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The Scariest Passage in the Bible | Matthew 7:13-23

October 2, 2016 Preacher: Ryan Gilbert Series: Sermon on the Mount

Scripture: Matthew 7:13–23

Excerpt

Manuscript

Today we’re looking at a text in Matthew that carries a lot of personal meaning for me, and I know for several of you as well, and the reason for that is because when I was in high school, I went with the student ministry to a summer camp in Glorieta, NM. It was called Centrifuge. The camp pastor there, on the first night of camp, gave a message, clearly explaining the meaning of Matthew 7:21-23, which is part of the text we’re looking at this morning. It is quite a unique passage, and, frankly, I consider it to be the scariest passage in the entire Bible, especially for me as a pastor. And even though we’ll be looking this morning at verses 13-23, I want to first read these last three verses, verses 21-23. Read with me.

21 “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. 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.’

If what Jesus says here is true, then what this means is not just that there are people out there who think they know God but who don’t; it’s means that inside our churches are people who think they are saved who actually are not. I don’t know how to read this and not come to the conclusion that likely some of US, in this room, think we are saved but are not, think that we know God but do not.

This somber reality reveals to us the incredible need for discernment in the church. The beginning of this chapter, if you recall, Jesus says that we aren’t to judge, and he’s speaking specifically of being condemning in our attitudes with others, as if we’re the ultimate Judge instead of God. But we also know that Jesus tells us in John 7:24 that we should judge, but with right judgment, and then he says in verse 15 of today’s text, which we’ll look at in a bit, that we should beware of false prophets.

 

What is Jesus getting at here? Well, he’s definitely not saying that we should never evaluate or hold people accountable, as we’ve talked about in the last few weeks, and he’s also not saying that we should go around constantly condemning and acting as if we’re on some sort of higher level than others. What he’s saying is that we must be able to judge well, to ascertain what is true and what is not. That’s exactly what discernment means—it means being able to use our minds, thinking critically, in determining God’s truth and direction, specifically, according to His Word, and especially when it comes to our salvation. So today, we’re going to see 3 actions of a discerning church. And I have to tell you that I think this might be the most important message I’ve preached since I’ve been here. So please open your Bibles, and please ask questions that come up. You can see in your bulletins how to ask a question via text. We may or may not get to those today, and if we don’t, I will answer them via video and send that out to you this week. 3 Act. of a Disc. Church.

 

  1. A Discerning Church guards the narrow gate (vs. 13-14).

Now this is actually a reference to part of last week’s text, verses 13-14. Let’s read.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

You may remember from last week talking about how the gate is narrow because faith in Jesus is the only gate, the only way! It’s narrow in the sense that there aren’t many different ways to God or to Heaven; there’s one way. And this says that not many will find that one way.

So why do we, as a church, need to guard the narrow gate? I don’t mean by that that we only let certain people in, like we’re Jesus’ bouncers or something, BUT what I do mean is that if it’s true that “many” think they’re saved who are not (according to verse 22 that we already read), that means that there are many who think they’re on the narrow path, but haven’t actually gone through the narrow gate!

So what is the gate, specifically? The gate is Repentance from sin and Faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work, his death and resurrection. That’s the only way, the only gate. John 14:6- “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” That’s Jesus himself. So why is there such confusion about the gate? How are there so many who think they’ve gone through the gate, but actually haven’t?!

I’m convinced that there is one primary reason. And that reason is because of the corruption of the Gospel message. We’re not guarding the gate, and protecting the truth of what truly saves people. What are we doing instead? We’re watering down the message of how to get in, of how to know Jesus, and how to be saved.

