“False Assurances”

Scripture Text: Matthew 7.21-29

May 7, 2023 – 6:00 pm Evening Service

Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA

                                                      Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez

When I first started Matthew, my plan was to preach to the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Today we reach the final section of the Sermon on the Mount. I’ll begin reading in Matthew 5:17 for context.

The Reading of the Word

Context: Matthew 5:17-20   “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 7:21-29   “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. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matt. 7:24   “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matt. 7:28   And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


We have arrived at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.

As we conclude, let’s revisit how Jesus began this sermon for context. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law.” In fact, quite the opposite. He states that there are consequences for those who relax even the least of these commandments.

Throughout the sermon, Jesus has demonstrated the true interpretation of the law by contrasting it to the flawed way that false leaders were interpreting it.

Where they lessened the law’s force, and reduced its teaching to nothing more than extreme scenarios, Jesus demonstrated the depth of the law and its implications in every area of life.

And in so doing, Jesus shows us the desires of God’s heart and the heart of his commandments.


And as we come to this final section on the Sermon on the Mount, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of this point, and how confused many were about it, Jesus teaches that on that final judgment day, when we will have to give account to God, many will come to him with false assurances, saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” and he will respond to them, “depart from me you workers of lawlessness. I never knew you.”

These men and women had deceived themselves into thinking they were his disciples, but they were far from him.

So Jesus warns all his disciples of the signs of the false assurance. For a false disciple:

  1. Rests in his Status
  2. Reduces God’s law
  3. Refuses to Change in the inner man.

The False Disciple Rests in his Status

When we first arrived on the mission field in Bogota, Colombia, we learned a new expression in Spanish that goes like this, “Músico pagado toca mal son.” When translated, this means, “A paid musician plays a bad tune.”

The idea is that if you pay a musician or a worker before they do the job, the likelihood of them doing a good job decreases because they have already secured the gig and the payment. And that can apply in many areas of life.

Once there is a sense of assurance, people can check out. We all get this. Those of you seniors battling senioritis definitely get this.

In what must have been somewhat surprising, the people Jesus was speaking about were not only Jews – the people of God – but they were the leaders of the Jews. They were the scribes and the Pharisees, who everyone looked to for spiritual guidance.

All would have assumed that if anyone was on track for salvation, it was these men.

These are the people whose righteousness was evident to everyone. They were always in the temple, or on the street corners praying. They were known to be generous givers, and even gave a tithe on their garden herbs [Luke 11:42]. It was known that they fasted regularly.

They were the people who prophesied, and cast out demons, and did many mighty works.

It would be hard to imagine a more upstanding group than these.

And yet Jesus says that on the day of judgment he will say, to many like these, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

This is a tremendously terrifying statement.

How could it be that these men who lived and dedicated their lives to religious study, who did everything down to the letter of the law, following all the regulations and protocols, washings and sacrifices could be so absolutely mistaken about their eternity? And if they were wrong, then who could be right?

Was Jesus saying that no one can then be sure of their salvation? Or what is going on here?

If you remember, Matthew 5:20, opens with Jesus teaching that our righteousness had to “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees,” or we would “never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The issue isn’t that we can’t have assurance of salvation. The issue is that these scribes and Pharisees rested in a righteousness that was no righteousness at all. Their assurance was false. Because their lives were false.

This was in part, because in their minds, their righteousness was one that was based on their status as scribes and Pharisees, and what they had accomplished. Their righteousness was external. They said the right things, and it seemed like they did a lot of good things, but their hearts were far from doing the will of God.

And this has been a problem with the people of God even from the beginning. The covenant people of God have often assured themselves that they are safe from judgment based on their status within the covenant community.

Moses warned of this back in Deuteronomy. He exhorted the people that they had to depart from their stubbornness, and rather than rely on their covenant circumcision, to circumcise their hearts. [Deut. 10:16]

How would they circumcise their hearts? Moses reminds them that the Lord required that they walk in all his ways. They were to, “serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD…” [Deut. 10:12 -13].

