Faith: the true way Matt 7:21-23


This passage is a disturbing passage and for this reason preachers and Christians avoid preaching on it.  However, the passage also makes the gospel message unavoidable clear and calls us to evaluate where we stand with Christ.

1.   An alarming rejection

Jesus presents someone who, from the outside looks like a clear candidate for a front row seat in heaven.  In many ways the person is wholly admirable:

  • A confessing Christian: twice in the passage they say, “Lord, Lord”. It is the Greek word kurios which can mean “sir”.  But more importantly, the Jews of that day would have had an Old Testament that was translated from Hebrew into Greek (just lie we use English translations today).  Now this word here “Lord” is the translation of the divine title in the OT “Jehovah”.  It was the name by which God had revealed himself and the one true and only God.  In other words, to say “Lord” was to acknowledge that Jesus was God in the flesh.  They know exactly who Jesus is!
  • A passionate Christian: their confession is not just orthodox but also passionate – “Lord, Lord. In Greek and Hebrew was no bold or underline so they woud use repetition for emphasis.  Another example of this is when Jesus said “Truly, truly I say unto you”.  And the NIV translates it “Very truly…”  The speaker is drawing attention to the zeal and strength of his devotion!
  • A public Christian – It appears that the confession, “lord, Lord” is not done in the quiet, but is public and accompanied by ministry.
  • A ministering Christian – they are a ministering Christian of the highest order. Jesus refers to the most public and extraordinary use of spiritual gifts in ministry.  They cast out demons.  They prophecy in the name of Jesus (declaring the truth and foretelling the future).  And it is all done in the name of Jesus!

If you were to ask the Claremont minister’s fellowship if any of them would like 10 confessing, passionate, public ministering Christians I should think there would be queue!

2.   Who then is accepted?

So we have a problem: What better profession and proof of a Christian could be given?  However, in the passage it is clear that Jesus rejects all of this that from the outside looks so Christian!  “Not everyone” (21) and “Many” (22).

It is really helpful if we can see that the problem that Jesus identifies is a real one for the church today:   If you have the right vocab: fellowship, brother, sister, blessing, PtL, tithes and offering; the right likes and dislikes: music, books and movie; the right heritage: parents – then you can fit quiet easily into the Christian sub-culture and be accepted as a Christian.

And this is the issue that Jesus is addressing: a person who speaks like a Christian but is not or a person who acts like a Christian but is not.  Look at verse 21 again:  Jesus rejects mere verbal profession.  Look at verse 22 too:  Jesus rejects mere outward activities.

3.   Could this be true?

Are you really saying that someone can cast out demons and do miracle and preach and still not be a Christian?  Jesus warns later on in Matthew:

Matthew 24:24 “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”  Satan is happy, Paul says, to masquerade as an angel of light.  And again in 2 Thes 2:9-10 Paul says the same thing again “use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie”.  And you see it all the time in our Christianity today – people are spraying doom in people’s faces, they are making them drink petrol, they make them lie down and walk over and jump on them (those are extreme), or they have miracle crusades where the attention is not on Jesus or salvation but on the man dressed in white on stage and money!  And people say, “but he, but she is doing it in the name of Jesus!”  Jesus is saying: that does not prove anything.

We know this to be true without a doubt because of one man: Judas Iscariot.[1]  He was an apostle who with the other disciples would heal, cast out demons and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:17).  It is not accidental that in the heart of the apostolic group there was a deceiver.  I would have recognised him as an imposter – you guys wouldn’t have, but I would have!  No. I would not have!  None of us would.  When Judas went out that evening to betray Jesus they all though he was just going to the shops quick.  And this is why this warning from Jesus should knock the win out of our lungs (have you ever had that happen to you).  Impact.

4.   The nature of true relationship

Jesus uncompromisingly shows us the two ways you can’t be a Christian:

  1. There is no value in just professing him as Lord without doing the will of God (21). By “doing the will of God” I do not think he simply means deeds (church, Community group, or tithing).  He must surely be referring to the mandate for the Christian life that he is just completing preaching: the whole Sermon on the Mount.  The beatitudes (character of heart)…
  2. There is not value in doing mighty works of ministry (even if supernatural) without a faith in Christ. There must be relationship.  Not just knowing about or of, not enough to name drop.  They are claiming relationship with Jesus “Lord, Lord…”  But notice what he says: NOT “you didn’t know me…” but “I never knew you”.

If I were to ask you, “do you know so-and-so in our church?” You could have been attending here for anything from 2 years to 20 years and you may turn to me with a sheepish grin and say: I know who s/he is but I don’t really know them.  What do we mean when we say we know someone: you have entered into a mutual reality, opening up, transparency.  There is communication and sharing and communion and you know where you are with one another.  Jesus is say that, whatever their profession was, their hearts were closed to him.

Don’t misunderstand: Jesus was not standing there looking at them saying, “I never wanted to know you”.  No, they never allowed Jesus to know them, they never opened themselves to be know, expose themselves for who they really were, in all their brokenness and need, and experience the unconditional embrace of a forgiving and renewing saviour.  Because, isn’t that really what salvation is all about: sure – we need to know Christ, but we need to stop trying to hide behind our self-improvement projects of attempts to make ourselves good enough for him; we need to confess our absolute need and our utter dependence, our rejection of self-reliance.


If you feel the weight of this passage you need to ask together with the disciples who did NOT betray him, “is it I Lord”.  It is a most dangerous position to be in that you would never do as Paul says, “examine yourself to see if you are really in the faith (2Cor. 13:5)

  • Is there a risk that you have the right language of a Christina but are not doing the will of God (i.e. living out the heart changing themes of the Sermon on the Mount)?
  • Is there a risk that you could be trying to balance your lack of relationship with exercising gifts / service / ministry?
  • Is there a risk that Jesus could say to you, “I never knew you”? What I am asking is, “have you given yourself, exposed and laid bare your soul before the all-knowing God and said: you know me better than I know myself, my sin and failures are before me and before you, I am not hiding anymore, cleanse me and I will be clean, embrace me and I will be acceptable.  What he really wants is NOT your gifts and ministry exploits; he wants you.  He wants to know you

Do you perceive the boundaries outside of which there is no true faith: (1) a verbal profession without heart and life change; (2) a life full of deeds without true relationship?


Sermon Questions

  1. In your experience of Church and Christianity, have you ever thought someone as truly a Christian but then have realised later that you (many) be wrong)? What was it that lead you to believe that they were?  And what convinced you that they were not?
  2. How does this passage (7:21-23) relate to 7:15-20?
  3. What do you find most difficult about this passage?
  4. Have a look though the Sermon on the Mount: when Jesus says we should “do the will of the Father”, how does the Sermon on the Mount show us what this means? Is it more about character/heart or actions?
  5. How does Jesus’ statement “if you love me you will obey my commands” relate to this passage?
  6. Read Matt 24:24 and 2Thes 2:9-10. How do these passages support Jesus’ words?
  7. Why do you think Jesus says, “I never knew you” not “You never knew me”?
  8. Why do you think Jesus calls them evildoers (23)?
  9. Consider again the questions Grant asked at the end of the message (for sharing or quiet reflection):
  • Is there a risk that you have the right language of a Christina but are not doing the will of God (i.e. living out the heart changing themes of the Sermon on the Mount)?
  • Is there a risk that you could be trying to balance your lack of relationship with exercising gifts / service / ministry?




[1] Question by Dr. S. Ferguson