By Jeanne Gowen Dennis
“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'” (Matt. 7:21–23 NASB)
In the past when I’ve read Matthew 7:21–23, I wondered how people could know for sure that their work in Jesus’ name would be acceptable in heaven. The thought of meeting Jesus face to face and having Him possibly turn me away always horrified me. As I’ve grown in faith and studied God’s Word, I’ve come to understand that this rejection Jesus described will be just, as all His judgments are just, because those He described will have done their works not in His strength, not under His direction, not according to His will, but according to their own design.
The people Jesus described in this passage had already refused His plan for their salvation, or He would not have turned them away. They wanted Him on their terms, to prove their worth through good works and so earn their place in heaven. Only our pride make us think we can override our sinfulness by doing more good than evil. God has provided the only way to heaven. His perfect Son, Jesus, shed His blood on the cross to pay the just price for sin. Eternal life is a free gift, not something we can earn.
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8–10 that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. We can’t do anything ourselves to gain salvation. The good works we do after He saves us are those He planned in advance. He works in us both to do them and to want to do them (Phil. 2:13). We carry out His will through our love relationship with Him, out of obedience and gratitude, not to puff ourselves up, not to gain “points” with Him, and not to prove we deserve heaven. We don’t deserve heaven. We deserve hell. It is only out of His love and grace that we can hope for heaven.
No one can boast before God (1 Cor.1:29–31), and that’s just what the people Jesus described in the passage above were doing. “Didn’t we” do this “in Your name”? How arrogant! Tacking Jesus’ name on our works doesn’t make them acceptable to God. We only have the right to do things in Jesus’ name if we belong to Him, and then He directs our actions for His glory. Our attitude should be grateful, humble obedience.