Tough Text Tuesday: Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23

In today’s tough text, Jesus is a just a few verses away from wrapping up the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ words can seem confusing and deeply troubling, especially if we find ourselves in the wrong group. There are in fact two distinct groups on this judgment day Jesus warns us about. And while we’re not quite sure yet what separates them notice what unites them: They all call Jesus “Lord.”

The Greek word for Lord is “kurios.” It literally means: master, boss, lord, savior. Sometimes we miss out on the true power of this word. Every time we call Jesus LORD, we’re saying he is the boss. He is the master and we are the servants. He has that kind of authority over our life, and all he wants is the same thing for each one of us: to realize that we are known and loved by God, solely by grace through faith, and by no works of our own.

So of all those that come to Jesus and call him Lord, why do some enter the kingdom of heaven and others don’t?

The answer might be too simple for the present way we view ourselves: Saying Jesus is Lord isn’t enough. We must believe that we’re bad enough to need saving and that God loves us enough to do just that.

  • Simply saying Jesus is Lord of your life doesn’t save you.
  • Religious activity doesn’t save you.
  • Church attendance doesn’t save you.
  • The faith of your parents doesn’t save you.
  • Baptism doesn’t save you.
  • Walking a church aisle doesn’t save you.

Faith in JESUS to be good enough because we know we’re nothing on our own saves us.

There must be CHANGE. There must be TRANSFORMATION.

Notice what those who ultimately don’t enter the kingdom of heaven say as they try and negotiate their way in…”Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

Notice what they’re hanging their hat on: their own good works.They come before Jesus in bold arrogance claiming that they don’t need a Savior because they have this running list of all their good deeds they’ve done for Jesus. Tragically, they claim they don’t need the accomplished work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection because they mistakenly believe they’ve already accomplished enough themselves.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg illustrated this thought process so clearly in a recent interview with the New York Times. At the end of the interview Bloomberg addressed his work with gun control, smoking cessation, and obesity curbing programs:

“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

While Bloomberg’s comments may have been made somewhat in jest (I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt), they echo an intrinsic belief crouching at the door of the hearts of all who claim Jesus as Lord: Sometimes we want to be our own Savior. Sometimes, if we’re honest, instead of admitting our own desperate need for grace, we want to rely on our own accomplishments and morality as functional saviors because then we don’t have to let other know we’re not okay apart from Jesus.

So how do you ensure you’re not one to which Jesus declares, “I never knew you, depart from me”?

How do we do the will of the Father in heaven? Repent and believe in Jesus. There’s no checklist. No moral to do list. We change because we’re saved not so that we can be saved.

I’m not sure what you’re hanging your eternal hat on today, but if it’s anything but the grace of Christ you’re foolishly clinging to yourself. I did that for a long time and it’s exhausting. Instead, cling to the good news of the gospel:

“We can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time.” – Timothy Keller
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