Sermon preached on Matthew 7:21-23 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/02/2014 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Not Everyone Who Says”
Lord willing, we will have this and one final sermon in our Sermon on the Mount series. As we’ve been working on this tail end of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve seen Jesus getting us to consider true faith and false faith. Jesus has a series of comparisons in these final verses that get us to consider the right way and the wrong way, true Christianity and false Christianity. Two weeks ago we considered it from the vantage point of the narrow, difficult, way of the few that leads to life, versus the wide, easy, way of the many that leads to destruction. Last week we compared false prophets from true teachers and true teaching of God’s word. We saw that the root of the issue is whether someone is a good tree or a bad tree; bad trees bring forth bad fruit; good trees bring forth good fruit. And so this week, a similar comparison is still being made. But now it again becomes close to home. It’s not about analyzing someone else’s orthodoxy and fruit. It’s about analyzing your own. And here we see Jesus bring up a very important concern for someone who would profess Christ. It’s the danger of self-deception. It’s the threat of thinking you are right with the Lord, when you are not. We can be deceived in this most important of things. Today’s passage calls us to see why this is so important; it gets us to reflect on the core issue of this self-deception; and it implies a call for self-examination.
As we consider this passage then, let’s begin by considering first why we need to rightly judge our spiritual condition. Hopefully, this first point will be stating the obvious, and yet it is important point not to miss here. The reason we need to rightly appraise our spiritual condition is that there is coming a day of judgment. This is the concern of verse 21. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” And so, as a professing Christian, we profess Christ with the hope of eternal life in Messiah’s heavenly kingdom. And yet in verse 21, Jesus says there will be some who profess him at least outwardly as Lord, and yet they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This is language looking toward the final day of judgment. There is coming a day when all will gather at that great white throne and stand before the Lord in judgment. And our passage for today reminds us of the two outcomes. You can either enter into the kingdom of heaven, and thus enter into an eternal blessed life with the Lord. Or you can have Jesus declare to you what is in verse 23, ” I never knew you; depart from me.” Revelation 20 tells us to where such people will depart. They will be cast into the eternal lake of fire.
And so this is the reason why we need to be concerned about self-deception. It’s why we had to do this self-examination in light of what Jesus is saying here. Jesus says there is a real concern that you think you are saved, when you are not. Jesus says there is a real concern here that you think you are a Christian when you are not. And yet this is so important to get right because there are eternal consequences at stake.
So that’s why this is important to consider. Let’s consider what Jesus says is the core issue with this self-deception. The core issue is an issue of the core; it’s a heart issue. We see here people outwardly claiming to follow Christ, but Jesus says they don’t really have a relationship with him. We see this first in verse 21, and then Jesus builds on what he says in verses 22 and 23. As we look further at these verses, we will see that it is a issue of the heart. So, let’s begin first looking at verse 21. One manifestation of such self-deception is when you are saying the right thing, but not doing the right thing; you could also call this having a hypocritical confession of faith. This is found in verse 21. Jesus says that just because someone calls to him, “Lord, Lord,” doesn’t alone mean they are saved. Rather, Jesus goes on to say that someone needs to be doing the will of the Heavenly Father. This is somewhat like what James talks about in James 1:22 with the person who is a hearer of the word, but not a doer of the word. James says that such a person deceives himself. It’s interesting that James uses that language of hearing and not doing to also talk about self-deception. But it’s all very similar. The person who hears the truth, and even confesses the truth with their lips, is not the same as someone who really knows the truth and looks to live out the truth. The difference comes down to what is taught in Isaiah 29:3. God there condemns the people who honor him with their lips while their hearts are far from him.
This is the real issue. It’s a heart issue. This is important to understand, so that we don’t think our salvation comes down to our works. We should not take Jesus’ teaching here and think that in order to be saved, I must perfectly be able to live out God’s holy will. Yes, we indeed ought to seek to live out his holy will; absolutely! But we’ve repeatedly said as we’ve gone through the Sermon on the Mount that the approach of trying to enter Christ’s kingdom by our own works of the law will fail. We must get in by faith. That’s a faith that is going to flow from a heart that has been born again by the Holy Spirit. That born again person will not only call out to Jesus as Lord, but will also seek to do God’s will. Yes, we won’t keep his will perfectly. But there will be real fruit seen that reflects a heart that has been drawn near to God.
Let me explain this one more way. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit. I would submit to you that what this means that no one can truly and genuinely say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit. In other words, if you are really and truly confessing Jesus as Lord, it will be from the heart. And that will only be because of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. That means that the people described here in verse 21 who do call Jesus “Lord”, are not truly calling Jesus “Lord.” They call him that from their lips, but their hearts are actually far from him. They are not calling Jesus as Lord because of the work of the Spirit. Rather, their hypocritical confession of Jesus as Lord is evidence that they haven’t known the Spirit’s work within them.
