He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
For me, this is a hugely convicting and challenging passage. It should be a wakeup call for all of us to check ourselves and figure out if we are truly in the kingdom of God, because Jesus is saying there are a lot of people who think that they are, but who will be very unpleasantly surprised in the end.
It’s not enough to go to church. To sing the worship songs. To hear the preaching. To take the Lord’s Supper. To be present in meetings where God’s power is working. To have done those miraculous works yourself (Matthew 7:21-23). To go on mission trips and help the poor.
These people Jesus was talking to couldn’t have gotten any closer. They were around him. They heard his teaching, they ate with him. They had seen his miracles, and many of them had probably even been healed by him. And yet they were in danger of completely missing the kingdom even though its King himself was with them.
Being around Jesus, or his apostles, isn’t enough to guarantee entrance.
Doing miraculous works, casting out demons, prophesying, healing the sick, raising the dead, isn’t enough to guarantee entrance.
Faithfully attending church all your life isn’t enough to guarantee entrance.
These people, and many more like them, are counting on the wrong things. They are looking to their external religious behaviour, their proximity to Jesus and his teachings, their “good works”, or the miraculous power displayed through them, as their assurance of being “in”.
Jesus is saying that’s not enough. What does your life look like?
In this passage, he calls those who are excluded “workers of evil”. In Matthew 7 he says:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
What is your life like? Are you living for, loving, and obeying God from the heart? Do you seek to love your neighbour as yourself? Do you follow Jesus even when it’s hard, when it goes against what you want? Do you seek him in the secret place, where no one else sees and where you can’t get any public “religious credit”? Are you proud, complacent, and hypocritical, thinking God will excuse that hidden sin because you’re doing so much for him in the church? Have you repented of your sin from your heart? Do you desire him to cleanse you from the inside and make you truly righteous, or do you simply want the religious power that comes from being a church leader and doing miracles? Do you long to please God from the centre of your being, even if no one else sees, or do you want to be publicly known as a “godly person”? Do you care more about doing the right thing than about people thinking well of you? Are you fooling yourself into thinking that God won’t care about sin patterns that he clearly says he does?
These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. In the end, it won’t matter how much religious credit we accumulated, how big our churches got, how many accurate prophecies we gave, or that people thought we were so godly and righteous sitting in church, and gave us spiritual responsibility. None of that will matter if we miss the kingdom eternally.
I know which one I’d rather have. God make me poor and humble and righteous of spirit, truly desiring you and doing your will above all else.