“Strive to enter in at the strait gate..” Luke 13:24
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther, 95 Theses, 1st point
For a few weeks I had been meditating on the related verses found in Luke 13:23 to Luke 13:30, having come across this section during my daily devotion. This saying of Jesus came about in response to someone who asked him “Lord, are there few that be saved?” while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, teaching in the cities and villages along the way. Such a question probably arose from hearing Jesus declare that those who follow Jesus, must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). Properly understood, then and now, this means that those who follow the Lord Jesus or who profess to be a Christian would have no self-will and his or her only will is to follow Jesus no matter what, even if it would cost one’s life. Such a requirement would mean perhaps that not many would be saved – hence the question! Jesus didn’t answer by way of numbers that would be saved, rather he reiterated and further exhorted the Jews then and to us now that the way whereby we enter into the Kingdom is via the way of striving, the way that requires great effort and agony.
Notice that the strait gate to the house of salvation is already opened and many will seek to enter but because it is a narrow gate, it would require much effort, and many will not succeed for lack of effort. The only way to enter into the Kingdom of God is to struggle through the narrow gate. The narrowness of the gate depicts repentance. The word strive or struggle is “taken from the ancient athletic contests, from which we still have “to agonize” and “agony””(Lenski). This is not saying that we earn our salvation by our own effort or good works but rather speaks of the reality of a Christian life of repentance in this fallen and sinful world, where each Christian has to mortify his old man while the World and Satan are stacked against him or her, before we reach the Celestial City. “This struggling is caused by the law and the gospel when they operate upon and in the heart of man and woman and move them mightily”. “This is the opposite of indifference, being languid or careless or living in false security” (Lenski) and would typify those who only seek to enter the Kingdom and at last would be left out of the Kingdom of God when the gate is shut!
There are two teaching points for us to consider here.
We need above all to examine our Christian life. Is our life characterized by a denial of self in the way of our life goals and in the way of our daily habits? Are our lives’ goals set in the sole direction of God’s Kingdom and Righteousness? Does our life exhibit godly living with a hatred for sin? If this is so, our life cannot but exhibit a life of agony and striving as we seek to promote the doing of God’s will, the coming of His Kingdom and that honouring of his most blessed name. Or is your life characterised by different pursuit with no agony, no striving against sin and for the Kingdom of God? We need to carefully examine ourselves as the scriptures exhort us to do so in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”
The other teaching point relates to how we seek the salvation of our covenant Children. When we call them to faith in Christ as they grow up in our covenant home, we must do so in the context of sin, judgment and repentance. We must be clear that faith in Christ does not exists in a vacuum but rather in the context of Sin, Judgement and Repentance. When we faithfully teach our children in our family devotion and thru daily dealings we need to point them to repentance first and then faith in our all sufficient Saviour Jesus Christ. We also need to see that their life would exhibit agony and striving, as the Lord Jesus tells us to, as a sign of new life in the Saviour. As Godly parents we must give ourselves no rest till we see such signs in our children’s lives.
In Luke 13:29, our Lord Jesus says that those who would ‘sit’ or “recline at table” in the Kingdom of God would come from different parts of the earth. This speaks of vast numbers that cannot be counted and it also speaks of a totally different experience when we enter into the Celestial City. It would be no longer striving but rather it would be a figure of blessed joy as alluded in the parable of King’s Son’s wedding feast in Matthew 22.
May we strive and agonize against sin and for God’s Kingdom till we sit in the Kingdom of God.
This article was first published on 25 August 2013. A version of the article may be found online here.
About the author: Wilson Oon is an engineer by training and has served as an Elder in First Evangelical Reformed Church (Singapore), leading the follow-up ministry and the Church contact committee. He occasionally preaches and previously contributed this article to the the weekly church bulletin.