[You can download an audio mp3 of Dr. Robbins giving this lecture here. Download a conveniently printable PDF here. It should be noted that while I am in full agreement with Robbins’ exegesis of the biblical passages, I do not always share his opinions regarding the early Christian creeds. For an examination of the “He descended into hell” phrase, see this essay by Daniel Hyde. -PTMcW]
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
This passage of Scripture is widely misunderstood. The Baptist John MacArthur, the Christian Reformed Norman Shepherd, and Pope John Paul II all misunderstand the passage, and they misunderstand it in essentially the same way. They all-Baptist, Reformed, and Romanist-appeal to verse 21 for the same reason: It seems to teach salvation by doing, rather than by mere believing. After all, Jesus does say that it is only those who do the will of his Father who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
In his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur cites this passage and asserts: Real faith is as concerned with doing the will of God as it is with affirming the facts of true doctrine (189). Real faith, saving faith, according to MacArthur, is as much about doing as it is about believing, for Jesus brought a message of works (79). In his book, The Call of Grace, Norman Shepherd tells us that “The consequence of disobedience is exclusion from the kingdom of heaven” (49). So a believer may be excluded from the Kingdom for his disobedience, because belief alone is not enough. To faith one must add covenant faithfulness. And the most eloquent statement of the three, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1821, cites Matthew 7:21 as Scriptural support for its statement that In every circumstance each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.
Notice that the Catholic Catechism mentions grace twice in this single sentence. Many non-Catholics labor under the mistaken impression that the Roman Church-State teaches salvation by works apart from the grace of God and Christ. But it does not, and this paragraph reflects its teaching that the good works Christians do are done by the grace of God and Christ. This common misrepresentation and misunderstanding of Romanist doctrine has contri-buted to (or is caused by) a misunderstanding of Biblical doctrine. Our works, our doing, the Bible teaches, contribute nothing whatsoever to our salvation. They are neither an instrument for our justification nor a condition of our salvation. The difference between the Bible and Rome is not that Rome teaches salvation by faith and works-without-grace, while the Bible teaches salvation by faith and works-with-grace. The difference between the Bible and Rome is that the Bible teaches that our salvation does not depend on our works at all (whether allegedly done by the grace of God or not), while Rome asserts that our salvation depends in part on our works. The Bible affirms sola fide; Rome denies it.
But let us return to the text. Continue Reading