A good case could be made that what Jesus said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount could be among the most terrifying words one will ever hear uttered in the Bible. The last two thirds of Matthew 7 contain some fearful warnings, but vv. 21-23 are amongst the most shocking words we hear from the lips of Jesus.
In vv. 13-14 we read about two ways; in vv. 15-20 we read about two trees; in vv. 21-23 we read about two claims; and in vv. 24-27 we read about two houses. All of these teachings warn against the dangers of deception and delusion, but the third set may be the most remarkable passage to be found in the entire New Testament.
It says this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
What a frightful utterance. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said this of this passage: “These, surely, are in many ways the most solemn and solemnizing words ever uttered in this world, not only by any man, but even by the Son of God Himself.” And J.C. Ryle said of these last two sets of teaching, “The Lord Jesus winds up the Sermon on the Mount by a passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers.”
It is an incredible passage indeed. But the trouble with passages like this is that we have heard them so often that we become far too familiar with them and cavalier about them. They go in one ear and out the other. But this text is one of the most important set of words we will ever read from Jesus.
It is a passage that we must ask God to speak to us about in a totally fresh and honest fashion. No more game playing, buck passing, or avoidance schemes. We must pray with all earnestness, “Lord, what do you have to say to ME about this text? Could I be one of those you are referring to here?”
The message here is quite clear: mere profession is simply not enough. Even good works and outward razzamatazz will not cut it. The real test of being a disciple of Jesus is obedience. Without obedience we make it clear we are none of his.
As R. Kent Hughes put it, “All true Christians say, ‘Lord, Lord.’ But not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ are true Christians!” Making a profession of faith, or saying the right things, is not what matters here. Nor is it even doing remarkable things, even performing miracles.
And this warning does not apply to just a few people who profess to be Christians. Jesus says there are “many” who he does not know, and to whom he says ‘depart’. Says A.W. Pink: “Yes, there are tens of thousands who have been deluded into thinking that they have ‘accepted Christ as their Savior,’ whose lives show plainly that they reject Him as their Lord.”
Or as he elsewhere states, “Never were there so many millions of nominal Christians on earth as there are today, and never was there such a small percentage of real ones. Not since before the days of Luther and Calvin, when the great Reformation effected such a grand change for the better, has Christendom been so crowded with those who have ‘a form of godliness’ but who are strangers to its transforming power. We seriously doubt whether there has ever been a time in the history of this Christian era when there were such multitudes of deceived souls within the churches, who verily believe that all is well with their souls when in fact the wrath of God abideth on them.”
Hughes is equally forthright in his concerns: “Multitudes of religious people, evangelicals included, are lost because they do not do God’s will.” And doing God’s will means that we obey him. It is that simple. The Christian life is a life of obedience. It is no longer a case of wanting to do what I want to do, but to do what God wants me to do. And that means doing all of God’s will, not just parts of it.
As Daniel Doriani comments, “Selective obedience – obedience to the commands we happen to like – is not genuine obedience at all; it is mere agreement. If we truly confess that Jesus is Lord, we must also be willing to bend our will to his, even if his directives seem unpleasant or foolish to us.”
Of course all this talk about the absolute necessity of obedience must not be taken to mean a salvation based on obedience. We obey out of gratitude for his free salvation. We are not saved by obedience, but once saved, obedience is the quintessential mark of being saved.
As D.A. Carson puts it, “It is true, of course, that no man enters the kingdom because of his obedience; but it is equally true that no man enters the kingdom who is not obedient. It is true that men are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ; but it is equally true that God’s grace in a man’s life inevitably results in obedience. Any other view of grace cheapens grace, and turns it into something unrecognizable.”
He continues, “Cheap grace preaches forgiveness without repentance, church membership without rigorous church discipline, discipleship without obedience, blessing without persecution, joy without righteousness, results without obedience. In the entire history of the church, has there ever been another generation with so many nominal Christians and so few real (i.e., obedient) ones? And where nominal Christianity is compounded by spectacular profession, it is especially likely to manufacture its own false assurance.”
Commenting on the section on two trees, James Montgomery Boice puts it this way: “There must be fruit if the Christian life is genuine. On the one hand, it is certainly wrong to teach that salvation comes by works. Salvation is by grace through faith. Paul defends this doctrine in the Book of Galatians. But then, it is equally wrong to imply that salvation can be real without good works.”
Of course it “is true that salvation may not produce good works as fast as we would like to see them. They may not appear in the same terms in which we are accustomed to see them. Nevertheless, there must be good works.”
In this sense it is not a case of choosing between faith or works. It is a case of faith and works. As Boice says, “These are the two oars of the ship that are meant to propel it forward. If only one oar is present, there will be trouble.”
At the end of the day, we have some hard evidence as to what constitutes genuine Christianity: we obey God, and that increasingly becomes our chief desire. He has won our heart, and we seek from within to become all that he wants us to become. It is not about externals, about works, about self effort. It is about giving God everything.
As Lloyd-Jones, comments, “We must realize that what God wants, and what our blessed Lord wants, above all, is ourselves – what Scripture calls our ‘heart’. He wants the inner man, the heart. He wants our submission. He does not want merely our profession, our zeal, our fervour, our works, or anything else. He wants us.”
When he has us, he has everything. But if he does not have us, then we fool ourselves. We then will be among those wretched souls who will hear those horrific words: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” All of us need to spend as much time on our faces before God to ensure that we are not one of those folks.
John Stott was absolutely right to say this: “In applying this teaching to ourselves, we need to consider that the Bible is a dangerous book to read, and that the church is a dangerous society to join.” Amen John Stott, amen.