Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
In Romans 10 the Apostle Paul tells us, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (vs. 9). The people Jesus is describing here have it half right. They call upon Jesus as their Lord. But the believe-in-your-heart part is missing. That is the most important part. Confessing that Jesus is Lord is valid only when it expresses a deeper and fuller faith in our heart.
I have known people who “know the formula.” They can recite, “Jesus is my Lord,” or “Jesus is my Savior,” or “Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins.” But they do so like a trained parrot. There is nothing behind it. Words like these are not a secret password to tell the angel at heaven’s gate so that he will let you in. When we get there, no one will open a little peephole and whisper, “Hey, buddy, what’s the password?” Claiming Jesus as Lord is meaningful only when it reflects the faith of our hearts.
Nor does Jesus mean to suggest that good works will lead him to recognize us when he says, “…but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The false Christians have impressive works on their resumes: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Doesn’t God want people to prophesy in Jesus’ name? Doesn’t he want them to drive out demons? Is there anything wrong with performing miracles? On the surface, all of these things line up with doing the will of the Father in heaven. What’s wrong?
First, these people are not lying. Jesus does not accuse them of making any of this up, even where they require supernatural powers. God once used the unbelieving prophet Balaam to deliver his message. The book of Acts mentions the seven sons of Sceva who were unbelievers, yet drove out demons in Jesus’ name. Numerous people, from Bible times to the present, have claimed to do miracles in Jesus’ name. Still, in the case of many it is hard to imagine they had any real connection to him.
Second, it appears these people are completely sincere about their religion, whatever it is. They didn’t think of themselves as deceivers. They fully expect Jesus to accept their argument, even on the day of judgment.
What, then, is missing? The main thing is true, saving faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews tells us. That is true even if you are preaching, healing people, and driving out demons. In the absence of faith, even those apparently good works become sins, because Paul tells us, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
You see, where there is no true faith, there can be no true love, and love is the fulfillment of the law. We are never doing the will of the Father in heaven when unselfish love does not stand behind what we are doing, however helpful it might be to someone else.
Paul furnishes some great examples in his great love chapter of 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
The false Christians standing before Jesus on the day of judgment cannot work their way into heaven any more than we can. But a heart that grasps God’s gift of forgiveness by faith does save us. This faith makes itself known in a life that does the will of the Father: repenting of our sins, trusting solely in Jesus for our salvation, and striving, however imperfectly, to live a life of love. As for the false prophets, Jesus won’t recognize them as his own. “Away from me, you evildoers!”
Jesus speaks some strong words about a “spiritual” life devoid of faith, but he does so because he loves us. You are the dearest thing he owns. You are the costliest purchase he has ever made. You are the one thing that he would do anything, and has done everything, to keep. Don’t fall for a counterfeit faith.