sermon: I Never Knew You
The Danger of Self-Deception
Martin G. Collins
Given 14-Jan-12; 79 minutes
According to recent university surveys, 94% of university professors think they are better at their jobs than their colleagues and 25% of college students believe that they are in the top 1% in terms of their ability to get along with others. A Princeton university research team asked people to estimate how susceptible they and the average person were to a long list of judgmental biases. The majority of those polled claimed to be less biased then the majority of the people.
Everyone is guilty of self-deceiving himself about something. As Christians, of course, we work very hard to overcome false bias, prejudice beliefs; and hopefully we are making some headway with our efforts.
Dictionaries generally define self-deception as: The process or fact of misleading ourselves to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid. So self-deception in short is a way we justify false beliefs to ourselves.
Matthew 7:21-23 are the pivotal scriptures for this sermon, so let us turn there.
Matthew 7:21-23 “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. [So it is very clear here that it is the will of the Father in heaven and doing that which is of the utmost importance]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!’
These are in many ways some of the most solemn words ever spoken in this world, not only by any man, but even by the Son of God Himself. These words, being extremely grave, must be considered in light of the fact that this is a direct message addressed to men and women who are conscience of the fact that they will have to stand before God in final judgment.
It is clear in this paragraph that Jesus is continuing the theme with which He dealt with in the previous paragraph, where He warned the people against false prophets, which is what I spoke about in my last sermon. Now this is not a part two; this is a separate sermon altogether that deals with a different, but related subject.
To Christ, this is such a desperately serious matter that He comes back to it again, and He is not content with one warning. He gives the sermon, working it out in great detail, and now at this point in Matthew 7:21-23, He is applying it. He is showing us how to apply it. He began applying it by telling His disciples to enter in at the narrow gate and walk in the difficult way, but He is so concerned about them being mislead, that He repeats the warning.
Now having shown us the subtlety of the false prophet in His two significant analogies about “Wolves in Sheep’s clothing” and “The tree that bears bad fruit,” Jesus then makes His warning still more explicit. He puts it like this because of the terrible danger that confronts us at this point.
Jesus starts by making a blunt assertion, then He illustrates, elaborates, and amplifies it. First of all He says, “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.” That is the proposition. But then He went on to illustrate and elaborate it by saying: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord,” and so on.
Now these two parts should be taken together from the perspective of explanation. We should not isolate verse 21 from verses 22-23. These are the laying down of the explanation and or a demonstration of what it implies. The moment you put verse 21 with verses 22-23, you see that the object of the statement is not to contrast faith in works, because Jesus says about works, in verses 22-23, precisely what He says about belief in verses 21-22. So it is important to look at this in its context and not isolate it as many in mainstream churches tend to do.
The message here is to open our eyes to the terrible danger of self-deception and self-delusion. That is what Jesus is concerned about here in these scriptures. That was the same general theme in the previous paragraph. There the danger was considered in terms of our being misled by the false prophets because of their “sheep’s clothing” and the attractive character of their doctrine which is so deceiving and so subtle.
Now here Jesus proceeds to show us the same thing, not in the false prophets, but in ourselves. It is the terrible danger of self-deception and self- delusion. Or to put it positively, Jesus is again emphasizing that nothing helps us in the presence of God but true righteousness and true holiness, without which no one will see Christ. Hebrews 12:14 says:
So we pursue holiness by living righteous lives. And if our idea of justification by faith does not include that, it is not the scriptural teaching, and therefore is a dangerous delusion.
Scripture must be taken as a whole and Jesus at this point is simply warning us that whatever we say or do, we cannot stand in the presence of God if we are not truly righteous and holy. That is what scriptures teaches from beginning to end.
Jesus is showing what true faith really means and He does this in a new way. He shows us some of the false and wrong things on which people tend to rely and gives a list of them. First we will work through the list, then later we will consider the general lessons and principles that can be deduced from this detailed teaching.
The general principal behind the teaching is that self-deception with regard to the heart and mind, and its relationship to God, is generally due to our relying upon false evidences of salvation. Or to put it another way, Jesus shows us what is actually possible and the experiences of a person who is a trouble maker. He shows us that a person can get so far and still be completely wrong. You might bring in the example of the wheat and the tares. The tares can look exactly like the wheat but only for so long.
Now the first piece of false evidence on which some people tend to rest is rather surprising. It is none other than a correct belief. “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.” Jesus is saying in affect there that there are certain people who say, “Lord, Lord” and yet they will not enter he Kingdom of Heaven.
