January 2, 2012

Lordship and False Followers – Matthew 7:21-23

21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
This passage is often cited to show that many professing Christians are not actually saved. It is clear that these false followers are rejected by Jesus Christ even though they know who He is and have abundant good works. But does this passage teach, as some claim, that a person must be totally surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in order to be saved? What is doing “the will of My Father in heaven” that gains entry into heaven?

What we know about these followers

Here’s what we know about the subjects of the passage:
• They are evidently related to the false prophets of 7:15-20 (see GraceNotes no. 51, Fruits and False Prophets – Matthew 7:15-20) who would lead people away from Jesus as the narrow gate (7:13-14). The "Not everyone who says" in verse 21 links to the “them” in 7:20, as does the "you" of verse 23. Jesus could also be speaking of those deceived by the false prophets. Outwardly this group displays good works (they look like sheep; 7:15), but their true beliefs are revealed ultimately in what they say.
• They have a correct theology in that they confess that Jesus is Lord. The title "Lord" is a title of respect, but also of deity when used of Jesus Christ. Its repetition here indicates an emphasis on who Christ is.
• They are submitted to Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives. By their emphatic address ("Lord, Lord") and boast of miracles done in His name (v. 22), we could even say that these professors are ultra-lordship. There is no indication they err in their concept of who Christ is, nor is there any indication that they are not totally submitted to him in their ethical conduct. Indeed, they are very enthusiastic about following and serving Jesus Christ.
• They have many good works—actually, great works. They have preached and spoken as prophets, performed exorcisms, and done many supernatural signs.
• They are trusting in their works to merit eternal life. Their plea to Christ reveals an attempt to justify their entrance into the kingdom of heaven based on their magnificent performances. Their pride in their deeds reveals an attitude of self-righteousness. In their plea, they do not say, “Have we not believed in You alone?”
• They are "many" in number (v. 22), not rare exceptions. Sadly, the nature of this self-deception is widespread. This is not surprising, since Jesus previously indicated that most people would miss the way to eternal life (7:13-14).
• They have never been eternally saved. They did not have salvation and lose it, or believe in Christ and fail to persevere. Jesus said He never knew them and rejects them (v. 23).
• They are practicing lawlessness (v. 23). But what does this mean? There is no hint of conduct contrary to the Mosaic Law or of blatant immorality. The meaning of “lawlessness” must be connected to doing "the will of the Father" that Jesus mentions in verse 21. They are not doing God's will in relation to Jesus Christ, because they are misinterpreting the law as the Scribes and Pharisees did (5:21-7:6), using it to establish their own righteousness instead of looking to the exceeding righteousness of Christ (5:20).
What we know about the Father's will
God’s will for unsaved people is not merely proper theology and impressive works. In the context, Jesus wants people to accept God’s Way (7:13-14) and God’s Word (7:24-27), and obey accordingly. Previously in this Sermon, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven was entered only by those whose righteousness exceeds that of the self-righteous Jewish leaders (5:20-48). The righteousness required for eternal life is not based on outward conduct (5:21-28), which is why they should seek God’s righteousness (6:33). Jesus is the narrow gate that leads to God’s righteousness and life (7:13-14; John 10:9). Similar words and concepts in 7:21-23 and 21:23-46 show that the issue is belief in Christ and His righteousness (21:25, 32). Other Bible passages help us know how to receive God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:21-24). Works are not acceptable for obtaining God’s righteousness (Rom. 4:4-5). The only thing God wants an unbeliever to do is believe in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 6:27-29). The will of the Father is to believe in Jesus Christ for righteousness (Matthew 12:50; John 6:40).

