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