Such An Opinion Of God That He Doesnít Think Any Good Will Come Of It? And Thatís The Way It Is With Some Of You. You Donít Strive To Enter In At The Strait Gate Because You Are Less Convinced That God Is Good Than You Are That You Are Bad.
4B. Some Of You Are More Convinced That You Are Evil Than You Are Convinced That God Is Righteous, More Convinced That You Are Helpless Than You Are Convinced That God Is Merciful. And The Result Of Your Distorted And Warped View Of God Is That There Is No Optimism In You That If You Will Strive To Enter In At The Strait Gate That You Will Eventually Succeed.
5B. Some Of You Might As Well Be Muslims, For All The Arbitrariness And Cruelty And Meanness That You Subscribe To God, Paying Little Or No Attention To His Description Of Himself On The Pages Of This Precious Book.
6B. I Want You To Understand That Though You Are Lost, Though You Are Dead In Trespasses And Sins, Though You Are Undone, You Simply Must Have Some Measure Of Hope That If You Will Strive You May Be The Object Of Godís Mercy And Be Saved. Remember, God Describes Himself As A Rewarder Of Them That Diligently Seek Him. And This Does Not In Any Way Conflict With Salvation By Grace Through Faith.
1. My friend, perhaps youíve prayed the sinnerís prayer. It didnít work, did it? You may even have asked Jesus into your heart. That didnít work either, did it? So, here you sit, lost and probably discouraged by the fact that the Word of God doesnít stir you, doesnít move you, and your heart isnít broken over your sin.
2. The problem, my friend, is that youíve committed so much sin, your heart is so hard, your conscience is so seared, that you are now almost unfeeling and insensitive. All the more reason for you to commit yourself to striving to enter in at the strait gate, determining to diligently seek until you find Christ.
3. Striving is the means God has ordained to prepare your sinful heart to simply come to Christ. Not that Jesus is not accessible. Not that anyone who wonít simply come to Him wonít be received by Him. To address the matter from the human side only, the problem is that you will not just come to Christ unless your heart is especially prepared by striving, by diligently seeking.
4. Do you want the Holy Spirit to succeed in convicting you of your sins? Then strive. And does not Scripture hold out some encouragement for the person who strives, for the person who diligently seeks? Sure it does.
5. My friend, I want you to strive to enter in at the strait gate, not to make you jump through hoops, but to see you saved. I want you to diligently seek, not to unnecessarily expend energy or needlessly break your heart, but to see you converted.
6. Because, with the hardness of your own heart, the seared condition of your own conscience, the dullness of your own mind to spiritual things, your only hope of ever coming to Christ is if you will commit yourself to striving to enter in at the strait gate, no matter the cost, no matter the effort, no matter the exertion.
7. Begin to strive now. Diligently seek now. "But I donít much feel like it now." Of course not. Your heart is too cold. Your conscience is too calloused. Youíve sinned so much itís made you insensitive. But if you will do what Godís Word says the effects of sin will be reversed somewhat, and your heart will be prepared to believe unto righteousness.
8. Proverbs 16.3 reads, "Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established." Begin to strive, like youíre supposed to, and let God take care of the rest. Begin to strive and perhaps you will someday be one of Godís trophies of grace.