Now please understand that He is not criticizing people for saying, “ Lord, Lord,” but rather He is referring to people who have the right doctrine concerning His nature and His person, who have recognized Him and who have come to Him and say, “ Lord, Lord.” They say the right things to Him; they believe the right things about Him; but what He is saying here is that not everyone who does say that will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That should really get our attention and what to know why.
The negative aspect of this is very important at this point. A person who does not say, “Lord, Lord,” will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and that is the surprising point in this whole issue of salvation. No one is a Christian unless he says, “Lord, Lord” to the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul says, no one can genuinely say that apart from the Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 12:3, it says:
I Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Now “Jesus is Lord” is just another way of expressing “Lord, Lord.” So what we have in Matthew 7:21 is not a criticism for saying “Lord, Lord,” but it is a statement of the fact that if you rely only on established doctrine without genuineness from the heart, you are in trouble. Established doctrine is vital and essential, but just knowing it is not enough. Even Satan and his demons know biblical doctrine.
Unless we believe and recognize that Jesus Christ is indeed the son of God, made flesh and who dwelt amongst us, and unless we believe the New Testament doctrine that He was sent by God to be the Messiah, the true savior of human beings, and has been exalted and is Lord over all, to whom every knee shall bend, we are not Christian at all. Let us turn to Philippians 2:5-11
Philippians 2:5-11 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross […and if we call ourselves Christian we must also be willing to go to the point of death]. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
A person can confess that Christ is Lord, but if it is not from the heart, it is worthless statement. I refer back to Matthew 7:21-23. We must believe that, and it must be vitally important to us. There is no such thing as Christianity apart from that (Philippians 2:5-11.) That is why a true Christian says, “Lord, Lord”—it does not mean just saying the right words, we must really mean those things from the heart when we say them.
The alarming thing is that Christ says, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” meaning that not all will have the right attitude, not all will have been overcoming, and not all will be dedicated to Jesus Christ and to God the Father.
Now James, in his epistle, makes the same point. He warns us to be careful against merely relying upon our beliefs of certain things; and he puts it like this, in a rather startling matter, in James 2:19:
James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
So just mere belief of even true or right doctrine is not enough, it certainty is not for the demons. An instance of this is found in the gospels where we read that certain demons recognized Christ and in affect said, “Lord, Lord,” but remained demons. We are all in danger of being somewhat content with an intellectual ascent to the truth; mere understanding; or knowledge of the truth without it being committed to our hearts and minds.
There have been people throughout the history of the church who have fallen into this trap. They have read the scriptures and accepted the teaching; they believe the teaching, and sometimes they have been advocates of the truth and have argued against heretics, yet their whole character in life has been a denial of the truth they have claimed to believe. It is a terrifying thought and yet scripture so often teaches us that it is a dreadful possibility.
A person who is not converted and is not born from above may accept the scriptural teaching as a kind of philosophy or an abstract truth, but if anyone comes to the Bible with an intelligent mind and faces its evidence, it seems almost incredible that he would not arrive at certain inevitable, logical conclusions. But it is because of the enmity in their hearts against God that they are not able to do that.
The historical evidence for the person of Jesus Christ is beyond question. You cannot explain the persistence of the Christian church apart from Him. The evidence is overwhelming. A man may face that and say, “Yes, I accept that argument. Jesus Christ did exist,” but again that is not enough, though. He may subscribe to the truth and say Jesus Christ was none other than the Son of God; he may say that and still be unconverted and not a Christian. He may say, “Lord, Lord,” yet not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
There is always the danger of trusting your own faith instead of Christ, of trusting your own belief without really becoming converted. There are people who have been raised in a Christian home, who have always believed and said the right thing, but still they may not be converted.
An example of this is when Sue and I went to Ambassador College. There were hundreds of children there, almost entirely raised by people in the church, they were second generation Christians. Ten or fifteen years later, we looked at our envoys, pictures of the students that we went to school with, and we found that only about half were still attending the church. Then about ten or so years ago, we looked again, and we found it hard to find any individuals that were in our class or who were even in college at the time we were, that were still attending any of spinoffs of the World Wide Church of God. Many of them became ministers, but for Sunday keeping churches. There is a prime example, there, that just being raised in the church and having the knowledge of God's truth is not enough.
