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I Never Knew You
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven, Many will say to Me in that day. ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them. ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
WE consider now the section 7:21-23 above. These, surely, are in many ways the most solemn and solemnizing words ever uttered in this world, not only by any man, but even by the Son of God Himself. Indeed, were any man to utter such words we should feel compelled not only to criticize but even to condemn him. But they are words spoken by the Son of God Himself, and therefore demand our most earnest attention. How often, I wonder, have we considered them, or heard a sermon on them? Must we not all plead guilty to the fact that, though we claim to believe the whole of Scripture, in practice we frequently deny much of it by ignoring it, simply because it does not pander to the flesh, or because it disturbs us. But if we really believe that this is the Word of God, we must consider it all; and especially must we be careful to avoid those specious arguments by which certain people endeavour to avoid the plain teaching of Scripture. These words are extremely solemn, and the only way in which we can consider them truly is to do so in the light of the fact that a day is coming ‘when all earthly scenes shall pass away’. It is a word addressed to men and women who are conscious of the fact that they will have to stand before God in final judgment.
It is clear that in this paragraph our Lord is continuing the theme with which He dealt in the previous paragraph, where He warned the people against false prophets. To our Lord this is such a desperately serious matter that He comes back to it again. He is not content with one warning. He has really finished the teaching of the Sermon, and has worked it out in great detail. Now He is applying it. He began the application in the exhortation about entering in at the strait gate, and walking in the narrow way. But He is so concerned that none should be misled about this matter that He repeats the warning time and again.
Having shown us the subtlety of the false prophets in His two remarkable analogies, our Lord now makes His warning concerning that matter still more explicit. This time it is even more blunt than the previous one, and our Lord undoubtedly puts it like this because of the desperate seriousness of the matter and the terrible danger that confronts us at this point. His method, you observe, is the same as it has been right through the Sermon on the Mount. He starts always by making a blunt assertion, then He takes it up and illustrates, elaborates and amplifies it. That is exactly what we have in this particular paragraph. First of all He says, ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ That is the proposition. But then He goes on to illustrate and elaborate it. ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord,’ etc.
The most important thing from the standpoint of exposition is that we should take these two parts together, that we should not isolate verse 21 from verses 22 and 23, as some have been tempted to do, but that we take all these verses together and regard them as the laying down of the proposition, and the demonstration of its implication. The importance of doing so is seen when we are reminded that certain people, taking verse 21 on its own, have argued that what our Lord is really teaching there is that, in the last analysis, what matters is not so much what a man believes as what he does. It is a quotation often used by people who like to put up faith and works as opposites. They ask: ‘Did not He say, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven”?’ The emphasis, they maintain, is upon the doing. And then they propound their whole doctrine of salvation by works. ‘Some people’, they say, ‘are always concerned about doctrine, and everlastingly talking about it; but it is not a man’s doctrine, but what he does, that really matters’. They misuse verse 21 in that way because they isolate it from verses 22 and 23. But the moment you put them together you see that the object of the statement cannot be to contrast belief and works, because our Lord says about the works in verses 22 and 23 precisely what He says about the belief in verses 21 and 22. It is important, therefore, to take the text in its context and not to isolate it.
No, the message here is not to emphasize works at the expense of belief; it is something much more serious than that. It is, rather, to open our eyes again to the terrible danger of self- deception and self-delusion. That is what our Lord is concerned about here. It was the same general theme in the previous paragraph. There the danger was considered in terms of our being misled by the false prophets because of their sheep’s clothing, and the attractive character of their doctrine which is so deceiving, and so subtle. Here, our Lord proceeds to show us the same thing, not now in the false prophets, but in ourselves. It is the danger, the terrible danger of self-deception and self-delusion. Or, to put it positively, our Lord is emphasizing once more that nothing avails in the presence of God but true righteousness, true holiness, the ‘holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ [Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it (Hebrews 12:14 TEV)]. And if our idea of justification by faith does not include that (a holy life), it is not the scriptural teaching, it is a dangerous delusion. Scripture, it must be repeated again, must be taken as a whole, and our Lord at this point is simply warning us that whatever we may say or do, we cannot stand in the presence of God if we are not truly righteous and holy. It is what Scripture teaches from beginning to end. It is the teaching of the Lord Himself; it is not human legalism. He is showing once more what true faith really means, and He does so in a new way.