What we learn from this example
• Good theology is not enough to save a person. In Mark 1:24 demons also knew and proclaimed a proper view of Christ’s position as Lord.
• Submission to Christ’s lordship is not enough to save a person. Someone can surrender all of his or her life and be a devoted follower and servant of Christ’s ethical commands, but not know Jesus Christ as Savior. After all, the people in this passage do not cry “Savior, Savior.”
• Good works, no matter how great they are, are not enough to save a person. Neither can one’s deeds prove a relationship to Jesus Christ as Savior. Miraculous performances can come from sources other than God (Acts 19:13; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:1-12).
• Self-righteousness cannot save a person. Those in the passage are not claiming to have believed in Christ for His righteousness. Unsaved people need a righteousness outside of themselves and their own good works, which can never meet God’s perfect standard. Only Christ’s righteousness obtained through faith in Jesus Christ satisfies God’s righteous requirements.
• Many people who think they are Christians may not be saved. They are trusting in proper Christian theology, dedicated service to Jesus Christ, or performance of great deeds. They have missed God’s will, which is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior from sin and receive His righteousness rather than try to establish self-righteousness.
• Those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior reveal an utter disrespect and contempt for God’s command and desire for them to believe. Jesus rejects such people because this unbelief is the greatest form of disobedience (John 3:36), or lawlessness.

This passage shows that there can be unsaved professing Christians who follow Jesus Christ outwardly, but do not know Him personally. This passage cannot be used to say that those who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior are not saved unless they also submit to His lordship. That is exactly what the passage is not saying. There is no indication that this group has believed in Jesus as their Savior from sin, yet there is every indication that they have believed and submitted to Him as Lord of their lives. The reason they are not saved is that they have not done the Father’s will—believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin who imputes His righteousness. Many professors of Christianity have a false security because they are looking at and trusting in their submission and their works instead of resting fully in the merit of Christ and His work on their behalf. Sadly, on the final Day of reckoning, they will find they do not have eternal life and have misled others to the same fate. We should surrender to Jesus Christ as our Lord, but we must believe in Him as our Savior if we are to have eternal life.

GraceNotes, no. 52 - Dr. Charlie Bing
Lordship and False Followers – Matthew 7:21-23

GraceNotes is a concise quarterly Bible study on the important issues related to salvation by grace and living by grace. They are designed for downloading (*pdf available) and copying so they can be used in ministry. No permission is required if they are distributed unedited at no charge. You can receive new GraceNotes by subscribing to our free quarterly GraceLife newsletter.


  1. "Submission to Christ’s lordship is not enough to save a person. Someone can surrender all of his or her life and be a devoted follower and servant of Christ’s ethical commands, but not know Jesus Christ as Savior. After all, the people in this passage do not cry 'Savior, Savior.'"

    This needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

    Thank you sooo much for finding and posting this. I'm very thankful for having found your, and a handful of other blogs, proclaiming and defending the true Gospel of Jesus Christ alone; a very rare thing to be sure.

    If you don't object, I would like to post an excerpt from this article, sending others to your site, together, of course, with giving credit to Dr. Bing.

    Again, thank you.

  2. Pearl :

    Feel free to share this with others.


  3. Hey Lou,

    I think the Lordship Salvation proponent's handling of this passage truly shows how they force their interpretation on the Text no matter what it says. I hope that many will read this and be challenged to test their theology against the plain reading of Scripture.


  4. Lou-

    I'm not sure if he reads here or not, but there is a fellow who goes by the name "John" who posts comments at Pastor Jack's Notes from a Retired Preacher blog that has a testimony very similar to this. He grew up in a Southern Baptist church and was unsaved because he didn't understand that salvation can only be had by grace, through faith, APART from works. He was told he needed to look to his works for assurance of salvation so he did, but did not ever find assurance that way. On the contrary, the more he looked to his works for assurance, the less assurance he found.

    It was not until he came to understand that salvation is a gift, not a trade, that he was really saved. Because prior to that his trust was in Jesus plus his obedience, not Christ alone. When he understood that salvation is a gift, not a trade, he was able to see his way clear to trust Christ alone, apart from his works, for his salvation. He now has full assurance that he is in fact saved.

    If he reads here, maybe he will chime in.


  5. Hi Jan:

    I am not sure he reads here. You might link him to this. I know him and have read some of his testimony at Jack's blog. This article should be a blessing to him.


  6. Kevin:

    As you know I primarily try to speak to and reach the undecided, those who are uncertain and the few who have fallen into the trap of LS, but have begun to realize LS is inconsistent with the plain sense of Scripture.

    As you recognized the LS advocates force into or extract from the Bible whatever they must to bolster their man centered soteriology; to their shame and corruption of the simplicity that is in Christ. 2 Cor. 11:3.


