Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, YE THAT WORK INIQUITY. (Matt. 7:22-23)
Some understand this passage to mean that works do not have much to do with salvation because the people in the passage did many good deeds in the name of the Lord (prophesying, casting out demons and other wonders) and they still weren’t saved. Some even suggest they weren’t saved because of an attitude where they thought works in general are needed for salvation instead of relying on “faith alone”. However, it wasn’t the good things they did, nor their attitude about works that prevented them from being true christians, but that they were evildoers (“you that work iniquity” = you who SIN) and didn’t have the right heart before God.
Notice that Jesus didn’t say “Depart from me because I didn’t want you/I didn’t die for you/I didn’t choose you” but he asked them to depart from him because they were workers of iniquity. The whole section starts out with Jesus declaring that God REQUIRES work from us! Not as in meriting or earning salvation but as a condition.:
Matt.7:21Not 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.
Who will get to heaven according to Jesus? Those who DO the will of the Father. Doing! (A horrible word for many.) Just believing that Jesus died for our sins is not enough to be saved – not even if you combine it with confessing it with your mouth and go to church on Sundays. You must also make sure you are cleansed from your sins and that you DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER. The people spoken of practiced lawlessness according to another translation so “work based salvation” was not the crime. Jesus did not have a negative attitude towards them because they added works to go with their faith but because they were SINNERS, and sins separate us from God. We can not have our sins and our salvation too, so obeying the commandments is important for our salvation. The moral law did not start with Moses but has always existed, and it’s always wrong to murder, lie and steal. Jesus said “I never knew you” which indicates that they had been workers of lawlessness (iniquity) all along. They were never considered either fake or true followers of Christ, but no followers of Christ at all. Compare also with
Matthew 25:12 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I KNOW YOU NOT.
This is an indication of that the bridegroom did know them at some point (like when they had oil in their lamps) but not at that particular point when it was time to go to the wedding. Also in Luke 13:27 we can read:
When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I KNOW YOU NOT whence ye are; depart from me, all ye WORKERS OF INIQUITY.
Jesus doesn’t say “I never knew you” here either but “I know you not”, and also here we can read that this is likely because they were “workers of iniquity” – i.e. sinners..
Hebr. 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord
I would ask you to reconsider your interpretation of Matthew 7:21-23 in light of the bible’s explicit teaching that our eternal salvation is NOT by works but by grace (Romans 11:6) which is repeatedly taught throughout the new testament in statements such as, “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5), “not according to our works” (II Timothy 1:9), “not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth” (Romans 9:16), “not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), etc.
I have provided an analysis of Matthew 7:21-23 from a sovereign grace perspective on my blog and invite you to visit my commentary there. (http://—html)
May God bless our studies and understanding of His word,
Thanks for writing.
It’s indeed true that salvation is not of works. No matter how much works we do, We are still lost if we have sinned because we also need to be cleansed from our past sins, and we need to have FAITH. Paul spends many chapters in his letters trying to explain to the jews that they are not saved only because they are jews, and also to make them understand that we are no longer under the laws of Moses. However, we are not lawless. There were laws in force also before the time of Moses, and also during the time after the time of Jesus death. It’s still possible TO SIN, and we sin if we break the law of God. Which laws? The law of love, the golden rule – detailed in the ten commandments. Both Paul and James (and all the NT writers) are clear about that faith without works is dead, and that we are separated from God if we sin. We are told that we are NOT saved by faith alone, because works is needed. We don’t EARN our salvation by anything we do and that is why it’s not of works, or else we could fix our own salvation.
If I suspect that a website encourages people to sin (which is the case if the teaching goes that we can serve two masters and still be saved) then I wouldn’t want to have a link to it on my Blog. I don’t mind if you express yourself here though. You say that you’ve written from a “sovereign grace perspective”, but it’s better that you remove the reformed filter and read from a Biblical perspective. “Sovereiegn” is not even a Biblical word (KJV) so this word must be defined. If it’s for instance means “powerful”, then of course that is applicable to God. He is so powerful that he can create man with free will, and able to make individual choices.
Jesus called Peter “Satan”, but we know that Peter is not Satan. So, name calling is not evidence enough that we know what Jesus meant. The ones who were calling Lord, Lord, in Matthew 7 were convinced they were doing the right things, were they not casting out demons and other works of faith. They will appear as moral and faithful people, and yet, they are shut out. Compare with Matthew 25, sheep and goats.
So, when you say, “oh it is simple, just stop sinning”, you have completely missed the point of the teaching. There is no “ten steps to salvation” or any other road map that gets us to salvation. We all sin, and we all sin even when we are doing our most impressive work. The point of these passages (Sermon on the Mount, Matt 25) is that faith isn’t some kind of set of rules we can follow.
Case in point. You (like everybody else) interprets the passage with the bridesmaids as being about oil. It is absolutely essential that we have oil. Why? So, the lamps don’t go out. Why do you need lamps? This is never explained. Instead, everybody misses the obvious. The girls are never judged because they have or do not have oil, nor are they judged because they do or do not have lamps. Instead they are judged because they ran outside exactly when they were called to go inside. The oil is a red herring, and those who pursue oil and fear for their need of it wind up outside, after midnight looking for a 24-hour oil-lamp emporium, when they should be inside the banquet partying with the bridegroom.
Thanks for writing.
You wrote: They will appear as moral and faithful people, and yet, they are shut out. Compare with Matthew 25, sheep and goats.
Yes, in both accounts we can see that sin (unrighteous living) is what makes the difference.Sin separates us from God.
You wrote: We all sin, and we all sin even when we are doing our most impressive work
That is not what the Bible says. On the contrary, we are asked to repent in order to get saved. If we all sin along anyway, why repenting? If we do well = eternal life. If we do bad = hell. Faith and works must go together:
Romans 2:6-11:God will render to every man according to his DEEDS: To them who by patient continuance in WELL DOING seek for glory and honour and immortality, ETERNAL LIFE: But unto them that are contentious, and DO NOT OBEY THE TRUTH, BUT OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, indignation and WRATH, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that DOETH EVIL, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace to every man that WORKETH good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.
You wrote: The girls are never judged because they have or do not have oil
That is precisely why they are judged. The difference between the maids was the possession of oil.
You wrote: Instead they are judged because they ran outside exactly when they were called to go inside.
So it’s not important to have oil before? We just need oil in a certain precise moment, and during a moment which we don’t even know when it will take place?
You wrote: The oil is a red herring
Why do you believe Jesus used a red herring in his parable? Just to fool us and make his reasoning hard to understand?
You wrote: and those who pursue oil and fear for their need of it wind up outside, after midnight looking for a 24-hour oil-lamp emporium, when they should be inside the banquet partying with the bridegroom.
Could be interpreted as “Don’t “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, as the Bible says we should, but just relax and rest assured that we all sin and will be saved anyway”.
Yet, I know that this is what you really believe, but that is how I must interpret your statements here.