False Prophets, False Professions (Matthew Sermon 23 of 151)
July 11, 1999 | Andy Davis
Prophecy, False Teaching & False Teachers
As we're nearing the end of our study in the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a section of Scripture, Verses 15 through 23, which gives some of Jesus' strongest warnings yet. It's a warning against religious forgeries. I'm a church historian, and I find interesting the study of how God has worked throughout the last 2,000 years of church history. As I followed this theme, the theme of religious forgeries through, I found some interesting stories. Throughout the history of the church, forgeries have played a significant role. There have been, for example, forged documents, which were held to be genuine, and which affected greatly the life of the church.
In the ancient Near East, one king claimed to have had a letter written by Jesus Christ Himself. Apparently, the king, who was alive during Jesus' time, was sick, and heard of Jesus' miraculous healing powers, and sent a messenger asking that Jesus would come personally, and heal him. Well, as the story goes, Jesus sat down and wrote him a letter, so to speak. And in the letter, He said He's sorry He couldn't get away at the present time, but He was going to send one of His disciples. And so the disciple carried the letter up to the king, and the king received the letter, and then the disciple healed the king. And the letter was held in that kingdom for many years, and shown as a display of God's great mercy. Obviously, a forgery.
Another forgery is the Donation of Constantine. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, the Roman Emperor, supposedly wrote a letter to the Bishop of Rome, basically giving him the right to rule over all of Christiandom in the West. This was a very important document called the Donation of Constantine, and it affected church history for hundreds of years, until the 16th century, when a scholar showed that there was no way it could have been written by Constantine. The vocabulary and the writing style came hundreds of years after Constantine. It was a forgery.
For me, the most interesting, perhaps, spectacular forgeries, center around relics. They're little physical artifacts, which were supposed to have some kind of spiritual power. It could be anything, some object, maybe a bit of bone from a martyr, maybe a piece of his finger or something, maybe something he wore, an article of clothing. It could be a cup, a drinking cup used by one of the apostles. If you had one of these in your church, you could be guaranteed of having good attendance on a Sunday, because people would come from miles around, just to see it and touch it. Relics were very important, and very popular throughout the Middle Ages. Some of these items were so valuable that they were sold for a king's ransom. Because of the monetary value of these relics, you could imagine that there were many forgeries as well. Also, because some of these relics were supposed to have miraculous powers, like if you could touch this or just get near that, you would be healed of your illnesses. People would go on pilgrimages to certain places where these relics were, just so that they could receive the benefit of the healing power.
But of all these stories, the one that I found was most interesting, was the story of the True Cross of Jesus Christ. Have you ever wonder what happened to the physical cross that Jesus died on? Actually, I never did, until I read this story, but I guess some people wondered, and they wanted to know what happened to the cross. Apparently, it was found by Helena, who was the mother of Constantine. She went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around the year 326 AD. She was guided to the spot of the crucifixion by an aged Jewish woman, who received as an inheritance, this information about where Jesus had died three centuries before. And so she brought Helena, the mother of Constantine, to this place, and they started to dig. And they dug for a while, and lo and behold, they found three crosses. Can you believe it? And they brought them out, and there was not only the crosses, but the nails that they had used for the crucifixion, and even the superscription, which was written over Jesus' head.
Many may ask, "Well, what did she do with the cross?" She divided it up into portions. A portion of the cross stayed right there, where they had a church. And so that was the Church of the True Cross, and they set up a feast day, once a year, celebrating Helena's discovery of the True Cross. A portion of the wood was sent to Byzantine, to the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, to her son, Constantine, and a portion of it was sent to Rome. Eventually, what happened with this wood, is it started getting divided into smaller and smaller fragments, and sent to churches all over Europe. And I don't know if they miraculously started to multiply, like the bread and fish, but by the time of the Reformation, John Calvin said, "There was enough wood from the True Cross of Christ to form a fleet of ships." Most of those, obviously, forgeries. What absolutely happened to the wood itself, who knows? I actually think it probably just disappeared and rotted, because God knows just how idolatrous we are, and how much we go in for this kind of thing. You may wonder what happened to the nails. Well, there was a debate in the Middle Ages, as to whether there were three nails or four nails. But one way or the other, the story goes that Helena had one of the nails, and she was walking beside the sea, and there was a storm. And she took the nail, and threw it into the storm, and the storm was quieted, just like that. Isn't that amazing? So one nail was gone, but a great miracle was accomplished with the result of the one nail. The other nails, apparently, were hammered into a crown, which was used by the Kings of the Lombards, the French kings, and apparently continued for many years. This crown came from the nails, which were used for crucifying Jesus. In terms of the superscription, the superscription eventually went to Rome. It disappeared for hundreds of years and was eventually found in 1492. People, of course, were skeptical, so the pope issued a bill saying, “This was the genuine superscription which went over the head of Jesus Christ.”