  7. Great post. Matthew 7:21-23 makes plain and clear the tragic outcome for those who PARTIALLY believe on Christ.

  8. I heard this passage used, badly,by Ray Comfort in exactly this way -- in a "famous" sermon of his called Hell's Best Kept Secret. If you've heard this sermon then you know what a travesty it is against grace. In a nutshell, Ray's sermon (mis)uses this passage and others to support the idea that salvation is like a parachute in that it's something we can be given, and even accept, but it's still up to us to keep holding onto it. Like Matt 23:4 (NLT) -- "They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden."

    Contrarily, Matt 7 is a precision indictment against the very Lordship Salvation he espouses, not Free Grace.

  9. Stephen:

    Thanks for illustrating how Comfort abuses the plain sense of Scripture to bolster LS grace killing message.


  10. Thanks Lou,

    Very good comprehensive article on a wonderful verse that has been twisted into contortions by Lordship "salvationists."

    BTW, I did send a note to John about this article.

    In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  11. Jack:

    Thanks for stopping by. I hope Jon has an opportunity to read this as well.


  12. To Other Visitors:

    Over the nearly six years history of this blog I have increasingly scaled back the amount and types of dissenting opinions I allow for posting.

    I am not inclined to allow for protracted debates especially in this kind of example in which the author is not available to read and/or reply to criticism.

    Furthermore, my blog is not going to be used by anyone to propagate LS. I am determined to keep this blog primarily as a safe haven from the spread and corruptive influences of LS.

    On the various issues I post on here my chief desire is to teach, advise and warn believers about certain threats to the doctrine and cause of Christ.

    Of all the issues I address here the one with the greatest potential to do the most damage to the NT Church is Lordship Salvation.

    I am here to provide the biblical answers to Lordship Salvation so that others will be better equipped to recognize LS's man-centered theology, and from the Scriptures reject and resist the spread of this egregious doctrinal error.

    I am not nearly as concerned with the rank unbelievers on the outside of the body of Christ as I am with termites on the inside. LS has made serious inroads and we must do what we can in the power of the Spirit and His Word to defend the uncertain, defend the gospel and proclaim the one true gospel of grace.


  13. In a nutshell, Ray's sermon (mis)uses this passage and others to support the idea that salvation is like a parachute in that it's something we can be given, and even accept, but it's still up to us to keep holding onto it.


    I've heard of this sermon but have never heard the sermon itself.

    Did Comfort really say it is our responsibility to hold on to salvation??? Is he Arminian?? And how in the world would he get that from Matt 7:21-23?


  14. Stephen, thanks for mentioning the message by Ray Comfort.


    Here are a few excerpts from it. I think they will answer your questions and serve as an example of how some wrongly use Matthew 7:21-23.

    "But instead of giving him justice, he’s given him mercy. He’s commended his love toward him in that while he’s yet a sinner Christ died for him. He falls on his knees before that blood-stained cross, and he says, “Oh, God, if You do that for me, I’ll do anything for You. I delight to do Your will, oh, my God. Your law is written upon my heart.” And like the man who knew he had to pass through the door and face the consequences of breaking the law of gravity and would never take his parachute off because his very life depended on it, so he who comes to the Savior, knowing he has to face a holy God on the day of wrath, would never forsake the righteousness of God in Christ because His very life depends on it."

    In another example he said, "And I guess he was going to read “Palms” and then John. But up until his commitment, the man was a practicing witch. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”"

    "If you want him to put it on and keep it on, tell him about the jump... ...And as long as that man has knowledge he has to pass through the door and face the consequences of breaking the law of gravity, there’s no way you’re going to get that parachute off his back, because his very life depends on it."

    As far as Matthew 7:21_23 goes, this was his reasoning after leading up to it with, "It says, “Examine yourself and see if you’re in the faith” (2Cor. 13:5). and "The Bible says “make your calling and election sure” (2Pet. 1:10), and some of you know that something is radically wrong in your Christian walk. You lose your peace and joy when the flight gets bumpy." "You can’t say you’re on fire for God; in fact, you’re in danger of being one of the ones that are called “lukewarm” and will be spewed out of the mouth of Christ on the day of judgment (Rev. 3:16) when multitudes will cry out to Jesus, “Lord, Lord.” And he’ll say, “Depart form me you worker of iniquity—lawlessness: I never knew you” (Mat. 7:22–23). No regard to the divine law. The Bible says, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity”—lawlessness (2Tim. 2:19). So today you need to read just the motive for your commitment."

