34. Marks Of True Faith (Matthew 7:21-29)Related Media
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!” When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law.
Matthew 7:21-29 (NET)
How can we distinguish true faith from false faith—true believers from false ones?
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught about the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven and its citizens. They are the poor in spirit—when the world doesn’t recognize their need for God, true believers do, and they cry out to him for salvation and sanctification (Matt 5:3). They are the mourners—when the world enjoys and promotes sin, kingdom citizens mourn over it (Matt 5:4). They are more than just outwardly righteous, like the Pharisees and religious leaders, they practice an inward righteousness (Matt 5:20). They pursue this inner righteousness through spiritual disciplines like giving, praying, fasting, and confessing sin (Matt 6). As they get rid of sin in their own lives, they help others do the same in order to honor God (Matt 7:1-6).
In Matthew 7:13-14, Christ began his conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. He called people to choose between two pathways—the narrow road of the kingdom of heaven which leads to life or the broad road of the world which leads to destruction. By mentioning the narrow road, he describes how hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is not the path of least resistance—it is the hard road. It is difficult to find and difficult to follow. To compound the difficulty of getting into the kingdom, Christ shares that there are false prophets who deceive people and keep them off the narrow road (v. 15-20).
Finally, Christ concludes his sermon by describing another common reason people are kept out of the kingdom of heaven—simply self-deception. Yes, some are deceived by false prophets, but others deceive themselves! The reality of false and true believers is reiterated throughout Scripture. In Matthew 25:1-12, Christ describes ten virgins—five with oil and five without. When the bridegroom—Christ—returns, the five without oil try to enter the wedding banquet, but Christ says to them, “I don’t know you.” Also, in Matthew 25:31-46, at Christ’s return, he will separate the sheep and goats. Both call him Lord, but only the sheep enter into eternal life. In Matthew 13, Christ describes the kingdom as wheat and weeds (v. 36-43), good fish and bad ones (v. 47-50)—all representing the reality of true and false believers in the church.
It is because of this reality that Scripture commands Christ’s followers to “make their calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) and to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). Sadly, many have been taught that if they simply said a prayer or professed Christ, they are saved and should never doubt it—they have a flawed view of assurance of salvation. However, there are many who will call Christ Lord in the last days, who have served him in the church—casting out demons and prophesying in his name—who will be excluded from life. They were deceived about their salvation—they really were on the broad road that led to destruction. The kingdom of heaven is truly difficult to enter!
In Matthew 7:21-29, Christ describes those who profess Christ as Lord but are excluded from the kingdom. He describes them not only as self-deceived, but also people who built their religious houses on a sandy foundation which eventually will be destroyed at God’s judgment.
In this study, we will consider marks of true faith which distinguish authentic believers from false ones.
Big Question: What are marks of true faith which distinguish authentic believers from false ones?
True Faith Is More than an Orthodox Profession of Christ
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven
Observation Question: What are some positive aspects of the false believers’ profession?
Christ describes how there will be some who stand before him on the day of judgment (cf. Matt 25:41) and call him, “Lord, Lord,” but will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the profession. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Every true believer calls Christ, “Lord.” The profession is spectacular on many fronts: (1) By calling Christ, “Lord,” it was courteous and respectful. (2) By calling him “Lord,” it represented orthodox theology, as it probably refers to his deity. The Greek word can simply mean “sir”; however, it was commonly used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the word “Yahweh.”1 This person knew that Christ was more than a man, he was God. (3) The fact that “Lord” is repeated twice means that it was fervent and passionate. (4) It also seems to be a public profession, as it was done on the day of judgment. Again, this confession is spectacular. John Stott said this about the profession:
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 judgment.2
The problem with this orthodox profession is that it is by itself. Simple belief without an act of the will does not save. James said that even the demons believe there is one God (Jam 2:19)—they are monotheistic and yet are not saved. Demons have orthodox faith but are not part of the kingdom.
