Summary: Who then can enter into the Kingdom?
Not Everyone Who Says, "Lord, Lord"
One of the favorite gospel songs sung in the rural Tennessee churches where I have pastored for many years is “When We All Get to Heaven”. But is everyone who sings this song going to heaven? Is everyone who has at one time or another called out “Lord, Lord” going to heaven? There are many who think that because they have done this little deal with Jesus or had a little talk with Him at same time or another, that they are going to heaven. Is this opinion justified? Let us listen to the words of Jesus here to find out.
Exposition of the Text
We are immediately met with a great challenge when Jesus says that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter into God’s kingdom. “Not everyone” means that some will, but others will not. Of course, and true disciple of Jesus is going to call on the name of the Lord. But there are those who are not His sheep that also will say “Lord, Lord”. This means, that simply saying “Lord” is not a litmus test that determines whether one is truly a Christian or not.
The litmus test which separates the true disciples of Jesus from the false one is doing the will of the heavenly Father. This means that the true disciples who hear the words of Jesus and puts them into practice are those who have entered through the strait gate onto the road to heaven. This implies that the others did not do the Father’s will.
Jesus anticipates the objections of the false disciples. They will name the great works they did. And they did these great works in the name of the Lord. They prophesied in His name. They cast out demons in His name, as well as many other works. Is not doing things like feeding the poor and visiting and caring of the sick doing the work of God? Does not Jesus in Matthew 25 commend His true disciples for these things followed by bidding them to “enter into the joy of the Lord”. So why should these false disciples be excluded from those who are doing God’s will when they are doing the same things that Jesus commends His sheep for? Perhaps their works were even greater in magnitude than the true disciples.
This indeed should trouble us, because on the surface it makes God seem unfair. Our natural tendency is to trust in our own good works. Many think like the ancient Egyptians that the good works and bad works are put on a balance at the last judgment. So long as the good outweighs the bad, all is well.
Others would point out the words “do the will of the Heavenly Father” here as showing that works do indeed count before God. They would say that Jesus wants more than empty words, or if I can put it into the words of James, “faith without works”. It is very easy to build a case for faith and works as necessary to salvation. It is simply our fallen nature that clings to this idea.
However, it is dangerous to take texts out of context. This is because Jesus immediately shows that works do not save any more than empty words. So it should seem apparent that Jesus must have something else in mind here, or else we would have a contradiction here.
The true disciple does indeed demonstrate His faith by his works. This is clearly Scriptural. But the Scripture is equally clear that we are saved by grace through faith alone. This can only be resolved when we realize that good works flow from faith and not the other way around. Even faith is a gift. It comes from grace, as Paul says in Ephesians 2. And grace is a gift from God rather than the wages paid for good work. Paul also says that He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to perfection in the day of Jesus Christ.
So when we compare Scripture with Scripture, we can see that there is no contradiction in Jesus’ words here. Rather we must probe further into what “doing the will of the Heavenly Father” means here. Surely it means something different than empty flattery or the quantity of “good” works done. Perhaps we need to examine motivation here. When we do, the difference between the true and false disciple becomes clearer. According the Westminster-Shorter Catechism, the chief purpose of man is first of all to “glorify God”. So the true disciple of Jesus is motivated to glorify God in all they do. They are not interested in pointing to themselves. In fact in Matthew 25, they are surprised when they are commended at the Last Day and bid to enter the Kingdom. Jesus answers their surprise by saying “Because you have done this to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it to me.”