The second piece of false evidence is that these people may not only be believers of the truth, but they may also be fervent and zealous. Notice the repetition of the word “Lord.” They do not merely say “Lord,” they say, “ Lord, Lord,” which indicates somewhat of a fervency or zealousness.
These people are not only intellectual believers, there is an element of feeling and emotion involved. They seem anxious and full of fervor, but even Christ says that even that may be quite false. There are many who zealously and fervently say the right things about Him and to Him in their prayers, but who still will not enter into the Kingdom of God unless of course they repent and overcome.
One of the most difficult things is to differentiate between a truly spiritual fervor and a carnal, fleshly, shallow, zeal and enthusiasm. Natural basic temperament may very well make a person fervent and zealous.
There are all types of personalities and some are naturally assertive and vibrant. A person may be born with an energetic nature and an enthusiastic temperament, but Jesus is emphasizing that though they say, “Lord, Lord,” and are fervent and zealous, it may be nothing but the flesh. For example an emotional type of person is always more liable to weep when he prays, but it does not necessarily mean that he is more spiritual. Great enthusiasm in these things does not necessarily imply spirituality. The flesh can counterfeit almost anything.
It is important that we recognize this terrible danger of doing things in the flesh and imaging that we are doing them for Christ's sake. It is extremely dangerous to rely only on a correct belief and an enthusiastic temperament, and to assume that as long as you believe the right things and are zealous in acting concerning them, you are therefore a Christian. There are millions of people in this nation who have that very attitude. Mainstream Christianity has how many millions? Protestantism, many millions; Catholicism, many millions.
Let us turn back to Matthew 7:21. In the verse that follows verse 21, Jesus goes farther and includes works also. What are the works which, according to Christ, a person may perform and still be outside the Kingdom? Matthew 7:21-22 once again says:
Matthew 7:21-22 “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?’
Those three things…there is enough to deceive most people in the world and in Christianity, but Christ says, as we will see, that He did not know them. It is really an alarming and terrifying list.
In verse 22, Jesus says, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name.” As you know, “to prophesy” means to deliver a spiritual message. The apostle Paul discusses it in I Corinthians in connection to the various gifts that were exercised in the church. Those were the days before the New Testament was written, when certain members of the church were given messages and the ability to speak them by the Holy Spirit. That is what is meant by prophesying.
Jesus says that there will be many who will come to Him in the Day of Judgment, or at least in their day of judgment, and say that they have prophesied in His name, not in their own name, but in His name.
Matthew 7:23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
These were people who appeared to be very righteous and very spiritual. It is possible for a man to preach a certain amount of truth and yet remain spiritually outside the church himself. If anyone other than Jesus Christ had said this, we might have a hard time believing it.
Now let us turn to I Corinthians 9:27. Again referring to those many ministers who came out of Ambassador Collage, who were second generation Christians in the World Wide Church of God, many of them went to Sunday keeping, so this is a prime example of that.
Now God used Saul in this kind of way. The Spirit of prophesy came upon him from time to time, yet Saul was outside and when you come to the New Testament, you find these things stated more explicitly. Paul knew these terrible dangers.
I Corinthians 9:27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, [Subjection to whom? Subjection to himself and to God.] lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
When he talks about disciplining his body, he is not only thinking, as people only imagine, about certain sins of the flesh. He is referring to the whole of His life, every aspect of it: the great sins, the minor sins, and the physical flaws. To discipline the body means to keep curbing and controlling everything that the flesh is anxious to do. The flesh thrusts itself into the forefront.
Now Paul tells us in the context of preaching, that he pounded and pummeled his body and bruised it, in order that having preached to others he might avoid becoming a castaway himself. Remember what Paul said in I Corinthians 13:1-3.
I Corinthians 13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Now let us go to Philippians 1:15. Paul said in effect that all that he could do is useless if he lacked love. Love is the very thing that makes a person a Christian. Think also of Paul's statements to the Philippians. Paul says here:
Philippians 1:15-18 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill:The former [those who preach from envy and strife] preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains;but the latter [those who preach from good will] out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
So all those ministers that we have had back in Worldwide Church of God who taught us week in and week out, who have left the church and are maybe now teaching at a Sunday keeping church or maybe attend no church at all, still have value to us because they were teaching God's truth, even though they themselves never internalized it or took it to heart. For them, it was worthless what they were saying; but to us, we did receive benefit from them because they were preaching about Jesus Christ based on the truth.
