What does Matthew 7:21-23 mean?
Here’s a scripture that frightens some Christians:
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!” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus’ words worry some because they seem to contradict what Paul writes in Romans:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Confess Jesus as Lord and you’re saved, says Paul.
But you might not be, says Jesus.
Which is it?
You need to know that Paul is 100 percent correct. If you are persuaded that Jesus is the risen Lord, then you are his and he is yours and you are eternally saved. Don’t let anyone move you from your secure position.
Yet Jesus is also 100 percent correct for there is no contradiction between him and Paul. Indeed, there is a nice symmetry for Paul is describing sheep, while Jesus is talking about wolves.
Let’s look at three things Jesus says:
1. On that day
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord…’” On what day? On that day of judgment when the nations are gathered before him and Jesus separates his sheep from the goats (and wolves).
Today (as in right now) there are only some who recognize Jesus as Lord, but on that day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him as Lord. On that day it won’t take any faith to recognize Jesus as Lord because he will appear as he truly is.
2. I never knew you
Jesus is not speaking to Christians who have missed the mark, because he says “I never knew you.” Not, “I knew you once but now I’m writing you off.”
Nor does he say, “I wrote your name in my book but now I’m blotting it out.” Jesus is talking to people he never knew.
We may not be 100 percent faithful but Jesus is. If you are his you can rest assured that he will never let you go (John 10:28-29).
God does not break his promises and unchild his children. If you have been born again you can’t be unborn. What God has joined together, no man can separate.
3. You evildoers
Jesus calls them evildoers which seems harsh for people who are helping others. “Did we not prophesy, drive out demons, and perform many miracles in your name?”
Things are not always what they seem. These guys are not as helpful as they make out.
First, they are self-righteous. “Jesus, here’s my resume. You gotta let me in because I am an accomplished individual. Look at all I’ve done!” Which is basically saying, “Jesus, you died for nothing. Keep your grace; I don’t need it. I stand on my own merits.”
Second, they are ravenous wolves. Read Jesus’ words in context and you will find this warning:
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
The word for ravenous can translated as extortioners. These evildoers are religious gangsters who make their living by frightening those whom God loves and threatening the sheep. You may have heard them.
“God is mad at you. His sword is hanging over this city. Judgment’s coming. You are standing on the precipice. Beware astronomical omens. Stay away from grace – it’ll send you to hell.”
These terrorists use threats of punishment to extract money and service from the sheep.
“Sow into my ministry and save yourself from the flames.”
I am not talking about the misguided preacher who loves the Lord, but the self-righteous huckster who lives off stolen property and “makes himself wealthy by extortion” (see Hab 2:4-7). These fearmongers claim to serve in the name of Lord, but they are servants of fear and darkness.
The third thing to note is they are liars. They claim to be doing good but a “bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt 7:18).
They’re putting on a big show, they’ve got their perfect smiles but it’s all fake. They may look good on stage, but in private they are different people. They are bad trees with bad fruit.
Put it altogether and you have some very dangerous sheep-rustlers insulting the Son of God to his face and bragging about how awesome they are.
And Jesus says, “Not in my house. Away with you evildoers!”
This ought to make us happy. We may occasionally be fooled by charlatans, but Jesus is never fooled. We may let them into our houses, but he won’t let them into his, which is good, because they’d ruin the party for everyone.
What is the will of my Father?
Jesus says only those who do the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. What is his will?
Jesus answers with a word picture. It’s building on the rock. It’s hearing the words of Jesus and putting them into practice. It’s believing in Jesus (John 6:29). In short, the will of God is to trust in Jesus.
And this brings us back to Paul who said “If you declare, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart…”
This isn’t rocket surgery and you don’t need a seminary degree to make sense of it. Ravenous wolves who devour sheep will have to deal with the Good Shepherd.
Bet your life on Jesus and he will never let you down.
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Misguided was mentioned in an earlier post about Christians that get caught up in religion. Discouragement is another biggy. I’m sure Paul has a teaching somewhere about when someone feels the Lord has abandoned them cause I’m feeling it. I need a job so bad I can taste it, not a job but a career that will last. I’m in financial straights, stressing at the house wondering where the provision is. Encouragement helps but it’s work I need. What do you think Paul about playing the lottery? Some say it’s gambling therefore wrong.
I wouldn’t say it’s wrong, just stupid. Spending a dollar to make a dime is a fast track to poverty. Most people I know who buy lottery tickets do so for a brief taste of hope, but you and I have a better Hope. Spend that money on petrol, get out of town and into the bush somewhere, and spend some distraction free time with your heavenly Father. Cast your cares and anxieties on him. He cares for you.
This is appreciated, Paul. I’ve heard various takes on this passage, but yours makes the most sense.