“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 NIV)
Jesus is nearly finished with His Sermon on the Mount; He has taught His disciples about living in the new relationship with God, with themselves, and with others in community.
Jesus has warned His disciples about living counter-culturally, and following God rather than the masses (vv. 13-14). Jesus then warns about false prophets (vv. 15-20), reminding His disciples (and us) about looking at the “fruit” of a person’s life as proof of who and what they truly are.
Jesus now challenges His disciples to examine themselves according to this same criteria. We are not exempt from Jesus’ words and challenge – it applies equally to us as it did to His disciples.
Jesus’ challenge: What kind of fruit are we producing?
Jesus subtly unveils His deity for just a moment when He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’…” (v. 21). In this statement, Jesus shows His authority over everything, even life, death, and eternity. Jesus does not deny being Lord; in fact, He accepts the title of Master (Lord).
Jesus even acknowledges the earnestness of those who call Him by His title, when they say, “Lord, Lord”.
But what does Jesus say earns us the right to enter heaven? A regenerate, changed heart, evidenced by obedience to what God asks us to do.
Jesus modeled this earlier to His disciples, as He taught them to pray:
“Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
So it’s not us getting our way in heaven, but rather, humbly inviting God to have His way here on earth. That goes for our prayers as well as our actions, even our very souls.
Jesus goes on in verse 22, anticipating their objections and questions, teaching His disciples that good things done in Jesus’ name, even miraculous things done in Jesus’ name, like prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles does not guarantee us a place in heaven. We don’t earn our way into heaven by being good people, by acknowledging Jesus’ authority, even by earnestly doing good things in His name.
It’s by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, that we come to Him. And out of that new relationship to Jesus, our life is changed, and we produce fruit that demonstrates His life in us.
So why does Jesus talk about this in this order, in this spot in the summary in His sermon?
I think there are two points worth considering:
- Jesus is warning His disciples, saying, “Ask yourself why you do what you do. If the answer is to somehow earn favor before God and work your way into heaven, your motives are wrong ,and you need to repent and come by faith to Me. Otherwise, you are fooling yourself, and you won’t figure it out until it’s too late. Be sure your actions match your words.”
- Jesus is warning His disciples (and us), saying, “The way to avoid becoming a false prophet is by examining your life. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you have earned your way into heaven. If you do, you will be one of the false prophets whom I just spoke about that get off course and follows the broad way and urges others to do the same.”
Those are strong words, and sobering thoughts from Jesus as He draws near to the conclusion of this sermon. James, the half-brother of Jesus, echoed Jesus’ command this way:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
(James 1:22 NIV)
Jesus, I come before You and humbly acknowledge that You have the final say in life, death, and eternity. Salvation is by no other than You. I can’t earn my way into heaven. It’s not about what I do for You, but what You choose to do for me and through me. Not my will, but Yours be done. May my outward actions reflect Your inner transformation in me.
Have you looked in the mirror of your life lately? Have you invited Jesus to look with you?