Many think of Christianity in terms of merely values, and spiritual and emotional help when we need it, and Jesus being the one to bring those things. Now, these things aren’t unimportant, but they don’t mention the gate! They mention part of the path, but no mention of the gate. In fact there’s a book that was published in 2005 by two sociologists that explain a research project they did studying the religious beliefs of youth in the United States and their commonly-held beliefs. They ended up naming these commonly-held religious beliefs moralistic therapeutic deism. In my personal opinion, it is actually not biblical Christianity at all. At least it is, perhaps more commonly, moralistic therapeutic deism. These are the beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

  1. God exists and created the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good and nice to each other, as taught in the Bible.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God is needed in one’s life mainly when He is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Now, your first reaction to all of that may be very positive! Ryan, that sounds pretty good! What’s the problem? The problem is that there’s not even one mention of a sacrificial death to pay for our sin and satisfy the wrath of God, which is THE heart of biblical Christianity. So what happens, when Christianity is understood instead to be this, moralistic therapeutic deism?

What happens is that people want a change in life, or just know that they need something in their lives. Maybe they even know that they need God or at least some of that influence back. Maybe they grew up in the church or at least they’ve had a positive influence on their lives from Christians, and so they think that they can just kind-of mold themselves into Christianity and start trying to live for God and have in mind to be a better person. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s also not the Gospel. That’s not salvation. That’s self-betterment. If this is you, you’re missing the gate.

When I say that we must be guarding the gate, what I mean by that is that we must be clear with the people around us, especially in the church, about what it means to be part of the church, what it means to be a born-again believer in Jesus. It’s not about wanting your life to be better, and you-know, kind-of following Jesus’ path is better. It’s NOT just that. It’s this grand truth that you are a depraved sinner in desperate need of a Savior. And God has provided that Savior in Jesus. He is the gate. Repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as our Substitute is the only gate.

Saving faith is different from worldly faith. Faith, in a popular sense, if you want to try and fit it into MTD, faith is “if you believe it, you can achieve it.” That’s not biblical faith. That’s man-centered faith. Biblical faith is not just believing that Jesus can save you. Saving faith is not merely intellectual assent. It’s not just believing that God exists, and Jesus is His Son, even believing that Jesus came to die for your sin! According to James, Satan himself believes that. Saving faith is not just a religious experience of some kind, and saving faith is definitely not a 7-second prayer you pray and suddenly are saved.

Saving faith is acknowledging your utter depravity and rebellion against God, realizing that you could do nothing to fix this on your own, and believing that God loved you by sending His Son to die for you and your sin, and turning from that sin and trusting Christ as your Substitute. That’s saving faith. And we must guard this truth, we cannot let that get watered down, because the enemy is looking for the most subtle ways to corrupt this Gospel. He’s using ways that sound so close, and so good, and even so “Bible-based,” and yet are not what is truly laid out in the Word.

We must be clear as to what the Gospel is, what it means to be a believer, a Christian, and what it means to be part of the Church. This is exactly why we have Raintree 101. We’re guarding the gate, which really means making sure people know where the gate is! We’re making sure, as much as we can, that anyone who comes to Raintree and at least maybe wants to covenant with us as a church, we want to make sure that they truly know what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be part of a local church. We must guard the gate.

 

  1. A Discerning Church guards against false prophets (vv. 15-20).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

A discerning church guards against false prophets, or false teachers. These are preachers, leaders, teachers, authors, and bloggers, whoever who are not actually teaching the truth. These are people who might even be saying encouraging things, but again, not truth.

So how can we judge whether or not someone is a false teacher? One of the biggest ways is by looking at the way they live, looking at their fruit. Do their lives reflect that they are truly followers of Jesus? This isn’t only true for prophets or teachers and leaders, but really for any Christian. He makes the very obvious point that the fruit on a plant matches the kind of plant it is. Grapes don’t come from thornbushes. Figs don’t come from thistles, apparently. Many of us probably don’t know what those are, but we get the point. Healthy trees: healthy fruit. Diseased trees: bad fruit.

Now how this connects to verses 13-14, about the narrow way and the narrow path, the hard way, if you recall verse 14. I think it connects in that these prophets he’s referring to, these teachers and preachers were probably proclaiming an easier and maybe wider way, much like apparently some of the false prophets in the Old Testament were doing. Jeremiah 6:13 says that even prophets and priests were “greedy for unjust gain,” meaning they wanted to benefit in easy ways, false ways. If you read the first part of Ezekiel 13, it talks about false prophets as those who follow their own spirit, claiming to have heard from God, and yet God having not spoken.

