I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: One Way to Heaven
On the website Moreillustrations.com there is an interesting story. It goes like this:
A gentleman was driving in his car through a town in Renfrew-shire, Scotland, the town of Kilmacolm, and stopped to hail a road-mender and ask him please to tell him the way to Glasgow. After giving him explicit directions, the road-mender asked, 'Excuse me, sir, but do you know the way to Heaven?' 'No, I don't,' replied the gentleman in the car. 'Jesus said, "I am the Way",' said the road-mender. Thanking him, the man drove on to Glasgow, turning over in his mind the road-mender's words.
On his return to London, the same man was involved in a fatal road accident, and taken to the hospital where, after arranging his affairs, he died. Ten days later two young men wearing black ties, and in deep mourning, arrived in the town of Kilmacolm, enquiring for a road-mender who, as a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, had told their father the way to Heaven. He had commissioned them to take the journey after the funeral service was over, and to thank the Christian road-mender for pointing out the way to Heaven when he showed their father the way to Glasgow: 'and,' they added, 'he understood and is now in Heaven.'
Thank the Lord for people like that road-mender who care enough about others to tell them the most important fact that we can ever know on this earth. The fact that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to heaven and eternal life. And without Him we are all hopelessly lost and on our way to an eternity in hell, separated from a holy and sinless God.
Sadly, it seems that more and more people who call themselves Christians don't really understand that heaven is a free gift. It isn't earned or deserved. Rather it was purchased for us by the death of Jesus Christ, God's Son, on the cross of Calvary over 2000 years ago.
The American Worldview Inventory 2020 survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University found that a majority of people who describe themselves as Christian (52%) accept a “works-oriented” means to God’s acceptance.
In contrast, a minority of adults (46%) who describe themselves as “Christian” expect to experience eternal salvation because of their confession of sin and acceptance of Christ as their Savior.
What is even worse is the fact that a large portion of people who come from churches whose official doctrinal statement teaches that one can be saved only by accepting Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross for your sin still believe that you can qualify for heaven by being or by doing good. That includes close to half of all adults associated with Pentecostal (46%), mainline Protestant (44%), and Evangelical (41%) churches. A much larger share of Catholics (70%) embrace that point of view.
If we were to ask these same people how they know that they are going to heaven when they die I dare say that most would talk about trying to be a good person and following the Scriptures. Some might even reminisce about the great things that they've done in Jesus' name. They would talk about the church projects that they've funded, or the fact that they were a Sunday School teacher, a preacher, a deacon or an elder for years.
They might try to justify any sins that they have done by saying:
"Surely all the good deeds that I've done have outweighed any of the sins that were in my life!" After all I never killed anyone, or stole anything!" I'm not that bad!"
And they'd be mistaken!
In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount we come to a section where our Savior deals with those who claim that Jesus is Lord. And they do actually talk about their great accomplishments for Him. Yet when the judgment day gets here, they will not make it into his eternal Kingdom. In fact they were never headed in that direction in the first place, despite doing all kinds of things that many would call good. Jesus' disturbing words, found in Matthew 7:21-23, tell us this:
"Not everyone who says to me: 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord did we not prophecy by your name. And by your name cast out demons, and by your name do many mighty works?' And then I will profess to them 'I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity!"
Obviously, these words about a person's eternal destiny should be taken very seriously by all of us. And everyone who hears the Savior's words must ask themselves if they truly belong to Jesus, or are they merely the one's who cry 'Lord, Lord.' Further, just how are any of us expecting to get into heaven when we die?
We live on this earth for a very short time and the decisions that we make about Christ have unending consequences. So let us take the rest of our time and see just what the Lord is telling us.
Let us begin by looking at the context of these verses to see where Jesus is coming from with His warnings.
I. Context of Matthew 7:21-23
To start with, we need to remember that Jesus, throughout His sermon, is revealing to his followers the nature of true righteousness as compared to the self-righteousness which was found in the religious leaders of His day like the Scribes and Pharisees
I like what Pastor Scott L. Harris has to say about this in his sermon entitled: The Deception of Self-Righteousness. He tells us:
"Jesus presented the characteristics that would be manifested in the lives of those who are truly righteous when He gave the Beatitudes. It is the righteous, and only the righteous that can display all of these character qualities. The self righteous are not marked by these qualities. The righteous also approaches the commandments of God with the desire to obey them from the heart. They keep both the letter and the spirit of God’s laws. The self-righteous approach God’s commands like defense attorneys looking for the loopholes. The truly righteous do all their religious activities to gain a closer relationship with God and to give Him glory. The self righteous are more concerned that other people think them pious. What God really thinks of them is of little importance."
In the verses that immediately precede Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus just got finished discussing the narrow gate and narrow road few will go through that lead to eternal life versus the wide gate and wide road that many go through that lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Of course Jesus Himself is that gate that opens to God's sheepfold for His sheep (John 10:9). He is also the narrow way or road by which one approaches the Father. He said in John 14:6 that
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Those who come to Jesus by faith in Him are those who know that they have no righteousness of their own. They are the poor in spirit who see their spiritual bankruptcy. Further, they mourn over their sinful condition (Matthew 5:3,4) but they go through that gate and down that road to eternal life. The self-righteous go the broad way to hell and separation from God.