Preaching from a motivation of envy and strife is wrong and their thoughts are wrong, but they are preaching Christ; they are saying the right things about Him. Paul rejoices in the correct preaching, but they themselves are wrong because they are doing it in a wrong spirit, moved by envy and a desire to overshadow the apostle Paul in this case. So what was happening during the time of apostle Paul has happened down through the history of the church all the way down to today.
We have to realize then that it is actually possible for a man to be preaching technically correct doctrine and yet to be outside the spiritual Church of God. Remember that Christ said on one occasion to the Pharisees, here in Luke 16:14-15:
Luke 16:14-15 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
Paul was very good at getting the point cross succinctly. Now that is a very terrifying thought and we understand it to mean this: that at the day of our judgment, we will all have great surprises, we will find people who have been praised as preachers outside the Kingdom and they said the right things and they said them eloquently, but they never had the life and truth within them, it was all carnal and not from a Holy Spirit guided heart. Not only do these people prophesy, they even cast out demons, according to Christ in His statement there in Matthew 7:22.
Matthew 7:22 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?'
There is the repetition of the phrase, “in your name.” It is possible for a person to seem to be able to do that and still be outside the Kingdom. To prove this is simple. It is clear from the New Testament that even Judas had this power. Jesus sent out His disciples to preach and to cast out demons and they came back and said to Him, in great elation, “even the demons are subject to us!” They just could not contain themselves with the excitement that they were able to do that; of course that was Christ's power working through them.
Christ may give power to a man and yet that man may be unconverted. There are other powers also that enable us to do remarkable and astounding things. Remember on one occasion when the people charged Jesus with doing miracles by the power of Beelzebub. He replied by saying, “if I, by Beelzebub, cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?” Now there were Jewish exorcists at the time and in Acts 19 you will find certain people described as sons of Sceva, who had that power. Acts 19:13 says:
Acts 19:13-17 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “Weexorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpoweredthem, and prevailed against them,so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. [What a surprise they received.] This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
So those demons that came out of that man and jumped all over those exorcists had to come out because of the name of Jesus, not because of those who thought they had power. People may even drive out demons in Christ's name and yet still be outside of the church.
Then Jesus comes to the climax which He puts in this form: these people will be able to say to Him, that in His name they have done many seemingly wonderful works, works of power, amazing and almost incredible things, and yet they still remain outside of the church. How do we prove that this is possible?
Part of the proof is undoubtedly found in the case of the magicians in Egypt. Remember when Moses was sent to deliver the children of Israel and work his miracles. The magicians of Egypt were able to counterfeit miracles and repeat them up to a certain point, and they did incredible works. Christ says in Matthew 24:24:
Matthew 24:24 For false Christ's and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
These are the words of Christ Himself. We know that Satan gives the lawless ones power, signs and lying wonders to perform. Take Paul's words, for example, in II Thessalonians 2:7-10:
II Thessalonians 2:7-10 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; [that is exactly what Jesus Christ called those individuals that come to Him Saying, “Lord, Lord.” He called them lawless] only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
In other words a person might be able to point to great results, such as healing and so on, yet they may signify nothing. We should not be surprised at this; we are learning more and more about the powers that are innate in man even in a natural sense. In one sense, there is such a thing as a natural gift of healing. There is an almost supra-natural or something extra natural in certain people. It is a certain gift that some people seem to have. Sometimes it is their upbeat nature. Many nurses that work in the ICU are able to be upbeat even with all the agony that is going on around them. That upbeat, that positive attitude, actually helps in the healing process.
There are many things that we do not fully understand about such things. For instance, the whole question of electricity and the human frame is very interesting. There are other special gifts that few people are able to tap into, things that God has given as part of our human potential.
The spirit in man that God has given every human being which distinguishes us from the animals can very basically seem to simulate the Holy Spirit to a point. It is not the Holy Spirit or the power of the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of man does have some type of physical power to do certain things.
We are reminded by scripture that God, in His own immeasurable will, sometimes decides to give these powers to people who do not belong to Him in order to bring to pass His own purposes. He raises men up for His own particular purpose, but they themselves remain outside of the family of God. It was God who commissioned and used the pagan Cyrus here in II Chronicles 36:22.
II Chronicles 36:22-23 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!
Cyrus spoke the truth; he was a pagan, but he spoke the truth that God had given him to speak. Also please turn to Isaiah 45:1. The caption in my bible for this is “Cyrus: God's instrument”
Isaiah 45:1-6 “Thus says the Lord to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held— To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings, To open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut: ‘I will go before you And make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze And cut the bars of iron.I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the Lord, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me.
