This is an edited excerpt from a potential new book called something like “The Narrow Gate”
Let’s look at a quote from Luke:
Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” Luke 13:23–30 NKJV]
“for many will seek to enter and will not be able.”
What this means is that we cannot get in with our baptismal certificate. It means that the word “Jesus” is not magic so we cannot simply approach the gate and mutter the magic word to get in. The same is true of the public confession. None of this is magic. It is all part of a larger truth and one that relatively few believers find.
I find that hard to believe, but in my years in the church—in many denominations with many doctrinal positions—it has become obvious that what the Lord is looking for is much more than can be put into a powerful incantation. In fact, there is no incantation, no special words, no special act that can get us into the Kingdom.
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The problem is a bit horrifying. Remember, wisdom is fear of the Lord. That word translated fear means reverence and awe, but the point is clear. All of what happens in these verses in Luke takes place after the end of the church is upon us and the Lord has shut this present point of access to God. Here:
…the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door…
What that means precisely we do not know. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 24 that no one will figure it out. We must be ready. We do not know the day nor the hour. We are not certain about the Rapture or when exactly the Lord will gather us all. The prophecy teachers each draw a wonderfully logical conclusion—conclusions that vary wildly.
I taught prophecy for years until the Lord stopped me. All I teach now is that none of us has it figured out. The Lord told me that many years ago. More than that, none of us will figure it out before it happens. He surprised everyone the first time He came. He will do it again the next time.
But, we do know for sure that a time is coming when the opportunity for rebirth and salvation in Jesus will be past. There are a series of verses in Matthew 24: 36–44 [NIV]. Here is an excerpted portion
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man… they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
All we know is that it will happen in a moment—a twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52]. These verses in Luke take place after that point in our lives. At that point, you didn’t make it and you are banging on the door (gate) shouting
“Lord, please, let me in!”
His horrifying response is, “Who are you? I don’t know you.” You continue,
“But I ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.”
Eating and drinking sound like the Eucharist, Mass, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper and you’ve partaken in His presence, as you were taught. You even claim that you have personally heard Him teach. That sounds like a reference to hearing preaching from an anointed man or woman of God—because that is how Jesus speaks in our streets in the church age.
This is clearly someone who has gone to church and participated. Yet, the Lord’s response is dreadful. “‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, you worker of iniquity.” Talk about confusing.
“He does not know me? Or where I am from?”
How could that be? If he does not know where I am from he must be talking about the Kingdom of God. If I were in the Kingdom, He would know it.
- But I am a Christian.
- I go to church.
- I listen to the teachings.
What is He talking about? Imagine the frustration. Try to comprehend the shock of discovering that your assumptions are faulty. Jesus lays it our much more clearly in the Matthew version of this same parable.
This church membership issue is extremely important to understand
Shortly after the passage where we started, Jesus continues with another of His confounding statements. Unless you are in the Kingdom, this will not make much sense. It’s not part of the lectionary and you may never have heard it before. So, if you have any doubt about your salvation, get it straight with the Lord before you continue.
A short prayer like this (if you really mean it) will solve the problem:
“Lord, forgive me. I don’t know for sure if I am in the kingdom. Forgive me for my sins of doubt, unbelief, and from the arrogance of assuming I had it covered—that I understood these matters. I repent and ask you to take control of my life, Lord Jesus. Touch me by your Holy Spirit to understand what you had to say here in the Gospel of Matthew.”
Raise your hand if you have ever heard a sermon on Matthew 7:21-23. I don’t see many hands, in the spirit. I heard a wonderful teaching on this recently from Robert Morris of Gateway Church in Texas, but that is the first I have heard in nearly forty years of involvement with the church (except for sermons by my wife and my own teachings). The passage starts with a bold call to obedience.
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?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” NKJV
The will of the Father
Most of our Christian walk should be focused on determining the will of God so we can obey Him. This is where our life abundant lies. This is how we put ourselves in a position to be blessed by the Lord. The early basics of Kingdom membership can be determined with a cursory read of the Gospels.
We see the core of it in John 6. Jesus had just miraculously fed a multitude with a few loaves and a couple of fish. They were so excited that they were going to try to force Him to be their king here on earth. He has been explaining to them that they just don’t get it—that he is the Bread of life and the miracle was meant to get them to focus on that reality. It really wasn‘t about free food. At the end of this lecture he finishes by saying:
Those the Father has given to me will come to me, and I will never reject them. Because I have come down from heaven to do God’s will. He sent me for this, not to do my own will. And His will is that I do not lose even one of all the people he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. My Father’s will is that all who see and believe in his Son should have eternal life. I will raise my people up at the last day. John 6:37–40
So the first major thing is to believe in Jesus: that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross so that you could be forgiven, and that He rose from the dead. We see the next portion of the Father’s will in John.
