“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’.” Matthew 7:21-23
The most frightening words in all of Scripture.
We’ve all heard that description attributed to these words of our Lord. In his two-volume “Studies In the Sermon On The Mount,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones states that: “These, surely, are in many ways the most solemn and solemnizing words ever uttered in this world, not only by any man, but even by the Son of God Himself.” Indeed, reading these words should cause us to catch our breath. Our pulse should quicken at the thought of them. Our souls should tremble in humility with the fear of God as we ponder the eternal magnitude of what the Lord will one day declare.
No one “on that day” wants to hear the words “depart from me” … but “many” will.
Who are the “many?”
The audience to whom the Lord preached His Sermon on the Mount was comprised of religious people, very religious people. In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, John MacArthur writes, “The Lord is not speaking to irreligious people, to atheists or agnostics. Nor is He speaking to pagans, heretics, or apostates. He is speaking specifically to people who are devotedly religious – but who are deluded in thinking they are on the road to heaven when they are really on the broad road to hell.”
Those who will hear “depart from me” are described in the Lord’s message. Those words of judgment aren’t being spoken to the “condemned already” (John 3:18) of the world, but rather to those who are professing their faith directly to Him. They have prophesied “in Your name,” cast out demons “in Your name,” and have worked miracles “in Your name.” Their very salutation to Him as “Lord, Lord” speaks to their zeal and fervor in presenting the claim for their admission to the kingdom of heaven. But rather than admission into the kingdom, the Lord utters His holy verdict, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”
The “many” are those who profess faith, but are deceived in that profession. “What lulls people into such deception?” asks MacArthur. “First of all, many professed Christians – and even many true Christians – hold a false doctrine of assurance. Often it is because the person who witnessed to them told them the all they had to do was to make a profession of faith, walk an aisle, raise a hand, say a prayer, and never doubt what the Lord has done in their lives.” But in this lies the delusion. “There is almost no limit,” says MacArthur, “to the means by which men can be deluded by Satan, by other men, and by themselves. In every case there is failure to come through the narrow gate with repentance, submission to the Lord, humility, and a desire for holiness.” (Emphasis added)
The delusion is that a profession of faith is sufficient for eternal life. But as R.C. Sproul said, “No one is saved by a profession of faith. One must possess faith.” The “many” who will hear “depart from me” are professors, not possessors. Lloyd-Jones agrees with MacArthur about the danger which the Lord is highlighting in this text. “It is the danger, the terrible danger of self-deception and self-delusion.” Lloyd-Jones writes that “our Lord is emphasizing … that nothing avails in the presence of God but true righteousness, true holiness, the ‘holiness without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14).” (Emphasis added)
The “many,” then, include myriads of church-going, pew-sitting, professing Christians. They will be found in church on the Lord’s Day. They will be in the pews. They will attend Sunday School classes. They will sing in the choir. They will serve in the nursery, the kitchen, the parking lot, the orchestra, the welcome center. They will be deacons. They will be elders. And they will be standing in pulpits. Like those in our Lord’s sermon, they will each have “works” to point to in making their kingdom claim, but like those whom our Lord addresses, they will not receive favor with their claim. Instead He will judge them, righteously, severely, and eternally, for they are “workers of lawlessness.”
What is the distinction?
Today, the distinction is to be found in the gospel which has been long preached in contemporary evangelicalism. For decades now, the evangelical church, so enamored with anti-biblical church growth methodologies, has diluted the genuine biblical gospel. Unlike the Galatian heresy, in which Judaizers accepted Paul’s gospel but added to it elements from the Mosaic law such as circumcision, the contemporary church has dissected from the gospel its necessary commands for holiness borne of genuine repentance and faith. As Lloyd-Jones noted, “true holiness” is absent, or, as MacArthur stated more comprehensively, “repentance, submission to the Lord, humility, and a desire for holiness” are fundamental elements of the biblical gospel jettisoned by the modern church.
The contemporary church is quick to preach the gospel of forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ on the cross, and that is good, right, and gloriously praiseworthy. But though the forgiveness of sins is a gracious benefit of Christ’s atoning work, that alone is not the gospel.
A.W. Pink has said:
“The salvation that Christ purchased for His people includes both justification and sanctification. The Lord Jesus saves not only from the guilt and penalty of sin, but from the power and pollution of it. Where there is genuine longing to be freed from the love of sin, there is a true desire for His salvation; but where there is no practical deliverance from the service of sin, then we are strangers to His saving grace.”
J.C. Ryle said the same: “Tell me not of your justification unless you also have some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ’s work for you unless you can show us the Spirit’s work in you.” Spurgeon says, “If He gives you the grace to make you believe, He will give you the grace to live a holy life afterward.”
The genuine gospel genuinely transforms. It does not demand, or produce, merely a profession of faith. No one, indeed, will enter the kingdom of God without professing “Lord, Lord,” but the genuine gospel also expects, and produces, the “good fruit” of faith (Matt. 7:17). That fruit is the temporal pursuit of a holy life in eager obedience to the clear commands of Scripture (1 Pet. 1:14-16). Such was the desire of the Lord for His people in His high priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Such is the desire of God: “For this is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3). The very purpose of God in redeeming sinners is nothing less than to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).
