Not So Random Thoughts 51

Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Romans 9:15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

“God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. (Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will)

As we read through the passages of Scripture and the quote from Martin Luther above, we will either read it through the lenses of self-effort or through the lenses of the work of Christ and His grace. This does not mean that it is easy and requires no effort, but the direction that the effort is aimed at is vitally important. We will either aim at the narrow gate with all of our effort as something we can obtain at least partially in our own strength, or we will aim at the narrow gate and seek Christ to work in us what is needed to enter. If God has promised His grace to the humbled, then surely we can see that seeking to work our way into heaven through a gate of self-effort is simply and plainly an utter impossibility.

However, if we think of God’s grace to the humbled as something we should seek from His hand, then assuredly we will seek Him much differently. The aim in seeking God is not that we should do things (works and good deeds) to move Him to save us, but that for the sake of His own name that He would change our hearts by humbling us and breaking us from our pride. If we read the Matthew 7:13-23 passage in one way, it can do nothing but build up our pride which is what we need to be saved from. However, if we read it through the lenses of what Luther wrote (quoted above), then we see the real need. It is that our hearts would be broken from all of our efforts of saving ourselves and seek to be humbled from all hope in saving ourselves.

There are few who will seek to enter at the true narrow gate, but not because people are not willing to work hard to enter heaven, but because there are few who will quit working to enter heaven and seek the Lord to break their hard hearts from pride, self-sufficiency, and self-effort. The false prophets are numerous in that there are so many who are leaving people just a little something to do (at least) and are not willing to instruct people to seek the Lord to be broken from their proud and self-sufficient hearts. The false prophets are unwilling to set out the need for man to be changed by the grace of God rather than God needing to be moved by something man does so He will save man. It appears to be such a contradiction to people when they heart that it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. However, while it does not depend on man, it should be clear that man must be humbled and broken and that man should seek those things from the hand of God. Much effort may be needed by man, but it is not an effort to earn something from God, it is an effort aimed at using the things God has provided to seek humility and a broken heart from God.

As Luther points out, “As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself.” It may be possible (though hard) to convince men in their heads that they can do nothing to save themselves, but it is impossible for a man to drive that self-reliance for the smallest contribution to salvation for salvation from the heart. This is like the demon which Jesus told His disciples that could only be driven out with much prayer. The heart clings to self with the grip of death and will not give up that last bit of self-reliance until the grip of death is released by the hand of God.

How hard it is for the death grip of legalism (self-sufficiency and self-control) on the heart to be relinquished. Oh how the selfish heart longs to be able to do one thing or more in order to move God to save it. Oh how the heart that loves its sin longs to be able just to say “Lord, Lord” as if that is enough, yet the legalistic heart longs to do the will of God and by that be saved. The legalistic heart completely misreads the passage in Matthew 7 and thinks that it can do the will of the Father. That proud thought must be driven out of the heart so that it will be helpless before God seeking a humbled and broken heart from God.

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