Category: Bible Commentary

“I never knew you.”

A good friend, Mike, recently asked about my thoughts on these verses. Here is my response.

Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.

The key to this verse is “those who actually do the will.” We must be doers, and not just proclaimers, of faith (“Faith without works is dead.” – see my commentary of the two uses of “works.” One is born of duty and one is born of love for Jesus and what he has done for us). We see this same principle elsewhere in Scripture, particularly James 2, which is a warning against prejudice (James 2:1 – …how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? and also James 2:17 – So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless).

This appears contradictory to other teachings where we are justified by faith and not according to what we have done. This is where we really need two definitions to convey the idea of “works.” These verses in apparent contraction can be found in Genesis 15:6; Deuteronomy 9:4-6; Matthew 9:11-13; John 8:4-11; Romans 3:22-24, 4:4-5, 16, 5:2, 8, 17, 9:10-12, 10:3-13, 11:6; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 3:1-3, 7, 9-12, 21-26; Ephesians 1:5-12, 2:8-9; and Titus 3:4-7.

The Bible tells us clearly that we are not good enough to provide for our own salvation (Romans 3:23). Our Holy God cannot abide in our sinful presence or lawlessness (James 2:10) and we then require a Savior (Romans 8:3-4 and Titus 3:4-7).

While these two doctrines may appear contradictory, they are in fact complimentary. First, we are saved by grace alone (we don’t deserve it) (Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:4-7), but saving faith alone is never enough if you believe James 2:26 – Just as the body is dead without breath, (other manuscripts use the term “without spirit”) so also faith is dead without good works. Note here I am intending this definition of works to be works born out of our agape love for God, not obligation. I’ve heard a good analogy that while many counterfeiters may make exceptionally good counterfeit currency, closer examination will reveal they are not true currency. Similarly, true faith can be discerned by examining fruit (Matthew 7:16-20).

We may not be able to determine if one’s fruit is born out of a desire to serve a Holy God out of love or merely as a means to gain the favor or acceptance of others.

Matthew 7:22 – On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’

The question here is this; did the people actually do the things they were speaking of? We have a clue in Luke 6:46-47 – “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it (emphasis mine). I would argue that they never did prophesy or cast out demons, etc. Their intent was to deceive by claiming to have done these things. Even if they did successfully prophesize about a person or event, it was probably only a lucky guess that they had done it correctly.

Sadly, many people who claim to be a Christian can tell you they attended membership classes at church, got baptized, tithe to the church and helped out at the ministry fair for the community. This is the type of works-based mentality that some will engage in to merely impress others with their “Christianityism”. Titus 1:16 – They profess to know God, but deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. Note here the adjective qualifying the second occurrence of “work” in this passage; “good.” This is evidence of the two types of works that can be found in scripture. Unlike the first occurrence of “works” in this verse, “good works” are the works born out of a love for God and it is through these “good works” that our treasure is stored in heaven (Matthew 6:20 – Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.).

So were these people ever “born-again” believers?

Matthew 7:23 – But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

According to verse 23, the answer is an emphatic “NO!” Jesus told us He never knew them. This is evidence that while they may have claimed to done things in Jesus’ name, it was in name only; there was no repentant heart or surrender to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Baptism Defined and How It Applies to Salvation

While at Summit Colorado this summer, I engaged in a discussion with a bright young student on the issue of baptism. The discussion centered around two question, the first of which had to do with the definition of baptism and whether it always implied a water baptism by full immersion. The second question was regarding baptism as a requirement for salvation. While not exhaustive, this should help clarify those questions.

