May 23, 2021 Who Enters the Kingdom? Part 18

Who Enters the Kingdom?

(Part Eighteen)

May 23, 2021




Read Matthew 7:15-23.


Jesus gives a warning for those in his church to be on guard against imposters. The reason false prophets take people in so easily is because they seem genuine. They say the right things, at first. They believe the right things, at first. They are often nice, at first. But words are easy to come by. Truths can be believed with the mind only, a sort of acknowledgment, without a corresponding change of heart (that is wrought by the Holy Spirit). And, being nice is never a qualification to ascertain genuine faith. Abusers are often nice at first.


False prophets were a recurrent problem in the OT and they continue to be a problem in our current age.


When our Lord Jesus spoke these words he was warning his immediate hearers of false prophets in the Jewish community. Especially, those who would arise after his departure. The apostle Paul would similarly warn the Ephesian elders to be aware of “wolves” that would come in after he left. Not only were the Jews exposed and deceived by false prophets between the time of Christ’s resurrection and the final destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD, thus bringing a close to the Old Covenant, but the Christian church would also experience numerous false prophets. Early on were Marcion, a Gnostic, and Montanus, who said that he and his prophets words were equal to those of the apostles. Nearer to our own time we have had Joseph Smith (Mormons), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian science), Charles Taze Russell (JW’s), Ellen G White (SDA), and Jim Jones (People’s Temple), to name only a few. Now, except for Seventh Day Adventists, these groups are recognized as being outside the true church. But, it should be remembered that when these false prophets first appeared, they appeared within the church and then drew disciples after them.


In Matthew 7:15 Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing…” What is sheep’s clothing? Clothing is what one sees on the outside. It covers our nakedness. A sheep is a harmless animal. They are docile. A false prophet is one who appears to be harmless. Much of what they say may be good. (If none of it was good, they would gather few, if any, followers.)


Jesus then says, “…but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Ravenous means extremely hungry. Wolves devour their prey. What Jesus is saying is that false prophets use people for their own satisfaction and they do not care how people’s lives are ruined as long as they get what they want. What do they want? They want two things: recognition and money. Some will be satisfied with simple recognition and honor. Others are after money. Many want both.


It may also be noted that, from both Scripture and the experiences of the faithful as witnesses to such throughout the history of the church, that the source of false prophets is of two kinds. It can be demonic (i.e., supernatural) or it can be simply human contrivance. It  makes no difference as to the source, whether demons or fallen man, because the result is the same: an apostasy from the truth and godly living and, in the end, destruction of lives.


As an example of demonic influence, Mohammad could be given.


In the year 610, at the age of 40, when he was in a cave on Mt. Hira meditating, he claims to have been visited by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel supposedly told him that he, Mohammed, was the messenger of Allah and gave him a passage to memorize that he resisted, allegedly telling the angel that he could not recite things. However, the angel insisted and he was able to repeat what the angel told him. For the next 22 years he would receive such messages, although there would be periods of silence. Those messages would be written down by others as Mohammed recited them because he could not write. Those collected writings became the Koran.


He seemed to go into a trance when receiving these so-called revelations and some reported seeing him sweating even on cold days when this happened. He was either completely delusional or he was under the control of a demon. Considering how destructive the teachings of the Koran are and the great suffering it has caused, not to mention keeping many from the true faith of Christ, it is highly likely that these experiences of Mohammad and the revelations he received were demonic.


How can we identify false prophets?


16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?[1]


The primary way that we detect false prophets is by their lives. “Fruit” and “fruits” throughout Matthew represent behavior or lifestyle.


Their lives will eventually show their disdain for the laws of God even though, for a time, they may seem to live upright lives.


The Scriptures elsewhere give two other tests for false prophets,[2] but here Jesus holds forth their living as evidence of their deception.


Then we come to what I consider the most terrifying verses in the entire Bible. These verses frightened me as a new Christian reading the book of Matthew for the first time. They still frighten me even to this day. Do you know what? This is the reason why Jesus spoke these words. You see, fear is a good thing if it keeps you from great danger.  Jesus meant to frighten his disciples. It is by fear that we avoid peril.