Now, if we think about mainstream Christianity, who is it that is proclaiming an easier and wider way, much like these Old Testament false prophets? Who is it that’s watering down the message of the Gospel? I’m not just talking about the prosperity gospel preacher, he who claims following Jesus will bring you health and wealth, though that seems to fit here, nor do I think this refers only to those who just clearly compromise the word, ignoring the parts they don’t like, like for today’s culture, what the Bible says about hell or homosexuality, though again, those are clearly false prophets as well.

To me, I can’t help but think that this is also referring to evangelical Christian churches much like us, who claim to be focused on the Word, and even perhaps have statements of faith that are clear as to what the Bible teaches, but then they teach on a regular basis something other than the clear Gospel. Unfortunately, judging by what is popular, even in mainstream Christian culture, it seems as if this is not a small number of churches.

Most of the time, I believe this is rarely done with ill intent. This happens instead because churches want to fully accommodate anyone and everyone and not do anything to potentially scare anyone anyway. “We don’t need to place expectations on people who are part of the church. We don’t need to preach 100% straight-up Bible on Sunday mornings, you know, that’s our time for guests who come, we don’t want them to be turned off to the church before they even get to know us.”

The problem with this is that these churches are not being clear on what it actually means to be part of the church. They’re affirming people who may not even know Jesus in saying that all that matters is that you’re kind of going in the right direction. It’s all with the goal of being gentle and loving and accommodating. Again, the intentions are good! But, they may be communicating a Gospel that is not the Gospel. Without clarity in what it means to be part of the church, we will likely continue having more and more members who are not real members of God’s Body, and the worst part about it: they have no earthly idea. Even we think they are! I had a friend of mine from Texas this week mention to me that she thought the hardest person to see saved is the person who already thinks they’re saved.

The truth is that the Church is not simply a group of people that want to better themselves. It’s not simply a group of people of have acknowledged in their heads that God exists and even have believed, as in acknowledged, that Jesus died! That’s not what the church is. The church is group of people who have come to realize that they have rebelled against the Creator, and deserve eternal punishment because of it. But Jesus came, lived a sinless life, died on the Cross bearing our sin and punishment, and he was the only one who could do that because he had no sin of his own to pay for, no punishment that he himself deserved. And then he rose from the dead defeating death and sin altogether. He is my Substitute, and I must turn from my sin and place my faith and trust in Him to be saved. That’s the gate. The only gate, the narrow gate! THIS is why we have reason to celebrate when we gather. But false prophets want to widen the gate, or they widen it without even knowing it. We must recognize them, and then, if we know them, lovingly show them the truth.

These false prophets, sheep in wolves’ clothing, I can’t help but think this includes those who don’t know that they’re actually wolves. I can’t help but think that there are many false prophets and superficial teachers and preachers who use the name of Jesus like crazy, but don’t give the full, biblical picture of who Jesus is and how it is that he is the gate to eternal life. Instead they’re teaching moral therapeutic deism or something like it, and claiming that this is why Jesus came.

Maybe you see these five points of moral therapeutic deism, and think well, so what you’re saying is all we need is Jesus at the beginning, before all those others. No, I’m saying you need to scratch all of these, and just put the Gospel, the specifics of Jesus dying for our sin, and the specifics of faith and repentance. Because what this is, this twisted form of the Gospel that is so prevalent in our churches; it is a man-centered Gospel! It’s all about God can help me in my life, as if God’s very existence is for my happiness or my desires and whims, instead of being a God who is Creator and Sustainer and is a perfectly just judge and also a perfectly loving Father.

The problem here is that this isn’t being taught from secular sources. This is being taught in churches. Here, in this area. Can I be honest and say that I do research of area churches because I want to be aware of like-minded churches, and also to be praying for churches in the area. If I’m honest with you, I think it might be the majority of churches who supposedly believe the biblical gospel, but then they teach this and call it coming to Jesus, why? Because it’s appealing. They teach a man-centered theology. Why? Because everyone wants to better themselves. You offer a better life, who’s not going to take that? And then these leaders, who mean well, expect people to somehow by osmosis come to Jesus truly being born again, truly repenting and believing in Jesus. But it doesn’t happen. Or most people just think they’ve already done this. They’ve entered the gate, but it’s not the narrow gate.