What do you think about all these things? First of all, we're Protestant, so we don't tend to go in for that kind of thing. But the point is, that they are religious forgeries, every single one of them. There is no spiritual value attached to them at all, and they have done great damage to the faith of many. But of all these religious forgeries, there's none that does greater damage than the forgeries which Jesus deals with here, in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, false prophets and false professions. These are the two that Jesus deals with here, in the verses that we're going to look at right now. Read along with me in Matthew 7:15 -23, when Jesus said, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly, they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit... A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit, is cut down and thrown in the fire. Thus, by their fruit, you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.' "
There's two sections in this little portion of the Sermon on the Mount. One of them deals with false prophets and the other deals with false professions. Both of them are Jesus' way of getting His people ready for Judgment Day, because that is the section of Scripture that we're in now. He's getting us ready by preparing us and guarding us against religious forgeries.
False Prophets and Teachers
The first danger He warns us against is that of false prophets. What is the definition of a false prophet? First, in order to understand what a false prophet is, you have to understand what a true prophet is. "For Satan always comes in behind the true, and corrupts it, and makes something false." He doesn't create anything new. He only perverts what God has set out. It was God who set out prophets, and prophecy, as a form of communication with His people. At Mount Sinai, God was speaking in a powerful voice, so powerful, and in such a terrifying way, that the people did not want to listen anymore to the voice of God, they were so afraid, so they asked Moses, "Please, you speak for God to us, because we cannot listen to this voice." And God said, "What the people have asked is good." He said, "It's a good thing they are showing proper reverence for my Word," — a proper fear of the Lord. He says in Deuteronomy 18,:16, "I will raise up a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my Words in his mouth." That's what a prophet is. "I will put my words in his mouth, and He will tell them everything I have commanded Him, but a prophet who presumes to speak in my name, anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” He is a false prophet. So a false prophet is somebody who presumes to say, "Thus says the Lord," and then goes on and says something God did not command him to say.
God had a clear source of steady revelation through the prophets. The prophets would come, and stand before the people, and say, "Thus says the Lord," and an oracle would come out, just the way God had told the prophet to say. But along with that, throughout Israel's history, would come others, who would say, "Thus says the Lord," and God did not command them to say that. This all culminated around the time of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was given a message from God, to proclaim to Jerusalem, and it was not going to be a popular one. The message was that God had had it with His people, and that they were to be evicted out of the Promised Land. He was going to kick them out, by the Babylonians. Jeremiah had to go preach this unpopular message. At the same time, there were false prophets there, preaching just the opposite: A message of comfort, a message of encouragement at exactly the wrong time. That was the time that people should've been repenting, but instead, these false prophets came and twisted everything around. And this is what it says in Jeremiah 23:16.-18, “This is what the Lord Almighty says, "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you. They fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says you will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts, they say, 'No harm will come to you." But which of them has stood in the counsel of the Lord to see or hear His Word? Who has listened or heard His Word?" That's a very important verse. There, God is saying, "This is what a false prophet is. They are coming and comforting the people at exactly the wrong time. And none of them stood in my counsel to hear my Word. They are false prophets." And so it says in Jeremiah 23:21, "I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message. I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied." That is a false prophet.
Now, in the New Testament, there is a counterpart. We don't have false prophets; we have false teachers. Peter makes this distinction in 2 Peter 2:1, “There are also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you." In the Old Covenant, we've got the false prophets; in the New Covenant, we have false teachers. A prophet says, "Thus says the Lord," and revelation comes out, "This is what God told me to say." But a teacher takes the existing revelation, the written Word of God, and explains it to the people. A false prophet says, "Thus says the Lord," and that was not the message God said to say. He's not a messenger from God. A false teacher takes the existing revelation, and twists it around from what God intended, and so is a false teacher. What is the danger of false teaching? The danger is clear from Verse 15. Jesus says, "Watch out for false prophets." The word is very strong in the original. Jesus is saying, "You must guard against false prophets. They are a true danger."
