A long-time friend of mine recently told me that Matthew, Mark and Luke do not teach salvation by grace alone, because of Christ alone. At first glance, Matt. 7:21-23 seems to lend credence to that claim. Jesus said, “Not everyone that saith to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father.” But when we don’t understand a scripture in light of the plain revelation of God, we should question our understanding, not the inerrant word of God. The Gospel makes plain that we are saved by grace alone (Rom. 4:16; 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9). Does this scripture say we are saved by grace, but that somehow our works also contribute to our salvation? Many would say so. They claim that based on this scripture, we are saved by grace through the works that we do with the help of God’s grace. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, referencing Matt. 7:21 says,
“In every circumstance each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of God.”
Thus, the Catholic Church believes and teaches that we are saved by good works that are done with the help of God’s grace. Is that what Jesus means here? Does He mean that my justification before God depends on what I do? I know this: if God weighs my “good” works against my “bad” works -- as a Jehovah’s Witness once told me while standing at my front door -- I confess, I have no hope. With Job I say: “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me” (Job 9:20). If I am saved by what I can do with God’s help, then why, oh why, did God crucify His Son (Gal. 2:21)?!
Not only Catholics, but John MacArthur, in his book, ‘The Gospel According to Jesus’, misunderstands this verse. He says:
“To say 'Lord, Lord' and then disobey is the moral equivalent of a Judas kiss. Real faith is as concerned with doing the will of God as with affirming the facts of true doctrine. Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 7:21-23 as a warning to people who think they are saved but do not live in obedience to God.”
John MacArthur believes and teaches that if we disobey, it is equivalent to Judas’ betrayal. He says that real faith is concerned with doing (his emphasis) as well as ‘affirming facts of true doctrine’.
But the apostle Paul did not contradict Jesus when he taught salvation by grace alone, because of Christ alone. He makes it plain that salvation has nothing to do with our works. Our works, our obedience to God’s revealed law in any part and every part, has nothing to do with our salvation.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
The first thing Paul does is to say how we are not saved. We are not saved by what we do. Nothing about my personal obedience determines my justification before God. Salvation is “not by the works of the law,” that is, it is not by my personal law-keeping. Rather, it is by the law-keeping of my Surety, my Substitute, my covenant head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who stood for His people as Adam stood for his race. Christ stood in the place of those God gave to Him. They are His “chosen generation” (1 Pet. 2:9). He answered God with Himself for them, in their place, both for obedience and for punishment (Rom. 5:12-21; 2 Cor. 5:21). God’s choice and Christ’s obedience on the cross makes His people a holy nation (Eph. 1:3-4; 1 Peter 2:9; Heb. 10:10).
Matt. 7:21-23 tells what will happen in the Day of Judgment. Many, not just a few, will appear before Christ. It will be a one-on-one meeting. No pastor, no parent, no props, no friends, just you and the Lord Jesus Christ. We must all give an account of ourselves to God (Rom. 14:12). This scripture reveals how many will answer. And it teaches us how not to answer by the faulty answer given by those who will go to hell.
Notice how these answered: “Lord, Lord…”. They said “Lord, Lord,” but they did not do the will of God! They were not occasional church-goers. They were not heathens. They were not Muslims or some other non-Christian group. They called on Jesus as “Lord.” Not only that, but all that they did, they did in Jesus’ name. They prophesied. They were teachers and preachers, explainers and proclaimers of doctrine. They cast out demons. (Whether actually or not, they convinced others and were convinced themselves that they had.) And they called on Christ to verify their claims when their very lives hung in the eternal balance. They did many wonders. And notably, all that they did was done in Jesus’ name. By all appearances, these were stellar Christians. In the Day of Judgment, they will appeal to Jesus to search and see and verify their claims. But He will answer them in chilling finality: “I never knew you.” Note: if ever you are known by Christ, you are forever known by Him. “I know my sheep and am known of mine” (John 10:14). His knowledge is eternal. It is never increased, never diminished. Therefore, if Christ knows you, He knew you from eternity. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate...” (Rom. 8:29; Acts 15:18). “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).
What the Lord teaches here is that many will make appeal to Christ to consider their works in the Day of Judgment. They will call on the Lord Himself to consider what they have done in His name. It is clear then, that these who go to hell are professing Christian teachers and preachers, and by extension, all who follow their teachings. Thus, many in the Day of Judgment will be professing Christians who will be eternally separated from Christ. Immediately, John MacArthur’s claim that they were lost because of their disobedience is called into question. They had done many things in Jesus’ name. They called Jesus Lord. Something more fundamental was missing, however. Their error was not an absence of owning Christ as Lord. Note: although Jehovah’s Witnesses will not own Christ as Lord, demons do. Demons believe and confess that there is but one God (James 2:14) and that Jesus is the the Son of God, the Holy One of God (Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24). It is clear, then, that we must believe more than that Jesus is Lord. Devils know and own that He is Lord. We must know Him as our Savior. Most importantly, He must know us as His sheep (John 10:14; Gal. 4:9).
Jesus said it is not enough to say, “Lord, Lord.” He said that only “He who does the will of my Father” will enter heaven. What is the will of God that we must do? This is the main point of the text. These whom Jesus did not know unto salvation clearly did not do His Father’s will. Yet some do enter heaven. Some do His Father’s will. The will of God we must do is the obedience of faith that Paul emphasizes in Romans 1:5; 10:16; 16:26, according to Isaiah 53:1-ff. It is faith in Christ alone as all in salvation, according to the Gospel. It is the same obedience mentioned in 1 Peter 1:22, which purifies our souls. It is that obedience that the Judaizers failed to give (Gal. 3:1). When asked, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He hath sent’” (John 6:29). Who sent Christ? His Father sent Him. Why was He sent? To do His Father’s will, that is, to save His people from their sins, and to glorify God in their salvation (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 11:27; Heb. 10:7-23; John 17:1-4; 1 Cor. 1:30-31).
