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. (Matthew 7:22-23)
This has to be, for me, one of the scariest passages in the whole bible. The people that Jesus is describing sound very much like Christians. They certainly think they are doing OK and on the right side of Jesus.
This passage raises at least a couple of questions. Firstly, if these people can do ‘mighty works’ and yet Jesus still rejects them, what hope do I have? Secondly, is Jesus opening up the possibility of somebody ‘losing’ their salvation?
Let’s examine the passage in greater detail.
Jesus starts with the phrase ‘on that day’. It seems clear that He is referring to the final judgement also called ‘the day of the Lord’. This is mentioned many times in the bible. It was alluded to on many occasions in the Old Testament:
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! (Isaiah 13:6)
Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. (Joel 1:15)
And then in the New Testament
because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
And it is clear that Jesus will be the one sitting on the judgement seat
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1)
It is also clear that every person that has ever lived will receive judgement
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement (Hebrews 9:27)
The book of Revelation has the description of what this judgement will be like;
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
So why is Jesus speaking against these people so strongly and warning them of this impending judgement?
Jesus has just finished speaking about false prophets (those who preach a different and distorted gospel) and last week we looked at His insistence that true believers are those who do the father’s will.
And do you remember what doing the father’s will is? Was it doing great works and proving how ‘holy’ we can be? No! It was simply trusting in the finished work of Christ. His death burial and resurrection and how it is all sufficient for salvation. Repentance and faith with nothing added to it.
This reveals to us what Jesus is talking about in today’s passage. The people who came to Him are calling Him Lord but they have not actually made Him Lord of their lives. They are not doing the father’s will. They are hoping to get into heaven on their own good works. All of their pleading is based on what they have done. Sure, they have ‘sugar coated’ it all up with the veneer of doing it all for Jesus but actually what they are saying is “look at all the good things we have done, surely that’s got to be worth something” and the sad thing is, they are saying it to Jesus. No wonder He is so angry.
Jesus paid the ultimate price by going to the cross and doing everything for us, because there was nothing that we could do. Our own righteousness (for salvation) is described in the book of Isaiah as being like ‘filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6)
So what these people are actually saying to Jesus is that His sacrifice wasn’t quite enough. They needed to ‘top it up’ a little bit. How hideous! No wonder Jesus gives such a sober warning.
I don’t believe these people were actually Christians, because they never understood salvation and where it comes from. Jesus clarifies this when he says “I never knew you” He didn’t say “I used to know you and then you got too proud” No, they were never saved in the first place.
True Christians will only have one plea when they stand before the judgement seat of Christ and that is to humbly acknowledge that Jesus did it all.
I’ll leave you today with a couple of lines from that great hymn ‘rock of ages’ which sums it all up very nicely.
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Naked come to thee for dress, helpless, look to thee for grace. Vile I to the fountain fly, wash me saviour, or I die”