As the Master concluded the great "Sermon on the Mount," He encouraged His audience to obey His words by painting a terrifying word picture of the judgment.
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!' (Matthew 7:22-23)
How horrible to contemplate standing before the Lord in judgment, having faith in Him and being able to plead I did many works I thought would cause the Lord to accept me, yet hearing the awful pronouncement, "I never knew you; depart from Me"!
Pollsters report that 99% of Americans believe they will go to heaven. But the Lord emphatically declared that many religious people who think they are saved will in fact spend eternity in hell. Why will many religious people be lost?The Pharisees
The Pharisees were certainly actively religious. In looking back on his life before he became a disciple of Christ, the apostle Paul reported to King Agrippa, "according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5). The Pharisees were very religious and quite respected by their neighbors for their religious zeal.
But characteristically the Pharisees were hypocrites. The Lord warned them, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!", denounced them as "serpents, brood of vipers," and searchingly inquired, "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:29-33) A hypocrite is an actor, one who pretends to be what he really is not. The Pharisees religion was for show to receive the praise of men. Their hearts were corrupt, and they were thus lost.
If you're just being outwardly religious so people will approve but are inwardly and secretly corrupt, then the Lord's words come to you, "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?"Saul of Tarsus
But Saul of Tarsus, though a Pharisee, was not typical; he was very sincere in his religious service. He was "zealous toward God" (Acts 22:3), not just to receive the praise of men. In fact he truthfully claimed to have been, "more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14).
And he did this with a clear conscience. He testified to the Jewish council, "'Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day'" (Acts 23:1).
But Saul was sincerely rejecting Jesus as the Christ the Son of God. He also reported to King Agrippa, "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). By rejecting Jesus as the Christ the Son of God, He was rejecting salvation (John 8:24,58; 14:6).
Friend, regardless of how sincere and zealous you are in your religion, if you do not believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, you are lost.The Disobedient
But it is not enough just to believe in Him. "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" (Matthew 7:21). The doctrine of salvation by faith alone is a lie. "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). If we want to go to heaven, we must do all things the Lord commands (Matthew 28:19-20; Hebrews 5:8-9).The Lawless
But the people whom the Lord portrayed as lost on judgment day in the Sermon on the Mount were so sincere they argued with the Lord about their salvation, they believed in Him as Lord, and they had even worked miracles in His name, yet they were lost (Matthew 7:22-23). Why?
Christ Jesus charged them with working "iniquity" (Matthew 7:23, King James Version), that is, "lawlessness" (New King James Version, New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version). Because of this He revealed to them, "I never knew you," i.e., He never looked on them with approval or accepted them.
There are many very religious people who claim to speak in tongues and to work other miracles, but who have women leading men in worship and Bible study in violation of the Lord's command (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12) and who use instruments of music in worship, for which there is no New Testament authority (Colossians 3:17; 2 John 9; Ephesians 5:18-19). They are practicing lawlessness, and the Lord rejects them.
I have many brethren who zealously turn the work of the Lord's church, a spiritual relationship (John 18:36; Romans 14:17; Ephesians 1:3,22-23), into carnal labors by having church sponsored recreational activities, such as ball teams and camping trips, by having common meals as a church function, by extending church benevolence to alien sinners, by having secular education as a work of the church, "and many other such things." Repeatedly, preaching brethren have defended these practices to me by claiming, "We do lots of things without Bible authority." Beloved brethren, that is the essence of lawlessness. Do you really suppose you are ready to meet the Lord in judgment?Conclusion
My friend, one day you and I will stand before the Lord in judgment (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). I hope you are religious, but that's not enough to be confident you are ready for the great day. The hypocrites, those who reject Christ, the disobedient, and the lawless, however religious they may be, will be lost. Are you ready for that day?