Believing Christ as the One who saved His people from their sins by His obedience unto death on the cross -- Christ, the only Savior of sinners -- is doing the will of God. Hear Christ. Believe Him (Matt. 17:5). Jesus said, “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Faith in Christ is obedience to the Gospel (Rom. 6:17; 16:26). It is obeying the truth (1 Pet. 1:22) It is acknowledging the truth which is after godliness (2 Tim. 2:25; Rom. 1:5; 10:16; 16:26; Titus 1:1). Why is faith so essential? Because only faith glorifies God (1 Cor. 1:30-31). Faith alone says that Christ alone is everything in salvation. My works count for nothing, indeed, to work for salvation is to trample under foot the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:29; Gal. 2:21). Faith is essential because only if salvation is by faith is it entirely of grace: “Therefore, of faith, that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:16). The very essence of faith is to exclude itself, and to rest and glory in Christ alone (Rom. 3:27; 1 Cor. 1:30-31); “We which have believed do enter into rest...he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Heb. 4:3,10).
Faith does not believe in itself. Faith is not confidence in my confidence. Faith does not look to what it does. In fact, faith looks away from itself by relying only on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done (John 3:14-15; Isa. 45:22; 65:1; Heb. 12:2; Isa. 42:1-4). Faith sees Christ as He is revealed in scripture, the Son of God who came in the flesh, by the will of God, to make atonement for the sins of His people (Heb. 10:7; John 19:30). Faith sees that God gave His eternal will to His Son to fulfill, to God’s great glory. That will is to save His people from their sins. Faith sees that Christ fulfilled His Father’s will, and that in consequence, God accepted Him for His people and with His people when He raised Him from the dead. Faith sees that God made Christ sin for His people, that Christ gave a full answer for those sins with Himself, that God has accepted Him and all those in Him. Faith says, “I am a great sinner, and nothing at all” (Rom. 3:9-19; Rom. 4:6; 1 Tim. 1:15). And faith says that a man is justified because God declared him just on the basis of Christ’s answer to justice and Christ’s obedience in His death to the full satisfaction and fulfillment of God’s holy law (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:24-25; Philip. 2:6-8). Faith says that it is only the death of Christ that put away sin and establishes everlasting righteousness, and that His resurrection and intercession ensures that everyone for whom He died is brought to glory and saved to the uttermost (Gal. 2:21; Ps. 85:1-3ff; Isaiah 12:1-3; Heb. 7:25). Faith says that it is only by the Spirit of God that I, a dead sinner, believe God’s testimony concerning Christ. Faith says that salvation is by grace, that Christ is all, that He has settled the entire matter of my redemption, once for all eternity, by His work on the cross and resurrection to glory (Rom. 10:4; Heb. 9:12; Heb. 1:3; Lev. 16:30). Faith says that my believing, my maintenance of faith and my growth in faith are entirely owing to the grace of God. And when I daily seek to obey my Savior, struggle against sin, still doubt and fail to obey, Faith says, “It’s not what I have done, it’s what Christ has done. It’s not what I am, it’s who Christ is. It’s not my sin, it’s Christ’s blood and righteousness. It’s not what God thinks of my performance and person at all, but what He thinks of His Son and what He did in His obedience unto death.”
All men will plead what they trust, their confidence, at Judgment. All men naturally trust themselves. Therefore, all unbelievers will plead their works, their experience, their knowledge, their prayers (‘Lord, Lord’). But no matter how “christian” they may seem to me and you, no matter how “christian” they seem to themselves, and no matter how many followers they have, when they are held to a one-on-one accounting before the Lord Jesus Christ, if they present themselves in their defense, because in their heart they trust themselves, they will be utterly put to shame (Matt. 12:34). They will be silenced by these words, “I never knew you.” It’s not what you do at any time that makes you acceptable to God, but what Christ has done that saves.
In light of this, what is your answer? What is mine? I have but one. My answer is the Lord Jesus Christ. The answer of Himself, which He made at Calvary, which is the answer He now gives by His presence at the right hand of God in heaven. He is my one and only answer! He answered for me then. He declares His answer in His word (Rom. 3:21-28). He answers now in my conscience (Heb. 9:14). I therefore take His answer to my bosom and beseech and thank God that He will “do as He has said” (Rom. 3:33-34; 2 Sam. 7:25; Ezek. 36:37). “Lord Jesus, answer for me now and ever! You are all my trust. I have no answer. If you do not answer for me, I will be justly and eternally lost!” What God has said concerning His Son and His glorious achievements for sinners is my only defense, my only justification. Christ is all that any sinner has. And there is nothing -- nothing in the sinner -- that adds to or makes what Christ did work. Is Christ all you have? If He is, you have all things. If not, then you have no answer! Flee to Him! Seek refuge in Him. Come to God through His blood and righteousness. Abandon all other hope. Look away from your sin, from your works, from your past, from your present, from your future, from your intellect, from your religious experience, from your sincerity, from your feelings. Make no consideration of yourself! Hang the eternal weight of your soul on the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the Gospel! (John 6:37-40; 17:4; 19:28-30; Heb. 1:1-3; 9:26; 10:7-23; Isaiah 45:22). When God, by His grace, enables you so to do you will know what it means to love God and to love those whom He loves (1 Tim. 1:14; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:9-11,19).
“O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be;
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee!”