In the 27 books of the New Testament, all but two directly speak about false prophecy, false prophets, or false teaching, and warn against them. There is a genuine danger to false teaching, and it has plagued the church for 2,000 years. Why is it such a danger? It's because of the significant role that God has established for the role of teaching in the growth of the church. In order to understand that, look at Ephesians 4 in which it says that, "God has given some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure, the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching." That the whole thing about false doctrine— the wind of teaching, and the cunning and craftiness of men, and their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4: 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will, in all things, grow up into Him, who is the head that is Christ." The central role of teaching is that it completes the work of God on Earth.
Jesus praised true teachers in John 17:17, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." Then along comes this false teacher and he begins to twist this word. He begins to turn it around to say things that aren't contained in it, or to avoid some portions of it that are a little uncomfortable, and thus, the people of God do not grow to full maturity. Paul warned about this danger in almost exactly the same words that Jesus uses. In Acts 20:29, he's speaking to the Ephesian elders, and he says, "I know that, after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you, and not spare the flock... " This is so devastating... Acts 20: 3-31: “Even from your own number. Men will arise and distort the truth, in order to draw away disciples after them, so be on your guard. Remember that for three years, I never stopped warning each of you, night and day, with tears." Do you think that Paul thought this issue of false teaching was important? "Three years, I warned you, night and day, with tears." He said, "After I leave, there's going to be these false prophets. And they'll come among you, these false teachers, from your own number, like savage wolves, who will not spare the flock." He uses the exact same kind of language. False teachers are as dangerous to the church as ravenous wolves are to the sheep. False doctrine leads to false belief. False belief leads to false practice. And the combination of false belief, and false practice, if not repented from, leads to hell. Therefore, this issue is deadly serious, and Jesus warns us about it. And so Paul, in the strongest possible language, says in Galatians 1:8, "Even if we, or an angel from Heaven, should preach to you a Gospel other than we preach to you, let him be eternally condemned. As we have already said, so now, I say again: If anyone is preaching to you something other than what we committed to you, let him be eternally condemned."
Now, what if they're disguised? It says in Matthew 7: 15. "They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly, they are ferocious wolves." Looks are deceiving. The outward trappings of their life, it looks good. Well, this shouldn't surprise us at all. It says in 2 Corinthians 11, "Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ.” And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as," what? "An angel of light." He's a master of disguises. I think he rejoices in that picture of him with the horns, and the tail, and the pitchfork. That's not his disguise at all. His disguise is attractive. It's alluring, comfortable. It's much like a lot of this angel kind of religion these days, very comfortable, leads you in, but it's Satan behind it. He's an angel of light and he's deceiving. He's no fool. He's been at this a long time. And so his messengers, the ones he sends out, will masquerade, also, as servants of righteousness. They have deceptive lives. They look good. They look moral or outwardly righteous, but inside, they are corrupt. Jesus, in speaking to the false teachers of His day, the Pharisees, in Matthew 23:27when he says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside, are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside, you appear to men as righteous, but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." False teachers look good on the outside, but inside, it's a totally different situation.
This also masks their false motives. What is the motive of a true teacher of God? It's the glory of God and the health of the church. That's a true teacher's motive. But what is the motive, then, of a false teacher? It's earthbound, something here on this Earth— material possessions, sexual immorality, power, something like that, but it's earthbound, almost every time. Paul alludes to this in First Thessalonians 2:5. He says, "You know that we never use flattery, nor do we put on a mask to cover up greed. God is our witness." You see what he's saying is, that most of these kind of teachers go around, and they need to look good on the outside, but inside, it's greed that's motivating them. What of their doctrine? Now, this is really getting to the heart of the issue here. It's not so much what they say... Although, sometimes it's what they say... But it's frequently, at least in these days, it's what they don't say. It's what they leave out that frequently can mark them as false teachers. Throughout 2,000 years of church history, many false teachers have denied true doctrines. Pretty much every significant doctrine of the church has been denied, at some point, by a false teacher. Whether the deity of Christ, the Trinity, every aspect of salvation, justification by faith, all of these things have been denied, at some point, by a false teacher. Just an attack from Satan, one after another.