We can put it like this. Our Lord shows us some of the false and wrong things on which men tend to rely. He gives us a list of them. First we shall work through this list; then later we can consider the general lessons and principles which can be deduced from this detailed teaching. But we are bound to face squarely the things which our Lord puts before us for our consideration. The general principle behind the teaching is that self-deception with regard to the soul and its relationship to God is generally due to our relying upon false evidences of salvation. Or, to put it in another way, our Lord shows us what is actually possible in the experience of a man who is finally reprobate and damned. That is the alarming thing. He shows us that a man can get so far and yet be altogether wrong. It is certainly one of the most astounding statements that is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures.
The first piece of false evidence on which some people tend to rest is rather surprising. It is none else than a correct belief. ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ There are certain people, says our Lord in effect, who say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and yet they shall never enter the kingdom of heaven. We must handle this very carefully. He is not criticizing people for saying: ‘Lord, Lord’. Everybody should say: ‘Lord, Lord’. He is referring to people who are right in their doctrine concerning His nature and about His Person, to people who have recognized Him, and who come to Him, and say ‘Lord, Lord’. They say the right things to Him, they believe the right things about Him. Our Lord is not criticizing them for that. What He is saying is that not everyone who does say that shall enter the kingdom of heaven.
The negative is very important at this point. A man who does not say ‘Lord, Lord’ shall never enter the kingdom of heaven. That is, of course, the starting-point in this whole question of salvation. No man is a Christian unless he says ‘Lord, Lord’ to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says that no man can say that apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Orthodoxy, in other words, is absolutely essential. So what we have here is not a criticism of orthodoxy; it cannot possibly be. But it is a statement of the fact that, if you rely only upon your orthodoxy, you may be damned. Orthodoxy is absolutely vital and essential. Unless we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Son of God, unless we recognize Him as the eternal Son, ‘substance of the eternal substance’, made flesh and dwelling amongst us, unless we believe the New Testament doctrine that He was sent by God to be the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, and that because of that He has been exalted and is Lord of all, to whom every knee shall eventually bow, we are not Christian at all (see Philippians 2:5-11). We must believe that. To be a Christian is primarily a matter of believing certain truths concerning the Lord Jesus Christ; in other words, believing on Him. There is no such thing as Christianity apart from that. To be a Christian means that we rest our entire case, our whole salvation, our whole eternal destiny entirely upon the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why a true Christian says, ‘Lord, Lord’; that is the content of the statement. It does not just mean saying the right words, it indicates that we mean those things when we say them.
But the alarming and terrifying thing which our Lord says is that not everyone who does say ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Those who do go in say it; anyone who does not say it can never enter into the kingdom of heaven; but not all who do say it shall enter in. This is clearly something that should arrest us and cause us to pause. James, in his Epistle, puts the very same point. He warns us to be careful against merely relying upon our belief of certain things, and he puts it like this in a rather startling manner by saying, ‘The devils also believe, and tremble’ (James 2:19). An instance of this is found in the Gospels where we read that certain devils recognized Him and said ‘Lord, Lord’, but remained devils. We are all in danger of being content with an intellectual assent to the truth. There have been people throughout the centuries who have fallen into this trap. They have read the Scriptures and accepted their teaching. They believed the teaching, and sometimes they have been exponents of the truth, and have argued against heretics. And yet their whole character and life have been a denial of the very truth they have claimed to believe.
