Four Devastating Words


s Jesus and His disciples sat together, He began to teach them. He defined what it meant to be blessed. He unfolded the will of God and the necessity of obedience. Jesus gave a model of prayer and called for His followers to consider their motives and to examine their hearts. The content of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was unlike anything that had been taught before. His doctrine was astonishing, and it was noted that He taught with “authority” (Matt. 7:29).

Jesus’ sermon was encouraging. It was rich in Old Testament Scripture. It was full of practical wisdom for daily living. As He brought His message to a close, Jesus gave a word of warning:

“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’” (vv. 21-23 ESV).

Though His words sound hard as we read them, I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used. Was His voice raised in fiery, righteous anger? Or did His voice soften— were tears in His eyes as He spoke these words?

We do not know how He delivered these words, but the message remains clear. Many will stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment with a list of good works, but it will not be enough. In these scriptures, Jesus lists three categories of people who are expecting reward, but will be horribly disappointed.

    1. Those who give lip service to His lordship

It is not enough to declare that Christ is Lord; it is necessary to surrender to His lordship, to submit to His rule over our lives. Following Christ is not just a list of dos and don’ts, but there are things to be done and things to be avoided. In His sermon, Jesus outlined some of these:

    • Be reconciled to those you have hurt or who have hurt you.
    • Do good to your enemies.
    • Pray and give, but avoid making a spectacle of yourself.

Every Sunday across America, choruses and hymns are sung about the lordship of Christ, yet our culture remains unchanged, because many who sing of Christ’s lordship remain unchanged. Lordship, obedience, and even relationship with Christ are inseparable. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 NASB).

    2. Those Who Misuse His Name and His Word

Doing (works) is never a substitute for being (relationship). It is possible to say the right words, to preach the right message, and to claim the authority of the right name and yet to be absent from Christ. Because God’s Word is true and unfailing, He might perform supernatural works when it is preached, even if the preacher is not committed to Christ’s lordship.

However, those who claim to be true ministers of the gospel but use Christ’s name and His Word with wrong motives, seeking to satisfy themselves, will be held accountable. God pronounced judgment on shepherds who use the flock to meet their own needs, while failing to care for the sheep (Ezek. 34:1-10). Our Lord is not just concerned with obedience, but what motivates us to obey.

Then there are false prophets and preachers who attempt to lead believers astray. Some, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, misuse the Word of God and the name of Christ by twisting Scripture and preaching heresy.

    3. Those Who Do Self-promoting Works

God’s greatest motivation is His own glory. His will is to be glorified. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially if we tend to make God in our own image or view Him through the lens of our own lives.

When I seek my glory, it is an ugly thing—I am conceited, prideful, and self-centered. When God seeks His glory, it is beautiful, and the outflow is blessings to those who worship Him.

God created us for His glory (Isa. 43:6- 7), chose us for His glory (Eph. 1:4-6), and forgave our sins for His own sake (Isa. 43:25). In His mountainside sermon, Christ reminded His disciples to do good works so God would be glorified (Matt. 5:16).

However, good works are not enough. The only works to be rewarded are those centered in God’s will, motivated by obedience to His lordship, infused with His love, and empowered by His Spirit. All others will bring damnation.

Many of Jesus’ sayings seem hard— hard to understand, hard to hear, hard to follow. Yet in His mercy, Christ tells us the truth in love and then beckons us to remember that He saved us not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9). His desire is to be glorified in us and for us to enjoy His glory forever.