Pastor David B. Curtis


Who Enters the Kingdom?

Matthew 7:21-23

Delivered 06/01/2003

I have entitled today's message, "Who Enters the Kingdom?". That is a very significant question; it is a question any thinking person should ask, because entering the Kingdom is synonymous with going to heaven. But it is a question that is not clearly answered within Christendom. Look at what Jesus said:

Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV) "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

According to these verses, who enters the kingdom? It is "...he who does the will of My Father in heaven". So, it is the person who does God's will that enters the Kingdom or goes to heaven. Now what does it mean to "do the will of God"? We'll look at this in a minute, but let's look at the context first.

Jesus has warned his disciples about the broad road that leads to destruction, and then in verse 15 He warns about the danger of false prophets who lead people down that broad road. Verses 16 through 20 show how to distinguish a genuine prophet from a false prophet. Very simply, Jesus says you will know them by their fruits. You must examine them very closely, because the better the counterfeit, the more carefully it must be examined before it is possible to determine that it is counterfeit. Jesus is saying that the doctrines they hold, and the character of the teachers' lives reveal whether they belong to God or not.

Then in verses 21-23 Jesus enforces his warning by conceding that many of the false prophets will do and say wonderful and impressive things - "...they prophesied in His name, cast out demons in His name, and did many wonders in His name." They do some very impressive things, but they are not of God. In verse 20 Jesus again says:

Matthew 7:20 (NKJV) "Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

So, the context of verses 21-23 is dealing with the false prophets. These false prophets may say, "Lord, Lord", but they are not of God.

Matthew 7:21 (NKJV) "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

First, let me say that a person can call Jesus Lord and not know who He is. The title "Lord" does not indicate that these people had an orthodox belief in Christ. Paul called Jesus Lord but did not know who he was:

Acts 9:3-5 (NKJV) As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

Saul asks Jesus, "Who are you, Lord?" So, he calls him Lord but doesn't know who he is.

They could also be calling Him Lord in a hypocritical sense, meaning they're calling him Lord, but they don't really believe it:

Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV) "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

So, the fact that they call Jesus Lord does not mean that they are orthodox in their belief. Please keep this in mind, this is important.

Jesus did not say that no one who says, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom. He said, rather, that not all who say that will enter. So, who among those who say, "Lord, Lord" will enter? Those who do the will of the Father. What, then, does Jesus mean by the will of the Father, and who are those who do it?

These verses in Matthew 7 are a stronghold for the proponents of Lordship Theology. Those who hold to Lordship theology believe that if a person is truly a Christian, they will live a righteous obedient life. Without this practical righteousness there is no reason for a person to think that they are a Christian. They would use these verses in Matthew and say, "It doesn't matter what they believe, they must 'do the will of the Father'".

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, says this, "Nothing is more dangerous than to rely only upon a correct belief, and a fervent spirit, and to assume that, as long as you believe the right things and are zealous and keen and active concerning them, you are therefore of necessity a Christian."

Do you see what he is saying? Being a Christian is more than just believing the right things, you must have obedience. He is not alone in this view.

According to Lordship Salvation, saving faith includes submission and obedience. Richard Belcher says, "True saving faith includes in it a submission to the Lordship of Christ." Another Lordship proponent says, "Saving faith is trust in Christ himself. It is a commitment of self in submission to all of Christ that is revealed." John MacArthur says, "Saving faith, then, is the whole of my being embracing all of Christ. Faith cannot be divorced from commitment." He also says, "The true test of faith is this, does it produce obedience? If not, it is not saving faith." Bailey Smith asserts, "Saving faith is not mere intellectual assent, but it involves an act of submission on our part."

So those who hold to the Lordship view would say that by the expression "the will of My Father" Jesus meant a life characterized by obedience to all that the Father has commanded. Thus, those who do the will of the Father would be people who live in obedience to God's revealed will.

Before we go on, let me just say that Jesus Christ is the only person who ever lived in complete obedience to the Father. All other men have sinned. The only reason that any person can get into heaven is because Jesus Christ's obedience is imputed to their account by faith:

Romans 5:19 (NKJV) For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.

I am righteous because of Christ's obedience that becomes mine by faith!

