By Bob Wilkin*
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
We who believe in the freeness of the gospel may be uncomfortable with this verse. At least, we should be unless we’ve carefully considered what it is saying.
After all, if salvation is a free gift that we receive by simply believing in Jesus Christ, why would anyone need to strive to obtain it?
As might be expected, Lordship Salvation teachers love this verse. In it they find proof of their doctrine. One leading Lordship proponent writes concerning this verse:
The Greek word for “strive” is agonizomai, implying an agonizing, intense, purposeful struggle. It is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 of an athlete battling to win a victory. It is also used in Colossians 4:12 of Epaphras laboring fervently, and in 1 Timothy 6:12, of the Christian who “fights the good fight of faith.” It is a struggle, a battle, an extreme effort. There is almost a violence implied. And appropriately so, because entering the kingdom is like going into warfare. …
How does this fit the modern notion that salvation is easy? …
Salvation is not easy. “For the gate is small … and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:14). That implies that unless a person is looking diligently for the gate, he is not likely to know that it is there. …
The message of Jesus cannot be made to accommodate any kind of cheap grace or easy-believism. The kingdom is not for people who want Jesus without any change in their living. It is only for those who seek it with all their hearts, those who agonize to enter. Many who approach the gate turn away upon finding out the cost.
(John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, 182-83).
It may surprise many of our readers to find that I actually agree with some of the above explanation!
The Lordship writer cited is correct that the Greek word agonizomai has the basic meaning of “to fight, struggle” (BAGD, p. 15).
He is also correct, at least in many cases, that “unless a person is looking diligently for the gate, he is not likely to know that it is there.”
He is wrong, however, in suggesting that this has something to do with turning from sins, changing one’s lifestyle, paying some price, or the like.
Clearly, the struggle involved here concerns finding the right gate to enter. The Lord’s point is that those who don’t know the way to eternal life should exert every effort to find out. It’s as simple as that.
This concept is taught in a number of other passages of Scripture.
Hebrews 11:6 says that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
In John 6:27 the Lord told unbelieving Jews who were seeking more miraculous signs like the feeding of the 5,000, which had just occurred, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” They then asked, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (v 28). Jesus’ response had nothing do with change of lifestyle. It was a simple call to faith. He said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (v29)!
In Acts 17:27 Paul told the Athenian philosophers that God has set up mankind “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”
Those who do not know the way to heaven are to strive to find out. They are to seek the truth.
Many today can give testimonies of having been raised in a cult or in another world religion and then coming to feel that this was not right, seeking God, and finding the way to eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone. I am one such person.
I was raised in a works-salvation holiness group. I thought that in order to get into heaven I had to live a good life and try my best to be worthy enough for Christ to save me. One day a friend challenged me to reconsider my view of the gospel. He also invited me to a gospel meeting. I went and was interested. Doubts I had about what I had been taught now resurfaced and grew. I then contacted a Christian worker at my college and asked him to meet with me. Over several weeks he convinced me that salvation was a free gift that could never be lost.
Romans 3:10 seems to contradict this understanding. It says that none seek God, no not one. The actual point of the verse is that none seek God on their own initiative. Clearly, other texts say that unbelievers can and do seek God (e.g., Cornelius in Acts 10; see also Acts 17:27). Since God is seeking all (John 16:7-11; Rom 1:19-20), all are free to respond to His drawing and to seek Him in return. Those who diligently seek Him will find Him (Heb 11:6; Acts 17:27).
Strive to enter by the narrow gate? You bet! (Of course, once you’ve entered, you no longer need to seek the gate! You’ve found it!) That doesn’t contradict the freeness of the gospel at all. Indeed, that is what GES is all about. We aim to make the way to eternal life clear as a bell to all our readers, believers and unbelievers. We hope to lead many unbelievers to faith in Christ and many believers to share the gospel clearly and boldly.
When sharing your faith, don’t be afraid to challenge unbelievers who doubt the truth of the gospel to strive to enter by the narrow gate. Challenge them to seek God. Invite them to read and study the Bible, particularly the Gospel of John. Encourage them to go to church and Bible studies with you. For God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He and Sharon live in Highland Village, TX. He has racewalked ten marathons.
* This article was first published in the November 1991 issue of Grace in Focus.