But these days, as I look, especially at the evangelical church, I worry sometimes about false teachers, in terms of what they leave out, what they don't say. What am I talking about? Well, they don't openly deny the deity of Christ or the substitutionary atonement. They don't openly deny the depravity and the lostness of man. They don't openly deny the reality and penalty of sin, the destiny and the eternity of hell for all unbelievers. They don't openly deny these things. They don't openly deny the need for repentance, and obedience to God, or other, how shall I call them, uncomfortable truths, like the narrow gate, and the narrow way we talked about last time. They don't openly deny this. They just don't talk about them. They just leave them off. They skip over those passages in the Scripture, because they're uncomfortable. They keep the positive things, like the love of God, the joys of Heaven, the compassion of the Lord, His willingness to forgive all sin, His help in everyday life. Now, all of those things I just listed are true biblical doctrines. God is loving. He does forgive all sin in Jesus' name. And He does help us in our everyday life, and there is tremendous joy in Heaven, but that's not all God has said to us, is it? He said a lot of other things too. The false teachers tend to ignore those things. And why? Because it doesn't suit their earthbound purpose. They need to have popularity. They need to have people clamoring to be near them, and so they need to keep the message positive.
Jeremiah speaking of the false prophets of his day... Jeremiah 6:14, "They dress the wound of my people, as though it were not serious." As though it were light, insignificant. Now, if you went to a doctor here at Duke, and you had some kind of serious tumor, or something like that, and they said, "Look, it's not serious. Just go home," it wouldn't be long before the lawyers would be knocking on his door with a malpractice suit. There's a lot of spiritual mal-practitioners, people who are saying, basically, "You're okay. Everything's alright. Just move along. Try to do a little bit better." "They deal with the problem of my people, as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace," Jeremiah 6:14. This is the consistent theme of the false prophesy ministry, namely, dealing with sin in a light way, a light touch. A word of encouragement, just a little bit of comfort, and that's all you need. And why is it? Why do these false teachers flourish? Why are they so popular? It's simply because many people want it that way. And this is what it says in Jeremiah 5: 30-31, "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it that way." Oh, isn't that devastating? "My people love it that way."
And this is what the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 30: 9-11. He says, "These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord's instruction. They say to the seers, 'See no more visions.' And to the prophets, 'Give us no more visions of what is right.'" Listen to this, "Tell us pleasant things." That's the 20th century church: "Tell us pleasant things. Prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop talking about this Holy God. I don't want to hear it anymore. I want an easy Gospel. I want a broad path, a wide gate. That's what I want." Isaiah faced the same thing.
Now, what of their doctrine? The false teachers focus on material benefits here on Earth because that's what's in their own heart. They tend to focus on material prosperity and on wealth. They tend to focus on issues to do with pride, and other things that are connected to this world age. As it says in Second Corinthians 2:17, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the Word of God for profit." "We don't peddle the Word. We don't go town to town looking for a profit here. That's not what we're doing, unlike so many. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. That's the way we talk to you. We talk to you, as though we have a message from God. And God has more to say than, "I love you." He has other things to say too. He's said a lot of things in this book. Paul says, "I didn't hold back preaching anything that would be helpful to you."
False teachers also tend to emphasize works, righteousness, rather than grace. They tend to focus on what you can achieve through your own work, through your own effort, like the Pharisees in Jesus' day. It may seem that they're giving you a rigorous regimen of spiritual discipline, but really, what they're doing, is pandering to your pride, saying, "You can work out your salvation apart from Christ, apart from grace."
Ultimately, I've found two aspects that you never find in their teaching: spiritual begging and the narrow gate, those two. You're not going to find spiritual begging, namely, "Oh, God, be merciful to me, the sinner." And you're not going to find that narrow gate. They emphasize human effort over God's grace. They emphasize human decision over God's initiative. They live more for this present world, than they do for Heaven, and they eliminate all uncomfortable doctrines, so that they can be popular. That is a false teacher.
Discerning False Teachers
Now, how do we discover them? How do we find out who they are, their discovery? In Verse 16, Jesus says, "By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?" Answer, "No." Have you ever picked a grape from a thorn bush? It can't be done, unless somebody came and stuck it on one of the thorns. And then you know it's unnatural, it's not meant to be there. And so good fruit is unnatural for these people. They don't produce good fruit.
