The words we never want to hear from our Lord.
Matthew 7.21-23 • Luke 6.46, 13.23-27
Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.
See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!
It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?
So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”
Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers”
Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.
So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?
Luke 13.23-27 KWL
- 23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
- Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
- I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
- 25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
- You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
- and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
- 26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
- 27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
- Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”
What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?
Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.
“Well y’see, you’re not one of the elect…”
Another explanation, which I’ve heard from more than one Calvinist, is how this passage is actually about limited atonement: They claim Jesus didn’t die for everyone; that sometimes there are people in our churches whom God never actually chose to save. They might’ve chosen him, but he never chose ’em back. So when they respond, “But Master…” it’s because they’ve discovered, to their shock, the Holy Spirit let ’em think they were saved, and never bothered to correct them.
John Calvin himself taught no such thing, and those of his followers who actually read Calvin’s commentaries don’t either.
Thou hast taught in our streets.Christ expressly states, that it will be of no advantage to the Jews, that he approached near to them, and permitted them to enjoy familiar intercourse with him, if, when called, they do not answer at the appointed day. But he does not follow out his comparison: for, after having spoken about “the master of a house,” he now states, without a figure, that he is himself the judge; and indeed the words, “thou hast taught in our streets,” can apply to no one but himself. We now perceive his design, which was, to warn the Jews not to allow themselves to lose, by their own neglect, the salvation which it is in their power to obtain. Calvin, Commentary at Lk 13.26
Jesus reaches out to people. If a relationship with him isn’t the result, it’s not on him. It’s on us. He told us to strive for the narrow door. Calvin again:
When he bids them “strive,” or labor, he conveys the information, that it is impossible to obtain eternal life without great and appalling difficulties. Let believers, therefore, give their earnest attention to this object, instead of indulging in excessive curiosity about the vast number of those who are going astray. At Lk 13.23
I would add we oughta try to reroute some of those folks who are going astray,
Calvin believed in grace too. But don’t take it for granted.
By these words he warns us, that we must avail ourselves of the opportunity, while it is offered: for so long as the Lord invites us to himself, “the door” is, as it were, open, that we may enter into the kingdom of heaven: but the greater part do not deign to move a step. Christ therefore threatens, that “the door” will at length be “shut,” and that those who are looking for companions are in danger of being refused admission. At Lk 13.25
You have free will and an open door. Enter while you have the chance.
Yeah, those Calvinists really hated when I quoted Calvin at them. Hey, it’s their own fault for not doing their homework.
The reason Christians, particularly Evangelicals, struggle with this passage is because they made a lot of wild assumptions about how grace works. They assume it’s unlimited. And it is! They assume it covers absolutely everything. And it can! But they forget there’s one mitigating factor when it comes to grace: The fact we can resist it.
We’ve seen, elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, how Jesus is very much anti-sin. It’s not okay with him if we ignore the Law. It’s better to lop off body parts than violate it. He teaches us we need to go beyond its letter and seek the L
Problem is, too many Christians still have this dispensational mindset that grace nullifies God’s commands. That Jesus is totally fine with us ignoring them, and treating ’em as suggestions. Or that they only count for Jews. Or that all of them were canceled by the New Covenant. Or even that obeying the Law means we believe in works-righteousness instead of grace, and in obeying God somehow we’ve done the opposite of pleasing him, and even unsaved ourselves. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that spin on
This spin on grace is entirely inconsistent with the Law, the Sermon on the Mount, and the rest of
Matthew 7.22-23 KWL
- 22 “At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
- Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
- 23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
- Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’ ”
God’s grace is infinite. But it’s not wide. He forgives us because we’re making an effort. Yeah we suck, but God’s willing to overlook our flaws because he sees people whom he can work with, who welcome his correction instead of insisting, “I got this.” Because it’s infinite, we can always repent and access his grace. But grace doesn’t apply to rebels!
Yet these rebels really, truly think they’re saved. That God’s gonna turn a blind eye to the fact they fight his correction, ’cause they figure grace makes them fine as-is. That God’s gonna ignore how they’ve justified every fleshly behavior by relabeling it fruit. That when God permits miracles despite their fruitlessness,
God’s grace is infinite. But it was never cheap. Jesus purchased it with his own gory death. He offers it to patch our deficiencies. He’s not patching up an utterly antagonistic lifestyle which takes a dump on his chest, then wipes its arse on his Law. We’re to repent of that disgusting behavior, not call it “freedom in Christ” and brag about it.
So those people who look at these verses and go, “How do they reconcile with grace?” clearly have a dangerously wrong idea of grace.
“Sounds like works-righteousness to me.”
What makes people insist this isn’t at all consistent with grace? ’Cause Jesus talks about striving. That there’s work involved. Obedience. Repentance. Proper behavior. Living up to our potential. To them, if grace comes linked to any form of work whatsoever, it’s not really grace; it’s work. Even though grace is the cause and work the effect: Somehow they’re gonna find some way of twisting it all up, and insisting it’s all work, and therefore wrong.
Yeah, they’re trying just that hard to avoid any work whatsoever. Lazy Christians.
From God’s point of view, grace always came first. Long before we were ever created, he chose to save us.
Again, God’s grace is unlimited. If your lifestyle is lawless, you can always still repent. You haven’t maxed out your chances; it’s not possible. But you’ve gotta stop resisting his grace. You’ve gotta stop treating God’s gate as if grace makes it wide, not narrow. God has standards. Grace helps us live up to them.
Just because our circumstances are good, just because we’ve seen a miracle or two in our presence, is no proof we’re on the right path. Fruit is. Strive for fruit. Strive to get through that narrow door. Jesus warned us away from the bad ending. Take his advice.