In the closing part of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus shows the importance of obedience. He declares that the one who enters the kingdom of heaven will be “he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
Surely obedience is learned in this section, but we can also learn what isn’t obedience in these verses. There are many individuals in our society today who believe they are accepted by God, but the things to which they appeal to prove this acceptability are the things that Jesus shows are no proof at all.
In verse 21 Jesus speaks of some individuals who were calling upon him as Lord, but he says to them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). I have heard individuals at funerals say that if the deceased just had a moment to call upon Jesus as Lord that the person would have been saved, but Jesus clearly shows here that there is more to it than just praying.
In Acts 9:11 Ananias was told to go to Saul who was praying at the house of Judas. When Ananias got there to tell the penitent persecutor what he “must do” (Acts 9:6), notice that he did not tell him to keep on praying. Instead he said, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Proverbs 28:9 says, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” God hears only those who are willing to obey him. Thus what Peter said, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Pet 2:12)
In Matthew 7:22 Jesus tells of some folks who said they “prophesied … cast our demons . . . and did many wonders. ” But it was to this same crowd that the Lord said, “I never knew you.” I don’t believe the modern “miracle workers” actually perform miracles. But even if they did, that fact in itself would not prove acceptability with God.
Just because someone could prophesy did not mean they taught the truth of God on every other subject. Balaam prophesied the truth on one occasion, but he also led the people of God astray (Num. 24:2-4; Rev. 2:14). Deuteronomy 13:1-5 tells of a prophet who might accurately foretell some event but who also urged the people to “go after other gods.” The people were not to listen to such a person because the Lord was using this one to test the people. John 11:49-52 records the prophecy of Caiaphas. Do you believe this high priest who sought the death of Jesus was a loyal subject of God just because he prophesied truthfully?
Just because someone could cast out demons did not mean he was accepted by God. Let’s remember that Judas Iscariot cast out demons (Mk. 3:14-15,19). Jesus asked the Jews in Matthew 112:27, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?” Acts 19:13 tells “of the itinerant Jewish exorcists.”
And just because someone could perform miracles did not mean they were right with God. Balaam’s donkey spoke in an “unknown tongue” (Num. 22:27-30), but do we expect to see it in heaven? Jesus predicted, “For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mk. 13:22). The lawless one would come “with all power, signs, and lying wonders” and some would “believe the lie” (2 Thess. 2:9-12). Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 that it takes more than just performing a miracle.
While these individuals claimed to do things in the name of the Lord, Jesus said to them, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23). Paul urged the Corinthians “not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor. 4:6). When individuals act without the authority of Jesus they will be condemned. John also warns us not to support the false teacher who “transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ.” If we do, we share “in his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11). So you need to remember, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving things to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).
Jesus closes this section by telling of the disaster which comes upon the man who hears only. He said, “Now 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. 7:26-27).
James also speaks about this type of person. He wrote, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (Jam. 1:23-24). He adds that the blessed man is one who “is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work” (Jam. 1:25).
How sad it is to see those who hear and know the truth but will not act upon it. Like the wayside soil in the Parable of the Sower, they are the “ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). In contrast we read in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophesy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
Conclusion: Let’s not fall into the trap of believing that any of the above items can take the place of obedience. For our house to stand, we must be like the wise man who heard and did what Jesus had to say (Matt. 7:24-25). Build on the Rock by obeying the saving gospel of Christ (Rom 10:10 f; Acts 2:38), and continuing in the doctrine of Christ and his apostles (2 Jn 9). Those who remain faithful having obeyed all the God requires shall be saved (Jam 1:12 f; Rev 2:10). This is the perfect will of God (Rom 12:2).