Matthew 7:21-23

Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’


A fascinating article appeared in The Wall Street Journal in August of last year by Sue Shellenbarger entitled, “The Case for Lying to Yourself.”  The article concerned recent psychological studies on the issue of self-deception or how human beings lie to and deceive themselves.  The article was saying that most human beings, to some capacity, lie to themselves and that, in the opinion of some psychologists, this can be a good thing if it causes us to try to live up to the lie we believe about ourselves.  I would disagree with that second part, but the first part seems clear enough:  most human beings do indeed lie to themselves.  And I suspect that, when we do lie to ourselves, we usually lie in the positive, thinking more of ourselves than we should.  Of course, the opposite is, at times, true:  there are people who truly hate themselves.  But, on the main, I suspect the human ego tends more towards glossing our own faults than playing them up.  The studies cited in the article would seem to confirm that.  For instance:

Many people have a way of “fooling their inner eye” to believe they are more successful or attractive than they really are, Dr. Trivers says. When people are asked to choose the most accurate photo of themselves from an array of images that are either accurate, or altered to make them look up to 50% more or less attractive, most choose the photo that looks 20% better than reality, research shows.

One more example:

For some people, self-deception becomes a habit, spinning out of control and providing a basis for more lies. In research co-written by Dr. Norton and published last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, college students who were given an answer key to an intelligence test, allowing them to cheat, scored higher than a control group. They later predicted, however, that they also would score higher on a second test without being allowed to cheat. They were “deceiving themselves into believing their strong performance was a reflection of their ability,” the study says.

Giving them praise, a certificate of recognition, made the self-deception even worse: The students inflated their predicted future scores even more.[1]

Lying to ourselves comes with the Fall.  Eve had to be willing to tell herself the serpent’s lie, that she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit.  Adam had to tell himself the same thing.  And every human being since then has told themselves the same lie.

All of us want to downplay the unpleasant reality of the human condition, convincing ourselves that we are not, in fact, lost, in need of salvation.  This reality even leads some people to tell themselves that they are saved when in fact they are not.  Jesus put it like this:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

R. Ken Hughes writes, “Sadly, it is really quite easy to be accorded the status of an evangelical Christian without being born-again.”  He then astutely gives three ways that a person can do this, can convince himself or herself and others that he or she is a believer when he or she really is not a believer at all.

  • “First, work on your vocabulary.”  That is, learn the Christian buzzwords of the church of which you are a part so that people will be impressed.
  • “Second, emulate certain social conventions.”  That is, learn the cultural mores of the church of which you are a part so that people will think you are good.
  • “Third, have the right heritage.”[2]  That is, try to be born to Christian parents, preferably famous and devout ones, so you can convince yourself and others that you must be a Christian as well.

Yes, it is actually easier than we might think to delude ourselves about the nature of our walk with Jesus.  Jim Elliff writes that “the unconverted church member may well be the largest obstacle to evangelism in our day.”[3]

Before we consider two facts about this, let me say that I suspect there are two equal and opposite extremes when it comes to being secure in your salvation.  The one extreme is never being secure, never resting in the promises of Christ, never simply accepting that the God who says He will save us in Christ did, in fact, do so when we came to Christ in repentance and faith.

The other extreme is a cheap and shallow naivete about salvation, simply assuming you are right with Christ without any reflection on whether or not you have ever truly embraced the cross.  I am talking about the kind of cheap easy-believism that can make no sense of Paul’s words in Philippians 2.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Let me be abundantly clear:  I believe completely in the security of the believer.  When Christ saves you, He will never let you go.  But the salvation in which we are secure is valuable enough to be sure about.  That is what I would like for us to consider today.

I. Not Every Person Who Thinks He or She is Saved is, in Fact, Saved.

Let us start with the basic premise behind the words of Jesus in our text:  not every person who thinks he or she is saved is, in fact, saved.  Jesus says there will be people who stand before Him who will be utterly shocked to be informed that Christ does not know them.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Notice that these people had a verbal confession:  “Lord, Lord!”  Notice that they had powerful ministries:  “did we not prophesy in your name.”  Notice that they had a kind of power:  “and cast our demons in your name.”  Notice that their resumes contained truly awesome accounts of their accomplishments:  “and do many mighty works in your name.”

You might say, “How can this be?  How can a person seemingly accomplish so much in the name of Christ but not truly know Christ?”  It can be because Jesus is, for these people, only a name, indeed, only a word.  They do not have a relationship with Jesus.  They do not know Him.  Most importantly, He does not know them.

They have deceived themselves, deluded themselves.  They have told themselves they are Christians, and they have adoring fans who tell them the same.  But being applauded for being a disciple of Jesus is not the same thing as actually being a disciple of Jesus.

That great preacher of yesteryear, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, lists “the common causes of self-deception” followed by evidences that we might have deceived our own selves on this importat matter.  First, some common causes of self-deception.

