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.” (13:23b–24)
Christ’s invitation was radically different from those commonly used today. His message was not that God loves everyone unconditionally and desires to connect with sinners and fulfill all their personal dreams and ambitions. Nor was His goal to manipulate people into making a shallow commitment to Him. Jesus’ words are sobering, threatening, and frightening enough to produce panic in the heart of a penitent, thoughtful soul. They also serve to banish halfhearted seekers who are unwilling to surrender unconditionally to His lordship (cf. Luke 14:33).
Compared to the rampant easy believism that underlies much of modern evangelism Jesus’ invitation, which calls for strenuous exertion from the penitent sinner, seems almost heretical. It is true that salvation is solely by God’s sovereign grace. No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44, 65), nor can anyone know the Father except those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Matt. 11:27). Those who are dead in their sins can be saved only by God’s grace, not their own efforts (Eph. 2:1–10; Titus 3:3–5). Yet salvation is not apart from the will of the sinner. As noted above, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles called for sinners to repent, and that is the church’s message as well. Paul told the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens that “having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30; cf. 26:20). Those commands make it clear that sinners are responsible for the choices that they make, and will be held accountable for not repenting and believing in the Savior.
Strive translates a form of the verb agōnizomai, from which the English word “agonize” derives. It is used only here in the Synoptic Gospels. The word means “to fight” (John 18:36; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7), “to compete” in an athletic contest (1 Cor. 9:25), or “to struggle” (Col. 1:29; 4:12; 1 Tim. 4:10). The fight or struggle in view here is one of self-denial that produces real repentance. “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” Jesus said, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Then He added the paradoxical statement that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (v. 24). The message of the gospel is not self-fulfillment, but self-denial. Faith in Christ costs the sinner his selfish goals and desires, and may separate him from his family (Luke 14:26), possessions (Mark 10:17–22), even his life (John 12:25). But those who lose those ephemeral earthly things will gain in this life blessings, and in their eternal reward infinitely more.
The requirement that sinners enter through the narrow door further indicates the intensity of the struggle (cf. Matt. 7:13–14). The door is a tight fit, requiring those who enter through it to strip themselves of their personal baggage. It is also made hard to find by the many deceptive voices luring the unwary and undiscerning to the broad gate that leads to hell. Therefore many will seek to enter and will not be able.
The Lord brings salvation only to a heart marked by the repentance that always accompanies true saving faith. Quoting from Isaiah 40:3–4, John the Baptist described true repentance: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth’ ” (Luke 3:4–5). In my commentary on that passage in an earlier volume of this series I wrote,
The words of Isaiah’s prophecy quoted here also serve as an analogy of the repentance John preached. The wilderness pictures the sinful heart, and repentance involves bringing to light the deep, dark things of the heart, pictured by filling in the ravines, and humbling human pride, depicted in the imagery of bringing low the mountains and hills. The crooked, deceitful, devious perverse things must be made straight, and any other rough places in the heart, whether self-love, love of money, love of the world, the lust of the flesh, indifference, or unbelief, must be smoothed out. Only then will the truly repentant see the salvation of God. (Luke 1–5, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 2009], 211. See also the discussion of true repentance in chapter 18 of that volume.)
24 “Make every effort” is ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnizomai, GK 76), a word often used in an athletic or military context. It does not imply working for salvation but rather earnestness in seeking it (cf. its use regarding prayer in Col 4:12). While this verse focuses on the present aspect of kingdom participation as well as individual personal responsibility, other verses in the Lukan corpus should also be noted in providing a balanced view of Luke’s soteriology. For a discussion that reads this verse in the light of 16:16—a verse that focuses on the eschatological work of God—see H. Giesen, “Verantwortung des Christen in der Gegenwart und Heilsvollendung: Ethik und Eschatologie nach Luke 13:24 und 16:16,” Theologie der Gegenwart 31 (1988): 218–28.
13:24 / Make every effort to enter through the narrow door: This suggests that entry is not gained without a struggle. Compare 2 Esdras 7:11–14: “For I made the world for their sake, and when Adam transgressed my statutes, what had been made was judged. And so the entrances of this world were made narrow and sorrowful and toilsome; they are few and evil, full of dangers and involved in great hardships. But the entrances of the greater world are broad and safe, and really yield the fruit of immortality. Therefore unless the living pass through the difficult and vain experiences, they can never receive those things that have been reserved for them” (rsv). Lachs (p. 146) cites the following rabbinic parallel: “It is like the one who sat by a crossroad and before him were two paths of which one was smooth to start with, and ended in thorns, and the other was thorny to start with but became smooth” (Sipre Deut. 53 [on Deut. 11:26: “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse”]).
13:24. Jesus confirmed their fears. The wide gate of Pharisaism made provisions for so many people who tried to carry out the tradition’s laws. It apparently paid little attention to the attitude of the heart as long as the ritual actions of the hands were clean. The only gate to heaven, however, is narrow. Many will try and fail. They think they know the secret entryway but they do not. Their way of religious righteousness does not work. They must know Jesus, who is the only way to heaven. They must seek to hear, understand, and practice his word. This is the way of entry. Jesus’ emphasis was on those who fail rather than those who succeed and how they succeed.
23b, 24. 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.
Jesus handled this question as he had handled Peter’s (12:41, 42). He did not give a direct answer, but did something far more important and necessary: he told the inquirer, and also the entire assembled multitude—note plural “you”—that everyone should strive to enter through the narrow door.
The verb to strive, as it occurs in the original, has given rise to our English verb to agonize. It places us not on the battlefield but in the arena or in the wrestling-ring. The struggle is fierce. Our opponents are Satan, sin, self (the old, sinful nature).
To strive means to exert oneself to the full, to strain every nerve in our struggle with these opponents.
The narrow entrance door mentioned here reminds one of Matt. 7:13, 14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, and many are those that enter by it. For narrow is the gate and constricted the way that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”
The words, “Many … will seek to enter and will not be able,” are an earnest warning to all to leave the ways of wickedness and unconcern at once and to accept the Savior and the salvation he offers as a free gift. On the other hand, these words were not meant to scare God’s children. They do not mean that entrance into the palace of salvation is only for those who are without sin. All those who struggle—in obedience to the command, “Strive to enter”—will enter.
Another misconception must be removed. The command, “Strive to enter,” does not imply that salvation is, after all, the product of human exertion and not of grace. It is all of grace, enabling grace. The true situation is described in Phil. 2:12, 13, “With fear and trembling continue to work out your own salvation, for it is God who is working in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
13:24 The Lord answered a speculative question with a direct command. He told the questioner to make sure that he himself would enter through the narrow gate. When Jesus said to strive to enter through the narrow gate, He did not mean that salvation requires effort on our part. The narrow gate here is new birth—salvation by grace through faith. Jesus was warning the man to make sure that he entered by this door. “Many … will seek to enter and will not be able” when once the door is shut. This does not mean that they will seek to enter in by the door of conversion, but rather that in the day of Christ’s power and glory, they will want admission to His kingdom, but it will be too late. The day of grace in which we live will have come to an end.
13:24 — “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Not all roads lead to God. Not all doors open to heaven. Jesus insisted He was the only doorway to Paradise, the only way to the Father (John 10:7; 14:6; see also Acts 4:12).
 MacArthur, J. (2013). Luke 11–17 (pp. 218–220). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 238). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 212). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Butler, T. C. (2000). Luke (Vol. 3, p. 223). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, p. 706). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1424). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Lk 13:24). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.