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Agonizing to Enter It

I recently happened across an interesting quote from John MacArthur’s book Hard to Believe. The premise of the book, which flies in the face of the church growth movement, is that it is not at all easy to be saved—it is actually very difficult. A few weeks ago I mentioned how important Ashamed of the Gospel was in my spiritual development at the time that I transitioned from mainstream theology [back] into Reformed theology. Hard to Believe came a little after that, but was very reassuring to me as I continued to grapple with the issues.

And here is what MacArthur says:

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I know this shocks some people, because we hear all the time that getting saved is easy. “Just sign this little card!” “Just raise your hand!” “Just walk down that aisle while the choir sings one more stanza!” “Just recite this prayer!” “Just ask Jesus into your heart.” It all sounds simple. The only problem is that none of those actions has anything to do with real salvation and getting through the narrow gate. That sort of invitationalism implies that Jesus is some poor pitiful Savior, waiting for us to make the first move to allow Him His way. It implies that salvation hinges on a human decision, as if the power that saves us were the power of human “free will.”

[MacArthur provides a few paragraphs explaining how this sort of invitational phenomenon started with Finney in the late nineteenth century, was carried on by Moody and soon became part of standard Christianity. He shows how it is, at its heart, anti-Calvinist. He then continues…]

According to Jesus, it’s very, very difficult to get saved. At the end of Matthew 7:14, He said of the narrow gate, “There are few who find it.” I don’t believe anyone ever slipped and fell into the kingdom of God. That’s cheap grace, easy-believism, Christianity Lite, a shallow, emotional revivalist approach: “I believe in Jesus!” “Fine, you’re part of the family, come on in!” No. The few who find the narrow gate have to search hard for it, then come through it alone. It’s hard to find a church or preacher—or a Christian—who can direct you to it. The kingdom is for those who agonize to enter it, whose hearts are shattered over their sinfulness, who mourn in meekness, who hunger and thirst and long for God to change their lives. It’s hard because you’ve got all hell against you. One of Satan’s pervasive lies in the world today is that it’s easy to become a Christian. It’s not easy at all. It’s a very narrow gate that you must find and go through alone, anguished over your sinfulness and longing for forgiveness.

Somebody might say this sounds like the religion of human achievement. Not so. When you come to brokenness, the recognition that you, of yourself, cannot make it through the narrow gate, then Christ pours into you grace upon grace to strengthen you for that entrance. In your brokenness, His power becomes your resource. Our part is to admit our sin and inability and plead for mercy and power from on high.