Skip to content ↓

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:


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.


  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (February 20)

    A La Carte: How hell motivates holiness / The bond of love / How to love our friends in truth, even when it stings / The distorting power of the prosperity gospel / Thinking about plagues / and more.

  • A Difference Making Ministry for Any Christian

    A Difference-Making Ministry for Any Christian

    The experience of preaching is very different from the front than from the back, when facing the congregation than when facing the preacher. The congregation faces one man who is doing his utmost to be engaging, to hold their attention, and to apply truths that will impact their hearts and transform their lives.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (February 19)

    A La Carte: Courageous pastors or overbearing leaders? / Jesus didn’t diss the poor / 8 qualities of true revival / Why don’t you talk about the sermon? / The idol of competence / The danger of inhospitality / and more.

  • Why Those Who Seem Most Likely to Come, Never Come At All

    Why Those Who Seem Most Likely to Come, Never Come At All

    It is something we have all observed at one time or another and something we have all wondered about. Why is it that those who seem most likely to come to Christ so often reject him? Why is it that those hear the boldest invitations and who have the greatest opportunities so commonly turn away?…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (February 17)

    A La Carte: Think you’re immune to adultery? / One of the most hopeful reminders about sanctification / What do we do with dreams and visions? / Have you ever asked your church elders to visit and pray for you? / The neurodivergent believer / Preaching advice for busy pastors / and more.

  • Free Stuff Fridays (Open the Bible)

    This week’s Free Stuff Friday is sponsored by Open the Bible. They encourage you to enter to win a series of books from Open the Bible and Pastor Colin Smith! Included in the giveaway are: For All Who Grieve by Pastor Colin Smith. Written with compassion and understanding, yet honestly facing the difficult questions that…