Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life – these are all gifts of God’s amazing grace, freely given (Romans 6:23). We do not work our way into God’s kingdom, but through faith in Jesus Christ we obtain the promise of heaven. All we bring to God is our sin and need; our salvation was wholly accomplished by the obedience of Christ.
Nevertheless the way of salvation, the path to heaven, is one that leads us through toil and difficulties in this life. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). When someone asked Jesus if few would be saved, the Lord replied: “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). Rather than engaging the man in an abstract theological discussion, Jesus told him what he really needed to know: the way of salvation is narrow and difficult. We need to know this, too.
The way to heaven is narrow because there is only one gate, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way to obtain the forgiveness of sins and eternal life apart from faith in God’s incarnate Son. All religions do not lead to the same destination; there are not many paths to heaven. There is but one, Jesus. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
This flies in the face of the spirit of the age. We are supposed to regard all religious truth claims as essentially valid (at least valid for those who hold them). Anything less is narrow-minded and intolerant. But there’s a reason why Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). He is the only One who has died for sinners. Until we are forgiven and cleansed by Christ, and until we receive his righteousness as our own, our sin bars us from God and heaven. So the path to eternal life goes through Christ, and only through him. It is narrow.
And it is hard. The Greek word translated “strive” in Luke 13:24 is the word from which we get “agonize.” It was used to described the intense effort of combatants at the public games. Here the Scripture uses it to tell us that the way to heaven involves toil and struggle. Again, we are saved not by our efforts, but by entrusting ourselves to, and resting in, the person and work of Christ. But the one who rests in Christ for salvation knows that the life to which Christ calls us is often anything but restful.
Jesus commands us to repent of our sins (Mark 1:15). Forsaking the sin that is so ingrained in us, and so loved by our flesh, is hard. Jesus tells us that unless we bear our cross we cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:27). Bearing the cross means dying to self, no easy thing. It’s difficult to bear the reproach of Christ (Matthew 5:11). Self-control demands effort (2 Peter 1:6), as does loving my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31). In all of these ways, and in many more, the Lord who freely saves us also calls us to a walk a difficult path. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
But God’s grace in the gospel is just as expansive as the door is narrow and difficult. First, there is a door to heaven in the first place! And God is ready to swing open the gates of paradise to each and every sinner who comes knocking in humility and faith. In Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian comes to the “Wicket-gate” and Good-Will opens it for him, John Bunyan adds this note in the margin of the book: “The Gate will be opened to broken-hearted sinners.” Indeed, all who come to Christ sincerely desiring forgiveness and eternal life receive from the hand of a magnanimous Father the incomparable gift of redemption.
Next, by the very same grace with which God opens the door to heaven to broken-hearted sinners, he sustains them through all the trials and difficulties of the Christian life. No one who enters through the gateway of Christ fails to reach his heavenly destination. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The grace of God is abundantly sufficient to bring every one his children to their heavenly home.
Finally, that grace continues for all eternity. I just read an email newsletter from a missionary who said, speaking of heaven: “for although that world has only one Door, it has no exits.” The way of salvation is not easy, but God promises and gives his all-sufficient grace to sustain and preserve each and every one of his children, both now and forevermore.
Soli Deo Gloria