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NO STRUGGLE? NO SALVATION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, May 19, 2013

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).


Jesus was travelling toward Jerusalem for the last time. He was going there on purpose. He was going there to die on the Cross for the salvation of His people. Earlier great multitudes had followed Him. Now the crowds were smaller. Committed followers had dwindled to a small number. Christ’s sermons were increasingly strict. It seemed He deliberately discouraged those who were not serious. For instance, He said, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33); and “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, 27). Those hard messages caused many of His followers to leave. And, added to this, was Christ’s own statement,

“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and few there are that find it” (Matthew 7:14, NKJV).

Those hard sermons contradicted the belief of the Jews. They thought nearly all of them would be saved, except for a few tax collectors, murderers and prostitutes. They thought all practicing Jews would be saved.

Now, as Christ travelled along with a few of His followers, a man stepped forward. The man said to Him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” I think this man spoke that with a mocking tone. “Do you think that your little group of rag tag disciples are the only ones that will be saved?” I think it was a smart aleck’s question. “Do you think just your little group of followers will be saved?” I think it was a mocker’s question because Christ did not answer him. Instead Christ turned away from him and spoke to the small crowd there. To them Christ said,

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

More hard words! More words to discourage those who were fooling around.

Why did Christ speak so strongly? Here’s why – His purpose was not to fill a football stadium with lost people and weak new-evangelicals, like Joel Osteen does! Oh no! His purpose was to train a small group of hard-core disciples who would suffer and die as martyrs – and change the world! To do that, Christ had to be very serious. He couldn’t tell any cute stories, or jokes, like Osteen and others do. Oh no! He had to preach plain, and clear, and hard. He had to preach like George Whitefield, John Wesley, or Dr. John Sung (1901-1944) – whose purpose was to make hard-core disciples that would be able to endure forty years of Communist persecution under Mao Tse Tung in China. Christ wanted His followers to be truly converted – not religious but lost. Therefore He had to speak to them in strong, hard, penetrating words. He had to tell them the plain truth or they would not become real Christians. So He said to them,

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

Now I want you to take a pen and circle two words. Draw a circle around the word “strive.” Now go a little further in the verse and put a circle around the word “seek.” Now look up. The Greek word translated “strive” is from “agonizomai.” It means “to struggle,” “to fight,” to literally “agonize”! That is the English word that comes from “agonizomai.” “Struggle, strive, fight, agonize” – “to enter in at the strait gate.” That is the only real way to “enter in” to salvation in Christ. The second word is “seek.” It translates the Greek word “zetēo,” which means “to casually inquire, to learn.”

Now we find that lost people in our church fall into one of these two categories – they either “strive” and “struggle” to enter in to Christ, or they merely “seek” and “casually inquire,” and “learn” a few things – but never enter in! And so they are never saved!

Now I ask you, which category describes you? Are you striving and struggling to enter in? Or are you just “casually learning” a few things about salvation? Dr. Lenski tells us what striving means – “Hence we have the strong verb ‘struggle,’ which is taken from the ancient athletic contests, from which we still have [words like] ‘to agonize’ and ‘agony’...We are to exert ourselves to the utmost to enter the kingdom by true repentance. This is the opposite of indifference, being...careless, or living in false security” (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, p. 747; note on Luke 13:24).

Of course Dr. Lenski says that man is dead in sin, and will not endure such striving unless “This struggling is caused by the law and gospel when they operate upon and in the heart and move it mightily” (ibid., p. 748). This happens when a sermon touches your heart, and the power of the Holy Spirit moves you to fear, to fear you have no hope, and to fear that you will die in your sins unless you struggle and agonize to find Christ, and “enter in at the strait gate.”

Let me tell you something that I’ve been thinking about all week. Every adult member of our church had to strive, had to struggle, had to go through the agony of conversion. We are not asking you to do something we have not done. You look at them and it will surprise you how strong they are when compared to the average evangelical of today. Look at Mr. Matsusaka! Look at him! What a man! Spiritually he is a man of steel, a veritable superman for Christ. Look at Mr. Roop. Look at Mr. Sanders. Look at Mr. Lewis. Look at Mr. Ceron. Look at Paul Hoang. I’m just lifting out some men at random. Look at the men on this platform – Mr. Griffith, Mr. Prudhomme, Mr. Lee, Dr. Chan, Mr. Song, Mr. Mencia. Then look at Mr. Olivacce, Mr. Zabalaga, Mr. Kunz, Mr. Cook, Mr. Duque, Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Tsukamoto – that’s only men, and only a few of our men. But look at them. Any church on earth would love to have them. And any man I named could be a deacon in almost any other church! All of them tithe. All of them go to evangelism every week. All of them attend every service. All of them are soldiers of the Cross!

How did they get that way? Not by taking notes in a soft Bible study, I promise you! They got that way through hard, old-fashioned law and gospel Christ-centered preaching, that’s how they got that way! And every one of them has gone through the fire! That’s how they became men of God. They went through the fire. They strove and agonized and fought their way to Christ in a real conversion. They sweat and toiled and wept and cried out to God.

There is a young preacher who is a friend of mine in Florida. I often e-mail him. Last Friday we talked on the telephone for almost an hour. He told me, “Your book Preaching to a Dying Nation changed my life.” Then he said, “Tell me, how did you get to be like you are today?” I said, “Do you have twenty minutes?” He said, “Yes.” So I started back in the 1950s and told him how I went through the fire, the agony, the pain, the suffering and striving. Every man in this church has gone through that to some degree! You don’t become a soldier of Christ by taking notes in a pink notebook while a sweet little preacher gives you a watered down Bible study! No way! You have to go through the agony. You have to fight your way to Christ. You have to “strive to enter in at the strait gate.” You have to do what I said this morning,

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life”
       (I Timothy 6:12).