He repeats that twice which means that it is the emphasis, the theme, the point—God can give to whomever He wants the ability to preach His word, truth, or to witness for Him. Only God knows who He chooses for those things. But for the most important spiritual aspects, He chooses people in His church, His people, His elect.
Jesus can do this for His church today at any time He wants to. Does the church have anything to worry about in what is happening in the Isrealitish nations today, when we see a God who can make pagan leaders do whatever He wants all the while protecting His church? That is extremely encouraging right now as we watch this nation decline, degenerate, and disintegrate. God has allowed or placed our president where he is and He has control of him, therefore He is allowing these things to happen because of the sins of this nation. We just have to make sure that we are not guilty of those same sins.
Now notice what Paul teaches here in II Corinthians 11:13. We must remember the power of Satan the devil.
II Corinthians 11:13-15 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
So Satan, as an angle of light, sometimes persuades people that they are Christians when they are not. Just look at the doctrinal and spiritual corruption of mainstream Christianity today. If Satan can keep a man outside the Kingdom by making him say, “Lord, Lord,” he will certainly make him do that.
Satan will do anything God allows him to do and if he can, he will use either a false belief or a true belief that is held in the wrong way and applied perversely. God will give him power to work signs and wonders to further his (Satan’s) goal. It has all been prophesied, it is all in the Bible, and that is why Christ warns us so solemnly to pay attention to it.
He once summed it up to His disciples like this, “Do not rejoice in this, that spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” He said that to the disciples when they came back all excited about casting out the demons.
They had been sent out to preach and to cast out demons and had become greatly successful and they came back full of pride because of the things that had happened and Jesus said to them in affect, “Did I not tell you in my sermon that people who are outside the Kingdom can preach in My name and cast out demons and do many wonderful works? Do not be misled by these things, make certain of yourself, it is what is in your heart that God will judge most in addition to what you do. “
The Christian has a certain type of character, and he is unmistakable. A Christian character can be summed up in the phrase: “He who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” Now I have been talking about people whose basic Christian living teaching is correct. They teach people about God's commandments, the golden rule, the love their neighbor. They preach and teach in Christ's name, and it is in His name that they do wonderful works, yet He tells us that they are unconverted. A great deal is possible for one who is nevertheless unknown to Christ.
I have just taken you through a preliminary survey and now we can proceed to draw certain lessons and deductions from it. Jesus goes on repeating these warnings as He exhorts people to enter in at the narrow gate and to walk the difficult way. In Matthew 7:22-23, He warns us of the terrible dangers and possibilities that confront us.
Matthew 7:22 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?’
Now I do not want to over emphasize the word “many,” but it is a word that carries a definite meaning. It does not say an odd person here or there; He says many and Christ's warnings against that is frequent.
It is in the picture that follows, in verses 24-25, about people who build their houses on sand and also in the parable of the five foolish virgins, that are a straight forward case of self-deception. It occurs again in that final picture in Matthew 25, where Christ portrays a final judgment and speaks of those who will confidently come and tell Him of things that they have done for Him. All of these examples give the same warning; it is the warning against the terrible danger of self-deception. We are given the impression from the example in Matthew 7:21-23 that these people, to whom He is referring, will be shocked at their day of judgment.
The many people who Jesus is warning assume that they are safe and seem quite sure of their own salvation, but on what grounds? Just because they say “Lord, Lord?” They may say the right things; they may be fervent; they may be zealous; they may be regarded as outstanding servants by other people; they may be very self-assured about themselves, and it does not even cross their minds that they could be anything other than Christians. But Christ does not recolonize them; there is no real contact between them, and therefore they deceive and fool themselves the whole time. What a terrifying thought that is.
Jesus often tells us, in various ways that He does not judge as human beings judge. So often our judgments are worldly and that is why Jesus teaches us to be aware of this terrible, alarming possibility of deceiving ourselves. For example in Luke 16:15 he says:
Luke 16:15 And He [Christ] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
That kind of judgment is found sometimes in the church as well as in the world. We are all aware of the existence of oblivious hypocrisy. The aware hypocrite is not as much of a problem, because he is obvious and self-evident, but when a person deceives himself, misleads others, and persuades others wrongly about him, this is the epitome of Satan. Satan is the great deceiver who deceives himself into thinking that he can win his war against God and gain his throne.
