21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)!
Self-identifying as a Christian does not make it so. The identifying mark of one who enters the kingdom of heaven is doing the will of God the Father who is in heaven. Self-identifying as a prophet of Christ does not make it so. Jesus has just warned of false prophets whose fruit is against the word of God (Matt. 7:15-20). Self-identifying as a miracle worker does not make it so. The incident of the sons of Sceva reminds us that only Christ’s apostles and prophets worked miracles (Mark 16:17-20; Acts 19:11-16; Heb. 2:3-4). Self-identifying as a wonderworker does not make it so. Simon amazed many Samaritans with his sorcery until Philip worked miracles by the power of God (Acts 8:5-13). Jesus does not receive those who “practice lawlessness” (iniquity). We do the will of the Father by looking into and living by His law, the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:23-25). Let us carefully do God’s word and not be among those who identify with Jesus but do not obey God’s word (James 1:23-24). Only sadness and sorrow await those who practice lawlessness and hear Christ say, “Depart from Me!”
12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. 13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:12–13, NKJV)
It is vital we understand our transgressions so we can repent, be forgiven, and guard against continuing to practice them. God’s word identifies our sins, converts the soul, enlightens our eyes, warns us against iniquity, and assures reward to those who keep His commands (Psa. 19:7-11). God’s word helps us avoid “secret faults.” By learning His truth we are helped to perceive sins otherwise hidden from our consciousness. Furthermore, we are warned not to try to hide our sins, because secret sins are not secret to God (Psa. 90:8). “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Understanding our errors through God’s word also protects us from “presumptuous sins.” Willful, high-handed sin is tantamount to rebellion against God (Deut. 1:43). David did not want sin to rule him, either by hiding it or by arrogantly committing it. His desire was to be blameless (upright) and innocent, cleansed by God of his transgressions. Similarly, Christians must not be ruled by sin (Rom. 6:12-15). We died to sin when we were baptized into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3-4). If Christians continue to practice sin, whether by hiding it or by arrogantly rebelling against God’s will, the result will be eternal death (Rom. 6:1-2, 21-23).
In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil. (Proverbs 16:6, NKJV)
One would be hard-pressed to find a more concise description of God’s part and man’s part in salvation “by grace…through faith” (unless it is this quote from Ephesians 2:8-9). God provides atonement for our sins out of the abundance of His mercy, revealing it by His word of truth. As the apostle Paul noted, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5). God’s kind love and generous gift of mercy saves us. Yet, without the faith that comes from “the fear of the Lord,” one will not depart from evil to be saved. As Peter said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). Without God’s mercy we could not be saved. Without God’s truth we would not know we were lost in sin, and we could not have faith to fear Him and work that righteousness that He accepts. Truly, in God’s salvation “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psa. 85:10). God’s mercy is offered to you. His truth commands you to believe and do His will. If you will fear the Lord and obey His gospel in faith, you will receive atonement for your sins (read Acts 2:36-41).
21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)
Calling Jesus your Lord and Savior is not sufficient to assure your entrance into heaven (v. 21). Saying “Lord, Lord” but not doing what Jesus says does not please Him (Luke 6:46). We must do the Father’s will to enter heaven. This teaches us faith alone is not acceptable to Jesus. Well-intended religious activities are not sufficient to insure entrance into heaven, either (v. 22). Declaring to act in the name of Jesus does not make it so. Verse 23 explains that even well-meaning actions that are not approved in the word of God, are lawless (without law, not sanctioned by God’s law), and therefore, rejected. When religious practices are not revealed in the word of God they are lawless (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 John 3:4). Heaven is for those who are doers of the word. So, do the will of God and do not rest your hope of heaven on well-intended practices that are not approved by God’s word.
3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. 4 Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies. (Psalm 141:3–4, NKJV)
The enticements of evil are prevalent and powerful. Those who practice sin allure the innocent to join them with offerings of personal pleasure and satisfaction. “Their delicacies” are designed to tempt, but leave the soul famished and starved of righteousness. One’s heart must not be willing to accept the temptations to join with evil and practice sin. Like David, petition God to set a guard over your mouth, that you will not utter compliance and agreement with evil. We cannot eat appetizers from the table of sin, without becoming workers of iniquity. Pray tell: how many delicacies off the table of iniquity can one eat (how much sin can one commit) without causing spiritual harm? To ask such a question is to answer it! Therefore, we must always “depart from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:10-11). Do not play around with sin. Protect yourself from the delicacies of those who practice sin. You cannot “partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21).
