“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!’ ” —Matthew 7:21-23
The most disturbing thing about the entire Federal Vision and No Perspective on Paul movements infecting the church is the equating or leveling of faith and faithfulness. For these men righteousness comes not through imputation, which most think is a redundant addition to union which is affected by baptism, but results from our own acts of covenantal faithfulness. Jeffrey Meyers put it this way; “‘Righteousness’ in the Bible means covenant faithfulness. A person is righteous when he does what the covenant requires of him.” Their scheme is simple; our initial union with Christ is consummated at baptism (this is why they compare baptism to marriage) and we are finally justified on the last day on the basis of our perseverance in covenant faithfulness (or simply by being a good spouse).
Their argument is that works done by faith, and which are the fiducial element that makes ordinary faith or belief salvific, are non-meritorious acts of obedience. This isn’t works righteousness. This is what Federal Visionists mean by the “obedience of faith.” They unanimously hate the idea of merit, whether it is the idea that Adam as our federal head could have merited life through his obedience in the Garden or even that Jesus could have merited life for us through his obedience “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” For them our covenental faithfulness merits nothing. Instead our covenantal faithfulness merely evidences the genuineness or sincerity of our faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we stand before Christ in the final judgment our faithfulness will shine forth as evidence that, yes, we too are good and faithful servants. Federal Visionists and those who follow them will one day soon stand expectantly waiting to hear Jesus say: “enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Sadly, Jesus tells us in advance exactly what he will say — “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Below is a selection from a powerful sermon by John Robbins delivered sometime, I believe, in 2001. You can read his entire sermon here or listen to it here. In either case, this is one sermon not to be missed.
Excerpt from Justification and Judgment:
Now here is the question: If none of us has done or will do anything like the works these men will have done, and if these men are lost, then what hope is there for us? If Jesus himself turns these men out of the Kingdom of Heaven-these many men who have performed such great works in the name of Jesus-what hope have we? If these very active, professing Christians, these church leaders, will be sent to Hell, what hope have we of gaining Heaven?
The answer is, We have no hope, if, like these men, we rely on our works. If we believe that our works help obtain our salvation, we have no hope of Heaven, no matter how great our works, no matter how faithful our obedience, regardless of whether we act in the name of Jesus, or whether we confess Jesus as Lord. If we rely on our obedience or our covenant faithfulness or our good works, we are lost.
This is the crux of the passage, and of salvation. When these church leaders give their defense at the Judgment, they will offer their works as Exhibits A, B, and C. Their plea to Jesus will be their works-works done in the name of Jesus, to be sure, but works nonetheless. And far from lessening their guilt, doing their works in the name of Jesus increases their guilt before God.
Far from teaching a message of works, Jesus warns us that anyone who comes before him at the Judgment and offers his works, his covenant faithfulness, or his life as his defense will be sent to Hell. Far from teaching that our works are necessary for our salvation, Jesus here teaches that all our works contribute not one whit to our salvation.
Why will many men not be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven? What is wrong with their defense? Jesus tells us plainly: They will plead their own lives and Christian works.
What their defense should be is not their works, but the imputed righteousness of Christ. Many will be sent to Hell because they will not mention that they are sinners saved only by the righteousness of the Man Christ Jesus.
They will not mention the perfect life, sinless death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They will not mention the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to those who believe in him. They will not mention the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for his people. They will not mention that Jesus Christ earned their salvation for them [that would be merit after all – SG]. They will not mention that Jesus Christ suffered the penalty of Hell due to them, that Jesus satisfied the justice of the Father in their behalf.
In short, they will not confess Jesus as Saviour, even while they confess him as Lord.
Jesus in his mercy has told us one thing that will happen on the Day of Judgment. This is not a parable; this is not a metaphor. This is prophecy. It is exactly what many scholars deny prophecy is: future history. When Jesus here uses the verb will, when he speaks in the future tense, he speaks literally, and these events must happen. We ought to heed his warning and realize that if we rely on anything we do-faithful church attendance, tithing, serving as a church officer, writing, speaking, teaching, holding crusades attended by millions, raising money, giving alms to the poor, building hospitals, Christian schools, churches, baptism, participation in the Lord’s Supper-we are lost. All our righteousnesses — Isaiah does not say unrighteousnesses — are as filthy rags.
Jesus tells us that many people at the Judgment will argue that they deserve Heaven, that they have a right to Heaven because they have done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus. They will not acknowledge their depravity, for they think they are good men. They will not acknowledge the Satisfaction and Atonement of Jesus, because they do not believe it. Their prayer will not be, God, be merciful to me a sinner, but, Jesus, I did many wonderful works in your name, and now you ought to reward me with Heaven. Whatever these churchgoers and church leaders may believe about themselves and about Jesus, they do not believe in their own depravity, nor in the imputed righteousness of Christ. They do not believe that the only way to Heaven is through Jesus Christ. In short, they do not believe the Gospel, and that is why they are damned.
The vivid warning that Jesus gives us in this passage is not merely about the futility of working for salvation. It is also a warning about believing some things about God and Jesus, but not believing the Gospel. James tells us that demons believe in one God-and they are lost. That means that monotheism per se will not save anyone. Mark tells us that one demon recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God, and that demon was lost. That means that acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah per se will not save anyone. (And if anyone suggests that it is obedience that makes faith saving, it seems that no one obeys Jesus Christ more quickly in the New Testament than the demons to whom he speaks.)