Sanctification is Gospel Holiness
In his sermon “A Clarion Call to Gospel Holiness,” Albert N. Martin plainly states the matter: “When I use the term ‘gospel holiness’ I am speaking of a holiness that always and without exception follows a saving embrace of the gospel. There is no such thing as being saved by the gospel without being saved unto a life of holiness.” This echoes what Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “It is absurd to imagine that God should justify a people and not sanctify them.”
What does “gospel holiness” or sanctification look like? Pink’s insights are helpful:
“Sanctification … lies in or consists of three things:
First, that internal change or renovation of our souls whereby our minds, affections, and wills are brought into harmony with God.
Second, that impartial compliance with the revealed will of God in all duties of obedience and abstinence from evil, issuing from a principle of faith and love.
Third, that directing of all our actions unto the glory of God, by Jesus Christ, according to the gospel.
This, and nothing short of this, is evangelical and saving sanctification. The heart must be changed so as to be brought into conformity with God’s nature and will: its motives, desires, thoughts, and actions require to be purified. There must be a spirit of holiness working within so as to sanctify our outward performances if they are to be acceptable unto Him in whom ‘there is no darkness at all’.”
Though many have erroneously extracted and emphasized our Lord’s words in Matt. 7:21 – those who do the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter – to claim a works element to salvation, such an interpretation is Scripturally invalid. Paul gives the pointed and necessary clarity against works salvation in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). And, as is evidenced by the Lord’s words to those who proclaimed their noble “in Your name” claims, works are not the basis of admission to His kingdom.
Sanctification is the evidence of our justification, not the cause of it. In his sermon, Martin is careful to clarify this. “Although gospel holiness is not the ground of our acceptance, it is the proof of our acceptance and it is the way into the consummate blessings of eternal life. So we may say with equal conviction, ‘No Christ, No Heaven, no holiness, no heaven’.”
Five Elements of Sanctification
There are, as Martin teaches in his sermon, five essential elements of gospel holiness. The Scripture he cites are provided below each point.
First, “the continuous killing of our remaining sin.”
“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Rom. 8:12-13
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30
“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Colossians 3:5
Second, “the continuous cultivation of Christ-like graces”
“the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” 1 John 2:6
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;” 1 Peter 2:21-22
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-23
Third, “the continuous and serious effort to conform the heart and life to the spiritual demands of the law of God.”
“For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” Romans 7:22
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14
Fourth, “the continuous and growing non-conformity to the world.”
“Who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” Galatians 1:4
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:15-17
Fifth, “the continuous and serious effort to frame all of life by all of God’s precepts, especially those of our Lord and His apostles.”
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:15
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17
In 1855, Charles Spurgeon created for his congregation a catechism edited from the Westminster Assembly and Baptist Catechism. From Spurgeon’s catechism, we are given helpful definitions of both justification and sanctification.
“Justification is an act of God’s free grace in which He pardons all our sins (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7) and accepts us as righteous in His sight ( 2 Cor. 5:21), only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us (Rom. 5:19), and received by faith alone (Gal. 2:16; Phi. 3:9).
“Sanctification is the work of God’s Spirit (2 Th. 2:13), by which we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God (Eph. 4:24), and are enabled more and more to die to sin, and to live to righteousness (Rom. 6:10-11).”
Following these two definitions comes the question, “What are the benefits which, in this life, either accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?” The answer: “The benefits which, in this life, accompany or flow from justification (Rom. 5:1-2, 5) are: assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), increase in grace, and perseverance in it to the end (Pro. 4:18, 1 John 5:13, 1 Pet. 1:5).”
“By scriptural standards, it is hard to believe that even half of the church members in the United States are true believers.” John MacArthur
The evangelical church today eagerly preaches a gospel of belief for the benefit of forgiveness of sins. But it largely has abandoned the flip side of the coin of justification, that of sanctification. Few and far between are the professing Christians who could give an adequate explanation of either justification or sanctification. One is declared a “once saved, always saved” Christian only on their slightest profession of belief, apart from any expectation or exhibition of genuine repentance and “gospel holiness” on their part. As MacArthur has lamented, “By scriptural standards, it is hard to believe that even half of the church members in the United States are true believers.”
“On that day” when “many” face our Lord and hear the most frightening words in all of Scripture, they will realize that a profession of faith alone is eternally worthless. What matters is the “but God” faith (Eph. 2:4) which produces genuine repentance and a progressively sanctified life pursuing conformity to the image of God’s own Son (Rom. 8:29). As MacArthur has said, it is not the perfection of our life here that is expected, it is the direction of our life. And that direction is to be towards Christlikeness. “We are to be like Christ,” says MacArthur. “That is to consume us.”
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Cor. 1:30
As we daily worship, may our desire be to grow in holiness in the image of our Savior. May we seek the holiness granted by His Spirit according to His grace without which we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). May the focus of our life be consumed with being like Christ so that, rather than hearing the eternal words “depart from me,” we may be blessed by Him to hear, “Well done, good and faithful slave … enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23). This is the purpose of God … and that is “by His doing.”