How to Survive the Scariest Passage in the Bible by Justin Dillehay for The Gospel Coalition
Christians may disagree over what constitutes the scariest passage in the Bible. But most would agree Jesus’s concluding words in the Sermon on the Mount rank near the top.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:21–23)
It’s frightening to think about going to hell. It’s even more frightening to find out too late that you’re going to hell when you thought you were going to heaven. And still more frightening to think that not just a few, but “many” will have this experience. Some people think they’re Christians, they call Jesus “Lord,” they even do mighty works in his name—and yet they’re not truly saved and never were.
When reading this passage it can be tempting to throw up our hands: Who then can know if they’ll be saved? It sure seems like a huge gamble. You do your best to follow Jesus, but who knows whether you’ll get smacked down at the end.
But that’s not Jesus’s goal here. He’s not trying to confuse us or rob us of assurance. True, he doesn’t want us to be deceived, but neither does he want us to live in terror or uncertainty about our final state.
So let me offer two ways to maintain—and even build—assurance in the face of this frightening passage.
1. Recognize What It Means to ‘Do the Father’s Will’
In verse 21, Jesus describes the one who will enter the kingdom as “the one who does the will of my Father.” But what exactly does that mean? Judging by the context, it must mean more than simply saying “Lord, Lord” and doing mighty works in Jesus’s name. So how can we know if we’re doing the Father’s will? And do we have to do it perfectly?
To see the answer, we should note that this is only the second time in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus has spoken of “entering the kingdom of heaven.” The other is the Sermon’s theme verse, Matthew 5:20: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Comparing these two passages, we can say that “doing the Father’s will” is parallel to possessing a greater righteousness. So by implication, Matthew 7:21–23 is describing those whose righteousness did not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.