Sadly, many are raised in the church and have an orthodox profession but are not truly saved. Kent Hughes said this:
All true Christians say, “Lord, Lord.” But not all who say “Lord, Lord” are true Christians! Intellectual orthodoxy does not indicate saving faith. You can be absolutely correct in your belief about Christ’s nature and person, his substitutionary atonement, his resurrection, and his return, you can have even fought against heretics, and yet not be truly saved.3
This is important to hear because some think that orthodox belief alone saves. This view is called “Free Grace Theology”—opponents call it “Easy Believism.” They would say one does not need to commit to Christ, be a disciple, or repent of sins in order to be saved. Salvation comes by intellectual belief alone. However, this text, as well as many others would deny this. There is no true salvation without discipleship, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ wholeheartedly (cf. Lk 14:25-33, Acts 2:38). Any other profession is simply a false one.
Application Question: How have you experienced “Easy Believism”—profession without repentance, commitment, and discipleship?
True Faith Is More than a Seemingly Successful Ministry
On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?
Interpretation Question: Were the miracles of these false believers genuine or false?
These false believers also professed many mighty works done in the name of Christ. They prophesied, cast out demons, and did many powerful deeds. Certainly, these professors could have been lying or the works they did could have been done through demonic power—just like Pharaoh’s sorcerers who mimicked Moses. However, what’s interesting is Christ doesn’t rebuke them. He doesn’t declare that their works were dubious or demonically inspired. This lends to the fact that they were genuine—though the faith of these professors was not. How can this be?
Certainly, this was true of Judas, who wasn’t truly saved and ultimately betrayed Christ. Christ empowered the disciples, including Judas, to preach the good news, cast out demons, and perform miracles (Matt 10:1-8). Judas performed these works and yet wasn’t truly a believer. In John 6:64, Christ said Judas didn’t believe in him, and in John 6:70-71, Christ called him a devil. However, Christ’s power worked through him.
Similarly, God anointed Balaam, a prophet of Baal, to bless Israel and give a prophesy about the coming messiah (Num 23). Caiaphas, the high priest who helped put Christ to death, also prophesied about Christ’s coming (John 11:51-52).
It must be remembered that performing miracles, giving great messages, and having many converts aren’t proof of true salvation. God can empower a donkey to speak for him (Num 22). Christ said that if others don’t speak for God, even the rocks will cry out (Lk 19:40). Empowerment and fruitfulness is not proof of God’s favor or salvation.
Sadly, a successful or fervent ministry often becomes a means of assurance for many professing believers. They were raised as pastors’ kids or missionaries’ kids and have always served the church. However, service is not proof of salvation. Even more damaging is that there are many like Judas who have big ministries and well-known Christian names who are not saved. A successful ministry is not proof of regeneration. The Lord has always used even unbelievers to get his works done.
For this reason, maybe it is those who serve in and lead ministries who are most prone to self-deception. Like the Pharisees, they think their study of Scripture and serving others are proof of their eternal life (cf. John 5:39); however, they’re not. True faith is more than having a seemingly effective ministry.
Application Question: Why are those who serve and lead ministries more prone to being self-deceived about their salvation? In what ways have you seen or experienced this?
True Faith Is More than Attending Church, Listening to Sermons, and Reading Scripture
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”
To further illustrate the reality of false faith, Christ describes two builders who built houses on different foundations—rock and sand. Both builders hear God’s Word. This could mean they potentially attend the same church and hear the same biblical sermons. They both read the Bible and probably use the same Christian lingo. On the exterior they look the same, but on the foundation, or heart level, they were completely different. One of them was just a listener—he never put what was learned into practice. He was just a hearer of God’s Word. He may have enjoyed learning and might have been a seminary professor, Christian author, or pastor. Like the Pharisees and scribes, this person loved Scripture; however, he failed to properly apply it.
James, whose epistle many believe is a practical commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, said this: “But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves” (Jam 1:22). What are they deceived about? They are deceived about their faith. It is not genuine.
Similarly, Christ says this about those who simply listen: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (v. 26). The word “foolish” is the same Greek word that we get the English word “moron” from.4 Sadly, there are many like this in the church. Scripture says that Herod loved to listen to John the Baptist preach (Mark 6:20), and yet, eventually put him to death. No doubt, some who marveled at Christ’s words at the end of this sermon (v. 28-29), eventually cried out, “Crucify him!” before his death. Being a hearer of God’s Word is not a proof of salvation.
Many love to read the Bible, listen to it preached, and try to understand its mysteries. Who wouldn’t want to study the most quoted, translated, and sold book ever? There is no book like it! However, to listen alone does not prove one has saving faith. Yet, the church is filled with people like this every Sunday. Like Judas, they listen intently, but they live very differently throughout the week. They have false faith. It is not genuine. They are deceiving themselves (cf. Jam 1:22).
Application Question: What makes the Bible attractive even to those who aren’t truly saved? Why is it so easy to study it and yet not obey it?
True Faith Includes a Lifestyle of Obedience to God’s Word
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…
Interpretation Question: How can we reconcile Christ’s declaration that only those who do the Father’s will enter the kingdom of heaven with Scripture’s teaching of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone (cf. Eph 2:8-9)?
Returning to the first illustration, after Christ declares that an orthodox profession is not enough, he says that only those who do God’s will enter heaven. Does this mean people are saved by their works? No, Scripture teaches that all are saved by grace through faith, but that true faith produces godly works (Eph 2:8-10). With that said, Scripture also declares saving faith is an act of obedience to God. John 6:28-29 says: “So then they said to him, ‘What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.’” To believe in Christ is the beginning of obedience to God and the door to true salvation. John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” As mentioned, this belief is more than intellectual. It includes an act of the will—a commitment to follow and obey Christ as Lord.
The proof of this belief is a life that continually seeks to obey God’s Word. John 8:31 says, “‘If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Only those who continue in God’s Word—meaning studying and obeying it—are truly saved. John said it this way:
Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him. The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.
1 John 2:3-6
Only those who obey the Father will enter into heaven. Are you obeying? Are you committed to a lifetime of studying God’s Word, so you can properly understand it and obey it?
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to grow in studying his Word so you can properly obey him better? What are your major hindrances to obeying God?
True Faith Includes a Growing and Abiding Relationship with Christ
Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!
Again, in the first illustration, Christ simply replied to the one with orthodox theology and a spectacular ministry with, “I never knew you.” “To know” was a Hebrew idiom used of intimate relations. It was often used in the Old Testament for sexual intimacy (cf. Gen 4:1, 17 in KJV).5 Certainly, this professor had some knowledge of Christ. Even Judas was Christ’s friend. But Judas, because he never truly repented, didn’t know Christ in a saving manner. True salvation brings an intimate relationship with God. Christ said, “This is eternal life, to know God and Christ who God sent” (John 17:3 paraphrase). In Romans 8:15, Paul said that the Spirit of God enables believers to cry “Abba Father.” True salvation creates an intimate relationship with the Lord that will continually grow throughout eternity.
In Philippians 3:8, 10-11, Paul said this about his salvation experience:
More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ … My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
To Paul, everything was a liability or a loss compared to knowing Christ. He wanted to experience Christ’s power, suffering, death, and resurrection. Paul was consumed with the man he met on the day of his conversion. It should be the same for us. We will never know him perfectly on this earth, but we should desire to grow in this intimacy with him throughout our lives. Moses, who knew God intimately, cried out, “Show me your glory!” (Ex 33:18). David, who was a man after God’s own heart, said that he desired God like a deer pants for water (Ps 42:1).
Are you seeking to grow in your knowledge of God? Did your conversion create an insatiable desire in you to know God and his Word more? Christ described true believers as those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Are you hungering and thirsting to know God more?
Application Question: How have you experienced an insatiable desire to grow in intimacy with God? Why do we at times lack a desire to know God more? How is God calling you to cultivate your current desire for him?
True Faith Includes a Life of Repentance—Turning away from Sin
Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
Next, Christ says to the person with orthodox theology and an impressive spiritual resume, “Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” “Lawbreakers” or it can be translated “workers of iniquity” is a present indicative verb in the original language—indicating continuous, regular action.6 This means that Christ is not simply talking about someone who sins. Every person sins, including true believers. Christ refers to those practicing a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. The very fact that someone who professes Christ fights against their sin, seeks to repent, and continually gets right with God is an assurance of their salvation. The problem with these professors is that they lacked that. They lived like the world—a lifestyle of enjoying and probably, at times, promoting sin—not running away from it.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul said this:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
It is not that the righteous don’t struggle with these things, it’s that they don’t live a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. If they struggle with lust or dishonesty, they may fall down, but they won’t stay down. The Spirit inside of them won’t let them stay down. Proverbs 24:16 says that the righteous person falls seven times but gets back up. John MacArthur said it this way:
When a couple lives together without being married, when a person practices homosexuality, is deceptive and dishonest in business, is hateful and vengeful, or habitually practices any sin without remorse or repentance, such persons cannot be Christian-no matter what sort of experience they claim to have had or what sort of testimony they now make. God’s Word is explicit: “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived.”7
The very fact that Paul says, “Do not be deceived,” (both in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Ephesians 5:6) means that some in the early church were trying to deceive believers. In 1 Corinthians 6:13, Paul seems to quote some of the twisted logic of these people in the church: “‘Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both.’ The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” When talking about sex, these false teachers said, “Having sex is totally normal! It’s biological just like eating food.” However, Paul said that our bodies were made for the Lord. The same type of language is used today to support sex before marriage, homosexuality, etc. They would say that it’s biological, totally normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. However, Scripture says, “Don’t be deceived! God will judge people for lifestyles of sexual immorality. Those who practice it will not enter the kingdom of heaven!”
The church is full of those who twist Scripture and lead many down the broad road—the easy path—that is acceptable to the rest of the world. However, the narrow path is difficult, and it is the only one that leads to life. True salvation includes repentance—a turning away from sin to follow Christ in salvation and a continual turning away from sin as we follow him in sanctification.
Are you repenting of sin or living in it like the world? A tree is known by its fruit (Matt 7:17-20).
Application Question: In what ways are liberal views of sin, especially sexual sin, which say that it is acceptable and normal, entering the church? How have you experienced this? How should Christians respond to this reality?
True Faith Perseveres through Trials
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.
Interpretation Question: What is Christ referring to when he describes the storm that destroys the false professor’s spiritual house?
In the second illustration, when Christ refers to the storm that beats down on the houses, it potentially refers to two things: The first one is trials. The fact that the storm destroys the spiritual house of a false professor proves that his faith was spurious. True faith that is built on God’s Word lasts during trials, while false faith doesn’t. Several passages support this. First Peter 1:6-7 says:
This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Peter said that the trials these believers were encountering revealed the “proven character” of their faith. It can also be translated, “These trials show that your faith is genuine” (NLT). Trials prove whether our faith is genuine or not. In Matthew 13:21, Christ described a person with shallow faith: “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.” When trials come, especially those dealing with persecution over God’s Word, they immediately fall away. If professing Christ means being persecuted, they will say nothing or leave Christ. If God doesn’t answer a prayer and allows them to go through a trial, they become angry at God and turn their back on him. If the Bible teaches something they don’t agree with—the wife’s submission to her husband, that sexual immorality is sin, etc.—they turn away. Sometimes they leave the faith all together. At other times, they twist the faith to suit their beliefs which ultimately means they are no longer building on the rock of God’s Word, which will be proven in the final judgment.
We get a good picture of how trials prove faith in comparing the denials of Christ by Peter and Judas. Both denied Christ, but Peter came back—his faith was genuine. However, Judas never returned—his faith was false. He instead killed himself.
What do trials say about your faith? Do trials push you closer to God or further away from him? Is your faith genuine or spurious?
Application Question: How have trials drawn you closer to Christ or pushed you away from him? How have you seen trials push those who formerly professed Christ away from him?
True Faith Will Be Revealed at the Final Judgment
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.
The storm not only represents trials in general, but it also specifically represents God’s final judgment. In the Old Testament, storms were often used as symbols of God’s judgment—especially the final judgment.8 For example, Ezekiel 13:13-14 says:
“‘Therefore this is what the sovereign Lord says: In my rage I will make a violent wind break out. In my anger there will be a deluge of rain and hailstones in destructive fury. I will break down the wall you coated with whitewash and knock it to the ground so that its foundation is exposed. When it falls you will be destroyed beneath it, and you will know that I am the Lord.
Also, the fact that Christ is referring to the final judgment is clear from the context. To conclude his sermon, Christ warned people of the final judgment to turn them to the narrow road. He taught that the broad way leads to destruction (v. 13), following false teachers and therefore bearing bad fruit leads to being thrown in the fire (v. 19), and that profession without obedience leads to being turned away from Christ (v. 23). The spiritual house of this professor being destroyed speaks of the same judgment (v. 24-25).
Some will follow Christ simply because of understanding God’s love and all that he has done for us, but others (and maybe most) will only turn to the narrow road because of fear of judgment—fear of hell. For this reason, Christ speaks about hell twice as much as heaven.9 It is a real place of eternal, burning torment, just as heaven is a real place of eternal blessing. At the end of Christ’s sermon, he essentially says, “Waste no time! Turn from the broad road! Turn from your life of sin! Turn from your cultural religion to a true faith! Today is the day of salvation, for tomorrow is not guaranteed!” Therefore, we must also warn others of judgment, just like our Lord did. For some, only the threat of eternal fire will turn them to Christ. Lord, have mercy.
Application Question: What was the primary aspect of God’s character that turned you to Christ for salvation? Was it God’s love or God’s justice (i.e. fear of hell) that drew you to him, and why?
The church is full of weeds and wheat, bad fish and good fish, virgins without oil and virgins with oil, and goats and sheep. There will always be those who profess Christ but lack the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. There is no growth in holiness, no fear of God, and no cross in their life. They are on the broad road. They claim a cheap grace instead of a costly grace. They will ultimately be turned away from God on the day of judgment. They were never truly saved.
For this reason, Scripture calls us to make our calling and election sure by growing in Christ and pursuing holiness (2 Peter 1:5-11). We are called to prove our repentance by our good deeds—producing fruits worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20, Matt 3:8). We are called to examine ourselves to see if Christ is really in us (2 Cor 13:5). Is Christ in you? Do you possess marks of true faith?
- True Faith Is More than an Orthodox Profession of Christ
- True Faith Is More than a Seemingly Successful Ministry
- True Faith Is More than Attending Church, Listening to Sermons, and Reading Scripture
- True Faith Includes a Lifestyle of Obedience to God’s Word
- True Faith Includes a Growing and Abiding Relationship with Christ
- True Faith Includes a Life of Repentance—Turning away from Sin
- True Faith Perseveres through Trials
- True Faith Will Be Revealed at the Final Judgment
Application Question: How should people examine the reality of their faith? What are some helpful texts to use (cf. Matt 5:3-10, 1 John, James)? How often have you received teaching on the topic of assurance of salvation (i.e. How to know whether we are truly saved)? Why is having assurance of salvation so important?
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 477). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 207). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
3 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 255). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
4 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 257–258). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 479). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 479). Chicago: Moody Press.
7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 475). Chicago: Moody Press.
8 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
9 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 259). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.