by Mike Ratliff
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6:5-6 ESV)
Some say that the number of true Christians is determined by how many are members of a certain religious group. Others say that this number is determined by how many have met a certain checklist of religious requirements. These and many other Christian apologists come up with their own requirements. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to go by what our Lord taught instead? The issue with all of these determining lists of requirements is that they are based on human merit in one way or another. However the Word of God tells us clearly that NO ONE is saved according to this.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
In this singularly profound passage we have God’s own determining factors for our salvation. What are they? Christians are save by God’s grace through faith. Neither of these factors are of our own doing in any way whatsoever. Why? This is a gift of God. If it had anything to do with us then it would be the result of works in one way or another. Why? God did it this way so that no one may boast. Are you in Christ? If you are then you are in Him according to God’s Grace through faith as a gift of God. You did nothing to earn or deserve it…nothing! Before His crucifixion, our Lord was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23) This question could have been prompted by the subsiding numbers of faithful followers after our Lord’s hard preaching in John 6:66. His message to the people was not one of easy-believism. Instead, it was becoming more and more demanding in a way to discourage the half-hearted. In Matthew 7:14 He stated, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” These facts could have prompted the question in Luke 13:23. What was our Lord’s response?
“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:24-30 ESV)
24αγωνιζεσθε εισελθειν δια της στενης θυρας οτι πολλοι λεγω υμιν ζητησουσιν εισελθειν και ουκ ισχυσουσιν 25αφ ου αν εγερθη ο οικοδεσποτης και αποκλειση την θυραν και αρξησθε εξω εσταναι και κρουειν την θυραν λεγοντες κυριε ανοιξον ημιν και αποκριθεις ερει υμιν ουκ οιδα υμας ποθεν εστε 26τοτε αρξεσθε λεγειν εφαγομεν ενωπιον σου και επιομεν και εν ταις πλατειαις ημων εδιδαξας 27και ερει λεγων υμιν ουκ οιδα ποθεν εστε αποστητε απ εμου παντες εργαται αδικιας 28εκει εσται ο κλαυθμος και ο βρυγμος των οδοντων οταν οψησθε αβρααμ και ισαακ και ιακωβ και παντας τους προφητας εν τη βασιλεια του θεου υμας δε εκβαλλομενους εξω 29και ηξουσιν απο ανατολων και δυσμων και απο βορρα και νοτου και ανακλιθησονται εν τη βασιλεια του θεου 30και ιδου εισιν εσχατοι οι εσονται πρωτοι και εισιν πρωτοι οι εσονται εσχατοι (Luke 13:24-30 WHNU)
The Greek word translated here as “strive” is αγωνιζεσθε. This verb is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice, therefore, this is a command to do something in the future which involves continuous or repeated action. This word defines action of contention or struggle for victory. Is our Lord contradicting what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,9? No! Salvation cannot be according to merit so this striving to enter the narrow door is not in any way a suggestion that salvation could be earned or deserved through it. So, what is our Lord telling us? Salvation is solely by grace, not by works. However, those who are saved because they are justified by faith must also strive to enter the narrow gate, which is very difficult. The entering it is not what saves them, but all who are truly saved must, nevertheless, enter this difficult way. This is another description of the cost of discipleship. Entering the narrow gate is difficult because of its high cost in terms of human pride, the demand of walking in repentance, and because to do so puts believers in opposition to the world and its ways. Therefore, what is our Lord commanding us to do? All genuine believers are commanded to undertake a life of walking in repentance as they submit to the Lordship of Christ in all parts of their lives. This is why this is difficult and why so few respond to the real Gospel. Oh, the easy-believism versions of the gospel may fill up church pews or church rolls or evangelism success stories, but if the demands of Christ’s narrow door is laid before them, only a few would be willing to undertake it. This is why He also said that only those who take up their crosses and follow Him are really His disciples.
In v25 our Lord uses the analogy of the master of the house rising and closing the door. Those who believed they were “in Christ” on their own terms were left outside. The genuine believers have already entered by this very narrow door while those not wanting to undertake a life of repentance and submission to the Lordship of Christ are outside knocking on the door to be let in. What was the response of the master? ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then those left outside will respond, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” Of course, this is an analogy of the judgment when many will protest that they deserve entrance into heaven (cf. Matthew 7:21-23), but they are not our Lord’s disciples. They proved this by not entering by the narrow door. All of our Lord’s genuine believers do strive to enter by the narrow door. They may struggle mightily, but because they are the children of God, He gives them grace and the helper so that they are able. On the other hand, those religious people who are not sheep of our Lord’s hand will demand entrance based on their own merit, but they will be told, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” No relationship ever existed between them and our Lord. They may have thought that there was because of their religiosity, but He will be emphatic in sending them to that place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So, according to our Lord’s response, are there only a few saved? If it is determined by some apologists that salvation is based on something other than what is clearly taught in scripture then those they represent are not genuine Christians. Those who take up their crosses, deny themselves, follow Jesus and enter by the narrow door prove they are authentic Christians as they live their lives as living sacrifices before the face of God.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
This passage is a wonderful example of what this crucified life is all about. I pray that all reading this will submit themselves to the Lordship of Christ, take up their own crosses and follow the Lord through His narrow door.
Soli Deo Gloria!