A Terrifying Reality
Judgment, discipleship, Matthew, Sermon on the Mount
This morning we look at a terrifying warning that is found near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. In the last couple of weeks we have been challenged and cautioned. We were challenged to examine our lives to make sure we were on the narrow road rather than the broad road. Last week we were warned to be alert to false teachers who may look and sound like believers.
Today we are going to look at the problem of self-deception or self-delusion. It is the problem of someone who believes they are “saved,” or right with the Lord, only to find out on Judgment Day that they are very much mistaken.
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Faith is More Than Just Something Intellectual
It is important that we get a picture of this person who comes to Jesus confidently but is rejected. They obviously believe they are in right relationship with the Lord. They call Him “Lord, Lord”. The repetition is a sign of intensity. So the person speaking to Jesus believes he/she is part of the Lord’s family.
Calling Jesus Lord is certainly not the problem. A true believer will call Jesus “Lord”. They will also view Him as Lord and ruler over all their life. In fact, if you are unwilling to call Him “Lord” then you are not one of His followers. The scary part is that it is possible to think that Jesus is Lord yet He is not.
So, this person who finds out they were mistaken could be someone who goes to church regularly. They may have attended Sunday School. They may have even taught Sunday School or served on committees. They may be theologically informed. The problem is that knowledge did not lead to a genuine discipleship. Faith was convenient and comfortable but it was not something that transformed them.
We must remember that we are not saved because we pass a theology exam. You do not get into Heaven by knowing the password. We do not even become a child of God by praying certain words at the time of an altar call. We become part of God’s family when we embrace the Lord Jesus as OUR Savior and Lord. This happens when we confess and repent of our sin and we follow the Lord because He has transformed us. In other words the true believer not only knows the truth, they rely and live by the truth.
Dr. Boice observes,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the reality of this kind of self-delusion in the Lutheran Church in Germany in his day, and “cheap grace” was his term for describing it. Here was a church, like many of the denominations in America, in which the profession of faith was present and in which good works were done, but in which most of the people had simply not been born again. They were taught “grace,” but it was grace without conversion.
Cheap grace is Christian faith that requires no real commitment. It is more show than substance. It is religion, not relationship.
Faith is More Than Experiences
The second thing to notice is that these people had great experiences but still were not true followers of Christ.
22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.
These people had great experiences. They prophesied, they cast out demons and performed miracles. If we knew these people, we would be confident they were believers because of what we saw them do! We would be convinced that people who were able to do such things were certainly genuine followers of Christ! I hope that scares you a little. It should.
From this we conclude that you can do things in the name of Jesus without actually being a follower of Jesus. You can have great experiences but still not have a saving relationship with Christ!
In Romans 10 God’s Word says,
Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. 2 I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. 3 For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. (Romans 10:1-3)
Paul says the people of Israel were filled with zeal for the Lord. They looked good but they were not right with God because they believed they could save themselves by their zeal.
We do find these kinds of people in the church. Let me give you some examples,
- There is the person who is an ardent church member who is committed to the church but not to Christ. They may serve on committees and even teach Sunday School but they have no personal relationship with Christ.
- There is the person who is confident they are saved because they walked an aisle, raised a hand, or said a prayer at a meeting. However, this experience has had no impact on the way they live.
- There are people who love mission trips, attending conferences or camps, who likes the work or people, but aren’t really in love with the Savior.
- There are those who point to things or experiences they have had in the past as evidence of their relationship with Christ. However, their faith is also in the past.
- There can be people with advanced degrees in knowledge of the Bible but the knowledge is only academic. They do not read the Bible as the very Word of God.
- There are those who are enthusiastic but their faith is a mile wide but only an inch deep. They talk a good game but there is no commitment.
This is a sampling of the kind of people who may fall into the situation of thinking they are saved and finding out the Lord does not know them because their faith is not genuine. The one thing that all of these people have in common is that they are zealous. However, they are zealous without a relationship with Christ.
Faith Results in an Altered Life
The question that becomes intensely important is this: what does it mean to be a “born again Christian?” Perhaps all the evangelistic rallies have hurt as much as helped in this regard. There are many who are confident they are believers because of a dramatic conversion experience or because they were baptized or maybe they have spoken in tongues or had an experience where they felt really close to the Lord. These are great experiences and I hope you have some of these experiences.
However, the Christ-follower is not the person who has had an experience, it is the person who has a relationship! We are saved not by experiences but by turning our lives over to the Christ who alone can save. This can be dramatic, gradual, and even reluctant. The point is that there is a point when faith becomes personal.
A true believer is one that understands that they have rebelled against God. They understand that they have a sinful heart that they cannot change on their own. They also believe and affirm that Jesus is God who became man and that he died on the cross to make it possible for us to be forgiven. They believe He is the only one who can save us. The next step is the most crucial: a true follower acts on this information. They rely on Christ to save them and to lead them in a new direction. They turn to Christ not merely as their Savior (their ticket to Heaven) but also trust Him as the ruler of their life.
A false believer can understand the facts of the gospel but they are left unchanged by those facts. Their “faith” is superficial.
