A Question I Was Asked:

What Are Your Thoughts on Matthew 7:21-23?

What are your thoughts on Matthew 7:21-23? I believe it is a warning to those that claim to be Christians, but are not followers and are fooling themselves.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, we need to include a few more verses than those we are asked about in order to get a better context here:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:15-27).

These warnings of Jesus are obviously directed to the Church which would be established on that first Christian Pentecost. They can be broken down into three vital overall points:

1. We must bear fruit. Verses 15-20.

2. We must be obedient to our Master, not going off and 'doing our own thing.' Verses 21-23.

3. We must build our 'spiritual houses' on firm foundations. Verses 24-27.

1. We must bear fruit.
Now this must be genuine fruit. There is such a thing as 'false fruit' which an apparent new believer sometimes manifests but, within a few years, that person may have walked away from their beliefs and it becomes clear that their "fruit" was false fruit. Also, bearing fruit is nothing to do with emotional excess; it is not about jumping up and down with the most energy at some extreme charismatic gathering in which people may be losing control of themselves. As I always say, the most ideal way to evaluate this is if we know somebody who became a believer, say at age 24, and we still know that person when he or she is aged 45. Fruit, I mean true Christian fruit, should be abundant and obvious, not that that person can be expected to be perfect, but we should expect to see their fruit. And what are those Christian fruits?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22-26).

The opposite of those things are already given by Paul in the verses which precede those:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21; NIV throughout).

Now I would just add one or two comments here: we are all flawed, I repeat: we are all flawed (as Paul freely admits that he was, in Romans 7). No Christian will ever be perfect and - even after years in the faith - will still have shortcomings, nevertheless, such people should have put on observable Christian fruit.

There is also another part to this: Christians should be expected to grow in the knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:18). I always think it is a very bad sign when a Christian occupies the same pew seat as he, or she, did 25 years ago! In my life, I have known about four believers who first came to Christ (at least, as they saw it), in Pentecostal meetings but not a single one of those was still a Pentecostal twenty years later! What happened? They matured in the faith, they 'grew in truth and knowledge.'

So it is not just that we should become better, more loving and understanding people, we should also have grown in knowledge, spiritual understanding, acumen and discernment. That is also a strong indication of fruit. Obviously I do not mean having become better at arguing, or causing strife, or having more 'pet theories,' those things are actually very bad indicators. A mature believer should be more determined than ever to believe the Bible and to stick to its true teachings and will avoid fanciful 'new kids on the block' ideas. It is a sign of immaturity to go after every new 'flavour of the month.' See Jude 3-4.

2. We must be obedient to Our Master.
Jesus made some pretty plain statements yet, to be frank, many of His followers ignore them. As a very basic example, He certainly appears to have said that His followers should not use 'father' as a religious title (Matthew 23:9), yet many thousands of His followers ignore what seems to be a plain and simple enough request! The New Testament teaches the Gospel and defines it quite carefully in such places as 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Colossians 1:22-23, Romans 1:16, Ephesians 1:13-14, Acts 26 (Paul's defence before Agrippa) and in other places. Other places, especially the epistles, further fine-tune what the Gospel of Jesus is - and what it certainly is not. Books such as Romans and Galatians are especially strong in warnings concerning those who pervert this message, as is Revelation 22:18-19. Many hold carefully to this, sadly, many thousands do not and have come up with their own versions of what the 'Gospel of Jesus' is. Usually they add to it. Whether through ignorance or not, these people are not being obedient to their Master! Because people tend to be spiritually lazy they often prefer the claims of self-appointed, yelling religionists rather than carefully study and evaluate what Scripture actually states.
This point naturally dovetails into point 3:

3. We must build our 'spiritual houses' on firm foundations.
If we are not fully faithful and obedient to our Master (point 2), we will not be building on firm spiritual foundations. We have a good illustration of this point near where we live. Many years ago a lovely home was built overlooking the sea. The location, which we know well, is very beautiful and we can well understand why somebody should have built their dream home there. Unfortunately, though there is good solid bedrock nearby, this particular location sits on red crumbly sandstone. Within the last 2 years that house has fallen apart, with a good part of it having collapsed into the sea. It had no really solid foundations. We are like that if we don't invest our future in Jesus Christ and His Gospel alone.

"See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (1 Peter 2:6b).

Christ is no soft, crumbly foundation, He is solid bedrock! If we spiritually invest in Him and His Word, the Holy Bible, we will never be put to confusion.

So, yes, these words of Jesus sit as a warning to all His followers of all time, to Protestants and Catholics alike; from time to time we must examine our consciences in these areas because our Lord cannot be fooled.

Robin A. Brace. October 28th, 2014.