Salvation is simple. It requires nothing on our part other than belief. We don’t have to clean ourselves up in any way. Jesus says, “Come as you are.” We can be broken and destitute, or we can be at the top of our game; it doesn’t matter. As long as our hearts are gripped by the conviction of our sin and our inability to do anything about it, we can reach that point of need where we acknowledge, repent, trust, and believe.
Why then, do so few actually turn to the Lord and become His followers, truly born again into the kingdom of God? After all, Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:13-14:
“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. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Why was it that Jesus spoke the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:18-23 and very specifically pointed out that 3/4 of the people who hear the Gospel will fall away? These are the ones who hear but Satan snatches the Seed away (v. 19), those who abandon Jesus in times of trouble (v. 21), and the many who do not abide in the Word because life’s difficulties overwhelm them (v. 22).
Near the time of His death, great crowds of people surrounded Jesus. They included Greeks who had come to the festival of Passover (John 12:20) to the religious authorities. Generally, however, those who heard, for one reason or another still did not believe in Him (John 12:37). In their unbelief, they fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies regarding their blindness and hard hearts. It was for this that judgment would come upon Israel, just as Jesus condemns them in Luke 19:44:
“… because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
They didn’t understand the times, and they didn’t recognize the signs. Especially those who should have known, i.e. those men who had steeped themselves in Scripture. Of these, we learn only of the Pharisee Nicodemus (John 3; John 20:39) who came to saving faith in Jesus.
The majority of these learned men of the day had a problem. John 12:42-43 spells it out:
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
The common man and woman generally didn’t have this issue as an obstacle to faith. They were nobodies in the scheme of things, with no position of authority and no one closely watching them. In contrast, the religious authorities were very public; they loved the respect and honor that came with their position. These were the smart ones of the day, the elites who ruled and decreed, often condemning others because they transgressed the Word of God. Of course, these were also the blind men who led the blind (Matthew 15:14).
What was their main problem? They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
Because their hearts were hard, they valued the praises from others above the intimacy that came from knowing God in a personal relationship. The lure of this world was strong within them, more important than the prospect of eternal life.
So it is in the world today. Our culture values celebrity. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time would have been right at home here in this regard. They would have posted pictures of themselves on FaceBook praying before the altar, with their phylacteries in place on forehead and forearm, and their thousands of “friends” would have commented on how saintly they looked, to their great satisfaction. The scribes would have been on Twitter hawking their latest books on social justice. The lawyers of the day would have taken high-profile cases to increase their visibility among the masses and shown Tik-Tok videos of their huge estates and gargantuan mansions that came from $1,000 hourly billing fees.
The glory of man is a strong allure. It tempts and infects the hearts of many. The acclaim of those we don’t even know lifts our egos to unexpected heights. No wonder it’s such a narrow path through the straight gate to salvation with the road to destruction being so broad.
This is why we must always return to God with humble and repentant hearts. It is why we must examine ourselves in the taking of communion and, frankly, day-by-day. When we truly realize that none of what we have comes from our own doing, that all of it is a gift from God; only then can we count ourselves among those whose hearts are good soil that provide the means for us to produce good fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.