Can anything be done about oblivious hypocrisy? It is not, by definition, something with which we can deal with on our own. It is a condition in which we delude ourselves, so how can we possibly safeguard ourselves from it? The answer is on the contrary…a great deal can be done.
The most important thing is to consider the causes of self-deception—that is the way to discover it in ourselves. If we can arrive at a list of the causes of self-deception and self-disillusion, and then examine ourselves in light of these causes, we will be in a position to deal with them with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament is full of instruction in that respect. That is why scripture is always admonishing us to test and examine ourselves—to test the spirits and to prove all things. The New Testament is a great book of warning. People say that it is being negative, but the New Testament always emphasizes the negative aspect of truth as well as the positive.
What then are the common causes of self-deception? The first cause is that there is a false belief of assurance. It is the belief that we are fine; we are okay. It is the tendency to base our assurance only on certain statements that we ourselves make.
There are those who say, “The Bible says, ‘he who believes on Him is not condemned, but will receive everlasting life. Believe on Jesus and you will be saved.’” Well these are true statements, however, they interpret such statements as meaning that as long as they acknowledge and say certain things about Christ, then they are automatically saved, which is totally untrue.
The error is this: the person who is truly saved must make these statements, but the mere making of these statements does not necessary guarantee or assure a person of his salvation. The people of whom Christ is dealing do say, “Lord, Lord,” and they seem to put the right content into the statement, but as we have seen, James reminds us in his epistle, that the demons also believe and tremble and they even recognize Christ at the Holy One of God.
So we must be very weary of that subtle temptation and remember the way in which people wrongly persuade themselves. They say, “I do believe. I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and that He died for my sins, therefore.....” but the argument is incomplete. The Christian does say these things, but he does not stop at merely saying them.
On the other hand, the unconverted person is really putting his final trust in his own faith and not in God and Christ. He is relying on his own belief and on his own mere assertion of it.
What is the difference between what I have just described and the basing our assurance of salvation on the fact that we are members of a physical organization we call a church, or that we belong to a certain country, or that as children we grew up in a Christian family? There is no difference; it is possible for a person to say all the right things and yet to live such a sinful life, that it is obvious that he is not a Christian.
Notice what the apostle Paul says on I Corinthians 6:9-10.
I Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
That superficial belief of assurance or a false belief of assurance is one of the most common causes of self- disillusion and self-deception. The second cause of self-deception or self-delusion is the refusal to self-examine oneself.
Self-examination is not looking to oneself; we must look to Christ and to God. Scripture constantly exhorts us to examine ourselves, to prove to ourselves whether we are in the faith, whether we are reprobate. It does this because of the terrible danger of drifting into the false doctrine of Antinomianism—believing that as long as a person believes on Jesus Christ, it does not matter what he does; that if a person is saved, it does not matter what kind of life he lives.
Antinomianism holds that the moment you begin to concentrate on behavior, you are putting yourself back under the law. Just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and all is well it says. Antinomianism is probably the core doctrine of the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church as well. But that is the same thing against which Jesus is warning us of in Matthew 7:21-23.
The fatal danger is trusting only in what we say and forgetting the essential thing about Christianity—that it is a way of life to be lived. The Christian is a partaker of divine nature and this must be manifested in his life. Let us look at I John, which was written to correct this danger. It has in mind those people who were ready to say certain things but whose lives were a blatant contradiction to what they professed. John produces his essential tests of spiritual life.
I John 1:6-8 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
We could be saying, “Well, I'm not that bad of a guy, religiously speaking.” It is almost the same as saying that we have no sin. Now let us go to I John 2:3-6.
I John 2:3-6 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. [so in order to keep His commandments, we must be overcoming those things that break His commandments in the letter and in Spirit of the law] He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
So it not enough to just say, “Lord, Lord, “ we have to do the will of the Father and we have to walk just as He (Jesus Christ) walked and in the way that God the Father lives.
However much a person may say he believes on Jesus Christ, if the habit of his life is persistently sinful, he is not a Christian. The way to discover this is to look and examine ourselves in light of both the letter and the Spirit of the law.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we shall not murder, neither shall we hate; we shall not commit adultery, neither shall we look at a woman to lust after her. These are two good examples of the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law. The letter of the law is not to break the commandment that says, “Thou shall not murder,” so we do not kill, but if we are fiercely angry at somebody or hate somebody, we have broken that same commandment in the Spirit of the law.