Let’s read these verses again:


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. 22 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?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ [3]


There is a controversy regarding this passage. That is, reputable and conservative commentators disagree on the identity of the ones to whom Jesus refers. Are they lost or are they saved? Both sides can give very good reasons for their position.[4]  We are not going to settle that question this morning. I lean towards those to whom Jesus refers as being lost, but it makes no difference as far as the passage being a fearful and needed warning. I hope to show you why.


Consider the consequences if Jesus is referring to his disciples. If he is referring to his own then why does he say, “I never knew you?” Indeed, this is why I take those to whom he refers as lost. Personally, I cannot imagine him saying that to someone who truly belongs to him. However, those who do hold to that position will point out that the word “know” can just mean, “to know intimately.” They will say that he was never close to those of his own disciples who lived disobediently. Be that as it may, if he is referring to his own disciples, then he is saying that those who live in disobedience will “depart from” him in the sense of not participating in the kingdom. We learned from chapter five that if we will not enter the kingdom then we will be in a place of suffering until we learn to take sin seriously.


This ought to be enough to arouse awe and fear if we are not living as we have been called to live. We also saw that absence from the kingdom in the next age is temporary. Those who belong to Christ will be able to be united with him in the New Heavens and the New Earth after the Millennium (Rev 21:1-4). I don’t know about you, but I wish to avoid all suffering whether temporary or not. If this passage applies to us, it still frightens me.


On the other hand, if this passage refers to the lost, then it is even more terrifying.



Here is why it is: those to whom Jesus refers think that they belong to the Lord. They say to him, “Lord, Lord.”


Not only did they think they belonged to him, but they did great things “in his name.” The phrase, “in the name of,” means by the authority of that person. These people did God’s work by the authority of Jesus! They even case out demons. They spoke prophetically.


They were active in serving God! Think about it. They thought they belonged to Christ. They did many things for him and by his authority, but it turns out that they were not saved and will spend eternity in the lake of fire! They were self-deceived!


Doesn’t this make you wonder, at times, whether you might be self-deceived? I am going to say something that may surprise you: you ought to wonder. You ought to wonder because that is the whole reason that Jesus spoke these words. He desires that we not find ourselves in this horrifying situation.


I believe in the assurance of salvation. That is, if we have truly been born again, then we should both know it and be assured of it. I preached on this subject.[5] While we should have the assurance of our salvation it is also appropriate, if we have been walking in disobedience, to question it.


What is the reason that the Lord rejects these workers for him? Because they lived lawlessly. That is, they did not live according to the revealed will of God. They lived according to their own will rather than the will of God.


We see then that, whether we understand this passage to be referring to disciples or to the lost, we must make certain that we are not those whom Jesus describes.


How do we do that? To put it most simply, there are really only two things that we must do. One is easy and one is hard. The first thing, the easy thing, is to make sure that we understand the gospel. There are false gospels out there. We must understand the true gospel.


There are some false gospels that are obviously false to those who read their Bibles. The New Age gospel (the gospel of self) and the gospels of false Messiahs (Islam and Hinduism) are easy to identify. However, some false gospels sound right and can just as easily deceive. Two such gospels are the gospel of works and the fact-only gospel.


The gospel of works is what is promoted by the Roman Catholic Church as well as those groups that Christians typically classify as cults, such as Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons. They teach that one must believe in Jesus but also that we must do good deeds in order to be accepted by God. That gospel does not save and it is condemned by the apostle Paul in the strongest terms.


The fact-only gospel goes by other names as well. It has been called the forgiveness-only gospel and easy-believism. This so-called gospel is particularly dangerous because it was actually taught in Baptist and other Evangelical churches for a time. Therefore, there are many who have believed it and think that they are Christians when they are not. It is the exact opposite of the gospel of works. It teaches that all one has to do is believe some facts about Jesus and one is saved. That is, that he died on the cross for sins and that he rose from the dead. Of course, we do have to believe those things! But just believing those things does not save. We are not saved by believing facts. We are saved by trusting in a Person.


One trusts in Jesus as both Savior and Lord, that is, we renounce sin, surrender our lives to him, and commit to follow him all the days of our life.


I said that, in order for us to avoid being those whom Jesus describes in Matthew 7:21-23, we must do two things. Understanding the gospel is the first one. The second thing is to deal with sin in one’s life. Neither ignore sin nor take it lightly. We must put sin to death in our lives. This takes our whole life! But we must never give up!


