Spiritual Self-Deception
August 22, 2016

Sermon on the Mount
“Spiritual Self-Deception”


“One of the Scariest Verses in the Bible”

Matthew 7:21-23

Things are not always as they appear. The outside doesn’t always reflect what’s on the inside. Have you ever been around someone who claims to have a friendship or close relationship only to find out that it wasn’t as close as the person indicated?

That’s what we’re talking about tonight, but not with another person, but with God.

The English language is filled with inconsistencies. We drive in a parkway and park in a driveway. There’s no butter in buttermilk, egg in eggplant, ham in hamburger, or apple in pineapple. Quicksand is slow and boxing rings are square.

Now, while language inconsistencies are not all that significant in moving forward in life, inconsistencies in what we say and do are significant. Our words and deeds must be consistent in what we say we believe.

It’s like what we talked about last Sunday morning when looking at the attributes of a courageous heart, and that is it takes courage to be a Christian, to obey God’s word, and to stand up for what is right.

As we get close to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking about what happens when we choose the wrong path and follow the wrong teachers. One of the sad things about the passage is that many people who are on the wrong path think they’re on the right one. This is why I’ve chosen to subtitle tonight’s message “One of the Scariest Verses in the Bible.”

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!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Immediately we see a picture of people at the end of their path, a path they have chosen, and a path they have made for themselves. It’s a path that includes a little of Jesus mixed in with a lot of everything else.

Can you picture these people?

  • Maybe they were part of a church, or a member thereof.
  • Maybe they heard the sermons on how Jesus demanded first place in our lives, but it really didn’t fit into their lifestyle.
  • Maybe they believed that Jesus really didn’t mean those things about denying self or picking up their cross daily.
  • Maybe they really didn’t expect for Jesus to reign as Lord over their lives.

And so now they are coming before the throne of God and waving to Jesus saying, “Hey Jesus, here we are!” The fact that they cried out “Lord, Lord,” indicated they understood who Jesus was and thought they had made a commitment to Him.

This is why I’ve entitled tonight’s message as being spiritually self-deceived.

What Jesus is saying is that while they were on the earth they were only giving Him lip service, and that isn’t what God was and is looking for, and that’s because lip service without obedience is meaningless.

The prophet Isaiah said,

“These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.” (Isaiah 29:13)

They think they know God, but they don’t. Maybe they know about God, but they don’t know God personally. They think they are following His will when in realty they’re following the ways and rules of man.

William Barclay, pastor and author, said

There is only one way in which a man’s sincerity can be proved, and that is by his practice. Fine words can never be a substitute for fine deeds … So often we confess God with our lips and deny him with our lives. It is not difficult to recite a creed, but it is difficult to live the Christian life. Faith without practice is a contradiction in terms, and love without obedience is an impossibly.”

A life without “doing” the will of God cannot save us. Doing the will of God also doesn’t mean we are sinless or perfect, but it does mean our life is one that displays obedience to the will of God.

Jesus said,

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The writer of Hebrews said,

“For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end… And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 3:14; 5:9)

I’m not suggesting we have to be perfect, only that we do our best in surrendering our will to Jesus. God’s grace will make up where we fall short if we have given ourselves over to Him. We don’t do God’s will in order to receive salvation; we do it because we already possess salvation.

The Apostle James says that faith without works is useless and dead.

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? … Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14, 17)

The next thing we see from these people who now stand before Jesus is that they’re pleading for Jesus to let them in. Like Isaiah they are standing before a holy and righteous God and only now do they realize they’re not as secure as they once thought.

When Isaiah stood before the Lord this is how he saw himself, and remember, Isaiah was probably one of the most righteous men to have lived, and a prophet.

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

These people that Jesus is describing are now standing before Him trying to justify this overall lack of desire to put Him first. The pleading involves telling Jesus about all the good things they’ve done to “earn” a pass into heaven.

But we cannot earn our salvation by works. These people are laying out an impressive list of things they’ve done for the Lord, but still Jesus remains unimpressed, much the same way God was unimpressed with the people’s works during the time of the second temple.

Through the prophet Hosea the Lord said that the people’s faithfulness is like the morning dew, it soon evaporates. Then He said these words.

“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

I find it interesting that the false prophets we talked about last week are able to do the same things these people were pleading with Jesus over, and this is a very salient point, because it places them on the same playing field as false prophets.