It is a terrifying thought and yet Scripture so often teaches us that it is a dreadful possibility. A man who is unregenerate and not born again may accept the scriptural teaching as a kind of philosophy, as abstract truth. Indeed, I would not hesitate to say that I always find it very difficult to understand how any intelligent man is not compelled to do that. If any man comes to the Bible with an intelligent mind and faces its evidence, it seems almost incredible that he should not arrive at certain inevitable logical conclusions. And a man may do that and still not be a Christian. The historical evidence for the Person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is beyond question. You cannot explain the persistence of the Christian Church apart from Him; the evidence is overwhelming. So a man may face that and say: ‘Yes, I accept that argument’. He may subscribe to the truth and say: ‘Jesus of Nazareth was none other than the Son of God’. He may say that and still be unregenerate, and not a Christian. He may say ‘Lord, Lord’, and yet not enter the kingdom of heaven. Our forefathers, in days when they realized these dangers, used to emphasize this tremendously. Read the works of the Puritans and you will find that they devoted not only chapters but volumes to the question of ‘false peace’. Indeed, this danger has been recognized throughout the centuries. There is the danger of trusting your faith instead of Christ, of trusting your belief without really becoming regenerate. It is a terrible possibility. There are people who have been brought up in a Christian home and atmosphere, who have always heard these things, and in a sense have always accepted them, and have always believed and said the right thing; but still they may not be Christians.
The second possibility is that these people may not only be believers of the truth, but also fervent and zealous. You notice the repetition of the word ‘Lord’, they do not merely say ‘Lord’, they say ‘Lord, Lord’. These people are not intellectual believers only; there is an element of feeling; emotion is involved. They seem keen and anxious and they are full of fervour. Yet our Lord says that even that may be quite false, and that there are many who thus zealously and fervently say the right things about Him, and to Him, who still shall not enter into the kingdom of God. How is this to be explained?
It is to be explained in the following manner. One of the most difficult things, all Christians must surely admit, is to differentiate between a truly spiritual fervour and a carnal, fleshly, animal zeal and enthusiasm. Natural animal spirits and temperament may very well make a man fervent and zealous. A man may be born with an energetic nature and a fervent enthusiastic spirit---some of us have to be more careful at this point than others. There is nothing of which a preacher needs to be more sure than that the zeal and fervency in his preaching is not produced by his natural temperament or his sermon, but by real belief in Christ. It is a very subtle matter. A man prepares a message and, having prepared it, he may be pleased and satisfied with the arrangement and order of the thoughts and certain forms of expression. If he is of an energetic, fervent nature, he may well be excited and moved by that and especially when he preaches the sermon. But it may be entirely of the flesh and have nothing at all to do with spiritual matters. Every preacher knows exactly what this means, and anybody who has ever taken part in public prayer knows the same. You can be carried away by your own eloquence and by the very thing you yourself are doing and not by the truth at all. There are some people who seem to think it is their duty to be fervent and emotional. Some people never pray in public without crying, and some tend to think that they feel more than others. But it does not follow for a moment. The emotional type of person is always more liable to weep when he prays, but it does not mean of necessity that he is more spiritual.
Our Lord, then, is emphasizing that though they say ‘Lord, Lord’, and are fervent and zealous, it may be nothing but the flesh. Great enthusiasm in these things does not of necessity imply spirituality. The flesh may account for that; it can counterfeit almost everything. We can perhaps emphasize this point best by quoting something which was written by Robert Murray McCheyne. That man of God, when he merely entered the pulpit, caused people to break down and weep. People felt that he had come straight from an audience with God, and they were humbled by his very appearance. This is what he said in his diary one day: ‘Today, missed some fine opportunity of speaking a word for Christ. The Lord saw that I would have spoken as much for my own honour as for His, and therefore He shut my mouth. I see that a man cannot be a faithful, fervent minister until he preaches just for Christ’s sake, until he gives up trying to attract people to himself; and seeks to attract them to Christ. Lord’, he ends, ‘give me this.’ Robert Murray McCheyne there recognizes this terrible danger of doing things in the flesh and imagining that we are doing them for Christ’s sake.
That, then, is the first part of our Lord’s analysis. Nothing is more dangerous than to rely only upon a correct belief, and a fervent spirit, and to assume that, as long as you believe the right things and are zealous and keen and active concerning them, you are therefore of necessity a Christian.
