God’s plan to give eternal life is a surprising one. Most would think that an all-powerful, loving God would simply declare people to be forgiven and righteous if that is what He wanted. God didn’t do that. He insisted on keeping the integrity of His law intact. Jesus kept God’s Law perfectly for everybody. Then He took the required punishment for sin for everybody. In theory, everybody should be right with God. That is not the case. Why not?
I hate that this is true:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
“Few” is not the description I want to hear. Actually, it is not what God wants either. He wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). The passage above already shows one “chokepoint” for the impact of God’s plan (the Gospel). The “narrow gate” is Jesus himself. One has to be connected to Jesus through faith and baptism for Jesus’ work to apply to them.
Why won’t people take this super-generous offer? We are naturally disinclined to trust the true God. It is something the Bible calls our sinful nature. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, nobody could do it. What still prevents people from believing after hearing the promise of the Gospel is somewhat of a mystery. Jesus sums it up this way:
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.John 3:20-21
An unwillingness to repent of sins cuts a big chunk of the human race off from the most important asset you can have. There are other chokepoints to the Gospel.
The book of Galatians tells of another that really scares me for people. The Galatians eagerly receive the Gospel. They even have confirmation that they are connected to Jesus through receiving “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Still, people come in after Paul and preach a slight variation on what Paul said. Paul taught that you are saved by Jesus through his grace alone. The others taught you are saved by Jesus and keeping one Jewish law–circumcision. Here is Paul’s response:
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.Galatians 5:2-4 (ESV)
The Gospel is sensitive to change. You modify it so that salvation is no longer a gift but rather something you earn or partially earn, then you have made the promise of salvation powerless.
I don’t know anyone that teaches that you must be circumcised. But I know of many teachings that get uncomfortably close to this. I don’t know how God judges these situations, but I’m scared by the similarities. This week the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill made a statement that I hope was taken out of context. It was reported that he stated that those who make the sacrifice of fighting and dying in the war in Ukraine atone for their sins. Biblically, the only sacrifice/death that atones for sins in that of Jesus. There is no sacrifice that a sinner can make that will atone for sins. Such a statement, if he said it, would clearly be non-Christian.
Ideas like holy days of obligation and purgatory in the Roman Church get close to what the Galatians did. Teaching or believing that baptism is an “ordinance” that must be done properly to be saved get pretty close. The necessity of keeping Old Testament laws for salvation, which might be the understanding of the Seventh Day Adventist’s teaching are exactly that. The Gospel is sensitive to perversion of the promise, and it can be a chokepoint in the mission of saving people.
The parable of the Sower and the letters to the Churches in Revelation may also show ways that people abandon the “narrow way” and make the result narrower. Being weakly rooted in the resources God gives to preserve faith leads some to abandon faith later in life. Getting choked out by the “concerns of life and the deceitfulness of wealth”, also come from the Sower parable. Unrepentant sinning is noted in Revelation. All these things make the yield of the Gospel smaller and smaller.
The good news is while “few” could be much more, those saved will still be a great multitude because the Gospel is broad and powerful in another regard. Since salvation rests on the work of Jesus, any sin short of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is forgivable and a person savable. If the Holy Spirit can get past the chokepoints and reach through the hardened hearts and intellectual arguments that people will hold against God’s plan, then a person can be saved regardless of how ugly their past has been. The result can seem unsettling. There will be people who were horrible criminals who will be saved and there will be people who were religious, kind, “good people”, but rejected Jesus that will be lost.