16 Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity? 17 Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence. 18 If I say, “My foot slips,” Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. 19 In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul. (Psalm 94:16–19, NKJV)
The Lord has not promised to remove Christians from the hour of trial and trouble. Indeed, He did not remove His own Son from trouble. Jesus said, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27). God’s purposes are served, even when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. God did not abandon His Son, and He will not abandon you. He is our refuge and strength when evildoers press upon us. He delivers us from the depths of despair. His presence, power and mercy delights the soul, especially in the face of unsettling troubles. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37).
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2, NKJV)
Sin is real. So is God’s forgiveness. Sadly, many refuse God’s forgiveness because they refuse to acknowledge their sin and its spiritual impact on them. And so, they continue in sin’s sorrow. It need not be so. In today’s passage, the Spirit of God gave David three Hebrew words to use in contemplation of the blessedness of divine mercy: transgression, sin and iniquity. “Transgression” is a revolt or rebellion against God and His will. “Sin,” as used here, is an offense against God. “Iniquity” is perversity, moral evil, lawlessness. There is no blessing when we live in rebellion against God, offending His will with our evil attitude and actions. Sin causes eternal death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). “By grace, through faith,” God will forgive your sins in the Son (Ephesians 2:8). Jesus “gave Himself for our sins,” “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18). Admit your sins. Come to Jesus Christ in faith, do His will, and you will have the blessedness of God’s forgiveness (read Acts 2:37-41).
25 Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. (Ezekiel 18:25–26, NKJV)
When pointing out the Bible teaches it is possible for a Christian to fall away from Christ and be lost, we hear the same objection that was made by Israel in the days of Ezekiel: “That’s not fair!” (See yesterday’s Sword Tips #1078 on Ezekiel 18:24, as well as Gal. 5:4; 1 Tim. 4:1-3.) Nevertheless, God rebuts and rejects that objection for what it is, an inversion of the truth of the matter (cf. Isa. 5:20). God said it is unfair to conclude that a person can be rewarded, even though he “turns away from his righteousness” and “commits iniquity” (v. 26). It is a slanderous and appalling insult against God and His justice to propose that one can do evil and the outcome be good (Rom. 3:8). “The soul who sins, shall die” is given as a warning that sin – whether committed by God’s people or by God’s enemies – will receive a just and impartial punishment (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Rom. 2:6-11). Be careful not to attribute any unfairness to the Lord God. Instead, let us humbly conform our faith and our lives to His word, because “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psa. 19:9).
But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18:24, NKJV)
We are tempted to think of our lives like scales, and as long as the good outweighs the bad, we are okay. But, God will not judge us based on whether we have more good than bad, or vice versa. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Today’s verse assures us that if we turn away from righteousness and commit iniquity (lawlessness against God), our righteous deeds will not be remembered. We will experience the punishment of death because of our unfaithfulness. The guilt of our sin brings eternal death (Rom. 6:23). This is another verse that teaches the possibility of apostasy. If it is true that once you are saved you can never be lost, then this verse is meaningless and God’s word is false. John said, “everyone who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jno. 3:7). But if we commit sin, we commit lawlessness (1 Jno. 3:4). We cannot live in sin and be counted righteous. Let us heed Ezekiel’s warning and not turn away from righteousness, but instead, pursue it (2 Tim. 2:22).
5 You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways. You are indeed angry, for we have sinned— In these ways we continue; and we need to be saved. 6 But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:5–6, NKJV)
Far from confirming the false teaching of total depravity and a “sin nature” inherent in humanity, this passage explains the sinfulness of a rebellious nation. Neither does it teach that we can do nothing that impacts our salvation. Israel had turned from God’s ways to idolatry, eliciting God’s wrath (“we have sinned,” v. 5). Indeed, even after repeated warnings, Israel continued in the ways of sin instead of turning back to God’s “old paths, where the good way is” (Jer. 6:16; Isa. 65:2-3). The people needed to be saved. None of their sacrifices pleased God; in their sin they were unclean like a defiled garment (Isa. 1:10-15). It was their sins (not some “sin nature”) that separated them from their God (Isa. 59:2). Like Israel, God’s people can still turn away from God’s way, become defiled in sin, and face divine wrath. God spares the one who “rejoices and does righteousness” (v. 5; Acts 10:35). But, those who practice sin are like a dead leaf, blown away by the wind. So, rejoice in God’s salvation and walk in “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).