In the verses which follow He goes further and includes works also---that is what makes the supposed antithesis between faith and works so foolish and ridiculous. What then are the works, which, according to the Lord, a man may perform and still be outside the kingdom? It is really an alarming and terrifying list. The first thing He says is: ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?’ To prophesy means to deliver a spiritual message. You find much about prophecy in the New Testament. Paul discusses it at some length in 1 Corinthians, in connection with the various gifts that were exercised in the Church. Those were the days before the New Testament was written, when certain members of the Church were given messages and the ability to speak them by the Holy Spirit. That is what is meant by prophesying; and our Lord says that there will be many people who will come to Him in the day of judgment and say that they have prophesied in His name---not in their own name, but in His name---but He will say unto them:
‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’. We can interpret that for our own age in this way. It is possible for a man to preach correct doctrine, and in the name of Christ, and yet himself remain outside the kingdom of God. That is the statement, nothing less. If anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ had said this we would not believe it. Moreover, we would feel that he was a censorious, narrow-minded person. But it is the Lord Himself who says it.
This is something that is taught frequently in the Scriptures. Was not that, for example, the exact position of a man such as Balaam? He delivered the right message, and yet he was a hireling prophet and a reprobate. He gave, in a sense, the right message and teaching, yet he himself was outside. Did not God use Saul in this kind of way? The spirit of prophesy came upon him from time to time, yet Saul, too, was outside. When you come to the New Testament, you find these things stated still more explicitly. Paul, knowing these terrible dangers, says: ‘I keep under my body. . . lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway’ (1 Corinthians 9:27). When he talks about ‘keeping under the body’ he is not only thinking, as people often imagine, about certain sins of the flesh, he is referring to the whole of his life. A man has to keep under his body in a pulpit as well as on the street. To keep under the body means to keep curbing and controlling everything that the flesh is anxious to do. The flesh thrusts itself into the forefront. The apostle Paul tells us, in this very context of preaching, that he pounded and pummelled his body and bruised it, in order that, having preached to others, he might avoid becoming a castaway himself.
Or take the marvellous statement of this truth which we have in 1 Corinthians 13:1—3. ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal’. Or again: ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; .. . and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.’ The apostle Paul says in effect, ‘I may preach like an angel, I may produce the most wonderful eloquence and oratory; I may be considered by people to be the greatest speaker the world has over heard, and I may speak about the things of God; and yet I may be outside the kingdom. All is useless if I lack these qualities that really make a man a Christian.’ So a man can prophesy and be outside. Think also of his statement in Philippians 1:15 where he says of certain people that they ‘preach Christ even of envy and strife’. Their motive is wrong, their thoughts are wrong; but they are preaching Christ, they are saying the right things about Him. Paul glories in their right preaching, but they themselves are wrong because they are doing it in a wrong spirit moved by envy and desiring to score over the apostle. We must realize, then, that it is actually possible for a man to be preaching correct doctrine and yet to be outside the kingdom. Our Lord said on one occasion to the Pharisees, ‘Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God’. It is a very terrifying thought, and I understand it to mean this, that at the day of judgment we shall all have great surprises. We shall find men who have been lauded and praised as preachers outside the kingdom. They said the right things, and said them marvellously; but they never had the life and truth within them. It was all carnal.
But not only do these people prophesy, they even cast out devils. Again you notice the repetition of ‘in thy name’---‘and in thy name have cast out devils’. It is possible for a person to do even that and still to be outside the kingdom! To prove this is simple. Is it not clear from the New Testament that even Judas had this power? Our Lord sent out His disciples to preach and to cast out devils, and they came back and said to Him in great elation on one occasion, ‘Even the devils are subject unto us’. It is quite clear that that applied equally to Judas. Our Lord may give power to a man, and yet the man himself may be lost. There are other powers also that can enable us to do remarkable and astounding things. You remember on one occasion when the people charged our Lord with doing miracles by the power of Beelzebub, He retorted by saying, ‘If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out?’ They were Jewish exorcists. In Acts 19 you will find certain people described as sons of Sceva who had the self-same power. We see, then, that people may even drive out devils in Christ’s name and yet be outside the kingdom.