Jesus wants us to know who they are, and so He gives us the fruit test. We are to be fruit inspectors. You're supposed to come along and inspect the fruit in three areas: Look at the character, and look at their creed, and look at their converts, those three. In terms of character, you're not going to find, for example, any of the beatitudes in a false teacher. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." "Blessed are those who mourn," and I mean mourn over sin. You're not going to find that. "Blessed are the meek." Have you ever seen a false teacher who's meek? They're always boastful, pompous, and arrogant. They're always full of themselves. You're not going to see hungering and thirsting after righteousness, or a challenge for the people to do the same. And you're not going to find mercy among them. Look at the beatitudes, if you want to know what kind of character you should see in a true teacher of God. John Calvin, the great Swiss reformer, said, "There is nothing more difficult to counterfeit than virtue." It's very difficult to counterfeit true Christian character.
How about their creed? It's a message of gaps. It's a message of what's left out. But also, they do not emphasize the deity, and the sovereignty, and the power of God, and His incarnation on Earth. They deny that. Maybe not actively, but they deny it ultimately. As to their creed... the Apostle Paul says, in Acts 20:27, "I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole counsel of God's will." I didn't hold out those uncomfortable verses that no one likes to preach. By the way, that's why I preach the way I do. I have to tell you that, just methodologically, I just go at the beginning, and just move through. Why? Because I'm such a sinner. I’d like to preach easy, comfortable messages too, and if I preach topically, before you know it, I'd start gravitating to those things that are a little bit easier to preach. It's better for me to just move through, and just say what's here. And when I get done with Verses 15 through 23, I just wanna know, "Is that what was there?" That's all. But it's so easy to leave out those uncomfortable truths, so look at their creed.
And finally, look at their converts. The converts tend to be like them. There's a great story, it's a story of Spurgeon, in which somebody came up to Spurgeon, or Spurgeon saw somebody, and he was drunk on the street. He came up to him, and he said, "Mr. Spurgeon, I'm one of your converts." And he said, "Well, you must be one of mine, because you're certainly not one of the Lord's." A very convicting story. Surgeon is saying there should be a difference between those that are converted in a ministry, and those who are truly converted of Jesus Christ. What ends up happening is the false teachers tend to have a bunch of followers very much like them, after them. And again, with them, you're not going to see any of that beatitude Christianity.
The next point Jesus brings up is their damnation. In verse 19, He alludes to it, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire." What do you think Jesus is talking about there? He already told us in Chapter 5 what this fire is. It's the fire of hell. Although Jesus doesn't openly speak of it here, in 2 Peter 2 an entire chapter is dedicated to this one theme, this one point, namely, the eternal damnation of false teachers.
And there, Peter writes, "There are also false prophets among the people, just as there would be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord, who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves." There it is, "Swift destruction on themselves." Verse 2, "Many will follow their shameful ways and bring the way of truth into disrepute." Verse 3 "In their greed," there's the motive, "In their greed, these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them and their destruction has not been sleeping."
And then, from Verse 4 on, the whole middle paragraph there, is a long sentence. It says this, "If God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in the gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment." Then if you skip down all the other examples, it says, "Then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials, and to hold the unrighteous for the Day of Judgment, while continuing their punishment." Verse 13, it says that, "These false teachers would be paid back with harm for the harm they have done." And then look at Verse 17, "These men are springs without water." You know what that is? It's the living water. When you come to a true teacher of God, you get living water, Jesus Christ. But when you come to a false teacher, you get springs without water. There's nothing there. "These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them." It’s very clear is Peter in 2 Peter 2.
Going back to the Sermon on the Mount now, in Matthew 7. Throughout the Scripture, Peter, Paul, Jesus are clear that unrepentant false teachers are condemned to an eternity in hell, and so that is their punishment. That is how serious God takes this whole issue of false teaching. But what is our duty in reference for false teaching? It is simple. In Verse 20, it says, "Thus, by their fruit, you will recognize them." He said it twice. We're supposed to recognize them. We're supposed to uncover them. We're supposed to be protected against them. You're supposed to be mature in your faith enough. You're supposed to know the Bible enough to say, "That's false teaching. What you're teaching is false, it's not true." You have to be able to cite chapter and verse.
In Acts 17:11, it says, "The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness, and examined the Scriptures every day, to see if what Paul said was true." Now, how do you think Paul felt about that? "Well, how dare you check up on me like that." Do you think Paul said that? "Don't you know who I am? I am the Apostle Paul. I don't teach false teaching." No, it says here, "More noble character." Take it home, study it. If you don't believe what I just said about 2 Peter 2, go read 2 Peter 2 for yourself, and you’ll see what it's saying. Compare what I say to the Scriptures. Do it, and thereby, you'll grow. We're supposed to uncover false teachers, and recognize them, and reject them.
