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The Most Frightening Words in Scripture

Mar 19, 2012

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.

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19 Responses to The Most Frightening Words in Scripture

  • Absolutely correct, not much could a person add to that and not cause it to loose meaning.

    On a slightly different topic, I had to let you know about a “guest” that appeared on the ABC’s “big ideas” program. The Guest was described ABC’s description btw, a Pakistani-Australian, lesbian, muslim lawyer, boy what a mouthful!! Anyhow, she made what I think was meant as a throw away line, but hit me like a ton of bricks as to their thinking, as close to verbatim as I can get she said,
    “with the advent of IVF, ‘natural’ conception no longer applies in regards to the argument of marriage, now that it no longer applies, everyone should be equal to get married, just get over it and allow anyone who wants to, get married”.

    Right from the very start, I always felt something was not quite right about IVF, with this statement of hers, it has become plainly clear what isn’t right with IVF, or more to the point, what IVF has been used for, taking it to its logical conclusion. Gotta love “evolutionary science ethics”.

    Neil Waldron

  • There is that teaching called “Free Grace” which distinctly opposes such teachings as these, ie. for this passage, I’ve heard them say that to do “the will of the Father” just means to “believe” in Jesus – pointing out John 6:29 “this is the work of God: to believe in (Jesus)”. And their version of believing in Jesus is simply an intellectual assent to a few things about Jesus.

    How they can truly mangle that verse into saying that, yet retain sanity, is anyone’s guess.

    For instance, the people say back to Jesus didn’t we do this and that work (which is not belief only), and then Jesus also says that they are workers of lawlessness – living as though God never gave them a law to live by. This is a general term, not referring to belief only. Otherwise he would have said, “depart from you, you who did not believe in me.”

    Other verses which speak of denial of self and further obedience etc. they pass off as being applicable only to disciples (not believers – they make a distinction), and the threats are only to not lose rewards, rather than being damned.

    Would you do an article (or ten, to do it justice….) on this quite prevalent, but foolish teaching?

    Nathan Keen

  • 1 Timothy 1:16
    But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

    I praise the Lord Almighty that He came for the likes of me.

    Being trumps doing. When I first came to Christ much was made about ‘purpose in God’ and ‘calling’ and much focus seemed to be on what we were ‘doing for God’. Now I am aware that my primary focus should be on where my personal relationship with Him is each day, and what he wants to do in me and with my life, and less about what I ‘do for Him’. Then comes that place where my whole life is about God and then being is doing.

    I love this article because I have often discussed these scriptures with others and marveled at the enormity of them, particularly for my own life. When Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats, I tremble in the knowledge that many will miss out when they thought they were included.

    What has always stood out to me is persevering. Paul often reminds us that it is running the race to the finish that counts. And the basis from which one starts is critical – hence sites & warnings like this are so vital to understand what fundamentals are necessary because our ‘doing’ for Him can easily change with the wind but our ‘being’ in Him defines us and keeps us.

    Garth Penglase

  • Definitely, the most frightening words. But I suspect, the least preached on words…

    It is interesting to note that these words of Jesus are the “altar call” or “climax” or “final-word” of Jesus most famous sermon. (Sermon on the mount – Matt.5-7)

    BUT it is also a significant part of nearly every parable.

    AND it is the main theme for Jesus final sermon – specifically aimed at his disciples. (Matt.24-25)

    True and False Conversion. http://www.livingwaters.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=3:true-and-false-conversion&Itemid=305&lang=en

    Daniel Campbell

  • Great choice Bill, I always had Mathew 25:32 to 41 at number one when the judgement takes place at the end of the age. The ultimate test of the believers in their attitude towards the Jews during the last days when it may cost them their lives.Can one lose their salvation, if they fail this test?
    Who are the righteous in verse 37 that end up being denied?
    Rob Withall

  • Bill, I notice one of your quoted authors seems to sound very like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous passage from Discipleship which begins by saying that the struggle of the church in 1937 Germany was against what he called “cheap grace”. That struggle against cheap grace is still with us today in a Christendom where many compromise with the world’s chameleon value systems all in the name of “grace” and “love”.
    John Wigg

  • Thanks Bill
    I’ve struggled with these verses. Terrified probably better describes my feelings. Yes that’s very dramatic but I take the scriptures seriously. One point though, I fear for the unsound mind person and have wondered at times how they will be held accountable.
    Daniel Kempton

  • I would like to add my voice to Nathan’s in his request for further articles on the subject. I have been trying to raise awareness of this subject in my bible study for years and always been met with no comprehension.
    I need some tools in my tool kit so to speak.
    I thought that the word “belief” was more like ‘trust” as in we trust the chair enough to sit on it, we trust it to hold us up.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  • Thanks Daniel

    If you are referring to those with mental impairments, traditionally the Christian understanding has been that God judges us by the amount of light we have, and those unable to receive or respond to truth will be covered by God’s grace, being far less accountable than others. However much more could be said about this.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I was asked once what my idea of hell was, I didn’t have to think for long as it would be Jesus saying he didn’t know me, and my idea of Heaven? me hiding behind our beautiful Savior as the Father looks at Him and not me 🙂
    Christine Taylor

  • I think the most frightening words are “Forgive me as I forgive’. But it’s a photo finish.
    Arthur Hartwig

  • Yes I was referring to those with mental impairments, and that has been my thoughts of them being far less accountable than others. I do have a particular interest In this because i knew a young woman 7 years ago. The poor woman had some terrible mental issues. She was a Christian and didn’t attend any church due mainly to people didn’t mix well with her. I managed to get her back into a church and press on regardless. But she asked me, is it right to leave this world, to opt out. I said no. But she argued that surely God would understand. Six months later she was no more.
    Daniel Kempton

