Matthew 7:21 contains probably the most tragic truth revealed in all of Scripture. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Here are a few observations about that moment in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
• Some skeptics assert loudly that Jesus never claimed to be God, but Christ’s statements in Matthew 7:21-23 make that a laughable, indefensible position. Consider: Jesus called himself by a title ascribed to God (“Lord, Lord”); Jesus claimed to have sole authority over who enters the kingdom of heaven—God’s eternal realm; Jesus insisted that he will preside over the final judgment of humanity—a judgeship reserved solely for God himself; and Jesus claimed to have authority to send evildoers to eternal punishment—also something reserved only for God himself. If Jesus is not God (and I believe he is), then he was a blaspheming pretender to deity, and Matthew 7:21-23 is proof of that.
• It’s possible for some to mimic God’s miracles, yet not be followers of him at all. Remember the magicians in Pharaoh’s court? They replicated God’s miracles in a failed attempt discredit his authority (see Exodus 7). In Jesus’ time and during the days of the early church, others appropriated Jesus’ authority to work miracles and cast out demons—and sometimes succeeded (see Mark 9:38, Acts 19:13-16). Thus, a miracle itself is not proof of God. In fact, Old Testament law specifically warned against following a miracle-worker if his teaching led away from the one true God (Deuteronomy 13). This situation seems to be what Jesus is describing in Matthew 7:21-23.
• At the final judgment, “false prophets” of Christ will appeal to their religion for salvation, while Jesus will emphasize a relationship with him. They’ll point to their resume of good works as evidence they belong in heaven: Prophesying in Jesus’ name; driving out demons; performing miracles. Christ, in response, will point to their lack of a personal relationship with him, saying, “I never knew you.” This lends credence to the Apostle Paul’s theology later expounded in his letter to the Ephesians, that grace—not works—is the essential component of salvation (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Heaven awaits those who, by grace, enter a personal friendship with Jesus—not those who try to earn their way into his favor.
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