  • A false doctrine of assurance based on mere words.
  • A refusal to examine oneself.
  • The danger of “living on one’s activities.”
  • “The tendency to balance our lives by putting up one thing against another.”  (Here, Lloyd-Jones is talking about the human tendency to downplay our failures to follow Christ and what those failures may reveal about the true condition of our hearts by counterbalancing them with our supposed successes.  That is, he is referring to the temptation to shield ourselves from the truth by telling ourselves that, after all, we cannot be that bad.)
  • “Our failure to realize that the one thing that matters is our relationship to Christ.”

Next, let us consider Lloyd-Jones’ evidences of self-deception.  He can we know that we might be deceived?

  • “An undue interest in phenomenon.”  (Here we may think of Christians who are particularly enamored with the more unusual gifts, speaking in tongues, etc.)
  • “An undue interest in organizations, denominations, particular churches, or some movement or fellowship.”
  • An undue interest “in the social and general rather than in the personal aspects of Christianity.”
  • An undue interest in “apologetics, or the definition and defence of the faith, instead of in a true relationship to Jesus Christ.” (Many people love theology more than they love Jesus.)
  • Having “a purely academic and theoretical interest in theology.”
  • An “over interest in prophetic teaching.”
  • A fixation on the Bible to the neglect of Jesus.
  • A fixation on sermons to the neglect of Jesus.
  • “Playing grace against law and thereby being interested only in grace.”[4]

I believe this is very helpful and profoundly true.  Many people are so enamored with this or that aspect of Christianity, aspects that are very good in and of themselves (i.e., scripture, gifts, doctrine, theology, the church, the ordinances, etc.), that they miss Christ.

Let us understand a chilling truth:  it is possible to love the Bible without loving Jesus.  It is possible to love the church without loving Jesus.  It is possible to love doctrine without loving Jesus.  It is possible to love missions without loving Jesus.  It is possible to love sermons without loving Jesus.  It is possible to love preaching sermons without loving Jesus.  It is possible to love singing hymns without loving Jesus.

Yes, it is possible to love the great things of the faith without loving the greatest.

Friends, ask yourselves, “Do I love Jesus?  Do I know Jesus?  Have I embraced Jesus?”

II.  The Evidence of Salvation is Sincere Faith Resulting in True Works.

What, then, is the evidence of genuine salvation?  Hear our text again.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

The evidence of salvation is sincere faith resulting in true works.  Perhaps this makes you uncomfortable.  Perhaps you think, “I thought we are saved by grace through faith and that not of works?  What can this mean, ‘the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’ ‘will enter the kingdom of heaven’?”

To this I would reply, yes, we are in fact saved by grace through faith, but true, saving faith is faith that opens the heart to Jesus, who comes in, takes up residence, and then works through us.  Saving faith is faith that works.  James put it like this in James 2:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Do you see?  We receive God’s unmerited favor through faith.  We do not earn our salvation.  But true faith is laboring faith, working faith.  James Montgomery Boice once spoke of faith and works as the two sets of oars on the ship of a person’s life.  You cannot truly claim to have one if you do not have the other.  Then he offered this helpful illustration.

            In one of the great battles that took place between the Greeks and the Persians just prior to the Greek Golden Age, there was an incident that perfectly illustrates this principle.  The Persian fleet had sailed from the Bosporus out along the Macedonian coast and then down the edge of Greece to Attica.  It finally met the Greek ships in the bay of Salamis just off Athens.  The Greek ships were lighter and quicker; the Persian ships were cumbersome.  So, in the battle that followed, the Greeks made short work of the Persians.  In on particular encounter a Greek ship managed to sail close to a large Persian vessel and brush by its side.  Because it had done this quickly, the Persian oarsmen did not have time to draw their oars in, although the Greeks did.  The result was that the Greek ship broke off all of the oars on that side of the Persian vessel.  Few on the Persian ship realized what had happened, and because the oarsmen on the other side continue rowing, the ship swing around in a circle leaving a fresh set of oars visible to the Greek captain.  The Greeks then reversed their ship, trimmed off the other set of oars, and sank the enemy.

            It must have been a humorous sight, the great ship going around in circles.  But it is an illustration of what happens when there is faith without works or works without faith.  Oh, we can generate a big storm with one oar.  We can get attention.  But we will just be going around in circles spiritually.  Real Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith resulting in a new life that goes forward and that is increasingly productive in good works.[5]

Do you feel that you are going in circles?  Do you feel that you never progress in Christ?  It could be many things.  It could be that you are simply walking through a valley, that God is teaching you something as you walk a hard road.  It could be this.  But if you find that your life never bears fruit for Christ, that you are not transformed, let me simply ask you this:  have you truly trusted in Christ?  Have you truly accepted Him?  Do you know that you know Him.

Brothers, sisters, it is worth being sure about, and we can be sure about it.  Give your life to Christ.  Trust in Christ.  Run to Christ.

He is waiting with open arms.



[2] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p.253.

[3] Jim Elliff.  Revival and the Unregenerate Church Member. (Christian Communicators Worldwide), p.8.

[4] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959-1960) p.526-535, 536-545.

[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1972), p.261.

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