It seems that so many leaders, pastors and teachers have forsaken the absolute truth of the Word and preferred some sort of generic positivity! Pastors have become motivational speakers, and have become primarily encouragers instead of proclaimers of the truth! Look, it’s not that we shouldn’t be encouraging, it’s that, we don’t have anything to truly encourage people with except this Word of God. Am I not giving you a false encouragement if it comes from something other than the Word, something we don’t even really know is true? Like pop-psychology or spiritual positivity. There’s nothing wrong with psychology truly. Nothing wrong with positivity. But there is, for things, something better. Something we know is absolutely true.

This is why at Raintree, we want you to grow in the Word. God is a thinking being, and He created us to be thinking beings, growing in our knowledge of Him, growing in our discernment of what is right and wrong in God’s eyes, and how to live lives in obedience to Him, and yes, growing in our ability to guard against false prophets, who can so easily grab our affections and our interest, and maybe not be grounding us in the Word. A discerning church guards against false prophets. 3rdly:

 

  1. A Discerning Church guards against false disciples (vv. 21-23).

Now this one goes right along with the first action that we gave, but I want to get a bit more specific, and I want us, today, to guard against false disciples by asking the question, “How can we know?” First, let’s read again Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “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. 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.’

This, again, is an incredibly sobering thought: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” That means that people can call Jesus Lord and yet not actually have submitted to Him as Lord. Please hear me, everyone in the room: even with passion and emotion and apparent devotion, you can say ‘Lord, Lord’ (that’s what that means that it’s doubled there, there’s zeal and passion), you can do all that, and still not be headed for heaven. You can experience what you think is worship, passionately singing and being overwhelmed and everything, and yet not truly know God.

It says in verse 22, many people will say “Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” To put this in terms for us, Many will say, “Did I not attend church, and even get involved, and even volunteer, and even invest my life into people in the church, and give money, and experience community, and maybe even were part of great things that God did?! Verse 23- “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

The scariest part about all of this is that it is obvious that these people were self-deceived, even in their sincerity. The thought that, “All that matters is that your heart is in it.” That’s not true if your heart is given to the wrong thing! You can sincerely give your heart to the moral side of Christianity, and never give your heart over to repentance and faith in Christ as your substitute.

There is no gate to salvation other than Christ: the gate of church attendance, the gate of church INVOLVEMENT, the gate of giving to the church! Baptism, feelings. None will save. The truth of the matter is that there will be church attenders, church volunteers, church deacons, elders, and pastors in hell, because Jesus never knew them as disciples.

It doesn’t matter how much you know God, or know about Him; it matters whether or not He knows you. I’ve heard this great example of visiting the white house and telling the security, “Hey, let me in, I know the president. Let me in.” Are they going to let you in? No. It doesn’t matter how much you may think you know the president; what matters is whether or not he knows you. Now, of course, in a general sense, Jesus knows who everyone is, but he’s saying he must know you as a disciple; you must know Him truly as your Lord and Savior. If you have never entered through the narrow gate, by turning from sin and placing your faith in Christ as our Substitute, TRULY, then you are a worker of lawlessness no matter how much you are engrained into American Christian culture.

The narrow gate is not asking Jesus into your heart (which is found nowhere in the Bible whatsoever); it’s not wanting it really badly. It’s not trying to turn your life around and be a better you. The narrow gate is realizing the better you is still utterly depraved, and so turning from sin and placing your faith and trust in the finished work of Christ, His death and resurrection. That is the only gate.

