READ: “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 These are the words of Jesus spoken towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount. I recall the first time I read this verse and it terrified me. I first heard it preached in church followed by many times through various periods of my life. Does this mean that all Christians might not really be saved? If we sin after accepting Jesus as our Savior, could we be rejected by Him as “evildoers?”
When quoted by a preacher, it is usually said in the context to motivate people out of fear. (Insert Pastor’s voice): “You may think you’re saved as a Christian, but Jesus warns that not everyone who calls on Him and does godly works in His name are saved. You may think you’re saved, but if you do not obey God and stop your sinning, Jesus will reject you! Only those who do God’s Will are saved, so you better take a good look at your life and be sure you’re doing enough good in God’s eyes. Are you tithing to the church, or are you greedily keeping your money from God? You better prove that you are for Him because if you sin too much, you might be condemned to hell!” …The passage Matthew 7:21-23 has been used as a tool to frighten believers and sometimes cause them to question their salvation in Jesus. So how can we view this verse while still simultaneously having 100% absolute confidence and assurance in our salvation as Christians?
Jesus did speak these words, so we can’t simply dismiss or ignore them. But what we can do is recognize that many preachers have quoted this passage of Scripture, while totally ignoring the context. Let’s revisit this while reading the context as one topical statement:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 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 7:15-23
Did your catch that? Jesus is talking about a specific audience here. This is not a condemned believer who is totally shocked that they are rejected by God. Nor is it a condemned believer who “didn’t do enough good works” or “sinned too much.” Jesus is in no way speaking of Christian believers. Rather, He is warning us about false prophets among the believers. Not everyone who claims to be a believer is a believer. A wolf in sheep’s clothing knows its a wolf. These are those who don’t truly believe in Jesus as Savior and spread lies using the name of God for their own gain. If you are a believer, this verse is not talking about you whatsoever.
The other worrisome area in this passage can be where Jesus says that only those who do the Will of God will enter Heaven. So how can we know for sure that we are doing the Will of God? Jesus states this plainly: “For this is the Will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” -John 6:40. So we have already completed the first part of the Will of God by believing in His Son Jesus. If you are alive reading this, than the second part is yet to come when you are raised to eternal life on the last day. Praise God always for His gift of Salvation through the blood sacrifice of His Son! For it is not by works that you are saved, but by grace through faith. (Reference Ephesians 2:8.)
I recently watched a sermon by Pastor Ken Bussell on this topic and he made these things clearer to me. Another great point that he made was that “sin cannot make you lose your salvation. Sin can make you lose your faith.” We all sin to some degree no matter how hard we try to be good as believers. It is in our nature and our Creator knows this full well. “The rules” were not given for salvation, but given to show our need for a Savior (reference Romans 7:7-25). When we become comfortable in our sin, we offend the One who is uncomfortable with sin. In our comfort in sin, we can begin to question our faith and ask “Who is God to tell me what not to do?” In the worst case scenario, a previous believer can renounce their faith and fully embrace their sin. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” -Romans 8:5. Once a believer, “you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit of God.” -Romans 7:4 One cannot “lose” their salvation, but do have the free will to reject it. Sin can dangerously lead us away from our faith in God, but it cannot void the saving blood of Jesus as forgiven believers. The one who endures in their faith will be saved! (Reference Matthew 24:13.)
So to the believers, I remind you that you cannot be rejected by God on the day of judgment. Just remember that your good acts and your less frequent amount of sin acts will not be what saves you. For it is written, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” -Isaiah 64:6. We have received the gift of our salvation, despite our sin nature: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8. As a believer, your sin has no power to eternally condemn you: “He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” -Psalms 103:10-14. So if our foundation is in Jesus Christ, we cannot be eternally condemned: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” -1 Corinthians 3:11-15.
So as a Christian believer in Jesus Christ, you will NEVER hear Him say “I never knew you. Depart from me!” Instead, this is what He has said about you: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” -John 10:27-30
To the Christian believers reading this, I encourage you to personalize this passage for impact and re-read Jesus’ words about you out loud: “(insert your name) hear(s) my voice, and I know (your name), and (your name) follow(s) me. I give (your name) eternal life, and (your name) will never perish, and no one will snatch (your name) out of my hand. My Father who has given (your name) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch (your name) out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” -John 10:27-30 (edited for Christian personalization.)