“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
The above passage is often used as a proof text for those whose idea of salvation from sin and hell is a mixture of works and grace. Those of us who believe sinners are acquitted and set right with God solely upon the merit of Jesus (His perfect life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection) are pointed to this text as proof faith in Jesus is not enough.
Ironically, every one of those men who believe men are saved by a combination of grace and works (they refuse to admit they trust “works” and prefer the word “faithfulness”) also believe a person can be saved and then lost. The reason they believe this is that they believe their acceptance by the Father depends, at least in part, on their performance.
So what is being said in the verses quoted above? Is this proof I am in error for teaching that men should trust Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and eternal life? No it does not! The truth is it teaches the exact opposite. What does it say?
First the context.
The context is Jesus’ warnings to the Jews about false prophets. He began this section in v15 by saying “Beware of false prophets..” , and continued by teaching how to know who they are. He concluded by using the metaphor of the wise man who builds his house on a rock.
What are the lessons for us from this passage?
First, you can know a real man of God by watching him. His “fruit” is a dead give away to what he really is. Is the “fruit” (results) of a preacher, or church leader expensive houses, fine cars, and great fame? Watch out! He is likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 5:15). Is the result (fruit) of a man’s ministry a flock of self righteous people who trust their own goodness for salvation? Do they try to share the glory that only Christ deserves? Do they talk more about the Holy Spirit, tongues, and miracles than they do about the good news about Jesus? Watch out! Do they talk more about their heritage, a particular church, how to worship correctly, baptism, or any other subject you can imagine than about the Lord Jesus Christ who alone is eternal life? Watch out!
Secondly, this section of scripture teaches that Christ alone, that depending only upon Him is the way to life and heaven. Verses 13 and 14 immediately precede the section about false prophets.
13 “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. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Jesus is that “narrow gate”, He is the “narrow way”. He is the door to the sheepfold; He is “the” way, “the” truth, and “the” life. His way is very narrow and considered intolerant by those on the wide path. It is the path of designer religions, good works, law keeping, and those who claim to have a private revelation from God the rest of us don’t have. The way to destruction is to take the path of least resistance, the one that is lined with ego polishing stations and places to display fleshly pride.
Jesus is also the “Rock” in the section of scripture in verses 24-27.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
A wise man builds his whole house of faith on Jesus Christ. A foolish man uses all sorts of other foundation materials and when the wind of judgment blows and the flood of God’s wrath against sin comes the house will fall. We are warned to trust Jesus alone for our eternal hope.
Finally, Jesus affirms the eternal security of the believer and denies the flimsy doctrine of those who think they are, at least in part, good enough to be approved by God, and yet live in fear that they might loose their souls because of a performance that doesn’t meet God’s approval.
“I NEVER KNEW YOU!” (vs23) These stinging words of Jesus fly in the face of those who teach you can be saved and lost, saved and lost. These false teachers Jesus warned of are not apostates, they are not those who once were on solid rock and fell. No, these have never been saved. Jesus NEVER knew them. Oh yes, they were faithful in church attendance, they did all the religious activity. In fact they excelled at being religious, but they went to hell because they missed the narrow way, Jesus.
What could be sadder than to live a life of being good, doing good, and then be forever lost and suffering in eternal fire? Notice Jesus never denies that they did the works they claimed (v22) to have done, He did say He NEVER knew them.
John 6:27,28 records Jesus’ words when asked by the people “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” His reply is my plea. His reply had been my message of hope for over 40 years. “Jesus answered them; this is the work of God that you believe on Him whom He has sent.”
Please believe this; God will not share His glory with another. The Bible is clear. The reason wicked sinners are made fit for heaven by faith is in part so boasting will be eliminated. (Romans 3:27) So I say with the Apostle Paul “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31)