Finally our Lord comes to the climax which He puts in this form. These people will be able to say to Him that in His name they have done ‘many wonderful works’---works of power, miracles, amazing things, almost incredible things. They have done many wonderful works in His name, and yet they are outside the kingdom. How do we prove that this is possible? Part of the proof undoubtedly is found in the case of the magicians of Egypt. You remember when Moses was sent to deliver the children of Israel and to work his miracles, the magicians of Egypt were able to counterfeit and repeat them up to a certain point. They did many marvellous works. But we need not rely only upon that. Our Lord says in Matthew 24:24: ‘For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.’ These are the words of Christ. But take Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:8: ‘And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders’. These things are prophesied.
In other words, a man may be able to point to great results such as healings and so on, and yet they may signify nothing. And we should not be surprised at this. Are we not learning more and more in these days about the powers that are innate in man even in a natural sense? There is such a thing as a natural gift of healing; there is a kind of natural, almost magical power in certain people. For instance the whole question of electricity in the human frame is most interesting. We are merely beginning to understand it. There are people such as water-diviners who possess certain curious gifts. Then there is the whole question of telepathy, transference of thought and extra-sensory perception. These things are just coming into our ken. As the result of such gifts and powers many can do marvellous and wondrous things, and yet not be Christian. The natural power of man can simulate the gifts of the Holy Spirit, up to a point. And, of course, we are reminded by Scripture that God, in His own inscrutable will, sometimes decides to give these powers to men who do not belong to Him in order to bring to pass His own purposes. He raises up men for His own particular purpose, but they themselves remain outside the kingdom. It was God who called and used the pagan Cyrus.
Above all we must remember the power of the devil. The devil, as Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 11:14, can transform himself even into an angel of light, and the devil as an angel of light sometimes persuades people that they are Christian when they are not. If the devil can keep a man outside the kingdom by making him say ‘Lord, Lord’, he will certainly make him do so. He will do anything to keep a man outside the kingdom; so if a false belief or a true belief held in the wrong way will do this, he will make him have it, and he will give him power to work signs and wonders.
It has all been prophesied, it is all in the Bible; and that is why our Lord warns us so solemnly to pay heed to it. He once summed it up to His disciples like this: ‘In this’, He says, ‘rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven’. They had been sent out to preach and to cast out devils, and had been highly successful. They came back full of pride because of the things that had happened, and our Lord said to them in effect: ‘Did I not tell you in the Sermon on the Mount that people who are outside the kingdom can preach in My name, and cast out devils and do many wonderful works? Do not be misled by these things; make certain of yourself. It is your heart that matters. Is your name written in heaven? Do you really belong to Me? Have you this holiness, this righteousness which I am teaching? “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven”.’ The way to test yourself, the way to test any man, is to look below the surface. Do not look at the apparent results, do not look at the wonders and the marvels, but discover whether he conforms to the Beatitudes. Is he poor in spirit; is he meek; is he humble; does he groan in his spirit as he sees the world; is he a holy man of God; is he grave; is he sober; does he say with Paul, ‘We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened’? Those are the tests, the tests of the Beatitudes, the tests of the Sermon on the Mount---the man’s character, the man’s nature. Not the appearances only, but the reality itself alone counts with God.
Let us remember again that it is the Lord who says these things, and it is He who will judge. The words ‘Many will say to me in that day’ refer to the day of judgment, when He will be the Judge, so do not be deceived. ‘Ye are they’, He says again of this type, ‘which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.’ The New Testament Christian is a definite type of character; he is unmistakable. Read your New Testament, put down the marks of the New Testament man, put them on paper, learn them, meditate upon them, apply them to yourself and to everybody else. Do that, says our Lord, and you will never be led astray, you will not be left outside that strait gate and narrow way. These then are the tests and they may all be summed up in the phrase, ‘he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven’.
May God grant us honesty as we face this terrifying truth, this truth we shall have to answer for when ‘all earthly scenes have passed away’, and we stand before Christ and face Him. If you feel you are condemned, confess it to God, hunger and thirst after righteousness, turn believingly to the Lord Jesus Christ, ask Him to give it you, cost what it may, whatever its effects and results, and He will give it to you, for He has said: ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ (577-587)
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