Summary: Taking hold of salvation requires a diligence on our part.
When I went to school at Freed-Hardeman, we were required in our English literature class to read part of John Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progress. It is perhaps the most well-known religious allegory ever written. For those of you who never had an English teacher force you to read it, let me explain that it is the story of a man named Pilgrim who is searching for and traveling toward the Celestial City. Pilgrim represents the Christian and the Celestial City is, of course, heaven. The book describes the twists and turns and detours and disasters that wait for those who walk the heavenly road.
Early in the book, Pilgrim is led up to the doors of a grand palace. Outside the palace sits a recorder who is ready to write down the names of those who enter the palace. Many people are standing around waiting to go in, but they are afraid of the armed men who block the entrance. Then Pilgrim saw a man with a "very brave countenance" come near. He said to the recorder, "Set down my name, sir!" And then armed with a sword and a helmet, the brave man fought his way into the palace of glory.
Let me raise a question to you this morning: Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of the Christian life, or was John Bunyan just being overly dramatic? Is it the case that we must fight our way into the Celestial City tooth and toenail, or is it possible that we can stroll into heaven with our hands in our pockets?
There are many people who evidently believe that the pathway to heaven is an easy one. Most folks in the world believe that it really doesn’t take much to get into heaven. If you are a fairly good, honest and decent person, then that’s really all that matters. In fact, a Gallup poll taken several years ago indicated that the majority of people in America believe that they will go to heaven when they die. And, I can’t recall a single person who ever told about a near-death experience who came back with the smell of brimstone in his nostrils!
But even those of us who are Christians rarely see Christianity as much of a struggle. Christianity is an easy way of living for most of us. In one congregation where I was teaching class, a member spoke up and remarked how easy the Christian life-style had been for him. I think he meant by that statement that his life had become fuller since coming to Christ. He had come to be more at ease with himself; his life was free of the inner turmoil he had experienced before. And that may be true for the Christian; in fact, it should be true. But is it accurate to say that Christianity is to be an easy lifestyle?
I think there’s enough in scripture to label Christianity as a struggle for our faith. In Luke 13:24, Jesus said, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able." We don’t just walk through the narrow gate; we have to strive to get through. That word suggests there is to be a great deal of effort on our part.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul describes the Christian life in this way: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." The picture Paul paints for us is a picture of struggling, a picture of constant battle.
The Hebrew writer constantly alludes to the fact that we need to put a great deal of effort into our Christian lives. The word diligent is frequently used. "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:11).
And in Acts 14:22, we read about Paul and Barnabas "strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ’We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’" The New Century Version translates the last part of that verse, "We must suffer many things to enter the kingdom of God."
We don’t hear a lot of talk in the church today about the “necessity” of suffering. We don’t think much about Christianity being a struggle. We don’t seem to do a whole lot of wrestling with the spiritual forces of evil. But we should.
This morning I want to look in some detail at a passage that relates to this subject in Matthew 11:12. But first of all, let’s go back a few verses and begin reading in verse 7.
I. Background of the Passage