    Jim F

  15. Hi Jan. RC didn't come out and say it in exactly those words but, as Jim's excerpts show, that is an accurate "nutshell" of what he said. Throughout the sermon RC likens our salvation to a parachute which, if it's purpose is misunderstood, can/might/will be set aside or taken off. I'm certain he's not Arminian, his view seems more an outworking of holding to Perseverance of the Saints. Though, in the end, there really isn't a lot of difference between Arminianism and P, see this article on Lou's blog in which Tom Stegall pretty much nails the similarities and concludes "Roman Calminian".


  16. To All:

    Excellent discussion and I appreciate everyones' input.

    I found a blog that has reacted in the negative to this article by Dr. Bing. That blog is linking to this article. In the article/thread you find heavy references to Calvinistic presuppositions including extra-biblcial teachings that flows from Calvinism. One of the comments in its thread included this statement.

    From the other blog's discussion thread I found this statement, “…most people who teach against Lordship Salvation also play down the biblical teaching of the necessity of repentance in salvation.”

    Following is my reply to that statement, which has net yet appeared there, but add it to this thread to advise and clear up one of the serious misunderstand that circulates among pro-LS groups such as the one I noted above.

    Allow me to reassure your readers and you that your comment above betrays a lack of understanding that many who reject LS have on the necessity of repentance for salvation (justification). The only non-LS group I know of among believers who utterly reject the necessity of repentance is the Grace Evangelical Society who follow the egregious reductionist heresy of the late Zane Hodges and current GES president Bob Wilkin. (See, Grace Evangelical Society’s Reductionist Affirmation of Belief)

    In my book the longest chapter is titled, “What is Biblical Repentance?” In that chapter I trust you would recognize I reject the way in which men like John MacArthur have forced into and extracted from the Bible definitions for repentance that check out on Scripture to bolster Lordship Salvation’s works based presuppositions. I then give the biblical definition for repentance from the Bible with no theological presuppositions brought to the discussion of this vital truth.

    Bottom line, there are many, who on solid Scriptural grounds, reject LS yet embrace and believe the lost man cannot be born again apart from repentance.

    When a lost man responds to the convincing and covicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11) he can be born by God’s grace through faith believing in whom Jesus is and what He did to provide salvation. Front loading faith with commitments to behavior and the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of a believer to become a born again believer, which is the core of Lordship Salvation, corrupts the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3) and frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).


  17. Thanks gentlemen.

    Well, if Comfort's objective is to provoke a fear based, flesh driven pseudo spiritual religiosity that is guaranteed to result in spiritual burn out and a very high failure rate, that would be a great way to do it.

    And when that unsustainable white hot "on fire for Jesus" feeling finally wears off and you just can't get it back no matter how hard you try to make it happen, well, that just proves you were never saved to begin with, doesn't it? Never mind that it was all dependent on the body (which is flesh) being able to produce all those endorphins and hormones and what all.

    If you ain't on FAYUH, you gon find yosef in da FAYUH!!

    Oh brother.


  18. OK. Snark aside, here is another thing that is a serious problem with Comfort's teaching.

    Comfort is known for his strong stance on using the law to lead people to the gospel. Well and good so far as the lawful use of the law is concerned. But here Comfort's use of the law becomes unlawful because he continues his use of the law toward those who are presumably saved (they have put on the parachute) such that it becomes a fearful motivator toward righteous living (which somehow keeps the parachute on). Comfort's teaching is based on fear such that people will live a certain way with fear as their motive. But Scripture says in Romans 8:15 we are not given "the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'"

    However, when fear becomes our motive for good works, we are automatically operating under the law, and therefore not walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:18). This will not affect the eternal destiny of the saved person but it will have an enormously adverse affect on the believer's Bema judgment.

    Because all such works done out of the fleshly motive of fear for ourselves, which is not in accordance to the Spirit by which we are indwelt (for the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God), these works are wood, hay, and stubble, being done in and by the flesh.

    Teaching like this not only makes them miserable and a generally bad testimony here in this life, but it also cheats believers out of the reward they would have had had they been operating under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    I'm not sure what kind of outcome could eventuate from "readjusting the motive for your commitment" under the influence of this teaching, but I am hard pressed to see how it could possibly become the motive of love laid down in 1 Corinthians 13, without which even the giving of ourselves in martyrdom is of no profit. For that the assurance of the believer is a non negotiable essential and Comfort's teaching is antithetical to this need.


  19. Great comments and observations Jan, as always. And thanks to Jim as well for summarizing some of Ray's key points and passages.

    Another v Ray claims (and Jim mentioned) is 2 Cor 13:5. LS advocates like Ray twist this passage from a proof of Paul's apostleship into a test of validity of one's faith. What the critics miss or ignore is that 2 Cor 13:5 is structured as what's called a "first class condition", which means the condition is assumed true for sake of discussion. Note that it's not just that the answer is assumed LIKELY to be true, that's a completely different animal known as a "third class condition" and it's structured entirely different.

    In 2 Cor 13:5 Paul is proving his apostleship, not challenging them to question/examine the validity of their personal faith. LS is such a sham that I'm both angry and compassionate -- Angry at those like Ray who ought to know better but abuse scripture anyway for... whatever end they seek -- and compassionate for the multitudes that are misled by it... myself very nearly included.

  20. From the high profile to virtual unknowns who propagate LS's assault on the gospel of grace, to a man they bolster their man centered theology in part by twisting and abusing the Scriptures. We must do what we can to exposed the errors of LS and by name identify the purveyors of the aberrant doctrine.


  21. RE:Pastor Jack/Southern Baptist Church

    Lou, All,

    I didn't grow up in a SBC church, but graduated from a SBC Bible college.
    Over the years I was a member of and on staff in a number of SBC churches.
    I encountered LS in nearly every case (with one lone exception), without fully understanding the issue. I experienced the sense of burden and witnessed many cases of "burnout" with complete abandonment of church and Christianity that are the result of achievement centered LS teaching, particularly as applied to assurance.
    If Christ were not already my Saviour from an early age
    (I believed/received Him under the leading of my father a mission pastor/teacher on the foreign field at the time), I too would have certainly fallen to my doom.

    I have also belonged to 3 "Bible Churches". There I have found that LS following is not limited to many SBC groups, but has spread to bible Churches as well. I have left the last two over this issue.

    In nearly all instances, LS was promoted exclusively by those in leadership, and understood to mean that submission to Christ as Lord upon which at least assurance of heaven depended was in all practicality a total submission to/trust in the church as an organization as embodied by said leadership. It appears to be a self serving theology for those promoting it.

    Lou,I have come to much greater clarity and peace in my relationship with the Lord since following this blog the last several years. I now do all I can exposing the error of LS as I have opportunity. To you and others who's ministry here has been so helpful a heartfelt Thank You!

    What I have found in the Lord Jesus my Blessed Saviour is that in stead of a parachute to which I must cling by achieving absolute submission and commitment (who can be so brazen to such a claim on which to base salvation or its assurance?), "underneath are His everlasting arms" bearing me up and holding me close. My faith rests utterly upon His faithfulness, sweet rest indeed!


  22. Great article. I've met Dr. Bing when he spoke at our church a few months ago and was blessed immensely.

    In light of Dr. Bing's article on Matthew 7:21-23, the question that kept coming up in my mind, and I was hoping someone would have answered it in the blog, concerned those who were judged. Though they were unsaved, they proclaimed as to having cast out demons. My question is that I always thought that only in the authority of Jesus Christ can a demon be cast out, which would seem to infer that only born again believers could do this. Yet these individuals were not only unsaved but were referred to as workers of iniquity. If satan cannot cast out satan ( ) how is one to understand the implications as to what actually occurred through these individuals in reference to this passage? If one isn't saved, can they still cast out demons even though it is in Jesus name? Does His name hold authority, even in casting out demons, no matter who may be doing it, saved or unsaved? If so, based on what exegetical reference? If not, are we to think it was all counterfeit? If so, where's the biblical basis of that stance? Either way, I was hoping for an answer on this since it does bear weight in understanding the importance of discerning truth and being aware of the actual nature of deception.

    BTW.....John M. doesn't believe in miracles for today, so it can be assumed that at least those who follow his teachings wouldn't be involved in casting out demons. Just a side note.