I interacted with a young man about Matt 7:21-23. I told him that the people who call Jesus “Lord, Lord” and make their case for entering His kingdom based on their works were unbelievers. They had not done the will of the Father, which is believing in His Son for everlasting life. That led to this excellent follow-up question:
Hello. Thank you for your explanation on Matthew 7:21. How are the people in this Scripture able to “prophesy, cast out demons, and do many wonders” if they didn’t do the will of God? Will God let someone use His power if they are not really His servants and never really knew Him? Thanks.
First, we do not know for sure that they actually did the things they say they did. They likely are convinced they did. Why make up something before the God-Man who knows everything they ever said or did? But they may simply have thought that they were prophesying, casting out demons, and doing many wonders in Jesus’ name.
Second, even if they did these things, there is Biblical evidence that God allows unbelievers to do the miraculous.
The seven sons of Sceva cast out demons, and there is no indication that they were believers (cf. Acts 19:13-16). Luke says they were part of a group of “itinerant Jewish exorcists” (Acts 19:13), which is not the way Luke would refer to believing exorcists. Plus, the response of the demon is telling (v 15). At the very least these exorcists must have convinced some that they were actually casting out demons. And most likely, they did.
We know that in the OT God often allowed deceptive spirits to confuse most of Israel’s prophets. On one occasion King Ahab of the northern kingdom and King Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom sought a word from the Lord about a proposed attack. All the prophets said that God would give decisive victory. But there was one prophet absent. So, Micaiah was called. He said that defeat would happen and that a deceptive spirit had misled all the other prophets (1 Kings 22:19-23). Micaiah was right. The rest were wrong. While some of the ones giving a false message might have been believers in the coming Messiah, most likely were not.
In terms of working miracles, remember that Paul cast a spirit out of a young girl who had been accurately telling people their futures (Acts 16:16-24). Luke gives no hint that she was a believer. Just the opposite, in fact. Once the evil spirit was cast out, she could no longer tell fortunes.
And we must never forget that Judas was one of the Twelve. Judas, an unbeliever, was given authority to heal the sick and to cast out demons (Matt 10:1-4). Surely, he did those things, even though he did not believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
What about Caiaphas, the high priest? He prophesied “that Jesus would die for the nation” (John 11:49-52). Caiaphas was not a believer. He had a direct hand in the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet God used him to give an accurate prophecy.
It does not seem to have been a common occurrence in Scripture that unbelievers (or even believers) prophesy, cast out demons, and do miracles. Yet those things were done by unbelievers at times. People at the Great White Throne Judgment will include unbelievers from 4100 BC (or whenever Adam and Eve were created) to whenever the Millennium ends. Therefore, there will likely be thousands or tens of thousands of unbelievers who cast out demons, prophesied, and did miracles, even if there was only one such person per generation.
What about famous television evangelists who supposedly cast out demons, heal the sick, and prophesy? Do all of them believe the faith-alone message? Hardly. Most of them believe in works salvation. While some of them are pure charlatans, it is possible that at least some of them occasionally do give a prophetic message that proves true or pray over someone who is healed.
Matthew 7:21-23 is a warning against works salvation. If you think you must persevere in good works to stay saved or to gain “final salvation,” beware lest you miss the kingdom entirely. Good intentions are not enough. One must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life to do “the will of the Father” (John 5:24; 6:28-29).