Furthermore, when we come to this question of the works which we do, whether prophesying, casting out demons and doing many wonderful works, we must examine our motives. We must ask ourselves honestly, “Why am I doing this?” What is the real influence behind it all? Because a person who does not realize that he may be doing the right things for a thoroughly wrong reason is self-deceived, and he may also be an oblivious hypocrite.
It is possible for a man to preach from the Bible in a superficially yet accurate manor, to be basically right in doctrine and be zealous about it, and yet to be doing it the whole time for his own self-interest—his glory and his self-satisfaction.
To safe guard ourselves against that, we must examine and scrutinize ourselves. It is painful and unpleasant, but it has to be done. We have to question our motives all day every day, because life is really one spiritual test after another. If we do not question ourselves, we are exposing ourselves to the terrible reality of self-deception and self-delusion.
Let us consider another cause of self-deception: the tendency to balance our lives by putting up one thing against another. For instance, if our conscience condemns us about the life we are living, we recognize that certain things count against us. We make a mental list with the bad deeds on one side and good deeds on the other. If we have a little credit at the end, we think we have done alright. Example: 10 bad things against 11 good things, thus we think that we are one up so we are okay. But it does not work that way. We may have done 11 good things, but those10 bad things stick with us until we repent and overcome them.
If you recall there is a classic example of this attitude in the case of Saul King of Israel in I Samuel 15. Saul had been commanded to exterminate the Amalekites, and he had done so up to a point, but he kept King Agag alive, whom he was told to destroy, and he also kept the best of the sheep and oxen.
I Samuel 15:13-15 Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” [He was probably upbeat and happy about it, because he had figured out how to bypass what God had told him somewhat.] But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” And Saul said, “They [the children of Israel] have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people [Not him. There is the justification] spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; [200 sins and here is one justification] and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
They thought they were so good. They had done most of what God said, but this one thing—sacrificing to the Lord—was so much greater good than all those other things combined. That is the type of reasoning that was going through Saul’s mind. Now notice how clever he was when he reprimanded Samuel. Saul used the excuse that the sheep and the oxen that could have been destroyed were used instead to sacrifice to the Lord. That is a perfect example of balancing. We are all prone to think this way.
We must all beware because instead of allowing our God trained consciences, which should be directed by God's Holy Spirit to their work, we tend to put positive things over and against the negative. A person who judges the condition of his life in that way can have only one end. A person who does that sort of thing in business will soon be bankrupt, and a person who does it in a Christian life will soon be spiritually bankrupt and in the end be dismissed by Jesus Christ Himself. We must apply this lesson to ourselves and not make excuses for ourselves.
That brings us to the vital principal that underlies all the causes of self-deception. In many ways it is the root trouble, even among long time members of God's church. Granted, pride and faithlessness come to mind immediately as specific reasons for our failures and troubles, but I am thinking more generally at this point. We see a terrifying example of this in mainstream Christianity, who base almost their entire religion on tradition and ignore scripture, who ignore basically the whole Old Testament except for the Psalms.
The vital principal for our failure to heed the plain teaching of the inspired written word of God is that we often accept what scripture teaches us as far as our personal reasoning is concerned, but when it comes to practice, we often fail to take the scriptures as our guide and directive.
When we come to the practical side, we often use human tests instead of scriptural ones. Instead of taking the plain truth—the plain teaching of the Bible—we sometimes argue with it or discount it. We sometimes say (or think) that since the scriptures were written, times have changed.
Take for example the issue of women preaching and ordained to the ministry. I have gotten some questions on that subject this past year. The apostle, in writing to Timothy, prohibits it directly. He says quite specifically that women are not to teach or preach. Silence is mentioned twice, but he is talking about it in a formal, official capacity, of course, because mothers are to teach their children. Now here in I Timothy 2:11-15 we see exactly what Paul says.
I Timothy 2:11-14 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.For Adam was formed first, then Eve.And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
Most mainstream churches are ordaining women preachers and even some of the off shoots of the dissolved World Wide Church of God are ordaining women and allowing them to preach. They humanly reason that Paul was thinking of his own age and time and times have changed since then, so we should not be bound by antiquated rules. They argue that it was only temporary legislation for the first century church, but scripture does not say that, and it is proof right here in this passage that it is not true. People say that times have changed when it suits their opinion, and they say it is no longer relevant. Instead of taking its plain teaching, people try to distort it. Scripture does not say anything about it being temporary. Paul does not say that it was only for the time being; he takes it right back to Eve's sin in the garden of Eden and shows that it is an enduring principal for the entirety of man's existence.