Some of those self-righteous become wolves in sheep's clothing. These are false teachers, preachers or prophets who have the outward appearance of truth and purity and who seem to be there to help the true sheep. But instead they are fueled by evil and deceit. They are out to devour the true and righteous flock of God (Matthew 7:15-20). However, just like a bad tree, you can tell who they really are by the evil and sinful fruit that they produce.
It is in this context that we get Matthew 7:21-23 and Jesus' talk about those who call Him Lord but don't truly do the will of God the Father. The falsehood of the faith of these people is manifested by their fruit. Faith that says but doesn't do is really unbelief. As the Apostle James would say later in his epistle:
"Faith without works is dead." (James 2:20).
A fruit tree produces fruit. It is evidence that the tree is alive and well. You might also compare true faith to a fire in a fireplace. If the fire is actually there, you will see smoke coming out of the chimney. The smoke doesn't produce the fire. The fire produces the smoke. In the same way, true faith produces good works.
Just like someone may say that they love their spouse all day long but never do anything to demonstrate that love in any way are not to be believed, so the person who says that they love Christ yet don't ever do what Jesus' Father commands them aren't demonstrating a real and authentic faith in Him.
However, Jesus takes it one step further in verses 22 and 23. He reminds us, as He stated earlier, that the unrighteous produce fruit as well. In fact they claim to produce all sorts of miraculous signs and wonders. This includes casting out demons and performing many miracles in 'Jesus' name. In fact their whole confidence for God's acceptance was placed in these works. They think that these are what will get them favor with Jesus at the final judgment. However, what will the Lord say to them. Well He tells us this:
"And then I will say to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from me you who practice lawlessness." (23).
So once again, we have the self-righteous who think their works will save them and the true righteous who know that they have no good works of their own.
Now before we bring this section to a conclusion, there are some questions that need to be looked at.
II. Are the Self-Righteous in Matthew 7:21-23 Lost Christians?
The questions are as follows:
"Are these self-righteous people who seem to do miraculous works which are empowered by Jesus' name really Christians who later lost their salvation?"
and if they are not former Christians:
"Then how were they able to do miracles in the first place?" "Just who or what empowers them to perform these miracles?"
First of all we need to state clearly that these persons were never saved in the first place. What does Jesus say to them in the end? He tells them 'I never knew you!' (23). He didn't say that He no longer knows them. They were not in a relationship with Him in the first place. And they never really knew Jesus either. They weren't ever saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). The Savior disowns all of their deeds and words. He then sends them away and calls them 'you who practice lawlessness.'
Jesus Himself in John 5:24 told those who genuinely believe in Him:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."
He would never treat one who had a relationship with Him the way He treats these imposters to the faith.
So, then if they weren't saved how do we explain the miracles? There are two possibilities. God could have used them, despite their unbelief, for His purposes just like He used Judas who, being an unbeliever, nonetheless was one of the 12 apostles.
The apostles were able to perform many miracles while Jesus was with them. There is nothing to indicate that Judas, despite being a deceiver and the son of perdition, according to John 17:12, was not able to do miraculous signs like the other 11 men that Jesus chose. If that is the case, and he did these miracles, then Jesus used Him for His purposes despite Judas being an unbeliever.
Of course the second possibility is that these men performing the miracles were not really empowered by Jesus at all but by Satan who, according to Paul, masquerades as an 'angel of light.' So it isn't surprising if his servants do the same (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
So, no matter whether these miracles were empowered by God or by Satan, they are not an indication that these self-righteous persons were ever saved.
To summarize what we have been saying about these verses, we have to state that there will be many who claim the name of Jesus Christ in history but who are not genuine believers. And there will also be those who are truly righteous because of a genuine faith in Him.
Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And those who are real believers will not rely upon works to be saved but will naturally produce them as the result of, or the fruit of their true faith in Christ. Just like a living fruit tree produces real fruit.
Those people who are not saved will also do works, and even miracles. Further, they may use the name of Christ to do them. But they do so in order to gain favor with God and man and may even think that God will allow them into His Kingdom because of what they do. The difference is found in their heart. The non-believer does not have a genuine heart of faith in Jesus Christ as their one and only Savior.
And if you observe the believer long enough, you will see them produce the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).
Those who aren't Christians and who do things for their own glory will eventually show their hand as well. They will be doing things according to the flesh for selfish motives. And the characteristics of the flesh can be seen in some form in them if you look at their lives (Galatians 5:19-21).
The bottom line is that none of us will ever be saved, enter the Kingdom of God or Heaven by relying upon works of any sort. We will rather be saved by obeying God's command to believe on His Son Jesus Christ for eternal life (I John 3:23a).
And as John 3:36 tells us:
"He that believes on the Son has everlasting life. And He that believes not the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him."
If you have never accepted God's gift of salvation then today is the day that you should fall on your knees and ask Jesus to be your one and only Savior. If you have come to know Christ then be grateful by living a life that is pleasing to Him and that brings Him glory. Further, by all means let someone else know about the wonderful salvation that you have found in Jesus Christ. You will be doing them a favor that will not only last for this lifetime but it will last for all eternity. And they will be forever grateful that you did.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley