In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus gives a profound warning about the deadly danger of self-deception:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… 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.’”
It is a sobering message. How does that kind of self-deception happen?
It comes when people base their confidence of salvation on the wrong evidence. Specifically, many believe that if they affirm certain facts and make certain claims, they can be sure they belong to Christ.
So how can a professing Christian tell if they are self-deceived and not a Christian at all?
First, merely referring to Jesus as “Lord” because of a prior a profession of faith does not guarantee someone is a true believer. Matthew 7 says that at the judgment many will claim Jesus is their “Lord,” but have no real relationship with Him.
Second, merely believing the right doctrine does not make you a Christian. In the context of this passage, those who address Jesus as “Lord,” are referring to Him not only as Master but as God. They are acknowledging His deity. But you can acknowledge Jesus’ claims and the truth of the gospel and still not belong to Christ.
Third, spiritual fervency doesn’t mean you are a Christian. In these verses, the repetition of “Lord, Lord” implies fervency both in life and at the judgment. These people are sincere! But an emotional response to Jesus Christ and His message is not a guarantee of genuine Christianity.
So, if none of those things is solid proof of saving faith, what is?
Matt. 7:21 gives the answer: “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.”
Jesus specifically identifies who will enter His kingdom: those who not only claim
Him as Lord, but also obey Him as Lord.
Jesus is not teaching us here how to be saved, but rather how to distinguish between a genuine profession of faith and a false confidence. He says that doing the will of the Father – hearing and obeying the Word of God – will always follow a genuine confession of Jesus as Lord.
You will never get to heaven because of your obedience, but you won’t get there without it (Heb. 12:14). The test of loving obedience reveals the condition of the heart.