So this is one way to this self-deception is manifested, having a hypocritical confession of faith. Let’s turn now to in verses 22-23 and see how Jesus further develops and describes this self-deception. In verses 22-23, Jesus shows how self-deception can be manifested when someone has a faulty analysis of their fruit. You see, the rebuttal of someone when you tell them that they seem to have a hypocritical confession of faith, that they claim to believe in Jesus, but their life doesn’t reflect a heart changed by God, is to point to some alleged fruit in their life. That’s what we see going on in verse 22. It envisions the guilty person saying, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” They appeal to some pretty amazing things that they have done. Things even apparently of a supernatural nature. And yet Jesus’ assessment of them in verse 23 is that they are people who practice lawlessness. Just digest that for a moment. They look at their fruit and think it’s good. Jesus looks at their fruit and declares that it is evil. Wow.
This is a helpful thought after last week’s passage. Last week Jesus told us we would know false prophets by their fruit. That’s true. But this week’s passage tells us that fruit analysis can’t be done in some simplistic way. Yes, good fruit comes from good trees and bad fruit comes from bad trees. But this passage tells us that sometimes bad trees produce some of its fruit that might look good, when they are really not. I mean think about it. If these people described here are prophesying, and casting out demons, and working wonders, those look pretty awesome. And yet as tempting as it would be to see such fruit and conclude that as a guarantee of someone being born again, that’s just not in keeping with history: biblical or extra-biblical.
Just think about what the Bible shows us on this. Similar to last week’s passage on false prophets, Deuteronomy 13 warned against false prophets who come with heresy, that even if they do signs and wonders, or they have predictions that come to pass, that you still must not listen to them. The existence of these wonders doesn’t mean they really are of the Lord. Or take Baalam. He ended up doing some true prophesying. That’s when Balak hired him to curse Israel, but God turned his curse into a blessing. Balaam is recorded giving a long prophetic blessing. Those words that Balaam spoke were true prophecy from God. But Balaam himself is nonetheless shown in Scripture as someone who wasn’t saved. Or take King Saul. God did do some great things through him. At one point, in 1 Samuel 10, King Saul even begins to prophesy along with a band of other prophets. And yet as we keep seeing the outcome of Saul’s life he ultimately ends his life in apostasy. Yet another example is Judas Iscariot. In Mark 6, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, including Judas, and gives them power to cast out unclean spirits, and they do, and they healed many people. The text would have us to assume Judas was involved in that too.
So, hopefully you see the point. The existence of even such great and amazing works by someone, when they are legitimate works and not counterfeit ones, is something we would attribute to the power of God. That’s amazing to think about. But Jesus tells us here that such people could still not really be saved. They might not really be born again. The existence of such wonders in their life, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a heart changed by God. This is especially thought provoking because we would normally think of these supernatural works as sign gifts. There general purpose was to give special attestation about the truth of someone’s ministry. That is their normal function. And yet as we saw in those examples, we need to assess the whole package of a person. For the false prophet, even if they have signs, you can know that they are not to believed if you hear them teaching things that are in contradiction to God’s earlier revelation — like Deuteronomy 13 says. Or for someone like Saul or Judas Iscariot, the entirety of their life might need to be reviewed, to ultimately see the fruit of their apostasy which would tell us what that they have never actually known the Lord.
Again, we can see this sort of thing in people today. Even though today we don’t live in an age where we would expect these kind of extraordinary, supernatural, sign gifts, we can still find the same kind of self-deception expressed. You challenge someone on their hypocritical confession of faith, challenging them on whether they really know the Lord or not, and they start giving you a list of some supposed good things they’ve done. On the surface, they might be positive things, in terms of an outward conformity to the law. And yet remember what Jesus said about these people. That they were really people who practiced lawlessness. These same self-deceived people, may have some outwardly good things they can point to, but upon further analysis of their fruit, you find that they are people who can be described as those who practice lawlessness. We’d probably put it a different way. We’d probably challenge the person that it’s great that they’d done these good things that they point to doing, but we’d still challenge them at the major inconsistencies in their Christian life. It’s like Jesus told the Pharisees that it was great that they tithe mint and cumin, but that they had neglected the weightier matters of the law. And so Jesus is explaining this for us today. These major inconsistencies where on the one hand someone does some visibly glamorous thing in the church, but in general is living in certain ways that are so opposed to God’s laws, that this may reflect someone who is not a true believer. They might be a hypocrite who outwardly says he believes Jesus is Lord, but in his heart doesn’t really believe. They are just pretending, and they’ve pretended so well that they’ve even convinced themselves. But they’ve not convinced the Lord.
When we think of how Jesus describes such people as those who practice lawlessness, we should remember how Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 refers to the antichrist as the man of lawlessness. That’s part of Satan’s strategy, you see. Satan works in the Antichrist is to infiltrate the ranks of the church, and promote lawlessness from within the church. In a similar way, Jesus talks about people here who profess to be a part of the church, but themselves have gone the way of lawlessness. That reality reveals that they haven’t actually known the Lord.
