If there is any text in the Bible that startles so many professing Christians in evangelicalism today, it is Matthew 7:21-23. Before we proceed, it is important to note the context of the text. First, Matthew 7 is the conclusion of the glorious sermon on the mount. Matthew 7 begins with Christ talking about judging righteously. He then speaks about the narrow gate and the wide gate. He also addressed false prophets and how they shall be known by their fruit. Then Jesus dropped these startling words; “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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Simply, Christ says here that not all who profess His name will be saved. In this text, the use of the literary device of repetition —“Lord, Lord”— places more emphasis on the severity of this text. The Reformation Study Bible note on Matt 7:21-23 notes that “The doubling of a name is an address of intimacy (Gen. 22:11; 1 Sam. 3:10; 2 Sam. 18:33; Luke 22:31). It is not claims or feelings of intimacy with Jesus that matter, nor is it performing miraculous works in Jesus’ name, as even Judas Iscariot did (Matt. 10:1-4).”
Some, who supposedly knew him intimately will be cast from His presence forever because He never knew them. Now, let us turn to Matthew 7:21-23 to glean some five lessons from the text.
This is the most important question we should ask ourselves based on this text. Which Christ are we trusting in? There are many Christs out there, but there is only one saving Christ. Christ warned us of this when He said many false Christs will come in the last days. False Christs do not and cannot save. There is only one Christ who saves, and He is the Christ of Scripture. He is our Sovereign Ruler and King. The Lord of Lords and Author of Life, who gave Himself as a ransom for His people. He bore the full wrath of God on a cross, died, and rose on the third day, having conquered death. He is the true and only savior. Salvation comes through Him and Him alone. Do you believe in the biblical Christ?
Known By God
To be known by God is more important than any other thing in this world. It is the very foundation of everything. We must be known by God before we can know God. This does not just mean knowing about God. Rather, it is knowing Him in an intimate way. Knowing God is one thing, but being known by God is another. Using a worldly analogy, we all know Queen Elizabeth. However, to be known by Queen Elizabeth is unique. In the same sense, we know God, but to be known by the God of the universe is mind-blowing.
In Matthew 7, Christ tells them to depart, for He never knew them. Of course, God sovereignly knows everyone, but He only shares an intimate relationship with His own: those who believe in Him. So never knowing them does not mean that He knew them and stopped knowing them at some point. Rather, they never had a saving relationship with Him to begin with. Those who are truly known by God are kept by God until the end. So, the key question is, “Are you known by God?” One may ask, how do I know if I am known by God? Well, do you believe in the gospel of Christ? Do you love God, even just a little?
Profession Is Not Possession
The fact that one professes faith in Christ does not mean he possesses it. We see this in Matthew 7. They professed and did many mighty works. However, we see them condemned in the end. It is not professors of faith that are saved, but possessors. Only those who possess a saving faith in Christ are children of God, and such are not brought into judgment but are passed from death to life. All those who possess saving faith profess it, but not all those who profess faith possess it. Hence, we are to make sure of our election and calling. Do you possess true saving faith?
The people described in Matthew 7 had a false assurance. By prophesying in His name, casting out demons, and completing many mighty works in His name, they believed they belonged to Him. Christ tells us in Scripture that false Christ will rise up and do many great miracles and mighty works. Our assurance therefore should not come from what we do, but from Christ who saves. Our assurance shouldn’t come from God answering our prayers (providence is remarkable), or the things we do, but from the Word of God. We are to make sure of our election and calling and to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Do we believe in the true Christ? Our fruits are a great litmus test for us, but the Spirit of God and the Word of God are our assurance.
The Spirit of God illuminating the truth of God’s word in our heart assures us that we are indeed Children of God. Is your assurance then from the fact that you said a prayer or walked an aisle, or because you grew up in a Christian home, or because a pastor said you are saved or is your assurance wrought by the Spirit of God on your heart through his Word?
Narrow Path Is Life
Early in Matthew 7, Christ tells us to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” In Matthew 7:21-23, He tells us that “MANY will say unto me.” This group in Matthew 7 is not small in number. They are many. The fact that many profess faith does not mean they possess saving faith. We must ensure we are on the narrow path. We must not compare ourselves with the masses. The fact that “many” are doing something does not make it right. Rather, we must compare ourselves to the truth of God’s word. What does God’s word say? It is our final authority. The gate is narrow indeed.
The truth is, you could be part of the people in Matthew 7:21-23. Christ is the only way by which we can be saved, and by faith in Him alone, we are saved. Do you believe in Christ? Are you known by God? Are you just a professor of faith, or are you a possessor? Do you have a false assurance, or is your assurance from God the Holy Spirit and His Word? Are you on the narrow path that leads to life or the wide path that leads to destruction? This is something we must address individually. No one believes unto salvation for us; WE must believe in Christ alone on our own.