“I fear for the future of authentic faith in our country. We live in a time when the common man in our country is thoroughly influenced by the current climate in which the cultural and educational elite propagates an anti-Christian message,” so wrote William Wilberforce in 1797.
Wilberforce helped abolish the slave trade in the United Kingdom and called Christians to live a more authentic life of faith over two hundred years ago. The timeless truths he proclaimed should inform Christians today, they should be a wake up call and warning for believers to eschew cultural Christianity in favor of a real faith in Christ.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus contrasts those who profess to follow Jesus – they call Him “Lord, Lord” – yet do not do what God requires, and those (the contrast is implied, though it is not explicitly stated) who do the will of God and thereby prove that their discipleship is genuine (Matthew 5.21-23). If the contrast between the two gates or paths (vv.13-14) describes apathy and the contrast between the true and false teachers (vv.15-20) describes deceit, this contrast describes hypocrisy. It is professing faith in Jesus Christ while actually rejecting or disobeying Him.
At this point in Christ’s applications we sense an intensifying evil. Adherence to the teaching of false prophets in Jesus’ second example (vv.15-20) is worse than the apathy of the first (vv.13-14), and the hypocrisy of the third example (vv.21-23) is worse than the deception of the second. In the second case, the potential disciple has been led astray by others. In the illustration we are looking at now, the disciple is false himself since he is professing one thing while practicing another. Two important matters are worth looking at.
First, this person has the right doctrines. He calls Jesus “Lord, Lord,” confessing Jesus’ deity and professing that He is his master. But he is not following Jesus as his master. There were times in Jesus’ ministry when people called Him Lord, meaning perhaps no more than “Sir.” Lord was a title of respect. But here a great deal more is involved, for it is Jesus who is speaking, and He is using the word with the richest possible meaning. In the Old Testament, Lord is usually translated “Jehovah,” a name for God. In New Testament settings the equivalent word is kyrios, the title by which citizens of the Roman Empire addressed the emperor as a god. What Jesus is saying is that there will be people in the Church who will confess His divinity but who will not be saved. They will be on the expansive road to hell.
Can that really be? Absolutely, it can! A person can sit in the pews of a Church for years, firmly believing that Jesus is God, that He died on the cross for sin, and even that He is returning one day to judge the world, yet never have come to the point of actually trusting that same Jesus Christ as his Savior. This was the case with Martin Luther. Luther left secular life to enter the monastery of the Augustinian hermits in Erfurt, Germany. He was ordained to the priesthood and made rapid progress as a monk. He studied the Bible and even lectured on Psalms, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and Titus. If someone had asked him in those days if he believed in the deity of Jesus Christ, he would have replied, “Of course, I do. I have always believed it.” He would have confessed that Jesus died for sinners. He would have professed belief in Christ’s eventual return in judgment, though he would have added, “I tremble at the thought.”
Luther believed the right doctrines, but he did not understand the Gospel and did not trust Jesus Christ fully and only as his Savior. It was only after God revealed the truth of justification to him from his study of Romans that he trusted Christ and, as he later said, “passed through that gate to Paradise.”
The second matter worth considering – this person has prophesied and done miracles. It is more difficult to understand how this can be, but it is what Jesus declares: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?’” (v.22). Jesus does not deny they did mighty works [miracles]. He accepts their profession as a fact. But He also does not deny their self-deception. Their hypocrisy has escalated to a point at which they have actually fooled themselves. They believe their deceptions. But neither eloquent teaching nor mighty signs prove one to be a true disciple, and these persons are exposed as “evildoers.”
The people spoken of here have the right doctrine; they profess Jesus as “Lord.” They have prophesied; they have exorcised demons; they have done mighty works. Moreover, they have done this “in [Jesus’] name.” Jesus does not deny any of these facts, but these apparent Christians are still condemned. They are condemned not because their teaching was wrong or their mighty works spurious but because they did not practice what they preached. They were bearing bad fruit, even when they were professing to be good.
What can the call to discipleship, the adherence to the words of Jesus’ Sermon mean today? What did Jesus mean to say to us? What is His will for us today? Dietrich Bonhoeffer made a contrast between “cheap grace” (cultural Christianity) and “costly grace,” (real Christianity). “Cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “is the grace we bestow on ourselves…”
So, beware, especially if you sense you are a nominal (cultural) Christian. There are many paths to hell, many of them religious, but there is only one way to heaven, and that is through trusting in Jesus Christ.