Dr. James Montgomery Boice has pointed out the special irony of Jesus’ warning about the wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15) when we consider it within the context of modern academia. We often refer to diplomas as “sheepskins” because that is the material on which such diplomas were originally printed. Today, many with “sheepskins,” or higher-level degrees, are teaching rank error in our colleges and seminaries. These are clear instances of wolves speaking with the “respectability” of the sheep (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, p. 115).
Those who teach falsehoods usually have no desire to follow God’s Word and care little if Scripture endorses their positions. We will probably not be taken off guard on judgment day when Christ banishes such hardened individuals. However, today’s passage warns us that some will be surprised when many who appear to be believers are barred access to glory on that day. Not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (vv. 21–23).
This teaching should instill within us a healthy fear and trepidation. It is possible to do great works in our Savior’s name and to assent to His Lordship without really trusting Him for salvation. The people in today’s passage have a false assurance of their Christian faith. They know the right things, but they have not done the right things. Their faith is dead, for their works are not done in obedience to Jesus (James 2:14–26). John Chrysostom says that we may claim to know the Lord, but we “derive no benefit as long as the actual fruits of good living are not present” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 23.7).
Of course, this does not mean we are saved by our works. Jesus tells us God’s kingdom belongs only to those who recognize their poverty of spirit (Matt. 5:3), which involves abandoning any effort to earn the Creator’s favor and a casting of oneself wholly upon His free grace (Rom. 4:1–8). Nevertheless, God’s grace is not cheap. We do not have faith if we confess Him as Savior without doing what He says in the Sermon on the Mount. The ancient Israelites were fools to trust in the presence of the Temple to protect them (Jer. 7:1–29). Likewise, we are fools if we trust in our profession without repenting of our sin and doing what Jesus says.
God knows we will never be perfect in this life, but He does expect us to grow in faith and increasingly conform to Christ by loving our fellow Christians, understanding true doctrine, and following His precepts (1 John 3:23–24). Those whose lives increasingly reflect such things can be sure that they do not profess Jesus falsely. Let today’s passage prompt you to take a “spiritual inventory.” Where have you seen growth? Where do you need to be more obedient?
For further study:
The Bible in a year:
For the weekend: