The Dangers Of An Empty Confession
By Paul Washer
"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall" (Matt. 7:21-27).
The Worth of a Confession
Matthew 7:21 begins with one of the gravest warnings that Christ has ever given: "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven." We must be reminded that Christ’s warning is not directed to the self-styled atheist or the infidel. Nor is He addressing those of other religions or those who are openly hostile to His name. Instead, His words are aimed at all who claim to know Him and call Him Lord; those who bear the title "Christian" and who number themselves among His disciples; those whose creeds and confessions would agree with the Scriptures.
Christ’s words are for us, and they are intended to pierce our hearts like a lance and to wake us from our dangerous slumber. They demand that we question our assumptions and examine ourselves with the greatest care. Do we know Him? Are we known by Him? Is it well with our souls? Our eternal destinies hang in the balance, and the possibility of self-deception is very great. For many will come before Him on that great day with the greeting, "Lord, Lord," but He will refuse their accolades and declare to them, "Depart from Me; I never knew you." If we ever thought that Christ’s previous warnings about the few and the many were exaggerated, we should entertain such thoughts no longer.
Here we are forewarned by the greatest of all authorities. Will we heed His warning? We stand among a great multitude of those who call Jesus Lord, but are we open to the possibility that Christ is speaking directly to us? He has warned us that not all in the camp are true. Will we be like Achan, who thought he could hide among the multitude? (Josh. 7:18-20). Do we think that we can enter into the wedding feast undetected though improperly clothed? (Matt. 22:11-13). Are we open to the possibility that we are deceived and not yet converted, or will we harden our hearts like Judas, who declared, "Surely it is not I"? (Matt. 26:25).
In this text, Jesus is not addressing secret disciples or those who are ashamed to publicly confess Him. Rather, He is directing His warning to those who appear to boldly and emphatically declare His lordship. This is evidenced by their declaration, "Lord, Lord." In Hebrew literature, such repetition is used to both clarify and give emphasis. In Isaiah’s vision of the throne room of God, the seraphim address Yahweh as "Holy, holy, holy" (Isa. 6:3). The intention of the repetition is to give the greatest possible emphasis to God’s holiness. Similarly, the repetition in this text is designed to show us that even among those who emphatically declare Jesus to be Lord, many will be rejected and condemned on the day of judgment. This is a terrifying truth that leads us to conclude that a mere confession of faith in Jesus Christ is worth nothing if it is unaccompanied by the essential fruit that proves its genuineness.
The Evidence of Conversion
If even the most emphatic and frequent confession of the lordship of Jesus Christ is not evidence of true conversion, then what is? In Matthew 7:16 and 20, Jesus tells us that we will know those who are truly converted by their fruits. He declares again in Matthew 7:21 that not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter His kingdom – only "he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
The validity of our confession of Jesus Christ’s lordship and of our conversion is evidenced by our obedience to the Father’s will. In other words, a person’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ and his claim to heaven is doubtful if it is not accompanied by the fruit of a Christlike character and works of righteousness. Even the greatest activity in the Christian ministry along with its accompanying apparent success is not the evidence of conversion (Matt. 7:22).
This truth should come as no surprise to us since it is a common theme throughout Matthew 7. The evidence that a person has passed through the small gate is that he is now walking in the narrow way that is marked out by the commandments of Christ (Matt. 7:13-14). The evidence that a person has been converted and become a good tree is that he is now bearing good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:16-20; Luke 6:44). The evidence that a person’s confession of the lordship of Jesus Christ is genuine is that he is doing the will of the Father and the Son (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:44). Finally, the evidence that a person has built his life on the Rock and is safe from the coming judgment is that he not only hears the words of Christ but also does them (Matt. 7:24-27).
When we go beyond Matthew 7 and look for other Scriptures to affirm the same truth, we find that they are abundant. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to examine ourselves thoroughly to determine if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). He also warns us of people who will confess that they know God, but by their deeds deny Him (Titus 1:16).
The Apostle Peter exhorts us to be diligent to make certain about God’s calling and choosing of us (2 Pet. 1:10). Along with the exhortation, he also provides us with a list of virtues that will be growing realities in our lives if we are truly converted and numbered among God’s people: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-7). To the degree that these virtues are existent and growing in our lives, we can have assurance that we have truly been born again and become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4, 8). However, to the degree that these qualities are lacking, we should be concerned about our true spiritual condition. As Peter warns, "For he who lacks these things is shortsighted" (2 Pet. 1:9).