I think it is safe to say that the church today suffers from many of these unchanged “believers”. They like Jesus. They can tell you that Jesus came to save us. They may even want to saved and go the Heaven. However, they don’t want to submit to the Lord because to do so would mean changing priorities, changing their views on some issues they hold dear, and saying “No” to some things they don’t want to say No to. Sadly, these people think they are Christians but Jesus says they are in for an awful surprise. They may call Jesus Lord, but one day they will realize that He is not their Lord at all.
Jesus says the issue is not whether or not we know Jesus . . . it is whether He knows us! Will He know us as one of His followers or are we only part of the adoring crowd of onlookers? Are we Fans or Followers?
This passage should lead us to do two things: First, we must examine ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul exhorts us to examine ourselves and see if we really are the believer we claim to be. How do we do that? You can got through a checklist of questions:
- Do I really believe I cannot save myself? Do I understand and accept that my only hope of salvation is to rely wholly and solely on Jesus?
- Do I listen to the Word of God as the Word of God and do what it says or am I a “hearer” only?
- Am I growing more in love with Jesus or growing indifferent because I am distracted by new and better things? In other words, have I lost that “fire” of new faith? Have I moved on to other things?
- Am I serving in the church with enthusiasm and a sense of mission or am I merely attending and going through the motions? Am I serving the Lord or the organization?
- Do I see the fruit of God’s Spirit growing in me or am I the same as I’ve always been?
- Am I eager to share my faith with others or do I keep my faith to myself?
- Is serving, learning and worshipping the Lord rising on my list of priorities or is it slipping?
- Am I taking advantage of opportunities to grow and develop as a disciple? Am I encouraging my family to do so as well?
- Am I growing more amazed by God’s grace or am I increasing putting my trust my work and experience?
These kinds of questions will help you see if your faith is superficial or genuine and to see if you are playing church, or trusting Jesus. We all need to do this kind of evaluation on a regular basis.
The second thing we should do is to make sure we are committed to the Lord. A lack of commitment is characteristic of our society today but it seems to magnify itself the most in the people of God. We easily become spectators. We want worship to move us, to entertain us, and to make us feel good. People jump from church to church looking for the church that best “scratches where they itch”. It has become “consumer church”. The problem is that all this focus on the consumer is idolatry! Our focus is supposed to be on honoring the holiness of God!
I recently heard a great illustration that drove home the point: Imagine joining a football team. The first day of camp the coach walks into a team meeting and says, “I am so glad you all chose to come out to play football. We appreciate you being here and if there is anything we can do to make you more comfortable, you let us know. If practice gets too intense take a break. We wouldn’t want you to be sore in the morning. We want this to be an enjoyable experience. Though we hope you attend every practice, we understand that there are lots of demands on your time. We will appreciate any practices you can make. Again, if there is anything we can do to meet your needs, please let us know.”
Can you imagine a football coach uttering such nonsense? Of course not! A football coach is more likely to say, “If you are going to play on this team you had better be ready to play. The teams we play will be ready for you! I expect you to be at every practice. If you miss a practice you will do extra work. If you think you are working too hard then you are welcome to go home to your momma and get back into your crib! This is a man’s game and if you want to play it you better be prepared to work hard all the time.”
Imagine a similar situation at an army boot camp. Can you imagine a Drill Sergeant asking the recruits if their beds were comfortable or checking with them to see what time they wanted to get up in the morning? These men are preparing to fight a war and they have to be prepared. If they are lazy the enemy will overwhelm them and the country will be defeated.
These two scenarios are obviously ridiculous. You can’t excel in anything without commitment. However, we seem to have no trouble seeing our discipleship as something that should be convenient! We want to follow Christ when it fits into our schedule. We want a convenient Christianity! We long to be comfortable in our faith.
The Lord does not call us to comfortable Christianity. He calls us to give our lives in service to Him. He tells us to “deny ourselves (rather than pamper ourselves) take up our cross (and not the one around our neck), and follow Him. It is not an invitation to a party; it is a summons to war! He calls us to give our lives for the battle.
There is a spiritual battle going on. It is between Satan and his armies and the followers of Jesus. It is a fierce battle more intense than any football game ever played or any war ever fought. Why are we losing the culture war? It is because we are not prepared for the game! Why is false teaching permeating the church? Because we are not prepared for the war that is being waged! Why is violence and immorality out of control? Because “Christians” are not building their lives on the Word of God! We are comfortably being defeated.
When we get to that final day the Lord isn’t going to care if you are wearing a Christian t-shirt or loved the music at worship. He won’t care if you only listened to Christian radio. He will want to know if you put on the full armor of God and fought the battle being waged. He will look at whether or not you were serious in your commitment or if “Christianity” was just another organization you were part of.
If you are “all in” for Jesus the Lord will know you. This doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you will win every battle. However, if you are truly following Him, He will welcome you. He will call you His child and tell you that you have arrived home.
Are you in the stands or on the field? Jesus calls true disciples to get into the game!! He calls us to follow Him diligently and completely. The test of the genuineness of our discipleship will be whether we were merely a fan or a true follower.
We need to address these questions now because if you commit to the Lord now, you won’t have to worry about being embarrassed and excluded later.
 James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 258–259.