Also, get close to Jesus Christ. Walk with Him faithfully. In John 10:5, it says, "My sheep will never follow a stranger. In fact, they'll run away from the stranger, because they don't recognize the stranger's voice." The closer you get to Jesus, the more you can recognize false teaching in a heartbeat. Now, up to this point, we've been talking about false teachers and false teaching. I really believe that most of you are not in danger of becoming false teachers, per se. I have a greater danger of that, than you do, because of my position. But what Jesus says next, in the next few verses, you should take with the greatest soberness and seriousness, for I don't think that Jesus spoke more serious words to us in any of the Scriptures, than in the verses I'm about to read. There, Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.'"
Self-Deception and Judgment Day
I hope not, but there may be some people listening to me today who are self-deceived, who believe that they are Christians and they are not. And these words are for you. Don't be shocked on Judgment Day, be shocked today. Be shocked now, if you don't really know Jesus. Because many will say on that day, "Lord, Lord," and He'll say, "I never knew you." Be shocked now. And what day is He referring to? "Many will say to me on that [Judgment] day when those facades are stripped away. Judgment Day, when spiritual beggars, who have hungered and thirsted after righteousness, will be invited into the Kingdom of Heaven. Judgment Day, when the true thoughts of the heart are revealed for all to see. Judgment Day, a day of horrifying shock for people, because on that day, the Lord Jesus will come in His glory, and He'll sit on His throne in Heavenly glory, and He will gather all the nations before Him, and He will separate the nations one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left.
And if you don't think that it's not a day of horrifying shock, then read Matthew 25, because the ones who are the goats, many of them didn't think they were goats. They were shocked. They were surprised. Today is the day to be shocked and surprised, when you can still do something about it. Self-deceit is the most dangerous sin there is. And what does it say here? It says, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord.'" You know what that is? That's orthodox doctrine. It's right belief. Is Jesus Lord? Actually, you have to say... You must say, "Jesus is Lord," in order to be saved. It says in Romans 10:9, it says, "If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Well, what's the problem here? Here are these people saying, "Jesus is Lord," with their mouth, but it's just with their mouth. Their hearts are far from God. Not everyone who 'says,' but those who 'do.' You can really just pull those words out. Not those who 'say,' but those who 'do.' "Many will say, 'Lord, Lord,' but only those who do the will of my Father in Heaven." And so it's orthodox doctrine. You must say, "Jesus is Lord," in order to be saved, for Jesus is Lord.
In Philippians 2:10-11, it says, "At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, in Heaven, and on Earth, and under the Earth. And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father." He is Lord, and you must say so, in order to be saved, but it's not enough. Even the demons believe that Jesus is Lord and they shudder. It's not enough. Well, even worse, they don't just say, "Lord." What do they say? "Lord, Lord." There's some passion there, isn't there? There's some passion. "Lord, Lord," they say. There's not just orthodoxy, but there's seemingly outward passion. Oh, what a man of God. What passion he has for the Lord. What a show, what a sham. Orthodoxy, and outward zeal, and passion is not enough.
Not only that, they have a resume, don't they? Amazing good works. "Didn't we prophesy in your name? Didn't we drive out demons in your name? Didn't we perform miracles in your name?" Over and over, they say... This is their resume. Now, I don't know if they actually did these things, but even if they did, it wouldn't prove anything. Don't you remember, around the time of Moses, when the magicians of Pharaoh could duplicate miracles? Just because you can do miracles doesn't mean a thing. It says, "At the time of the coming of the lawless one, the antichrist," in Second Thessalonians 2:9, "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan, displayed in all kinds of counterfeit signs and wonders." Counterfeit signs and wonders, that's what these are, if they ever happened at all. It's quite a resume. I'm not sure most of us could compete with that resume. And the Apostle Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 13:2, "If I have the gift of prophesy, and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but I have not love, I'm nothing."