This is a consistent theme throughout the NT.  Let us just look briefly at two passages.


So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.[6]


Once we come to Christ, we have no debt to pay regarding our past sins. Jesus paid that debt. But we do have a debt. Our debt, according to the apostle, is to put to death our sinful deeds. When you put something to death that means it becomes powerless. We take away sin’s power by a greater power…the power of the Spirit!


He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.[7]


We are to die to sin! We live in righteousness. We must arrive at a place where sin no longer has power over us. Temptation will always be around the corner but we can overcome.


We only looked at two passages. But this kind of admonition is frequent. See Luke 6:46; Romans 6:2, 6-7; 12:1-2; Gal. 5:16, 24; Eph. 5:3-11; 15-18; I Cor. 6:18; I Thes. 4:3-8; I Tim. 5:22; 6:10-14; Hebrews 3;13; 12:4; I John 2:15-17; 28-29; 3:4-10, 24; 5:2-3; 3 John 11; Rev. 2:16-17; 3:2-6; 18-22.


Practically, how do we put sin to death in our lives? Let me give you four steps. These practical steps are from God’s word.


[1] We must know what is sin and what is not. Most sins are obvious. Some, though, are subtle. In order to know what the Lord likes and what he hates, we must become familiar with the Scriptures. Yes, you have heard me say this a hundred times. And I will not cease to remind you of it because it is so important.


All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,[8]


The disciple of Christ must spend time in God’s word daily. This pleases the Lord.


How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the way of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

    2            But his delight is in the law of Yahweh,

And in His law he meditates day and night.[9]


[2] We must pray. When I say that we must pray, I mean that we must pray when we are not being tempted. Often, if we are faced with a strong temptation, it is too late. Therefore, pray about your sins, about your weaknesses, daily when you are in your quiet times.

O God, save me by your name,

and vindicate me by your might. [10]


King David is praying for salvation from his enemies. But we can pray this prayer for salvation from the power of sin: “O God, save me from the power of sin by your name. And vindicate me by your might! Amen.”


This is a prayer that God will answer…if we are persistent! Pray it daily!


[3] Take measures to avoid temptation. Be wise. Do not place yourself in situations where your fleshly desires will rise up. For example, if you have a problem with alcohol, do not be so foolish as to purchase any and don’t visit establishments that serve it. This applies to those who tend to fall into sin (overindulging). But the practice of avoiding temptation applies to any sin.


[4] Finally, when we are sorely tempted we must call upon the name of the Lord. This is the most effective means to avoid sin. Calling is different than praying. Praying can be silent. Calling is out loud. The word in Greek (kaleo) means to verbally invoke. The name of Jesus is powerful! When tempted, call on his name…”O Lord Jesus! O Lord Jesus! O Lord Jesus!” Calling three times is amazingly effective. When a statement is repeated three times in Scripture it signifies great import. (When God is said to be holy in prayer, it is often repeated three times. Other three-time repetitions are spoken also [Ezekiel 21:27; Jeremiah 22:29].)


Call upon his name and find deliverance! (Deut. 4:7; 2 Sam 22:4; Psalm 4:3; 18:3; 50:15; 55:16; 91:15; 116:2; 145:18; Isaiah 58:9; Jeremiah 33:3; Zech. 3:9; 13:9; Rom. 10:12-13; I Cor. 1:2; 12:3; Acts 7:59; Matthew 8:25; 15:25.)


Who will enter the kingdom? Those who live according to the law of God, not by their own power, but by the power of his name!


Followers of Christ! Do you wish to experience peace when reading Matthew 7:21-23? Then practice these four things and put sin to death.


Who will enter the kingdom? Those who have put sin to death!


Press into the kikngdom!








[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 7:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Failed prophecies (Deut. 18:21-22) and heresy (Deut. 13:1-6; Jer. 23:9-15; I John 4:2-3; 2 Peter 2:1-2).



[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 7:21–23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] For those interested in the reasons for each position, see Notes on Matthew, Part Twenty-Five in Pastor’s Sunday School Notes at

[5] See

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 8:12–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 2:24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 3:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] Legacy Standard Bible. (2021). (Ps 1:1–2). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 54:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.