“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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 in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“ Matthew 7:21-23
Let’s be honest, this passage sounds a little harsh. “Not everyone who says Lord Lord” and “I never knew you depart from me” are striking words said by Jesus. The meaning of Matthew 7:21-23 can be challenging, but it’s one that we shouldn’t ignore. In fact, there’s a lot of powerful truth in this passage.
In this blog post we are going to break down Matthew 7:21-23 verse by verse and see what we can learn. Let’s start by looking at the context.
The Context Of Matthew 7:21-23
Before we can look at the Matthew 7:21-23 meaning we need to know what is happening surrounding these words. This will help us better understand this passage.
In Matthew 5 – 7 we find Jesus’ famous message, the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout this message Jesus teaches about how life and faith really work. What he says is shocking, countercultural, and different than any other religious leader in his day. The primary picture Jesus paints is what a true disciple looks like.
In Matthew 7 Jesus challenges his listeners to not just hear the Word, but to act upon it. This leads to some of Jesus’ most famous teachings: “ask and it shall be given unto you (Matthew 7:7)” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12).”
As we get down a little further in the chapter we see a warning about false believers in Matthew 7:15-23. Jesus is challenging his listeners to not just look at the outward appearance, but to look at the fruit one produces to know if they are following Jesus.
This goes back to how the chapter started; we should be doers of the Word, not just hearers. There are some who may appear to be wise and faithful, but what their lives produce indicates who they follow.
Jesus is saying it’s possible to claim to follow God, but not actually follow him. Only those who practice what they say, who do the will of the Father, are truly following Jesus. We might be able to fool others, but we cannot fool God.
This is what leads us to Matthew 7:21-23, so let’s dive in and see what it says.
The Meaning Of Matthew 7:21-23
Since this passage is 3 verses we are going to look each individually. This will help us see more clearly what the meaning of Matthew 7:21-23 is and how it applies to our lives.
The Meaning Of Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says Lord Lord”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
Of the three verses in this passage this is the most commonly quoted and often debated. Some have taken Matthew 7:21 to mean that you must do good works to earn salvation. But that’s misapplying Jesus’ words. The Bible, and Jesus in the next verse, are clear that good deeds don’t earn salvation.
Jesus isn’t saying that we need to do good works to enter heaven. In fact when someone believes that, they’ve actually put their faith in something other than God. Rather Jesus is saying that to do the will of God means to do more than just action; it means to have genuine faith and trust in him.
Jesus says that those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom. This means we place our faith Jesus, in return he grants us salvation, and our salvation is shown by our submission to God.
The problem in Jesus’ day, and today, was that many false teachers would be good at putting on a show. They looked the part and they said the right things. We will see this more in the next verse. But the problem was they never placed their faith in Christ.
Mere words are not enough; we must be doers of the Word not just hearers. This starts with a sincere faith placed in Christ.
The Meaning Of Matthew 7:22 – “Many Will Say To Me on That Day”
“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 in your name perform many miracles?’” Matthew 7:22
In Matthew 7:22 Jesus gives a picture of people trying to enter the kingdom. We saw in the previous verse that entrance into the kingdom is based on doing the will of God, however these people are trying to enter in on their own merit.
Jesus is revealing in this verse that many have fooled themselves into thinking that they are good to go based off what they’ve done for God. Mark Moore says, “Because people are so enamored with the spectacular rather than the spiritual, many are fooled by plastic fruit. By plastic fruit I mean the imitation of the miraculous. Since miracles are relatively easy to manipulate or fake, they are a poor test of God’s approval. Some of these miracle mongers are simply charlatans. Others are self-deluded individuals who replaced obedience to God with wooing and wowing the crowds.”
The point Jesus is making is that the heart matters more than the actions. It’s possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons. Our call as Christians is to put Jesus first, to trust in him, and to listen to what he says. Our works will flow from that, not the other way around.
The other application from this is a warning to be on the lookout for false teachers. Just because someone is saying the right things doesn’t mean they are righteous. Jesus is warning his followers to pay attention to the fruit they produce, not just the words they say.
The Meaning Of Matthew 7:23 – “I Never Know You Depart From Me”
“Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:23
These words sound harsh, but they are words we should not ignore. The reality is these people never bothered to get to know Jesus; they weren’t interested in him. Rather they were only interested in their own gain and satisfaction. Really Jesus is giving them what they want. They spent their lives chasing their own desires; they don’t want life with him so he gives them life without him.
The overarching point that Jesus is making is that it’s not our performance that earns us salvation. It’s relying on the saving work of Jesus. Alone. Period. Everything else flows out from what Jesus has done for us.
And while many might say the right things and look the part, it’s our heart that matters. We might be able to fool others and even ourselves, but we cannot fool God. One day our true motivations will be revealed.
Matthew 7:21-23 is a warning to not deceive ourselves or to be deceived by others. It’s a calling to place our complete trust in Jesus so that we can produce fruit that will last.
How To Apply Matthew 7:21-23 To Your Life
So, how does Matthew 7:21-23 apply to our lives today? Let’s go back to the beginning of this verse. Jesus states that the kingdom belongs to those who do the will of his Father. If you want to enter into God’s Kingdom this is what you do.
What is God’s will? Jesus tells us that in Matthew 22:38-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus masterfully sums up the entire Bible: love God and love those around you. That’s what it means to do the will of the Father.
Loving God means that we listen to, and follow, what he says. When Jesus says to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, he’s talking how loving God with every single aspect of who we are. No part of our life should be left out.
Our love for God should not stop with God; it should flow to those around us. You cannot love God while neglecting those around you. We are to take the love that God has shown us and bring it to the world around us.
This is the will of the Father. He has saved us from our sin and in response we are to love God and love those around us. We will all struggle and fail at this, and when we do we take God’s grace and forgiveness and continue on striving toward the calling God has placed on our lives. And if we do that not only will we experience the blessings God has for us in this life, but we will spend eternity with him.
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