“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)
Not everyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ is a true Christian. There are many people who think they are Christian because they have been raised in a Christian home, go to a Christian church, believe the Bible is true, do not follow other religions, or because they “made a decision for Jesus Christ” one day. But Jesus makes it very clear that you must be born from above by the Holy Spirit and repent of your sins in order to receive new life in Christ. He also says that this new life will naturally result in love for His word, obedience to His commands, forsaking everything else to follow Him, suffering for His sake, identifying with Him in public, joining regularly with fellow believers in reverent worship, and sharing that faith with others.
Bible Knowledge is not Enough
Pharisees and scribes were experts on the scripture. They wore little leather boxes containing verses from the Old Testament on their arms and long tassels on their robes to remind them to keep the law. They were considered the most righteous group of people in Jesus’ day. Yet Jesus said of them, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). In fact, the entire twenty third chapter of the book of Matthew is dedicated to Jesus’ diatribe against these religious leaders. He condemns them for leading people astray, legalism, hypocrisy, pretentiousness, lawlessness, and even murder (Mt 23:13-36).
In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In verses 17-19 he says that the true measure of genuine faith is not what you say, but what you do, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
True Faith Manifests Itself in Good Works
The Apostle James says that faith without works is dead and useless (James 2:17, 26). You cannot ignore the needs of a brother or sister and justify it by simply offering to pray for them. That is not faith. You cannot claim to love Christ and show consistent disregard for the word of God. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21). 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” So whether or not you were born to Christian parents, have attended church all your life, or once “made a decision for Jesus Christ,” if you persist in practicing unrighteousness, you are not a Christian.
A New Commitment — A New Way of Life
True faith is more than just words. It is more than just good intentions or right beliefs. It is a commitment. It is taking Christ at His word and putting your trust in Him. It involves an acknowledgment of your guilt as a sinner and a heart-felt repentance before God. It is not something you can choose to do on your own because your heart, like the heart of all mankind, is thoroughly corrupt and incapable of any good (Jer 17:9).
It involves a spiritual rebirth. This birth is not the result of the will of man or the flesh like your physical birth. It is the result of the will of God (Jn 1:11-13). You cannot produce it just like you cannot produce your own natural birth, because in your natural state, you are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). It is produced by the Holy Spirit which, like the wind, blows wherever it will, bringing a new spiritual birth (Jn 3:5-8). You can contribute nothing to your own salvation. It is entirely a work of God. He began it and He will bring it to completion.
This new birth brings a new life. Old things are passed away, all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17). With the new life comes a new mindset characterized by righteousness and holiness. “and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). This new mindset is completely alien to the natural way of thinking (Rom 8:5).
A New Life with a New Purpose and a New Hope
This new life draws its sustenance from spiritual sources. Its food is Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (Jn 6:48-50). It nourishes itself and grows through the proclamation of the Word of God, worship with other believers, and prayer.
This spiritual life has a new purpose — not simply to amass perishable things while sustaining and reproducing itself, but to lay up imperishable treasures in heaven while glorifying God here on earth and reproducing itself spiritually in the lives of others (Matthew 6:20; 1 Cor 6:20).
This new life also has a new hope. No longer must it face ultimate extinction. It is eternal, “And this is the promise that he made to us eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
This New Life Does Not Come Cheaply
Jesus does not accept a half-hearted commitment from those who wish to obtain this new life. He expects his followers to forsake whatever stands in the way of total commitment to Him whether it be family, the comforts of life, or even life itself. Like the man who builds a tower or the king who goes to war, he must first count the high cost of allegiance to this new Lord. Nothing must stand in the way (Lk 14:25-33). He also expects his followers to acknowledge Him publicly (Lk 12:8-9), to gather regularly for corporate worship (Heb 10:23-25), and to share their faith with others (Mt 28:19-20).
If this describes your relationship with Jesus Christ, then you can count on the fact that you will be spending eternity with Him. But you can also count on the fact that this life on earth will be filled will trouble, for Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (Jn 15:20). But Jesus also said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Each trial you pass as you cling tightly to your Lord and He holds you firmly in His hand is just another indication that the faith you possess is the real deal.