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Positionally, in my standing before God, I am completely righteous and totally obedient, because I am in Christ! Christ's obedience and righteousness has been imputed to my account. That is my position or standing. But when men talk about obedience being necessary to enter heaven, they are referring to practical obedience.

D. A. Carson, in his book The Sermon On The Mount, says, "It is true, of course, that no man enters the kingdom because of his obedience; but it is equally true that no man enters the kingdom who is not obedient." Mark A. Copeland, the author of the Executable Outlines, says, "The Father's will, while it offers salvation by grace, does require obedience!"

If obedience is necessary to enter the kingdom, then the ten thousand dollar question here is, "How much obedience is required?" Is 80% good enough? Is it 90%? Or maybe 95% obedience? We know that it's not 100% obedience, because nobody does that, nobody.

How much obedience is enough? Nobody can answer that question. Which means we never know if we are doing enough, which means we never know if we are going to make it to heaven if getting to heaven is based upon our obedience.

If "doing the will of God" in this text means living in obedience to God's moral will, then I think we are all in trouble. Notice what Paul said:

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

What is God's will here? It is that we be thankful "in everything"! Are you? Will a person who is not thankful in everything go to hell? They are not doing the will of God! Do you see how complicated it gets when you require obedience as a necessary element of salvation?

Is this doctrine of "no obedience, no salvation" the doctrine of Paul? Is this the ground of justification before God set forth in the New Testament? Are we to conclude that the everlasting destiny of the whole human race, from Adam to the last man, will finally turn on their obedience to the teachings of Christ? Not according to the teaching of the New Testament:

Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

The Greek word used here for, "freely" is dorean. It means: "gratuitously (lit. or fig.) -without a cause, freely". "Freely by his grace"- the expression is redoubled to show that all is of God and that nothing in this act of justification belongs to, or proceeds from man:

Romans 3:28 (NKJV) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
Romans 11:6 (NKJV) And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

The clear teaching of the New Testament is that salvation is by grace through faith alone. Yet this text in Matthew 7 seems to be saying that judgement is based upon works.

The Lordship view has redefined saving faith so it's more than just taking God at His word. To them, saving faith involves surrender, commitment, submission, repentance, and sacrifice. These additions are both linguistically invalid and biblically invalid. Faith is simply believing. Faith is the conviction of the truth of some proposition. What makes saving faith saving is not the uniqueness of the faith, but its object. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation, because it believes in the right object: the guarantee of life made by Jesus Christ to every believer.

Benjamin Warfield, the Presbyterian who probably would not have put himself in our camp, said, "The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith, or the attitude of faith, or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith."

The truth is, technically, we're not saved by faith but through faith. Faith is the instrumental means; grace is the efficient means of our salvation. We're saved by Jesus Christ. We're saved by His grace. We're saved through faith. You would know what I meant if I said to you "I put the fire out with the hose." Now hoses don't put out fires. But hoses are the channels for water that puts the fire out. The hose is the instrumental means; the water is the efficient means. Faith is the instrumental means by which we are able to access our salvation through Jesus Christ.

Augustine, who lived from 354-430, wrote, "Faith is nothing else than to think with assent." John Calvin wrote, "For as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God's favor but receiving from Christ what we lack."

John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

"Jesus is the Christ" - it is not the mere verbalization of this phrase that saves you. We must believe that Jesus is the Christ, and before we can believe it, we must understand what it means.

1 John 5:1 (NKJV) Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.

We must believe that Jesus is the Christ in the John-ian sense of the term. We must understand Christ as John does. How does John understand Christ?

John 11:25-27 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

In verse 27 Mary says, "I believe the very thing that the gospel of John was written to bring me to believe." In verse 26 Jesus asks, "Do you believe this?" What is this? It is the statement about Jesus himself that he gives in verse 25. He tells her that He is the resurrection and life. But that's not all he asks her to believe, Jesus is saying, "I guarantee resurrection and life to everyone who believes in me." To believe that Jesus is the Christ is in essence to believe that he is the guarantor of eternal life to everyone who believes. So if I can make people understand what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ, they'll either believe it or they won't. The Lordship view presents faith as if it were: "I have all the facts, and I believe them, but now I must do something with them", as though there's an extra step, an act of the will, surrender, commitment or sacrifice. That is not biblical!

Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

Saving faith is accepting the testimony of God. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ? If you do, then on the testimony of scripture, you are saved, you possess everlasting life.

John Robbins, in the foreword of Gordon Clarks's book, Faith and Saving Faith, writes, "Belief of the truth, nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned. Those who maintain that there is something more than belief, are, quite literally, beyond belief."

Let me give you a test to see if you understand this:

John 12:42-43 (NKJV) Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Were these individuals saved? Were they Christians? The Lordship view would say no, because they did not confess Him. But the Scripture says, "They believed in Him."

Mark A. Copeland, the author of the Executable Outlines, says, "There are some who teach that as long as one believes in Jesus, they will be saved. That salvation is by 'faith only'. But there is such a thing as 'an unsaved believer'. There were some who believed in Jesus, but were not saved - John 12:42-43. Let no one think that just because they 'believe' in Jesus, they have a free ticket into heaven!"

John 5:24 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Lordship theology causes people to doubt the testimony of Scripture. Faith is believing, and believing alone makes you a Christian. If heaven can't be obtained apart from obedience to God, then, logically, that obedience is a condition for getting there.

Alright, if salvation is by faith alone, then what does Jesus mean in our text that only those who do the will of His Father will enter the kingdom?

When Jesus spoke of doing the will of the Father to obtain kingdom entrance, I believe, based on the analogy of faith, that He had one act of obedience in mind: believing the gospel.

John 6:28-29 (NKJV) Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

Now notice that Jesus uses the same word they started with, work, but He puts it in the singular. He says this is the work of God. "You want to talk about works. That's how you're conditioned." Jesus says this is the work, with a play on words. What is that work? That work is to believe. But, of course, believing isn't a work at all, is it? In other words, this is what God requires of you, not works, but one thing, that is to believe.

John 6:40 (NKJV) "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

Believing in Jesus Christ is doing the will of God!

John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

The word translated "he who does not believe" in the KJV and the NKJV and "he who does not obey" in the NASV is the verb apeitheo. The leading Greek Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker makes a very insightful comment about apeitheo, which sheds light on both John 3:36 and our passage, Matthew 7:21-23:

Since in the view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their gospel, apeitheo may be restricted in some passages to the meaning disbelieve, be an unbeliever. This sense, though greatly disputed (it is not found outside our literature [i.e., outside the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, and other early Christian literature]), seems most probable in John 3:36; Acts 14:2; 19:9; Rom. 15:31. (BAGD, p.82)

A person who trusts in Christ alone obeys completely the will of the Father to believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal salvation. Such a person obtains absolute perfection before God, positionally speaking, since Christ takes away all of his sins and gives him His righteousness in exchange (2 Cor. 5:21). And, such a person can be 100% sure of his salvation since he can know with certainty that he has done the will of the Father (in relation to the gospel), once and for all.

Acts 6:7 (NKJV) Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

This refers to believing the gospel as an act of obedience to God.

Matthew 7:21-23, rather than supporting the Lordship Salvation or Works Salvation positions, actually contradicts them. Probably many of those who will say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonders in Your name" are people who thought their works would get them into the kingdom. Notice that Jesus does not question whether they actually did such deeds. Yet He rebukes them for not doing the Father's will, and He denies them kingdom entrance. Notice that there is nothing here about "Have we not trusted in Your Name?" Their claim is to their works! Those who do not believe in Christ alone for their salvation have failed to do the will of the Father.

What they say is confusing, because they claim that Christ is Lord. But that is not all that becomes confusing. They are doing supernatural things and giving the credit to Jesus Christ. However, when it comes time for judgment, He will say, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:23). The word which is translated "knew" is an intense word which means: "to know with favor". There was never any relationship between Jesus Christ and these individuals.

What if I'm wrong? What if the Free Grace view that I am espousing is not correct? Let's think about this. If I'm wrong, what damage could this view possibly cause? If the Free Grace view is wrong, it could cause people to think that they are saved when they're really not. It could be giving false hope to unbelievers. So what? Do you believe in election? Will the elect of God ever be lost? No! Will the reprobate ever be saved? No! So, in my opinion, the worst that the Free Grace view will do is give false hope to the reprobate.

