What It Means To Strive To Enter In The Narrow Gate?

The concept of “striving to enter into heaven” is an elementary Bible doctrine. To strive to enter in means simply that one must go against everything this world holds dear if one wants eternal life. Strive to enter in is another way to say true repentance is required to enter the kingdom.

Striving To Enter In Means We Radically Break From The World

True repentance, which is necessary for salvation, requires one to reject “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” (1John 2:16). These things powerfully fight against a sinner yielding to Christ.

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Defying their pull requires great courage and commitment. It requires a nasty divorce from one’s old affections, values, and way of thinking. It requires striving against ungodliness to lay hold on eternal life.

Unfortunately, although the Bible and Jesus portray and state this emphatically, preachers vigorously undermine this basic requirement of eternal life.

They do so by changing God’s requirement to radically break from the world and ungodliness. They replace it with a gospel that requires no striving to enter in–no true repentance. Instead, their converts are taught they can go with the world’s flow and still make it into heaven.

This is done in the name of love and grace. But it’s false love and false grace.

Jesus Said We Must Strive To Enter Through The Narrow Gate

The converts of false grace preachers confess with their mouths that they trust the finished work of Christ for salvation. But their behavior shows they seek to enter the kingdom without the type of striving spoken of by Christ:

Man with shades smoking a joint. Lots of tattoos and wearing a tank top.

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.

Titus 2:16

Of course, these are the salvation without faith people, the once saved, always saved group. Much can be said about the false doctrine that one can live for the devil and somehow escape God’s wrath. But we’ll let Jesus’s own words take issue with backsliders, former disciples, and hypocrites:

Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer, ‘I do not know you, where you are 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 you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ “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, and

yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:23-29
Man looking under sofa for his salvation that was misplaced.

This is another terrifying prophecy of judgment day. I love the Lord with my whole heart. I trust in the finished work of Christ for my salvation. I am not nervous about my security in Christ. I didn’t accidentally get it, and I can’t accidentally lose it.

I did not get it through good works, and I cannot keep it through good works. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in a willing and submitted vessel that secures salvation.

Salvation Comes Through Grace And Faith

Nonetheless, the fear of the Lord terrifies me when I read passages like this. This is because salvation comes through grace and faith, and it remains because of grace and faith.

It is not one or the other, but both. We have nothing to do with the grace of God, but to accept or reject it. For grace is God offering His blessings of salvation to sinners who can in no way deserve or earn it. Grace is God giving an undeserved invitation of salvation to the whole world.

But there is a difference between grace and faith that must not be ignored.

The Narrow Gate Of Faith Differs From The Wide Path Of Grace

Grace and faith are gifts of God. Yet there’s a critical difference in the purpose of each. Below we see they are both ingredients of salvation:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8

To use a simple illustration, we know two ingredients necessarily can not be the same ingredient. Eggs and flour may be used to produce one cake. They may be so well mixed that one becomes indiscernible from the other.

This does not, however, change the fact that eggs and flour are two ingredients and not one. To treat one as the other would greatly damage the cake. For the sake of argument, even if you substituted yogurt for the eggs, you still have two ingredients and not one.

Faith and Grace Are Not the Same

The point is grace and faith are two ingredients designed in combination to produce salvation. If our theology allows us to treat the two as one, we may produce something that resembles salvation, but the product will never pass the taste test of a godly life and deliverance from God’s wrath.

Grace and faith are not the same thing. We should never try to force one to be other. Nor should we choose one and reject the other. The two working together are necessary for salvation.

The Mistake Of Widening The Narrow Gate Of Faith

We make the mistake of making the narrow gate of faith wide by behaving as though faith is given to the world the same way grace is given. That is, indiscriminately. All one has to do to be given God’s grace is to be alive.

For the grace of God is fully expressed in the sacrifice by Christ on the cross. His death is for everyone, past, present, and future.

In contrast, God’s gift of faith isn’t a blanket blessing sovereignly imposed upon defiant sinners. It is instead the sinner’s deliberate Spirit-empowered (but not forced) positive response to God’s command to repent.

This gift of saving faith comes by hearing God speak: “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

If God doesn’t speak to you, you can’t get faith. If He does, you can. But like any gift, it can be neglected, scorned, abused, or rejected—as was, and is, Jesus Christ, the greatest gift.

The person who uses the gift of freewill to positively respond to what God says about his sinful condition participates in the saving gift of faith. This is that faith that allows access to all that grace provides:

“We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand”

(Romans 5:2).

Since faith is my positive response to God, and faith gives me access to grace, it should be logically and easily concluded that without faith I cannot continue in the grace of God.

This is where the fear of the Lord comes in.

It is not that I read God’s prophecies of judgment day and dread for others—although I do. It is that the Bible clearly and emphatically warns me that spiritual laziness, moral carelessness, and yielding to societal pressure to compromise can damage and even destroy my faith.

And since God is no respecter of persons, this is enough for me not to play games with the Almighty: “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).

How Do I Strive To Enter The Narrow Gate?

This long discourse is because of how the first two verses of the Luke passage begins. Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”

Jesus answered in a way almost no modern preacher would dare answer, especially the false grace preachers. He tells the audience to “strive to enter in.”

Why didn’t He follow the pattern of our preachers, and say, “Repeat this prayer”? Or “Just believe what God has already done for you”? Or “I’m going to die and rise from the dead soon. Just believe that”?

Or why not? “You’ve been living like a devil for the past thirty-five years. But no problem. You got saved when you were a child at vacation Bible school. You’re just a carnal Christian. God’s grace covers your ungodly lifestyle.”

Striving to Enter In Is Not Trying to Earn Salvation

The Lord’s instructions to “strive to enter in” obviously didn’t mean for this Jew to try harder to keep the law of Moses. Nor did it mean for Gentiles to try harder not to violate the law of God in their conscience.

The person who tries to gain entry into heaven through his own good works by default rejects the narrow way of salvation, and thus dooms himself to eternal damnation.

Striving to Enter Is “Faith In Christ That Leads to Lifestyle Obedience”

So, what did it mean? We don’t have to guess. For the Lord’s instructions in Luke 13:24 are followed immediately with a detailed prophecy of people who are condemned on judgment day for apparently not striving to enter the kingdom of God.

We are to strive to enter into the kingdom of God because of “the narrow gate” of faith and holiness. I’m speaking not of what’s called positional holiness, or the gift of holiness, or being credited with holiness, on account of what Jesus accomplished for us. I’m speaking of faith that produces behavior that God considers holy.

False Disciples Call Jesus Lord But Do Not Obey Him

Notice in the prophecy that people are denied entry because God considers them “workers of iniquity.” In another place He calls them “you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23).

They call Him “Lord, Lord,” but He says, “I do not know you.” He does not know or recognize them as His own because His own do not practice lawlessness (1 John 3:4-10).

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False Disciples Will Be Denied On Judgment Day

Jesus prophesies that many who thought they could live in sin and still make it into the kingdom of God will desperately beg Him for entry on that great day, but be turned away. The tragedy is that this is one hundred percent avoidable.

This doesn’t have to be you.

Are You A True Disciple?

(Check out my related article: 10 Signs of a True Christian.)

Don’t make the mistake of thinking grace and faith are the same thing. God has grace, but do you have faith? Remember the words of Paul to the church in Crete:

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.

Titus 2:16

If your confession is that you’re trusting Christ for salvation, but you live for the devil, you will hear the Lord say on that great day of judgment, “I do not know you.”

Eric M Hill

Eric M Hill is an author, blogger, YouTuber, and Bible teacher. He has written sixteen books. He is a member of the Authors Guild and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

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