Did you know that “striving” is a biblical concept?

In the church today there’s much talk about “striving” and how not to do it. We wrongly interpret striving as effort to earn God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness, and affection. Rather than fasting and praying out of love and longing to receive more of His presence, we fast and pray to earn His acceptance. We must remember that His love and forgiveness has been freely given to anyone who would accept it because of Jesus’ work on the cross. We were once dead, and it was only because of His kindness that we’ve been made alive and seated with Christ as sons and daughters of God. We should never strive to earn His acceptance.

This idea is often taken too far to the extreme and is expressed when someone says “Don’t strive, just love Jesus”. What they’re really saying is “Don’t be so legalistic, because your intensity is causing conviction in me. If you relax a little bit, God’s grace covers it all.” If you’ve been following my blog at all for the past while you’ll know how dangerous I believe that statement is. We must cooperate with God’s grace, not assume it will come as we live in passivity. God will not do our part and we cannot do His part. We must make quality decisions to deny ourselves, feed our spirit on the Word, ask God for help through prayer with fasting, embracing godly activities and service, and walking in pure relationships. God’s part is to release divine power on our heart, body, circumstances, and relationships.

Jesus Himself said:

“Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
(Luke 13:23-24 NKJV)

Jesus told us to exert much effort and take great caution to live with a full response towards Him by walking in the Spirit’s light. We strive to bring all of our life energies - our time, money, relationships, words, etc. into conformity with what pleases Him. We must not strive for His acceptance, but we must strive to hold our cold heart before the bonfire of God’s presence as the cares of this life and the spirit of the age sneaks in to ensnare us and keep us from the authentic. This is what Jesus called “spiritual violence” (Matthew 11:12). In this way, striving is profoundly biblical.

Paul exerted much effort in seeking to live without compromise before God and people as well:

“This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”
(Acts 24:16 NKJV)

The question we should be asking ourselves is “in what sense must I resist striving in the wrong way and in what sense must I embrace dedication?” If we answer this question wrongly, we walk in legalism or licentiousness.

Jesus said many would seek to enter the narrow gate and will not be able. They won’t do it Jesus’ way (called “striving”), and they’ll claim God’s grace and resist the idea of striving. The narrow way is entering into the fullness of what He wants for us in this life. It is not simply being justified by faith after saying a prayer. Jesus is speaking of the entire sanctification process of our lives.

Have we struggled with these verses in Luke 13 (and Matthew 7:13-14) and actually asked Jesus what it means for our lives? At the end of the day, it’s not about if we can say it with the right language but rather if we’ve lived and walked it out over our lifetime. Do we strive and live with great caution, knowing the hour that’s coming and in light of who we will stand before at the end of the age?