If the Lordship teaching is wrong, what harm can it do? It can cause a believer to think that they are not redeemed because of sin in their life. This view can bring the elect under guilt and condemnation. It can cause a believer to give up on Christianity by making them doubt that they really are saved. The Lordship view can hurt the church of God by causing Christians to live in guilt and doubt. But the worst that the Free Grace view does is give the reprobate false hope. As I see it, only the Lordship view is harmful to the church. We all must admit that neither of these views can change the destiny of the elect. Selah!

Before we close this morning, I want us to look at the little phrase in verse 22, "in that day". This expression comes from the Old Testament and refers to the day of the Lord, the time of Christ's return.

Zechariah 12:11 (NKJV) "In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

Jesus is addressing Jews in this setting, who will immediately identify the time to which He is referring as the end of the age:

Luke 17:29-31 (NKJV) "but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 "Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 "In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 (NKJV) and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

The Jews, to whom Jesus was speaking, would have been well aware of the meaning of this phrase from the Old Testament. When Jesus says, in Matthew 7:22, "Many will say to Me in that day," the Jews would immediately know that He was talking about the day of the Lord, the time when the Messiah would return in judgement.

The particular judgment Christ is referring to in Matthew 7:22 is described in:

Matthew 25:31-32 (NKJV) "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

This text is connected with what goes before. This is apparent by the language used. If we compare this text with Matthew 24:30-31, we will see that he is talking about the same thing:

Matthew 24:30-31 (NKJV) "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

In both texts, we see the Son of man coming in glory, with His holy angels, for the purpose of judgement. The text in Matthew 24:30-31 has a very clear time statement with it as to when this judgement will happen:

Matthew 24:34 (NKJV) "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

The Lord's coming in glory, with his angels, for the purpose of judgement, was to come in the lifetime of those to whom He spoke. Matthew 25:31-46 is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70, the end of the Jewish age. It is not a new topic, but simply an elaboration of Jerusalem's judgement.

It deserves particular notice that the description of the coming of the Son of man in his glory, given in Matthew 25, corresponds in all points with that in Matthew 16:27-28, of which it is expressly stated that it would be witnessed by some then present when the prediction was made:

Matthew 16:27-28 (NKJV) "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

If we compare the two texts, we will see: (a) That in both passages the subject referred to is the same, the coming of the Son of man- the Parousia. (b) In both passages He is described as coming in glory. (c) In both, He is attended by the holy angels. (d) In both, He comes as a King. "Coming in his kingdom;" "He shall sit upon his throne; Then shall the King," etc. (e) In both, He comes to judgment. (f) In both, the judgment is represented as, in some sense, universal. "He shall reward every man." Before him shall be gathered "all the nations." (g) In Matthew 16:28, it is expressly stated that this coming in glory was to take place in the lifetime of some then present. This fixes the time of the Parousia within the limit of a human life, thus being in perfect accord with the period defined by our Lord in His prophetic discourse. "This generation shall not pass."

I think that we can clearly see that the coming of the Son of man, in Matthew 25:31-32, is identical with that referred to in Matthew 24:30-31 and 16:27-28, which some of the disciples were to live to witness. When Jesus said, "In that day", He was clearly speaking of a first century event. This judgement took place in A. D. 70. The destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the judgement are all connected in Scripture.

Notice the similarity of the text we have just looked at to:

Matthew 13:40-43 (NKJV) "Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 "The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 "and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

At the end of the (Jewish) age, the Son of Man returns with His angels to judge the wicked and reward the righteous.

A universal judgement in our future is entirely unnecessary, those who have died since A. D. 70 already know where they will spend eternity. When a person dies, his spirit immediately enters heaven or hell. So, what purpose would there be of a final judgement?

John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 5:24 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will not see life, they are under the wrath of God. Believers have already passed from death to life and will not come into judgement.

What would you say if you appeared before God, and He said, "Why should I let you into My kingdom?" Matthew 7:22 is the wrong answer. The right answer is, "Lord, I am an unworthy sinner who has placed his complete trust upon what Jesus did for me upon the cross, and He promised that whoever believes in Him has eternal life"

So, to answer our original question, "Who enters the Kingdom?" It is the person who trusts only and completely in what Christ has done for him on Calvary.

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