You have to “count [all things] but dung, that [you] may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Do it! Count all things but dung that you may win Christ! Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life! Do it! Do it! Do it!

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

I didn’t give the names of any of the adult women in our church, but I could have! I could have told you how Mrs. Salazar went through the fire. I could have told you how Mrs. Hymers, and Mrs. Roop, and Mrs. Song, and Mrs. Olivacce, and Mrs. Mencia – yes! Especially her! And Mrs. Hernandez! Yes! Especially her! How they wept and suffered and fought their way to Christ! And Mrs. Cagan, and Mrs. Bebout! Yes, especially them! And so many others as well. “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Sing it!

Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war,
   With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, Leads against the foe;
   Forward into battle See His banners go!
Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war,
   With the cross of Jesus going on before.
(“Onward, Christian Soldiers” by Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924).

“Faith of Our Fathers.” Sing it!

Faith of our fathers! living still
   In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
   Whene’er we hear that glorious word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
   We will be true to thee till death!
(“Faith of Our Fathers” by Frederick W. Faber, 1814-1863).

Am I a soldier of the cross? A follower of the Lamb,
   And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His name?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord;
   I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word.
(“Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” by Isaac Watts, D.D., 1674-1748).

Or think of Reginald Heber’s wonderful hymn. Help me sing it, Mr. Griffith.

A noble army, men and boys,
   The matron and the maid,
Around the Saviour’s throne rejoice,
   In robes of light arrayed:
They climbed the steep ascent of heaven
   Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
   To follow in their train.
(“The Son of God Goes Forth to War” by Reginald Heber, 1783-1826).

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life”
      (I Timothy 6:12).

Count all things but dung that you may win Christ! Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life! Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able! Be like the martyrs in China, Africa, and the Muslim world!

They climbed the steep ascent of heaven
   Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
   To follow in their train.

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

We are not asking you to go through anything we ourselves did not go through. We all had to give up lost friends that we might win Christ. To win Christ, we all had to go through the confusion of seeing hypocrites leave the church. We all had to trash the great plans that we had for our lives to win Christ. We all had to strive, and struggle, and agonize, and weep torrents of tears “to enter in at the strait gate.”

They climbed the steep ascent of heaven
   Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
   To follow in their train.

You have to fight for faith, like they did! You have to fight for faith, like we did!

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life”
       (I Timothy 6:12).

I have seen Dr. Cagan do that. I have seen him shake, and cry until his eyes were red and I thought he would fall in a convulsion on the floor. He fought the good fight! He laid hold on eternal life! That’s when he became a man of steel and a soldier of the Cross! You don’t become a soldier of the Cross by taking notes on a little Bible study in a pink notebook! No! You have to suffer, you have to struggle and strive, to become a man of steel and a soldier of the Cross!

Christian strength always begins in a real conversion. And a real conversion begins when a man or woman is wounded in their conscience, and feels the awful weight of their depraved mind and filthy heart! That great and godly man, Dr. A. W. Tozer, said,

No man has truly repented until his sin has wounded him near to death, until the wound has broken him and defeated him and taken all the fight and self-assurance out of him and he sees himself as one who nailed his Saviour on the tree...There is nothing like a wound to take self-assurance out of us, to reduce us to childhood again and make us small and helpless in our own sight...All great Christians have been wounded souls (A.W. Tozer, D.D., “Three Faithful Wounds,” Man: the Dwelling Place of God, Christian Publications, 1966, pp. 102, 101).

When God begins to draw a man to conversion, He first wounds his conscience. Then he will feel how desperately wicked his heart is in the sight of God. This wounding opens our eyes and only then do we feel how desperately selfish and godless we really are.

The worse you feel about yourself, and the more your heart condemns you, the closer you are to a real conversion. By nature we justify ourselves. We defend ourselves and tell ourselves that we are not as bad as others. But when the Holy Spirit begins His convicting work we feel worse and worse. When the Holy Spirit works, we begin to hate our sin. We want to be rid of our sin. We want to be free from it. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was correct when he said that a man or woman under conviction feels like the conscience-wounded Paul when he cried,

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

To feel yourself wretched, and worthless and disgusting and ugly in God’s sight is a very great sign of God’s mercy. For if you never feel any of that you will never stop trusting yourself – and thus, you will never trust Jesus. You will continue to trust yourself until it is forever too late for you to be saved, and your soul drops into the everlasting flames of Hell!

Oh, how we pray that you will experience a wounding of your conscience which makes you feel, “O wretched man that I am!” Then you may have a real conversion, like our forefathers had in the Second Great Awakening when,

Men and woman and young people...were brought under great distress of soul and called upon God for mercy...And after much agony of soul...they sought and found refuge in Christ (Paul E. G. Cook, Fire From Heaven, EP Press, 2009, p. 79).

Remember what Dr. Tozer said,

No man has truly repented until his sin has wounded him near to death, until the wound has broken him and defeated him and taken all the fight and self-assurance out of him and he sees himself as one who nailed his Saviour on the tree.

If you would like to speak with us about your sin and about Christ, please step to the back of the auditorium now. Dr. Chan, please come and pray for them to feel the awful burden of their sin – by the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Luke 13:22-25.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“The Son of God Goes Forth to War” (by Reginald Heber, 1783-1826).

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