If you abide (stay, live, and reside) in me, and I live in you, then you will be very fruitful…If you keep my commandments, you will abide…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:5–12 [excerpted]
That’s certainly enough to keep us busy for a lifetime. However, knowing the will of the Father is different from actually doing it. Plus, doing it out of our own flesh doesn’t work either. The rest of the passage in Matthew calls many of our assumptions into question. He seems to point out people whose faith and position in the Kingdom would not be questioned by most of us. These are obviously so-called “religious” people. I hope you are not one of them.
Religion won’t do it
This is certainly part of the message of this portion of scripture. We always need to remember that Jesus had more trouble with religion than he did with anything else in his ministry. He was constantly coming against (often verbally attacking) the religious people of the day—particularly the scribes and pharisees.
These people he came against were not the Christmas/Easter people either. These were the heavily involved, defenders of doctrine, self-righteous hypocrites. The people who go to church every Sunday (and Wednesday and every other day the church is open), who are involved with the worship team. They are on the committees, helping set policy, zealously watching for infractions, and running the church.
But in this case, he even goes beyond that—directing his comments at the super believers. You know the ones. They’ve always got a word from the Lord. They love to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. They are up front, praying, ministering, and seeing results. For Jesus clearly says they have worked many miracles in Jesus’ name.
“…have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”
The name of Jesus is powerful. Non-believers can use His name fraudulently. Luke tells a story about Paul in Acts about people on the extreme end of this. The men in the story were not believers, and they come to a bad end. But it shows us the power of the name of Jesus. It shows us why we need to be in Jesus, part of the Kingdom of God.
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, “We exorcise 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, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. Acts 19:13-16 [NKJV]
We need to have Jesus via the Holy Spirit living within us to have any authority in situations like this. Seemingly, the people Jesus is talking about in this passage from Matthew used this authority. They are clearly church members, but Jesus’ words cut to the quick.
“I never knew you.”
Somehow these people are in the church ministering powerfully and yet the Lord does not know them and has never known them. What is going on?
Practicing lawlessness is common
In this portion of Matthew there is no hint that the people exorcizing demons were not church members. However, something is radically wrong. Let’s take the second part first. Jesus tells them that they are guilty of practicing medicine without a license—they are accused of practicing lawlessness. This is a serious charge. There is an entire book called the Bible dealing with the law and sin. We know that breaking the law or sinning keeps us out of the Kingdom without the grace of God.
The phrase used in the Old Testament about people like Jesus is talking about here is found in Judges. It should make it very clear to us what is going on here.
“Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
That is the practical, every day definition of lawlessness. Presently we are watching the spirit of lawlessness sweep from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf across northern Africa and the Middle East: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and so on. We see the Western World encouraging this lawlessness (foolishly, in my opinion). The people are rebelling against evil rulers. Some of this has to do with getting righteous, lawful leadership. Most of it is simple lawlessness.
The people bragging on themselves at the door to the Kingdom of God in our verses in Matthew are just as evil. They were working and ministering under their own power out of their own ideas for their own purposes. They were prophesying, but were false prophets—or at the very least powerless prophets. We won’t even get into the problems with prophets whose word is not really from the Lord.
The same is true of the exorcisms. They may have done powerful work, cleaning up people from the oppression of the enemy. There is no hint here that the works of deliverance did not work. The problem is in the ministers—not in those receiving the ministry.
The same is true of the wonders they did. Earnest seekers of help from the Lord can receive from unpure vessels. When yet another televangelist is brought down in scandal, it says nothing about the people who were touched by the Lord through the ministry. Poor ignorant sheep can get blessed by the Lord through carnal ministers.
These wonders are not produced by the spiritual power of the ministers. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit. I can’t say I understand it, but I have seen ministers with severe personal problems, controlled by lusts of the flesh in their personal life, minister in power to the people of God. Only the Lord knows their heart.
Works of power are no indication of the spiritual connection of the minister used by God. The scary thing, of course, is that it appears that workers like this might not even qualify to enter the kingdom when we are all called to be with our Lord and Messiah at the end of the age.
What is the deciding criteria?
The first thing you need to get taken care of is the statement the Lord makes:
“I never knew you.”
As a baby Christian you may not know Him very well. We know about the communication capabilities of babies. But we are expected to grow and mature. If you have been a believer for more than a few weeks or months, you are expected and required to know the Lord.
Our Christian lives are about the growth of a relationship. Nothing else matters, and everything we do is based upon that fellowship. We need to talk a little about what that means.
Let’s get back to the verse in Matthew that started this discussion, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” We must know him and have a close relationship with Him.
Religion will not save you
It may be (and commonly is) a hindrance to your salvation. It is a fertile field for ministry. It is not provider of salvation or sanctification. Those things are between you and your god. Introduce yourself and talk with Him today. Your entrance into the Kingdom depends on it.