Will of the Father
I feel like Matthew 7:21 is one of the most misused passages I heard growing up. On the surface it can be a daunting verse packed with uncertainty and fear. In some cases the verse can be wielded against young believers as a verse protesting against legalism. But the answer to the passage is right smack in the middle of the verse.
““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.”
Matthew 7:21 ESV
Jesus states in this passage that not everyone who utters the words LORD, LORD.., will enter the kingdom. We have to understand that calling Jesus Lord is not a magic spell under which God is obligated to grant us pardon.
This idea often comes from an improper view of Romans 10:13, wherein Paul writes: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””
Paul is not claiming here that simply uttering certain words saves us. If this were the case we’d have a contradiction with Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:21. But rather Paul is saying that everyone who declares (calls) that Jesus is Lord will be saved. Paul is addressing something more than just a verbal mantra. He is talking about a change of heart.
We can see this when we look at the next section of Matthew 7:21: “but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus draws a clear contrast here between verbally professing and actually doing. To summarize the contrast Jesus says: ‘it’s not those who call me Lord who will be saved, but those for which I am Lord’.
The key to this passage is that those to whom He refers “will be saved”, are those whose hearts have been changed. They were ONCE enemies of God but now are surrendered to Him.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has nowreconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,”
Colossians 1:21-22 ESV
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Romans 5:10 ESV
Both of these passages by Paul indicate a fundamental shifting in the direction and desires of one’s heart. This change is what Jesus referred to as born again:
“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God… Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
John 3:3,5 ESV
It’s what the prophet Ezekiel prophesied about and described as:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV
Ezekiel describes a time when people will have a heart of stone and will be one way… he then contrasts it by saying that after they’ve received this heart transplant and the indwelling of His Spirit… HE… HE will cause them to walk in His ways. Or another way of saying it might be: the evidence that the Spirit is present is that there are new desires. Desires to please God, to walk in His ways, to do the will of the Father. All these verses tell the same story, using different language.
Jesus is not excluding those who call Him Lord in Matthew 7:21. He is merely contrasting that a sincere heart change is evidenced by action. However, Jesus also recognized the possibility of us falling into a merit based system so He removes all possibility of this in the following verses.
“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.’”
Matthew 7:22-23 ESV
In other words, what Jesus is saying is: “no amount of good works can atone for a heart of willful rebellion, because a heart of willful rebellion is an unchanged heart, regardless of whether you call me Lord”.
As an example. Let’s assume Jesus spoke to you and called you to sell all you had be a missionary to China. However, you decide that’s not what you’re wanting to do so you decide to volunteer at church, feed the homeless and lead a Bible study. Is Jesus really your Lord? Or are you simply willing to serve Him as long as it’s on your terms?
Jesus tells this story in a parable:
““What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
Matthew 21:28-31 ESV
Jesus draws a contrast here once again. It’s not those who SAY he is Lord who are justified. But those for whom He IS Lord.
Even rebelliousness can be overcome with repentance and a changed heart. But no amount of deeds or platitudes can overcome a hardened heart intent on remaining his own lord.
We would do well to recognize that we don’t make Jesus Lord of our life. Jesus is Lord, plain and simple. We simply submit to Him and receive a new heart. It, we can remain in rebellion against God. Anything other than full surrender in our heart is rebellion. And Jesus makes it clear, that no amount of work done in our own power in an effort to avoid full surrender will be accepted. It won’t matter that we called Him Lord, if in fact we didn’t surrender to Him as Lord. We will be counted among those who say: “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”.