“But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God'” (Luke 9:62 NKJV).
Every year at Khulna Bible College in Bangladesh we recruit a new class of students for the three-year program. Over time we have learned that in most of those classes there will be one or a few who do not stay with us for the whole program -some will usually go home by the end of the first semester.
There is no particular shame or sin to a young person’s deciding not to continue a college career. However, if one quits and does not resume the work later, he has no claim or right to a degree or diploma. No one beginning college and quitting early is “fit for” the title “Alumnus.”
Jesus’ words in Luke 9:62 have been studied, analyzed, over-analyzed, and used as texts in sermons for centuries. Why is the one who looks back unfit for the kingdom? Various suggestions have been made. Some maintain that he displays uncertainty. Others speak of the impossibility of plowing a straight furrow while looking behind. Many comparisons are made to Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:17-26; Luke 17:31-32). No doubt there are other explanations for the statement.
The application of Jesus’ words that I think is most appropriate, however, is perhaps the simplest and most direct way of understanding them. He said, at least in part, “Once you decide to follow me, don’t quit.” Jesus requires a lasting, long-term commitment. Nothing less will suffice.
As has often been stated, salvation (or righteousness, or holiness) is a process. One does not accomplish it all at once, leaving nothing else to do. While baptism does save us (1 Peter 3:21) when accompanied by faith, repentance, and confession of Christ, it is not a guarantee against sin and apostasy. The acts of conversion constitute the new birth (John 3:3) which results in a new life (Romans 6:4).
This new Christian life is marked by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), humility (James 4:10), obedience (Matthew 7:21; 28:20), godliness (Titus 2:12), and the acquisition of virtues (2 Peter 1:5-7) and fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It also includes a calling to service in the name of Jesus – that is working in his kingdom (Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:12-16).
These things do not happen all at once, nor are they necessarily easy to accomplish. Taken as a whole they represent a life-time of effort. Christianity is serious; it is not for the faint-hearted or easily discouraged. (However, those who are discouraged can find comfort and help to overcome their doubts, though even that requires some continued resolution on their part). And just like a college career, no one who stops short or turns back will accomplish the final goal – Heaven (Philippians 3:12-15).
A short time before his death from cancer, the former North Carolina State men’s basketball coach Jimmy Volvano made a speech that has become one of the most quoted and familiar motivational orations of our time. At the close he left his audience with the simple exhortation, “Never give up; never give up!”
Is that not the essence of Jesus’ wisdom in Luke 9? His successful followers are those who don’t quit. They endure hardships, persecutions, temptations, discouragements and doubts, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [their] faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Therefore, they can “run with endurance the race set before [them]” (Hebrews 12:1).
Many of life’s problems will be solved if we simply don’t quit. More importantly, Heaven will be reached.