So, Jesus warns us here that people who profess Christ, might actually be self-deceived. What’s implied here is that we should do some self-examination then. It’s implied here in several ways. First, we’ve seen the theme in the Sermon on the Mount about how to enter the kingdom of heaven. When verse 21 talks about these self-deceived people who won’t enter the kingdom, it’s this same theme that implies a call for us to ask the question: Am I one who will really enter the kingdom of glory on that final day of judgment? In the same way, when verse 22 says that “many” will be self-deceived like this, we again should see the commonness of this, and that implies that we should each look at our hearts and ask if this is true for us. Lastly, the fact that he had just called us to examine the fruit of others, the false prophets, we now see him implying that we should examine our own fruit too.
Of course, what’s implied here, is an explicit command in other places of Scripture. 2 Peter 1:10, for example, calls us to be diligent in making our calling and election sure. Or in 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says to examine yourself to see that you are in the faith. And so God blesses us by telling us in the Word of the danger of being self-deceived, and he calls us to do some self-examination.
So what does such a self-examination look like? Well, this is an important point to understand. Please don’t miss what I’m going to say here. A true born again Christian should examine and find that their righteousness is not good enough to enter the kingdom. They should evaluate their works and see that they have not fully kept the will of God. You should look at your works, and confess your sins, and seek again and afresh the cross of Jesus Christ. Or, think about it this way. When you stand before the judgment throne on that final day, would you really want to plead your works as why God should let you into his kingdom? It’s the very appeal that the self-deceived people in this passage do, their appeal to their works, that shows they haven’t known the Lord and his grace. No matter how many good things you did in this life, is that what you would want to appeal to for your salvation? Surely not!
And yet too often that’s what people do. They try to self-justify themselves before God by presenting their works like a scale or balance. They try to say that their bad deeds haven’t been that bad, and their good deeds have been fairly good, so in the balance of them all, their good has outweighed their bad. And so God should let them into his kingdom, they say. Well, if you self-examine yourself and see that you are thinking like this, then flee from that thinking. That’s not gospel thinking. That won’t get you into the kingdom of heaven. The person who is thinking like that has not really know the Lord or his grace.
Rather, may your self-examination be looking to see that you know Christ and that he knows you. That passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul calls us to examine if we are the faith goes on to say that we need to test ourselves to see if Christ is in us. And how will Christ be in us? Again, it’s only through the gospel. We repent and believe in Christ. We trust in him for our justification. That when we stand before the judgment seat on that final day, we don’t appeal to our own works; no we appeal to Christ’s works. That’s our sure defense. It’s our only defense! Therefore, we repent and believe in Jesus!
So, to be more specific, let your self-examination be around those terms. Instead of looking at your works and trying to self-justify yourself in some futile balance or scale, instead examine your repentance and your faith. Start with repentance. Repentance includes three parts: Confession of sin, sorrow for your sin, and a turning of the heart to seek afresh to live for the Lord. So ask yourself questions about those three parts. Is there confession of your sins, or are there instead sins you are harboring in your hearts, which you are not willing to repent of? Is there sorrow for yours sins, or do you really love and crave those sins instead of hating them? Is there a mental turning and redirecting of your heart, or are you content on continuing to live the way you’ve always lived before you started to profess Christ?
As for examining your faith, faith has three main parts too. Faith involves knowing the gospel, believing that the gospel is actually true, and entrusting your life to the gospel and its promises. And so, again, you can ask yourself questions associated with these three parts of faith. Do you indeed know the content of the gospel? Do you truly believe it to be true? Do you entrust yourself to that gospel, or have your been trusting something else like your own works? Is the foundation of your faith and salvation on the rock of Christ’s righteousness, or on the sand of your own works?
As you examine your faith and repentance, maybe you’ll find you haven’t had any real faith and repentance. Maybe you have trusted in yourself, or haven’t been willing to repent and turn to Christ. If you have come to that conclusion, then thank the Lord for this insight, and then today repent and put your faith in Christ, and live self-deceived no longer. If on the other hand, you do find that you have faith and repentance, you will surely also discover ways in which you need to grow in terms of your faith and repentance. We should desire and seek after a greater faith and a more consistent repentance. Praise then the Lord for such insight, and repent of these things and believe in Christ to forgive you of such things, and pray that God would continue to grow your faith and bear more fruit in your life in keeping with your repentance.
Brothers and sisters, as you do this self-examination, I hope it is abundantly clear that we need to keep ending up in looking to the grace of God held out in Jesus. That’s what I love about what we will be doing momentarily. We’ll be partaking of the Lord’s Supper. And the Scripture commands us that as we come to that table to do some self-examination. There we have a wonderful picture of where our self-examination should lead. It should lead us to Christ-crucified and Christ-risen. It should point us to our union with Christ to receive all his saving benefits. That having been born again, it is Christ who is renewing our minds by his Word and Spirit, even to more and more rightly examine ourselves. And so as we go today soon to the Lord’s Supper, rejoice at being able to do this self-examination. And rejoice as we have communion in that saving body and blood of Christ our Lord. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.