Numerous times over the years, yes, I have a few behind me now, I have heard Matthew 7 referred to regarding those who did things in Jesus name being rejected because they didn’t actually ‘know’ Jesus. That is, they never developed an actual intimate relationship with Jesus. I agree. At the same time, I want to look at the broader context. First the well-known verses.
21 “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. 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?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21–23 (NKJV)
It is obvious from these verses that moving in sign gifts and affirming that Jesus is the Lord is not a guarantee of entering the kingdom of heaven. However, the issue in the passage isn’t whether someone was moving in sign gifts, it is about the relationship with Jesus that they demonstrated. Scripture is clear that we are to both pursue love and desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). We are to make love our priority and use His gifts to demonstrate it.
In the broader context in Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus tells us that we can discern true and false followers by the fruit they produce. After His subsequent warning about the need for intimacy in doing works He goes on to highlight in verses 24-27 the importance of heeding what He taught (Matthew 5-7. The summation of the Sermon on the Mount). Obeying Jesus words is like building our house/life on a firm foundation while ignoring His teaching is building our house/life on shifting sand, which lead to it collapsing.
Now let’s take a closer look at the context of what Jesus taught. First, a phrase you may be familiar with, that it is important to repeat. Broadly the scriptures were written for us, not to us. In this case Jesus taught these things on the other side of the cross to an Israeli audience. Yet contextually it is clear that Jesus was looking ahead beyond the cross because He was referencing end of the age events in terms of a coming judgment.
For us, we need to read and heed this looking back. It isn’t enough to do things for Jesus, we are called to do things in partnership with Jesus. Part of that is understanding the cultural context of those who heard Jesus. His hearers were intimately familiar with the Great Shema. It is rooted in Deuteronomy 6:4 and begins ‘Hear O’ Israel.’ The Hebrew word for ‘hear’ is Shema and means to hear with the intent to obey. The regular morning and evening prayers began with that phrase. The hearers of the Sermon on the Mount understood that love was an action. To love Jesus was to obey Jesus. You could not separate the two. Intimacy was about walking together, being yoked with Jesus and doing works for and with Him rather than for attention or to make a name for ourselves.
That is the real warning of Matthew 7. If we are wise, we will walk with Him doing works as He leads while remaining attentive and obedient to His voice. When we are seeking His face and walking in what He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10) we can be confident of the ultimate results of our faith and obedience.