Two Professions: The Danger of Self-Deception - Matthew 7:21-23

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As we come to the end of this sermon from Jesus, He telling us about entrance into the Kingdom of God. And as He brings the sermon to a close, He has some hard things to say – things that may make us uncomfortable. 

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus tells us that on the day of judgment there will be some who are surprised to find that they are outside of the Kingdom of God. There will be some, who believed true things about Jesus, and who did good things in the name of Jesus, and yet they never truly became His disciples. 

The reality that Jesus describes is hard to consider – and yet we should be thankful for this warning. In these verses we learn more clearly what it does and does not mean to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Many have deceived themselves into believing they belong to God when they are actually far from Him. With that in mind, this warning is a kindness from Jesus that could save us from the danger of self-deception.

Two kinds of professions (7:21)  

In verse 21 Jesus introduces two groups of people with two different kinds of professions. While there are some who make a genuine profession that leads to life in the Kingdom of Heaven, there are many who make a profession that does not lead to life.

There is a kind of profession that does not lead to life (7:21a, 22-23)

  • The first (and primary) group that Jesus identifies are those who address Him as Lord and who seem to recognize Him rightly, and yet their profession is not sufficient and does not lead to salvation. 

An illustration of those who make a false profession (vv. 22-23) 

  • The day of judgment – In verses 22-23 Jesus takes us to the day of final judgement and provides a glimpse into the fate that many will face on that day – in particular those who assumed they would enter the Kingdom of God but who are not welcomed in.
  • The deception of an orthodox profession – One thing Jesus tells us about this group of people is that they seem to have rightly identified Jesus – they address Him as Lord – and yet their orthodox view of Him is not enough to save them.
  • The necessity and insufficiency of a right profession – The Scriptures are clear that in order to be saved we must make a proper confession of Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-11), and yet an orthodox profession of who Jesus is alone is insufficient to save. No one enters the kingdom of God without a confessing Jesus as Lord, but we are not saved simply by affirming who Jesus is (James 2:19; Mark 1:24-25).
  • The deception of religious activity – In this example from Jesus not only do the people in this group properly identify Jesus as Lord, but they also have impressive resumes of things done in the name of Jesus – even miraculous things. However, this passage makes it clear that doing miraculous things in the name of Jesus (or other religious things) is not necessarily a sign of belonging to Christ (Lk. 9:1-2; Mt. 24:22-24).

 The response of Christ

  • I never knew you – Jesus makes this distinction: there are those who know Him and who are known by Him, and there are others whom He has not welcomed into His fold (John 10:14-15, 27-28; 2 Timothy 2:19). 
  • Depart from me – With these words from Jesus we are reminded of the awful end for those who don’t belong to the Kingdom of God.
  • Workers of lawlessness – We now have a clearer insight into the heart of those whom Jesus is describing. While they rightly identify Jesus and have impressive religious resumes, they are also people whose lives are characterized by an ongoing commitment to sin.

There is a kind of profession that leads to life (7:21b) 

While Jesus doesn’t say as much in this passage about those who make a genuine, saving profession, He describes the person of the Kingdom of God as the one who does the will of the Father.

  • True faith is shown through obedience – While we are not saved by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), the Scriptures are clear that those who truly know Christ will live lives of obedience (Ephesians 2:10; John 4:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 5:3).
  • D.A. Carson – It is true that no man enters the kingdom because of his obedience; but it is equally true that no man enters the kingdom who is not obedient. It is true that men are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ; but it is equally true that God’s grace in man’s life inevitably results in obedience.

Conclusion – These verses from Jesus are a warning and a call for us to examine our hearts and they also should inform the way we share the Gospel. We are not saved by believing true things or by doing good things in the name of Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith alone, and as those who are His we will live in obedience to Him. This is what it means to be His disciple.