For a long time, I had a particular testimony I would often give. It would go something like this:
“I used to live for myself. Although I would say Jesus died for my sins, I didn’t live like I believed it. One day I was driving home from college, when all of a sudden, the words of Jesus in Matthew 7 came to mind. They left me white-knuckled as I gripped the wheel of my car. They were the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23, “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 on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ I thought about my life, and how riddled with sin it was. I was a worker of iniquity. I needed to do the will of God or I would go to hell.”
Unfortunately, I went to Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 in order to define the “will of God.” “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”. I then concluded that the problem with those in Matthew 7 was that they weren’t living holy lives. That’s why they went to hell. And I went around preaching that “You may say you believe the gospel, but are you holy? If not, you aren’t saved.” But is that what God is telling us in Matthew 7? Let’s take a brief look at it verse by verse:
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Jesus is warning of those who say they are prophets, but aren’t. They are like wolves in sheep’s cloth. In other words, on the outside, they have all the signs and indications of a sheep, but they aren’t.
16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
The way you spot these false prophets out is by their fruit. Good trees bear good fruit, bad trees bear bad fruit. The metaphor was given in verse 16 about not being able to get figs from thorn bushes in order to make this point. In other words, a wolf may be able to put on the sheep’s clothing, but he’s still a wolf underneath. Jesus tells us that bad trees are cut down and burned. In the same way, these false prophets will be destroyed in the end.
21 “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.
Here we are told that even though someone regards Jesus as Lord, doesn’t mean they are saved. It’s those who do God’s will. Earlier, I read that Paul tells us God’s will is holiness. That’s actually true. Don’t forget too that Paul is speaking to believers in 1 Thessalonians 4. Check out 1 Thess 1:1 – “…To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:…” There are many imperatives in the New Testament. We are given guidelines on how to live our lives in our vocations, married lives, parenting, church discipline, church government, etc. After all, we seek to divide the Scriptures correctly because we are instructed to. We are told to disciple the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can say that all of these things are the will of God. And they are. But, Scripture is painfully clear that none of our works contribute to our justification before God. Neither do they have any bearing on the blessings we receive. Our works don’t change whether or not God listens to our prayers. The only reason God blesses us, hears our prayers, justifies us, or anything is because of what Jesus Christ had accomplished for believers. First, there was the active obedience of Christ, that is, His perfect righteous obedience in regard to the law of God that demands perfection. Secondly, there is the passive obedience of Christ. This points to His being tortured and murdered, suffering the wrath of God on behalf of those who would believe. He was buried in a tomb, and three days later rose from the dead for the justification of believers. That’s it. It’s not anyone’s obedience.
I previously hadn’t even noticed the words of Jesus in the gospel of John: For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40. It’s God’s will that people believe in Christ. But, the folks in Matthew 7 call Him, ‘Lord’ don’t they? So what’s the deal?
22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
Here is the point. They are before the judgment seat of Christ, and are making a case. But what is their case? “Didn’t we? Didn’t we? Didn’t we?” That’s the problem. They were using their obedience as their defense. It was “My obedience here, and my obedience over there” even if it was done in the name of Jesus. Their answer ought to have been that it was nothing they had done, but the obedience of Christ and His death and resurrection in their stead.
23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
They were never known by Christ. If they were, they’d be saved, because only He gives His sheep their faith. They were practicers of lawlessness, not because they practiced lawlessness, but because Christ’s righteousness wasn’t clothing them. If it had, their sins would not be held against them. Though, their sins are many, though they sin often in thought, word, and deed, not one would be held against them.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.
25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
Those whose foundation is the rock (Christ) will not be destroyed. Those whose foundation is in themselves will be destroyed, like those trees who bore no fruit. Lastly, just because someone believes the gospel doesn’t mean that all of a sudden, they have the ability to obey perfectly those imperatives in the New Testament. And I say “perfectly” because that’s what the law demands. The imperatives in the New Testament are just as condemning as those in the Old Testament. That’s why it is important that we properly distinguish between what is law and what is gospel. Without this in mind, you’ll be trusting in your own efforts and righteousness, grieved when you realize that you can’t keep the law with any level of perfection. I thank God for the law, because it makes it unquestionably clear that I am depraved and need the righteousness of Christ every. single. day.
The fruit of salvation is the belief that Christ alone perfectly atoned for the sins of His people, apart from any works that any of them would ever do.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25