  • OBEDIENCE,. Bill I am so heartened at your words. I am not the scholarly type.I am more hands on. Long ago I decided the best thing I could do (to be sure of my salvation as my bible reading was not really enough) was be obedient to God. When I look at my own children nothing softens my own heart towards them more than when I see them trying to do what I have asked the best way they can and even going the extra little mile. Mums and Dads I can see you smile if you remember your children doing this and looking up for approval. I soon found though to be obedient I had to be very very careful to always check with The Lord and always be listening. Lots of times I got it embarrassingly wrong but I am getting better. God of course has led me slowly back deeper into His word. I love being obedient. I find it hard but good. Really there is no better life. I love it when I get, what I call a warming over my body. It usually comes when I am on the right track. Bit like Him saying that’s it son. Hang in there, keep going. This process saved my marriage. He showed me on one occasion all the traps Satin had set for me. It was impossible for me to be able to not set one off. If I was right I would still be wrong. He led me though this impossible maze one step at a time minuet by minuet day by day month by month. Yep I agree Bill “obedience” for me is first. Every time- Consult/request, listen & obey everything else works out from there….Gods way. I have also found the best way to make a real friend is when you are in the trenches together.
    John Shenton

  • Hi Bill,
    I’d just like to say how much I appreciate John Shenton’s witness. I too have a similar experience to what he calls his ‘warming’ but I keep it to myself (until now that is). I wonder how many of your readers have something like it?
    Alan Williams, UK

  • Hi Alan. Wow. Immediately I read your above words I had that warming sensation. I can remember my first experience as a very young christian. I was casually having a shower thinking about the day and choices I had made. One choice I remember was hard but I did it as it was what I felt a “good” christian should do. I then had the thought of how it linked to one scripture verse then another.Then it happened this slow wonderful warming sensation sort of starting from one part of my body then working though it. This first warming was so strong I went weak at the knees and had to hold on to the taps till it went. I knew inside immediately that it was what I call a confirmation which all my warmings seem to be. A confirmation of.. well done, you are right, yes that is what these scriptures mean, yes this is real let me touch you to confirm etc, etc.
    What a life Alan and what a privilege to be personally guided by the creator.These touches for me are now a way of life. I sometimes get challenged by some very learned Christians. One good friend and wonderful christian brother saying the way you say God talks and guides you is embarrassing. Because of his amazing knowledge, great on going witness and a respect I had built up for him and his dad over many years I went very quite while I sought the Lord deeply over this. It was a horrible time. My mate had lots of scriptures. Who was I to argue. All I could think is… if what I am experiencing …all the conversations at all hours of the night, all the working through of stuff together etc etc If this was not real then I do not want to be a Christian. I felt like I was going through another divorce. Then I realized (as Bill M says) I really had a relationship. But then did I???.
    Any way I just decided to carry on happily with the Lord in this way. He has since guided me through so much now I have very little doubt if any. Your entry is yet another confirmation. Mate He (The Cohuna of Cohunas, The Great I Am, The one who created all we can see cares about the little stuff we go through and He has just shown us both. I do not want to ever lose this relationship.

    Alan another thing I have experienced I wonder if you have?? is… I have occasionally blurted out something very strongly to a person. Latter I have found myself wondering I do not recall thinking about that statement before saying it. It is way out of character for me now to not consider my words carefully. Latter when I have gone to The Lord with it trying to see if I had something to repent off… I have got the strong feeling it was him talking to the person through me… Taking over for that short space of time.
    I have sometimes apologized for “the way” I have said what I said (as I felt lead to) but felt not to apologise for “what” I said. This happened it seems when some territory is touched wrongly by the person that I feel is very close to Gods heart.
    It is right it seems, for me to apologise for the way I delivered my words (tone and body movements etc) to the person on the receiving end (because they think it is me speaking) but not right for me to apologise for “what” has been said. “God meant it or he would not have said it” (on refection I find I deeply feel the same as God does on the matter) But it is wrong for “me” to think that God should not have said it that way (if all this makes sense) because… He is who He is and He expressed it that way because he was actually angry at that person.

    Sorry this was so long . but it was so great to find someone who gets warmings or touches.You to are the only one I know who has.
    Go well Bro.
    John Shenton

  • I couldn’t help wondering if Rob Bell (Love Wins) has tried to reconcile v21-23 with his ideas? It seems to me that a great many errors amongst Christians can be attributed to not properly acknowledging who Jesus really is.

    Those words of Jesus cut deep into me. I could not imagine what it would be like to hear those words directed at me, with a crucifixion-scarred hand pointing me away forever.

    Mark Rabich

  • Quite right Mark

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I might add at the end: And it takes great courage to be a true, obedient, faithful Christian. Christianity is not for wimps!

  • Thanks Bill. I’m so amazed to read this here today as my sister and I were talking about this just last night about the new ‘grace’ teachings that are sweeping the church and of one woman who objected to the very concept of ‘repentance’ and refuses to sing any song that smacks of our need to live in a way pleasing to the Lord as we ‘already are pleasing to the Lord just by saying the sinner’s prayer’. These people believe that they are enlightened and that this new ‘revelation’ is going to sweep the church and revolutionize it. They will not accept anyone telling them anything different and actually become angry with leaders who might try to tell them otherwise. This quote from what you say above describes exactly what these people are saying: “Cheap grace preaches forgiveness without repentance”. Many of them object to the word ‘repentance’. The problem is that it is spreading so quickly. There are certain teachers teaching this doctrine and whole churches that have adopted it as gospel. We need to pray for more people to speak out and expose it because I do agree that it could mean that many will unknowingly lose their salvation.

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