A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:21-27 A Christian’s commitment: the radical choice.
The fourth point is that it is a public confession. This is no private and personal protestation of allegiance to Jesus. Some have even ‘prophesied’ in Christ’s name, daring to claim as they preach on some public occasion the authority and the inspiration of Jesus himself. More than this, the profession is even at times spectacular. In order to make his point, Jesus cites the most extreme examples of verbal profession, namely the exercise of a supernatural ministry involving prophecy, exorcism and miracles. What these people stress as they speak to Christ on judgement day is the name in which they ministered. Three times they use it, and each time they put it first for emphasis. They claim that in the name of Christ, openly and publicly confessed, they have prophesied, cast out demons and done many mighty works. And there is no need to doubt the truth of their claim, for ‘great signs and wonders’ will be performed even by false Christs and false prophets. (Mt. 24:24; 2 Thes.2:9,10)
What better Christian profession could be given? Here are people who call Jesus ‘Lord’ with courtesy, orthodoxy and enthusiasm, in private devotion and in public ministry. What can be wrong with this? In itself nothing. And yet everything is wrong because it is talk without truth, profession without reality. It will not save them on the day of judgement. So Jesus moves on from what they are saying and will say to him to what he will say to them. He too will make a solemn profession. The word used in verse 23 is (*homologeso*), ‘I will confess’. Christ’s confession to them will be like theirs in being public, but unlike theirs in being true. He will address to them the terrible words: *I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers*. For although they had used his name freely, their name was unknown to him.
The reason for their rejection by him is that their profession was verbal, not moral. It concerned their lips only, and not their life. They called Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’, but never submitted to his lordship, or obeyed the will of his heavenly Father. Luke’s version of this saying is if anything stronger still: ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and not do what I tell you?’ (Lk.6:46). The vital difference is between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’. The reason Christ the Judge will banish them from him is that they are *evildoers*. They may claim to do *mighty works* in their ministry; but in their everyday behaviour the works they do are not good, but evil. Of what value is it for such people to take Christ’s name on their lips? As Paul expressed it some years later: ‘Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’ (2 Tim.2:19).
We who claim to be Christians in our day have made a profession of faith in Jesus privately in conversion and publicly in baptism and/or confirmation. We appear to honour Jesus by referring to him as ‘the Lord’ or ‘our Lord’. We recite the creed in church, and sing hymns expressive of devotion to Christ. We even exercise a variety of ministries in his name. But he is not impressed by our pious and orthodox words. He still asks for evidence of our sincerity in good works of obedience.
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:24-27: 2). The danger of a merely intellectual knowledge.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.