You can have all this power and whatever, but if you don't have love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, you're nothing. And so it's possible to have an incredible resume, and still, you're far from God. And what is the reality? Well, it's that they're far from God. They were never born again. There was never any hungering and thirsting after righteousness. They never entered the narrow gate. They stood on the outside. They kept saying, "Lord, Lord," but they never believed in Him. They never called on Him, as their Savior and Lord. And the real issue comes down to one of obedience to God, doesn't it? Matthew 7: 21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only He who does the will of my Father in Heaven." 1 John 2:3, it says, "We know that we have come to know Him, if we," what? "Obey His commandments," if we obey His commandments. The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands, is what? "A liar." That's what John says. 1 John 2:3-6, "He's a liar and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His Word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him. Whoever claims to live in Him, must walk as Jesus did." There is conformity to the character of Christ. There's obedience to His commands.
Is there perfect obedience here in this world? No. For in that very same book, 1John 1 there's provision for confession of sin. And actually, if you deny that you have sin, you're a liar too. It's not talking about perfection in this world, but there's a hungering, there's a thirsting after righteousness. But these people here in my text, in Verse 23, are called 'evildoers.' "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.'" There's disobedience in their life. And ultimately, a central issue here is, not so much, "Did I know Jesus?" But, "Did He know me?" What did He say? "I never knew you." "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers." "I didn't know you." In John 10:14, it says, "I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me." And so, here is the divine order for salvation. "I know you," says God. "I know you." Number two, "I change you." Number three, "You know me." Number four, "You obey me." That's how it goes. God starts by knowing us, then He transforms us by His Spirit, so that we're regenerate. We're born again through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. And then, we begin to call out on Him. And then, we begin to obey Him. We walk in obedience to His commands. Those who did not do that, they are rejected. And if Jesus doesn't know you on Judgment Day, you are eternally condemned, just like the false teachers. Everything you can read about 2 Peter 2 you could say would be true of anyone that Jesus said, "I never knew you," on Judgment Day. Don't let that be said about you.
We are in, in the Sermon on the Mount, the portion of the sermon called 'application.' And Jesus is appealing to you to be saved. He's appealing to you to enter the narrow gate. He's appealing to you to make sure that you are in the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, you say, "Well, what about once saved, always saved?" Well, that's true, if you're truly saved. You can't lose a genuine salvation. The question is, "Do you have a genuine salvation?" And so Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourself, to see whether you're in the faith. Test yourselves." What I'm urging you to do here is biblical. Second Corinthians 13 says, "Test yourself. Examine yourself, to see if you're in the faith. Do you not know that Christ Jesus is inside you? Unless, of course, you fail the test." Second Corinthians 13:5.
Second Peter 1:10 says, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager. Be zealous to make your calling and your election sure." Be sure you're a Christian. Be sure you've given your faith, your heart, to Jesus Christ. And then, you can say, "Well, what are the marks of true saving faith?" Look at the Beatitudes. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It all starts with being a spiritual beggar, knowing that you need a Savior, mourning over sin, and then it just unfolds from there. Look at the Beatitudes. Do you have a deep knowledge of personal sinfulness? Do you believe that, if Jesus hadn't come, you would go to hell? Do you really believe that? I do. In First Timothy 1:15, Paul says,”Here's a trustworthy saying, worthy of full assurance or full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom, I am the worst." This is the verse that has given me comfort this week, as I also have wrestled with this same issue. If you can hold onto every aspect of that verse, I have good confidence that you're a Christian. Do you genuinely believe that Jesus came into the world to save sinners? And do you genuinely believe that you're the worst, and that you needed a Savior? Or do you think you're basically a pretty good guy? We are sinners saved by grace, and that grace is available through Jesus Christ, for all who will call on His name. And then, for anyone who's truly saved, pray that you will grow in grace, in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that then there will be a flow of good works. "By their fruit, you will recognize them." Do the fruit test on yourself. What's the fruit of my life? What's coming out of me? Am I growing in Christ-like maturity? Am I seeing other people come to Christ? Am I able to do more for Jesus now, than I was five years ago? Am I growing? Do I hate sin? You may venture into sin, but, oh, it should feel unnatural to you, like you're in a foreign country. Do you hate sin and do you put it to death? These are the marks of true Christianity.
Don't leave today without being sure that you're in the Kingdom of Heaven. Don't leave today without coming to personal faith in Christ. Don't let this moment pass by. Enter through the narrow gate, even today. Don't worry about what all your friends are going to say. They're not going to be with you on Judgment Day anyway. You're going to stand alone before the Lord, spiritually. Focus on that, by faith today, and say, "I want to be saved."