This world is full of those who say one thing, and mean another. I’ve been accused of being brutally honest, but I don’t take it as an accusation. We need more truth-tellers in this world, especially when it comes to God’s truth. As we’ve been talking all week, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to saving grace. Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount the character of those with true saving faith (see Faith As Christ Defined It). If we are truly followers of Jesus, we will humble ourselves to His will and not pretend we’re our own god (see Doing The Will Of The Father). And then we looked at the words Jesus spoke that He is the only way to the Father, and the road to Him is narrow and hard to find, while the road to eternal damnation is broad and easy to find (see Damning Deception of False Religion).
The broad road to hell can appear to be the right path, which is why it is so deceptive. “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (2 Cor 11:14-15)
In today’s text, the Lord is speaking to those obsessed with religion, but they are on the way to judgment. They believe the Old Testament is the Word of God, but they are headed for damnation. In Paul’s words, they have a form of godliness with the reality, without the power (2 Tim 3:2-5). Those Jesus is talking with are not only deceivers, but as self-deceived. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matt 7:21-23)
Today we still have multitudes of deceived souls in churches and on the “Jesus bandwagon” who think because they have made some verbal profession of believing in Jesus, and because they know a few facts about Him, all is well. Our Lord realized the deadliness of this deception, and that’s why, the first sermon laid out on the pages of the New Testament is this one warning how close you can be to the truth and be still headed for eternal destruction on the broad road. Many will show up at the final judgment in a state of utter self-deception. They are the same “many” back in verse 13: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”
What will those “many” who go the way of destruction say at the end, “We didn’t believe in You, we rejected You”? No. They say, “Lord, Lord, we did all this in Your name”, only to hear, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” This is the most terrifying of all possibilities, that you are that close, and yet you are lost. Many. Few, on the other hand, find the narrow way. We must prayerfully examine ourselves to make certain we are one of the few; that we’re following the true Jesus. There are several things.
What lulls people into the deception that they are saved Christians, with a true relationship with God when they don’t? First, many have a false sense of assurance based on an emotional response they made at some point. Perhaps they were at an event, a movie, a revival and someone told them, “If you just say these words, pray this prayer, ask Jesus to come into your life, if you’ve done that, you’re a believer.” Becoming a follower of Jesus on the narrow road isn’t a magical incantation that gets you into heaven. You can say all the right things and be lost forever. Beware of a false assurance.
Secondly, people are lulled into this false sense of safety by a failure at self-examination. God’s Word tells us to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5) Many preachers and teachers tell us that God loves us so much, and the gospel is so free, and grace is so abundant that all we have to do is just reach out and say we want this and it’s ours. That’s greasy grace that’s partially true, but it doesn’t give us the whole picture. We must look at our lives and the fruit we bear to know if we have true saving grace. In our examination, we should ask ourselves:
- What are my affections?
- What are my loves?
- What are my desires? and
- What are my motives?
If they are all godly, then the Holy Spirit is at work within you. If they’re worldly and sinful, this self-examination reveals a heart that desires sin, loves the world, is motivated by personal desire and lust. No matter our attachment to church and religious activity, no matter what prayer we’ve prayed, we haven’t been changed if we haven’t submitted ourselves to the Lord. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17) Are you a different person in your heart than you were before you prayed the prayer? Do you care more for the needs of others than you do for yourself?
Genuine believers know down to every core in their being that they are spiritually bankrupt, they are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Because they know the truth, they mourn, and this self-examination crushes them to meekness, not puffed up and full of themselves. Genuine believers hunger and thirst for the Lord’s righteousness and to spend time in His presence, and because they themselves know they are spiritually bankrupt without Christ, they are merciful to others.
They are also pure in heart in that they are focused on the Lord instead of being double-minded and also focusing worldliness. Genuine believers are also peacemakers and at some point will be persecuted for the sake of Jesus’s righteousness. That is Jesus’ description of the genuine believer (Matt 5:3-12). Each of the characteristics He names—starting with humility and reaching fruition in obedience (that comes from the heart)—is a consequence of true faith. And that obedience is to all of God’s Word, not just the parts we agree with. His truth is absolute, and does not change with the culture. Many are offended by some of the things that are in the Bible that they choose to reject. If that’s how you feel, you may call yourself a Christian, but you are self-deceived.
When we live as servants of God, we won’t allow willful sin to rule over us, because we aren’t our first thought! A good check is to look at the deeds of the flesh listed (Gal 5:19-21), and if this is our normal behavior, then we are deliberately sinning. Have I “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24)? And if not, have I truly given my life to Christ? Will he say He knows me (2 Tim 2:19) or that He never knew me (Matt 7:23)? This is the most important question to prayerfully consider! You’re only a true Christian if you came through the narrow gate (Matt 7:13-14). and die to yourself and your desires, pick up your own cross daily and carry it while being obedient to all of God’s Word (Luke 9:23).
The only way we can enter the narrow gate is with an attitude of repentance, spiritual bankruptcy, the Beatitude attitude: meek, humble, broken, confessing your sin, coming in contrition, coming with no baggage, empty-handed like the old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” You come penitent because your inner man, your heart is broken over your sin. It isn’t that you just want to add Jesus to your life to make your life happier. There’s no greater insult than to say, “Lord, Lord,” fervently and to not do what He says. Those are empty words, and He does not know those who say things that He wants to hear without a penitent heart backing up the words.
The deceived people are those Jesus called tares (Matt 13:24-29), and they’re hard to distinguish from true believers because they know the language and they talk the language, and they know about the gospel and they know about the Bible; but there’s no humility, there’s no brokenness, there’s no practical godliness, there’s no pattern of obedience.
Those who call themselves Christians but aren’t true believers seek things for themselves, they aren’t seeking the Lord first (Matt 6:33). They want the byproducts of blessings, rather than a relationship with the author and finisher of the faith, Jesus Christ (Heb 12:2). We are only using empty words when we praise Jesus and speak of our love for Him without having a relationship with Him. It’s prideful, not penitent to want the stuff that a relationship with Jesus can provide, but refuse to spend time with Him and to follow what He tells us to do. These people we have described may be deceived and very likely on the road to destruction, but they think they’re going to heaven. Our Lord isn’t deceived: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)
So our Lord then addresses the folly of empty words. They are the sayers, but not the doers. Their claims are deceitful. They say the right things, they don’t live the right things. Jesus is explicit “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord’” who never obeyed Him as Lord. To say His name twice, “Lord, Lord,” is fervent and zealous and reflects some sense of devotion and even some passion, but He doesn’t care what empty words we use, He cares how we live. And He promises that you may hear words which will terrify you for eternity: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt 7:23) Make sure you KNOW that you are a genuine believer. Nothing else in this life is more important than that!