The Apostle John wrote his entire first epistle based on the premise that works are evidence of genuine saving faith and conversion. His epistle contains a number of qualities that will be manifest in varying degrees in the life of every true child of God. To the degree that these qualities are growing and observable realities, we may be assured that we possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). To the degree that they are lacking, we should be concerned about whether we are truly Christian.
Finally, James affirms that works are the product and evidence of genuine saving faith. Although he has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted, he is not denying the doctrine of justification by faith alone set forth by the Apostle Paul. Both men are writing about different sides of the same coin. Paul is addressing the cause of justification, and James is addressing the result of it. We are saved by faith alone. However, those who believe have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and brought under God’s providential care. For this reason, we can be confident that every true believer will bear fruit and demonstrate his faith through the works he does. James warns that "faith without works is dead" (2:26), and he challenges those who would say otherwise with the taunt, "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (2:18). For James, those who profess faith and yet bear no fruit are worse off than demons. At least demons have the sense to shudder (Jas. 2:19).
As I have stated, these teachings of Christ and the apostles are not denials of the essential Christian doctrine of justification by faith alone. They are simply affirming the universal truth that the inward reality of a thing is revealed by its accompanying character and deeds. It is also important to understand that neither Christ nor the apostles are teaching that only the most mature believers with nearly perfect fruit can be assured of their salvation. The best Christian among us will be sorely affected by his shortcomings and failings without number. We are all utterly and completely dependent upon grace and the tender mercies of God toward His people. Nevertheless, the true believer’s progress in the faith will be the crowning evidence that he has truly been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and is a child of God.
Preaching Must Include Warning
In light of these truths, it is painfully obvious that much of modern-day evangelistic preaching is shallow at best and despicable at its worst. In its superficial treatment of the Scriptures, much modern-day preaching promises salvation to any who will confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:9-10). However, many preachers do not further clarify this truth with the warning that many – even most – who make this confession will do so in a manner that is void of repentance and faith. To make matters even worse, preachers do not teach those who confess Christ how to determine whether their confession is true. Instead, they encourage them to be assured of their salvation based on their own evaluation of the sincerity with which they called upon Christ and confessed Him as Lord. Many have ignored the clear teaching of Scripture that calls people to make their calling and election sure by a thorough examination or testing of themselves in the light of Scripture (2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Pet. 1:10; 1 John 5:13) and to determine the validity of the confession by the quality of their fruit.
We must realize that the preaching of gospel promises must be accompanied by gospel warnings. The neglect of either will result in "a different gospel" which is really no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-7). Throughout the history of Christianity, the most godly ministers were marked by their balanced and consistent warnings to converts and congregants, but in our day such warnings are rare, and in many cases, they are nonexistent. At the moment of our greatest need, when the sword of impending judgment hangs over the heads of so many who confess Christ, few watchmen are willing to sound the horn. They do not alert the wicked, and their pulpits are splattered with the blood of those they refused to warn (Ezek. 33:6).
The need for clear, precise warnings becomes even more evident in light of the superficial, convenient, and man-centered gospel that is rampant in most evangelical churches. We are inundated with a gospel without demands or costs, that not only does not oppose the flesh but often caters to it. Ministers who ought to know better preach a God-dethroning, man-exalting message that can be received with the repetition of a prayer. Then, after only a few minor adjustments, the "convert" is allowed to continue upon the same broad road as before and travel hand-in-hand with a multitude of others who have found the same convenient faith, which is affirmed and defended by the religious authority who leads them and anesthetizes enough of the conscience to make it nearly impervious to the truth.
The greater part of the evangelical culture is held under the sway of its secular counterpart that exalts tolerance, broad-mindedness, inclusivity, and indulgences as the highest and most excellent of all virtues. The evangelical church’s members and preachers now pride themselves in their acceptance of one another’s doctrinal and ethical departures from the Scriptures without the slightest thought that these variances might be the evidence of their unregenerate state. Is it our love that causes us to be silent in the midst of so many doctrinal and ethical contradictions, or is it our ignorance of the Scriptures? Is it our love that restrains us from warning those who confess Christ but by their deeds deny Him, or is it self-preservation and a desire for the approval of men? A person’s confession of faith in Christ is not conclusive evidence of salvation. What then is the sign? What are the evidences that a person has truly come to know Him? Jesus is clear:
"You will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16, 20).
"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matt. 7:24).
– Taken from Gospel Assurance & Warnings by Paul Washer, chapter nineteen (pp. 230-235). Copyright © 2014 by Paul Washer. Published by Reformation Heritage Books. Used by permission. www.heritagebooks.org.