They’re telling Jesus about all these miracles they were doing in His name, thinking that it was in His authority, and hence, His permission.

But Jesus said that this was definitely not the case. Instead Jesus said He didn’t even know them. This doesn’t mean, however, that Jesus didn’t know what they were doing. He knew, but He also knew they were doing it for their own glory, not His. They were using His name for show, not for real.

Back when Billy Graham got started, a famous gangster named Mickey Cohen attended one of his crusades. Now while few people knew about Billy Graham, everyone knew about Mickey Cohen. Even though Cohen didn’t make a commitment that night, later he did with a friend.

News of his conversion spread and the ministry of Graham became well known. There was only one problem, however, Mickey Cohen’s life never changed. When his friend confronted him about these inconsistencies, Cohen said, “You didn’t tell me I would have to give up my work (meaning being a gangster). You didn’t tell me I would have to give up my friends (meaning gangsters).

Mickey Cohen had heard that “so-in-so,” was a Christian athlete or actor, so he thought he could be a Christian gangster.

The people Jesus is describing didn’t have a relationship with Him, therefore, nothing they did warranted them getting into heaven. Religion won’t make a person right with God, only a personal relationship with Jesus will do. And God is all about relationship. It’s in relationship with Jesus that we will then be motivated to do those things that are pleasing to Him.

Jesus said,

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21)

Now, as we look at these last words of Jesus, consider the faces of these people, and the tragedy of the scene as Jesus tells them what they feared to hear.

“I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23)

The command to depart is the death blow, it’s the final sentence to hell, and is similar to another judgment Jesus also makes.

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41)

Jesus says that they were practicing “lawlessness.” The word indicates that they were practicing a continuous and regular pattern of sin and an unrighteous lifestyle.

John MacArthur, pastor and author, said,

When we practice lawlessness we do not recognize or confess our sins nor hunger for righteousness. All religious activity, no matter how orthodox and fervent, that does not result from obedience to the lordship of Christ and the pursuit of His glory is rebellion against the law of God, which demands heart conformity.”

The Apostle Paul said,

“Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’” (2 Timothy 2:19)

But how could Jesus condemn them without taking all this into account. There is an engraving from the cathedral of Lubeck, Germany, which beautifully reflects our Lord’s teaching.

Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us, You call Me master and obey Me not, you call Me light and see Me not, you call Me the way and walk Me not, you call Me life and live Me not, you call Me wise and follow Me not, you call Me fair and love Me not, you call Me rich and ask Me not, you call Me eternal and seek Me not, if I condemn thee, blame Me not.”

Coming from a church, this makes this statement even more poignant. Sadly there are many who are in Christian circles that profess to know Jesus Christ but are not saved. They have never admitted they are sinners, turned from their sins to Jesus Christ, and then trusted Him by faith to redeem them.

Today churches are filled with people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

And so for those who proclaim, “Lord, Lord,” and do not know Him personally as Lord, how deep is the darkness they’re living in.

This is the world we’re living in. There are millions upon millions of people who have bought into the religious lie thinking they’re okay with God because they are a part of this or that religion, relying upon a religion, their relationship with a church, or good works to get them in.

How deep is the darkness they’re living in? It’s so dark they think it’s light.

Here are the sad facts.

  • In spite of all the church and cathedrals that Christianity has erected, not all who attend will be saved.
  • In spite of the hundreds of Christian TV stations and radio channels, not everyone who watches or listens will be saved.
  • In spite of the missionaries we send to foreign countries, not everyone they witness to will be saved.

Who can be saved?

After hearing Jesus say that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man entering into heaven, His disciples asked Him this very question, “Who then can be saved.” Jesus’ answer is quite illuminating.

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

The Apostle Paul adds these words for our instruction

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The message then is let’s not be deceived thinking that just because someone comes to church or grew up in a church is saved. Only belief in Jesus and a personal relationship with Him will do.

Remember what Jesus said to these who tried to get into heaven by saying, “Lord, Lord,” thinking that somehow they knew Him. He said, “I never knew you.”

It’s not that someone knows about Jesus, it’s whether or not Jesus knows about them, or better yet, whether Jesus knows them. 0

Therefore let’s not be deceived thinking that we’re righteous enough on our won or that our good works will get us into heaven.


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