Baptism defined:Attendees-Photo

The root of baptism in Greek is “bapt” and there are many cognates of the word found in Scripture. In brief, it can mean immersion, washing or sprinkling, trouble (Jesus referring to a “baptism” he must undergo in Luke 12:50, suggesting a difficulty or trouble), a pouring out, this one often associated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Strong’s Greek 907 – baptidzo, baptize (Matt. 3:6, Mark 1:5, Luke 3:7, John 1:25, Acts 2:38, Rom. 6:3) means dip, submerge, but specifically of ceremonial dipping. A cognate of this word (baptizontes) appears in Matthew 28:19

Strong’s Greek 908 – baptisma, baptism (Matt. 3:7, Mark 1:4, Luke 12:50, Acts 1:22, Eph. 4:5, Col. 2:12) means the rite or ceremony of baptism.

Strong’s Greek 909 – baptismois, washings (Heb. 9:10) means dipping or ceremonial washing.

Strong’s Greek 910 – baptistas, baptist (Matt. 3:1, 14:2, Luke 7:20, 9:19) is a noun indicating a formal title. Used in scripture only with John the Baptizer.

Baptism as a requirement for salvation:

Baptism in the ANE (Ancient Near East) often was associated with someone converting from one religion to another. This idea leads some to believe that baptism is a requirement for salvation, but the Word clearly contradicts this idea. Admittedly, there are some verses that would suggest baptism as a requirement for salvation. John 3:5 is often cited where Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be “born of water” to enter the kingdom of God. This “born of water” can have multiple meanings:

  1. The water of the amniotic sack surrounding a baby in the womb.
  2. The ritual baptism of repentance practiced by Jews as part of their faith.
  3. The immersion of a new believer in Christ (our traditional view of baptism).
  4. A spiritual washing of the soul (cf. Deut. 30:6, Jer 31:31-34, Ezek. 11:18-20), signifying a new birth that cleanses and renews.

The first meaning is clearly not intended because it is physically impossible for a grown person to re-enter the womb, miracles notwithstanding. While the second may be possible, it is unlikely that Jesus intended this as He came to proclaim a New Kingdom, not the one the Jews were in at the time. Also important to note that even if Jesus intended this definition, He followed the “born of water” with a requirement to also be “born of the Spirit.” The third is also not likely as this form of baptism did not yet exist and it was only after Jesus’ death that this became a common practice.

That leaves us with the last option, of which Nicodemus would have been familiar. This option was the option Jesus was advocating. Further, in looking at the Greek, the word “and” is the Greek word kai, and can be translated either “and” or “even.” If it’s translated “even,” it casts a whole different light on the issue and supports the idea that “born of water even the Spirit” means the spiritual regeneration that comes from repentance. “Water” and “Spirit” are often synonymous in the Old Testament.

Acts 2:38 is also used by those that claim baptism is a requirement for salvation. This also fails the context test when studying the Greek. Here the word “for” is examined and found to have several possible definitions including “in order to be,” “because of, as the result of,” or “with regard to.” Most scholars agree the proper interpretation of this passage should read “because of” or “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Also, both John 3:5 and Acts 2:38 must align with other scriptures that clearly fail to demonstrate water baptism as a requirement for salvation.

The Bible tells us that salvation is by faith alone (see John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5 to name a few verses in support of this). If baptism is a requirement for salvation, Paul is remiss in his failure to insist on it in multiple verses throughout his writings.

Lastly, baptism as a requirement for salvation is contrary to the nature of God. Consider two examples.

The first is the thief on the cross we read about in Luke 23:32-43 with Jesus saying to him “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Clearly the thief was not baptized, yet he would enter the Kingdom with Jesus. Some would argue the thief died under the OT law (before the NT) but this logic fails when we consider the salvation of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.

Second is an objection that contradicts the idea that God is love. Consider a scenario whereby a person truly receives Christ as their Lord and Savior, say perhaps on a Saturday night service and has plans to be baptized the next day in church. They are killed in a car accident on the way home that evening, never making it to church the next day. Would a loving God consign that person to hell for failure to complete the act of receiving Jesus? This is completely contrary to His nature.

For a further discussion of this issue, I recommend D. A. Carson’s commentary, The Gospel According to John.