“Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?’
And then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Jesus invites us to consider the judgment scene. A large group of people stand before Him, fully expecting to be ushered into the heavenly Kingdom. And yet they are directed toward their doom– an entirely unexpected event! They stand there amazed. How can this be? They had believed in Jesus. They even did many amazing things in Jesus’ name. And yet they are being consigned to eternal torment and darkness!
And Jesus will then tell them: I did not know you. You did not seek the will of my Father, but your own sinful will. Depart!
This is a stunning picture and it causes discomfort for many people. Many want to believe that Jesus will save everyone in the end and imagine that this type of statement came from someone other than Jesus.
But it really does make sense. Jesus says these things as He is concluding what is often called the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples and the Jews who had gathered around Him. We can see in John 8:31-58 and Romans 2:1-27 how many Jews believed that salvation would automatically come to them because they were Jewish and had knowledge of God. Yet that had never been true at any time. God has always expected His people to do what He told them to do, and if they refused, they would have to pay the penalty (cf. Leviticus 26)!
Such was true then, and it is true now. Sadly, many people teach doctrines that are very similar to what the Jews of old believed. You may have heard people say that all you need to do in order to be saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. Maybe they told you to pray a particular prayer and said that it was all that you needed to do. They may then have told you that no matter what, you would be saved. Some may say that you will be saved as long as you are a member of a particular church. Many others think that as long as you are a good person God will save you. Some still believe that you have special standing before God if you are an American.
These beliefs are held quite dearly by people. They provide a lot of comfort. But are they true?
Let us again imagine that scene that Jesus paints for us. What will people hear from Him if they only said that they believed Jesus was the Christ, prayed a prayer, and yet did not obey God’s will otherwise? What will Jesus say to those who believed that their church membership alone was sufficient to save them? What can be done for those who believed that just being a good person was enough to be saved?
According to Jesus’ own words, all of these people will hear the same declaration of condemnation: “I never knew you. Depart from Me!” They did not do the will of the Father in Heaven: to reflect the image of Christ to all men, clinging to the good, abhorring what is evil (Romans 8:29, 12:9). God shows no partiality, and no flesh is justified by works of the law (Romans 2:11, 3:20). Belief in Jesus is necessary (Acts 16:16), but not sufficient for salvation (James 2:14-26).
Maybe you have believed or even taught some of these doctrines. We encourage you to consider Matthew 7:21-23 and your fate on the day of judgment. You do not have to hear a message of condemnation. Obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ today!
Ethan R. Longhenry