So the last question I want us to look at is, How can we know we’ve entered through the narrow gate? How can we know? There are biblical things we can do to examine ourselves. We’re told to do that in 2 Corinthians 13:5, which says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” So, how can we examine ourselves to see whether we’re in the faith. 3 tests, briefly:

 

  1. Check your gate.

Look back to when you became a Christian. Do you remember truly understanding the biblical Gospel, and turning from sin and trusting in Christ, your Substitute? You may not remember the exact date or year, especially if you were young. But look back, do you remember trusting in Christ as your Substitute? You must know Him as your Substitute, and he must know you as His obedient child! It is only by Him that we are reconciled to the Father.

If you think maybe you trusted in some other Jesus, the Jesus of moralistic therapeutic deism, or the Jesus that simply died for you in some generic sense, and not specifically to appease the wrath of God, it might be worth talking to someone about this. You didn’t have to understand everything about God or the Bible to be saved, that’s not it at all. But, the question is simply, by what gate did you enter into Christianity? Because there’s only one true gate. If you think you’ve always been a Christian, as in literally your whole life, please examine yourself, talk to me or someone, because there is no such thing as being born a Christian. 2nd test:

 

  1. Check your fruit (vv. 15-20)

If you remember back to verses 15-20: Healthy trees bear healthy fruit. Diseased trees bear bad fruit. This isn’t just true for prophets and teachers and leaders, this is true for any Christian! Does your life reflect that you are saved? Do your actions reflect someone who has turned from sin and placed their faith in Christ?

Now this is NOT to say that you are justified by your works, justified meaning that you are declared righteous in God’s eyes. You are not declared righteous in God’s eyes because your good enough, or because you do have enough good fruit. Instead, fruit is evidence of justification by faith. We are not saved by works, or by fruit, or by being good enough. We’re saved by faith in the completed work of Christ. But fruit reveals to us that we have truly placed our faith in Christ. It reveals the ultimate truth that God has given us the gift of faith and repentance.

If your life doesn’t look different, you don’t know Jesus, and Jesus does not know you, in the sense of being His child. Do you put into practice what you say you believe? We see this throughout the Sermon on the Mount, we see throughout the Bible. This is why Jesus says, “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.” Our fruit, our actions, how we live our lives, reveal who we really are. Not that we’re perfect, but that our trajectory is completely different and we are becoming more like Christ. The third test for how we can know we are in fact saved:

 

  1. TEST your fruit (21-23, Matt. 24:24)

Not only should we check our fruit, and see if it’s in line with someone who’s given their lives to the Lord through repentance and faith in Christ. But then, we need to test to make sure that that fruit is not false fruit. There are some things that can look very Godly and look to be blessed by God, but they are not. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, in particular, guess what? It can create a lot of false fruit! Lives have been changed, many more lives will be changed! Just because lives are changed does not mean that that’s proof of God’s work.

We see this very clearly from verses 22-23. People will do amazing things for God, , but they don’t actually know Jesus. That’s Jesus Himself telling us this.

 

So, a few questions worth asking:

  1. Do you desire to do what you think are great things for God more than you desire simple obedience in all things, including small things?
  2. Is your fruit a response to God’s grace saving you, or are you trying to prove something? Earn something?
  3. Is your ultimate goal in becoming like Christ God’s glory or something else?

 

Conclusion

There’s no such thing as becoming a Christian by osmosis, or by self-betterment. There’s only one way. Are you alive in Christ, today? Or, are you dead and not even know it! Are you like a zombie? Do you think you’re alive, and yet you are dead? If Jesus says there are many like this, then I think it’s very likely there are some in this room. Do not wait; do not ignore the Spirit speaking through the Word. Respond today to the good news that Jesus Christ died bearing your sin and raising again from the dead. Enter the narrow gate. Repent today, and place your faith in Christ.

I lived about 12 years thinking I was a Christian. Granted I was pretty young. But I thought I was a Christian, because I got baptized once and because I went to church every week, and even was trying to live a good life. But I still thought I was going to Heaven because I was a good person. Thankfully, these words of Jesus woke me up. God made me alive even while I was dead in my trespasses. Let’s guard the gate with clarity, let’s guard against false prophets, and let’s help make sure that no one in our midst thinks they’re saved but are not. God’s grace is too good to miss it because of subtle corruptions to the Gospel.