People use balancing to justify disobedience and this argument has and is being used for vital biblical principles such as Sabbath keeping, tithing, child rearing, and many other doctrines. The carnal mind is enmity against God, and we always have to examine ourselves to make sure we are not guilty of that.
Scripture lays down, quite plainly, not only that we are to preach the true gospel of the coming Kingdom of God, but also how we are to do so. It tells us that we are to do so with sobriety and gravity, in fear and trembling, in demonstration of the Spirit and power, not with enticing words of man's wisdom. What this means is that we are to preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God in a non-silly, non-lighthearted way and we are not to be disrespectful, daring, frivolous, or superficial about it.
Sadly I have heard sermons from other split-off groups of World Wide Church of God that think it is all a big joke. It is not, and scripture tells us that it is not. It is very serious business. We must make sure we are producing the fruit of the Spirit because how can we represent God's way of life if we are not good and true witnesses of it? Many churches make this mistake. They want to preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God first, but their congregations are rampant with flagrant sins which they allow to continue in their congregations.
We do not want to repeat the old error of King Saul who said, “Yes I know, but I thought it would be good if I did…such and such.” He tried to justify his disobedience by some result he was going to produce. In the case of the churches that allow such sins to go on in the congregation, they reason that it is too hard on the people to keep God’s standards upheld in the church.
“The end justifies the means,” is a phrase that we are all familiar with, but many do not realize where it comes from. Possibly the epitome of this wrong attitude are the Jesuits of the Roman Catholic Church whose creed says, “The end justifies the means.” Historical evidence shows that this includes murder, and the proof is in the history books.
The self-deception of “the results justify the means” entails that that if the results are positive, the methods must be right, but we are not to argue with scripture. We are not to try to manipulate it or twist it to fit our own way of thinking. We are to face it, receive it, and submit to it whatever the cost.
Another common cause of self-deception is our failure to realize that the one thing that matters is our relationship to God the Father and Jesus Christ. I mentioned this often in my sermons, because it is vitally important and we must never forget it.
Jesus is the Judge, and it is what He thinks of us that matters. It is He who will say to these people, “I never knew you,” and that word “knew” is very strong. It does not mean that He was not aware of their existence. He knows all things. “Know” means taking a special interest in, being in a particular relationship to. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth,” said God to the children of Israel through Amos.
What Christ will say to these deceived peoples is that they have done all these things in their own power and energy. He never had anything to do with it; so the most important thing for all of us is to not be interested in our own activities or own results, but rather in our relationship to God the Father and Jesus Christ. Do we know Him and does He know us? We can only know Him if we submit and obey to Him and work to overcome Satan, the world, and our own human nature.
Now for a final scripture let us turn to I Samuel 15:22. We must come realize what God and Christ want really want from us. He does not merely want our words, our zeal, our fervor, our works or anything else. He wants our submission and a repentant attitude. Now remember what Samuel said to Saul in I Samuel 15:22-23.
I Samuel 15:22-23 So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”
What can be a greater insult than to say, “Lord, Lord” fervently and to be too busy and active to withhold true allegiance and submission to Him; to insist to retaining control over our own lives and to allow our own opinions and arguments rather than those of scripture to control what we do and how we do it. The greatest insult to Jesus Christ is a will that is not completely and entirely surrendered to Him. However great our offerings and sacrifices, however wonderful our works in His name, it will benefit us nothing if we are not truly committed to God the Father and Jesus Christ.
That means that He must have control, not only of the big things in our lives, but also in the little things. Not only over what we do, but how we do it. We must submit to Him and his way as He pleases to reveal it in the Bible, not to our human nature. If what we do does not conform to this pattern, it is an assertion of our will, direct disobedience, and is as repellant as the sin of witchcraft.
So the type of conduct we have makes Christ say to certain people, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Who are they? They are the people who said “Lord, Lord;” the people who prophesied in His name, in His name cast out demons, and in His name did many wonderful works. He calls them lawless because in the final assessment, they were doing it to please themselves. Let us then solemnly examine ourselves in light of these things.
If we believe that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and that He came into this world and died a horrible death on the stake for our sins and rose again in order to justify us and to give us life anew and prepare us for God's Kingdom…if we really believe that, there is only one inevitable deduction: He is entitled completely and fully to the whole of our lives; everything without any limit whatsoever. “He who does the will of My Father in heaven shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”