Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

68. False Disciples (Matthew 7:21-23)*

Jesus concluded his survey of the main principles of the New Life with a blunt reminder that the disciple who is not a fully committed disciple is no disciple at all. He requires not only that there be a life of active service for God, but also that such service be undertaken in the right spirit.

How startled that Galilean crowd must have been when this Jesus, the carpenter of Galilee, tacitly assumed the role of Judge of all the earth: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven”. At first appearance here is a flat contradiction of the constantly-reiterated teaching that he seeks faith in himself rather than self-justifying works: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom He hath sent” (Jn. 6:29).

Wonderful Works

Nor is Jesus satisfied by the vociferous self-justification: “Lord, Lord, ” (they are at it again! and in Lk. 6:46) “have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” Here is godly service done in the name of Jesus. What more could be desired?

The answer which the Lord himself supplies is: A different spirit! The right things must be done with the right attitude of mind (1 Cor. 13: 1-3). Since God is Lord of all, He does not need even the most fully dedicated efforts of even the finest of His servants. And it may be -- alas, it often is the case-that gargantuan labours, undertaken In the name of Christ, minister mote to the glory of the servant than the honour of his Master.

Double Danger

So here the conscientious disciple finds himself on a knife-edge. On the one side, good works done with the wrong motive. On the other, laziness “justified” by the knowledge that one’s finest efforts only minister to spiritual pride and in any case are at best minuscule before a God who does not need them.

Jesus probed at the second of these with his expostulation: “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say” (Luke 6:46). And if a man will press his own conscience for an honest answer to this question he is well on the way to a worthwhile self-knowledge. The apostle James’s blunt exhortation attacks the same spiritual cancer: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (into thinking that ye are doers)” (1:22).

The attitude of mind must be right, or all is effort thrown away, and these holy deeds done “in thy name”-note the triple repetition! - are works of iniquity to be reprobated as such in the day of scrutiny. The insincere profession of a dedicated life (Tit. 1:16) will then be answered by the Lord’s own utterly sincere profession: “I never knew you”. Never! This grim word declares the ghastly truth that many a life deemed to have been lit up by a blaze of heavenly light has in fact never emerged from the smoky pall of Gehenna.

Who is right?

This astonishing picture of human assessments being reversed in the Day of Judgment is by no means unique in the teaching of Jesus. But even more surprising is the reiterated self-justification of those rejected by the Lord. With what persistence and apparent confidence are they willing to pit their evaluation of themselves against that of the One with “eyes a flame of fire” (cp. Lk. 19:20, 21). The triple self-testimonial of Matthew 7: 22 is reinforced by another six-fold: “when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or In prison, and did not minister unto thee?” (25:44). Duty has been done! Of that these rejected ones are sure. But what is the disposition of a man who is more confident of his own moral worth than the Lord is? In what spirit has this catalogue of good works been undertaken?

Again, “Lord, open to us ... We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught us in our streets” (Lk. 13:25, 26). Does it mean that among those whom the Lord refuses in the Last Day there will be some who actually remonstrate in protest against his “unfair” decision? Or is it that Christ’s pictures of judgment are framed this way in order to bring out into present daylight the tragic self-deception indulged in bv some who are unwilling to be honest with themselves about themselves? Their pious application to Christian duty is baldy exposed as “working iniquity”. This can only be because of the motive with which these self-acclaimed “wonderful works” have been undertaken.

A Messianic Prophecy

Somewhat unexpectedly the Lord’s word of reprobation harnesses a short Messianic psalm which has suffered neglect. Psalm 6:1-7 describes the sufferings of one brought to the point of death. The primary reference is to the sickness and tribulation of David at the time of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam. 15, 16; “David’s leprosy’ Testimony, November 1961). The rest of the psalm celebrates his restoration to health and authority over God’s people: “The Lord hath heard my supplication...let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed...Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. Thus the words which reprobate in disgust the hypocrites who act falsely in the name of king David will one day be used against those who would steal the honour of King Jesus.

Another possibility is that Jesus was alluding to a different psalm: “Do good, O Lord, unto the good and to the upright in their hearts. But as for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity” (125:4, 5). If this is the reference, then the implication is that these whom the Lord rejects are thrust away because earlier faithfulness has turned to disloyalty. He seeks those who “go on doing (continuous participle) the will of the Father”.

The decidedly grim note which had crept into earlier sections of the Sermon on the Mount was now intensified. It is a measure of the seriousness of the warning which Jesus deemed necessary because of the spiritual dangers and temptations which his followers would inevitably face. In the parable with which he concluded the same solemn note of warning is there to the end.

Notes: Mt. 7:21-23

My Father. The first occurrence of this phrase in the gospels.

Shall enter. A clear intimation that the kingdom spoken of is future. Contrast modern ideas.
In that day. A constantly recurring phrase in Zech. 12-14, always about the End of the Age. 12:11, 12 and 13:4 seem fairly appropriate.

Prophesied in thy name...cast out devils...done wonderful works. There is an element of divine authority about all of these. The first assumes a prophet’s commission from God. The second implies authority over God’s angels of evil. The third uses a word constantly associated with Holy Spirit power.
Then will I profess. He now says out loud what has been known all the time, but has so far gone unspoken.

Depart. A strong word implying: I’ve got no room for such as you.

Workers of iniquity. Not fraud, violence, or lust, but just placid self-satisfaction. Or is this present participle intended to imply that these have left off serving in order to devote themselves to iniquity. Which?

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