In a blog On November 19 (see here), I answered a question from a reader about salvation by self-denial. One of the responses I received to that blog suggested that I had not carefully explained Matt 7:21-23. The questioner had said that the people in Matt 7:21-23 will not go to heaven even though they thought they would.
I have written and spoken on this extensively.
Here is a 5-minute video by me on Matt 7:21-23.
Here is a transcript of a conversation that Zane Hodges (ZCH) and I (BW) had on Matt 7:21-23 (it is on our website here):
BW: In Matthew 7:21-23, the people who face the judgment are those who say they’ve performed good works in the name of Jesus. This suggests that the passage particularly has in view people from within Christianity. The passage has nothing to say about Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, or agnostics. These are people within Christianity because they claim to do good work in the name of Jesus.
ZCH: That’s exactly right. These people are not Buddhists who are suddenly caught unaware by the fact that they’re standing before the Christian God. These are people who think they were related to the Christian God and to the Christian Savior. And they claim to have been engaged in activity for Him. These are professing Christian prophets. Yet they are self deceived because they have convinced themselves that they have done these things in the name of Jesus.
Sometimes Satan can duplicate the miracles of God. It isn’t necessary for Jesus to say, “You didn’t really do any of these things.” Maybe they did do them. And maybe they thought they were doing them in His name and by His power, when in reality they were not. Jesus doesn’t need to explain all this because it is not relevant. Even if they had done the things, assuming the truth of their claims, it wouldn’t get them into the kingdom of heaven. Only doing the will of the Father, only believing in the Son, would do that.
BW: This relates to one of the Evangelism Explosion questions which asks, “Do you know for sure you have eternal life?” The people will say yes or no. And then you follow up with the second question. “If you were to appear before God, and He said, ‘Why should I let you into My kingdom?’ what would you say?” Verse 22 is how these people would answer that second question. To them, their good works are the evidence they deserve to get into the kingdom.
ZCH: Yes, it sounds like their good works form the basis for their claims for acceptance from their Judge, and He rejects those claims. That’s very pertinent here. The gospel brings with it assurance of salvation, and it brings with it assurance on the basis of the one condition that the Father has laid down. If a person is standing in the final judgment, and he’s not predicating his acceptance on the one condition that the Father has laid down, he’s resting on the wrong foundation.
BW: The way that we’ve been discussing this is exactly the opposite of the way this passage is normally taught. The way this passage is normally taught is this: “If you profess to believe in Jesus, but you don’t have enough works, then you’re not truly born again.” But if there’s a link between this and the preceding passage about the false prophets, the two are actually an indictment against the Lordship Salvation type of teaching.
ZCH: This passage comes as close as any passage to a direct condemnation of Lordship Salvation. It says, “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord.’” We’re not talking about people who don’t think they are subject to the Lordship of Christ. They think they have submitted to His Lordship. When He challenges their works, they respond by saying, “Lord, haven’t we done this? We did this for You. We did this in subjection to You.” And Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter. You haven’t done what the Father has asked you to do. You haven’t believed in Me for everlasting life.” So, I think this is as good a refutation of Lordship Theology as you’ll find anywhere. But of course, the Scriptures contradict Lordship Theology over and over again.
BW: So a person could be extremely well intentioned and end up spending eternity in the lake of fire.
ZCH: Tragically, that is the case. Sincerity is no substitute for reality. You need to believe the truth.
See also this blog by me dealing with what “the will of the Father” in Matt 7:21 refers to.
Finally, you might also want to see this blog in which I question Zane Hodges about what the expression “you will know them by their fruits” means in Matt 7:15-20.