Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:21a “Not every one. . .”
Here begins a paragraph containing some of the most distressing words ever uttered. Beware false prophets, for their dangerous teachings can lead to the even more dangerous misleading which comes from within ourselves. A false preacher’s teachings can’t hurt us if we don’t accept them, but if we do, the end result is deadly.
He who can not be fooled calls on us to not fool ourselves. Beware the danger of self-delusion. Folks are easily duped about religion, even their own brand of it. Jesus’ meaning is sad but clear, many who expect to enter Heaven won’t make it.
Why are many people fooled? They rely on the wrong evidences of salvation. People, thinking they are on the narrow way, walk several counterfeit paths.
First, many try to go to Heaven by following the trail of no self-examination. We need to constantly evaluate ourselves. These verses have not made me doubt my salvation, but have forced me to ponder my spiritual status seriously. We often need to sift our lives through a spiritual sieve of close scrutiny. Even if we are not lost, we may find we have grown cold in God’s service. Always be checking self.
Our selfish sin nature makes us biased in our own favor. We easily fool ourselves. Due to pride, we tend to reject difficult or unpleasant truths about ourselves.
Feeling good about ourselves feels good, but self-confidence offers no security of salvation. Spurgeon told of an architect who designed and built a lighthouse off the coast of Winstanley, England. He laughed at critics who called it unsafe and, to prove his confidence, took up residence in the lighthouse. His confidence proved of no avail when winds of a November storm shook the lighthouse to pieces.
The crux is not confidence, but reality, a thing often hard to find. Lincoln, hotly debating a matter with his cabinet, asked, “How many legs would a sheep have if you say the tail is a leg?” A cabinet member replied, “If you say the tail is a leg, then the sheep would have five legs.” “No,” Lincoln answered, “To say the tail is a leg does not make it so.” Similarly, to say we are saved and on our way to Heaven does not make it so. We are saved by faith in Christ, not by faith in our faith.
Matt. 7:21b “. . .that saith unto me, Lord,. . .”
Second, many seek to go to heaven via the path of orthodoxy. They intellectually believe the right things. To call Jesus “Lord” is an accurate statement. It designates Him as Master, which He is. “Lord” was the title of Caesar. Rome’s oath of allegiance was, “Caesar is Lord.” Many Christians died due to refusing to say this. They instead said, “Christ is Lord,” acknowledging Jesus as their supreme Master.
“Lord” also designated Jesus as God. Jews, deeming God’s name too holy to speak, substituted for it the word “Lord.” Deferring to this custom, English Bibles use the word “Lord” for the name YHWH over 5000 times in the Old Testament.
Jesus’ warning here is scary. People can with their lips claim Christ is their Master, and say He is God, and yet still not go to Heaven. Our lips can be orthodox while our hearts are heterodox. Our words can be true when our spirits are false.
Nicodemus, an important religious leader, told Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (JN 3:2). I find this a very impressive statement, but Jesus, mincing no words, refused to let Nicodemus fool himself into thinking he was okay spiritually because he was okay intellectually. Our Master immediately replied, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (JN 3:3).
Do not trust correct beliefs to gain entrance to Heaven. Jesus’ brother wrote, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (JM 2:19). Demons knew, and openly declared their belief, that Jesus was the Son of God (MT 8:29), but they remained demons. Faith has to be rooted in knowing Christ, not in knowing enough facts to pass an entrance exam. We must have a love relationship with Jesus, not an intellectual relationship with facts.
Matt. 7:21c “. . .Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;. . .”
Third, many hope to run to Heaven on the track of religious fervor. The Jews doubled words for emphasis. To call Jesus “Lord” would sound orthodox; to call Him “Lord, Lord” would sound pious. “Lord, Lord” bespeaks zeal and earnestness, emotion and passion. However, religious fervor can not open Heaven’s door.
One of the most dangerous traps of spiritual self-delusion is what I call religiosity. We often hyper-emphasize church-related activities, elevating them to a status of gaining salvation for us. This is tragic, for our religion, from its very inception, sought to downplay the roles of religiosity, rituals, and buildings in salvation.
It is correct to say our faith was incubated in the temple at Jerusalem, but once Christianity found its footing, the temple receded in importance. There is a long stretch in the book of Acts (5:42 to 21:26) where nothing is recorded of any Christian activity in the temple. Stephen, in his martyrdom message, preached, “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (AC 7:48). The temple could incubate, but was never meant to contain, the church and its message.
As generations passed, we began to build buildings for convenience–to have places large enough for a local church to gather in, to keep us dry during rain, and warm in winter. But now, centuries later, the buildings we built for convenience are often becoming our own self-imposed concentration camps. Rather than being launching pads for extending the kingdom by sending insiders out, they turn into fortresses which keep outsiders out, and prisons which keep insiders in.
We have reached a point where many seem unable to define their faith apart from buildings and the rituals performed in them. The very religion which was meant to set us free from logistical, geographic, and ritualistic restrictions has become encrusted, weighed down by places and buildings, and the rituals done there.
It is illegal in communist countries to conduct religious activity outside of church buildings. I ask us, we who live in the freest nation on earth, when was the last time we did something outside our building which would have gotten us in trouble in a communist land? We live in a free nation, and need to act like it. We need to be set free from our overburdening religiosity. It is weighing us down, and for many has become their substitute for a vital personal relationship with Christ.
Beware the danger of trusting in religious fervor for salvation. When Jesus performed miracles in Jerusalem, the people were fired up with great religious zeal, “but Jesus did not commit himself unto them” (JN 2:24).
Being baptized in water does not mean one is for sure baptized into Christ. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper does not guarantee we are having supper with the Lord. Taking communion does not assure we are communing with Jesus. Being a member of a church does not insure one is a member of Christ’s body. Fervor for Christianity is not a viable substitute for faith in Christ.