While Israel was outwardly circumcised, and thus part of the covenant people of God, we see that they were still called to love God. To walk in his ways, to serve him with all their heart and all their soul. In that way they would demonstrate the circumcision of their hearts. Which is what God wanted from them.

Paul made this very connection when he spoke of his fellow kinsmen. He noted that 

“not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…” [Romans 9]

And like Jesus, Paul rebuked those who would boast in their status as Jews. He says,

Rom. 2:17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God … because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish… 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

Paul then goes on to demonstrate how these types of Jews are no Jews at all. He says,

While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Then he makes this conclusive and terrifying statement:

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart….

Jesus is teaching that external righteousness is not righteousness at all if it is not accompanied by an inward righteousness of the heart.

We have to know this is true, for what does it take to be a Christian outwardly? Nothing. JC Ryle says it this way:

“It costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as a thousand around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. [Holiness, 82]

And the thing is, Paul notes that even the watching world observes that there is something off here. They see the hypocritical behavior and consider their religions a farce. The Pharisee’s behavior (rather than causing the pagan to turn and praise God) causes them to mock and blaspheme God. For, they might reason, how great could God be, if his children live no differently than unbelievers?

And if that inconsistency is obvious to the unbelieving world, how much more to the all-knowing, omniscient, God?

So, Jesus warns his disciples of the false assurance and false hope of resting in outward obedience. Unless our righteousness surpasses external appearances, we will never see the kingdom of God.

Being a Christian is a matter of genuine obedience in the inner man.

The False Disciple Reduces God’s Law (“Workers of Lawlessness”)

The other warning Jesus issues is that the false disciple is lawless. He weakens God’s law by making his commandments easier to follow.

Jesus taught that whoever relaxed his law, even the smallest of the commandments, and taught others to do the same would be called least in the kingdom of heaven. On judgment day he will reject them, calling them “workers of lawlessness.”

 “Lawlessness is basically the rejection of the law of God. The word is often translated in terms of wrongdoing…but the term is a refusal to submit to the law of God.” [Morris, 181]

And we have to understand that there are many ways to sidestep God’s law that don’t seem extreme. Traps that are easy to fall in.

For example, one way to think of this is simply reading the commandment “Do not murder,” at face value. This would put the weight of the commandment only on an external, visible boundary.

In this view of the commandments, then, the sixth commandment is merely prohibiting the act of murder.  In this case, the focus is entirely on outward and external conformity, limiting the commandment to one thing: murder. And that one thing could easily be checked off. As long as you are not a murderer, you are good to go. No wonder the rich young ruler thought he had kept all the commandments.

Jesus, on the other hand, went deeper than the surface. He went after the heart of the commandment. God wasn’t only concerned that people not kill others, but that they live righteously. That they understand that hate and anger are also unacceptable. This takes the law to a heart level.

And this is what Jesus is getting at. He wants our obedience to come from the inner man.

House built on solid foundation

Many years ago, I remember watching the news as multi-million dollar homes on the California coast started to slide off the cliffs into the water below due to eroding foundations. These families’ lives were devastated – even with insurance.

Your home is a deeply important piece of your life. It is the place where you do life, where your family is. Your home is where you grow together, eat and sleep. It is where you keep your memories and all your possessions. For that reason, your home needs a firm foundation that will protect you and your family through winds, storms, and all sorts of troubles in this life. And Jesus says that your life is that home.

It is the center of all you do and are. It must be cared for and protected. It cannot be built on false, eroding, or shaky ground.

And when we listen to Jesus’ words and obey them….not just outwardly, but from the heart, down to the root, we build our homes on an immovable foundation. We build on eternal foundations that will never fail.

Once again, Jesus demonstrates the importance of obedience. A deeper and genuine obedience. This is part of being a true Christian.

Now of course, we should not make any mistakes about what we’re talking about here. We are not talking about obedience for the salvation of the Christian’s soul. We know fully well that “it costs nothing less than the blood of the Son of God to provide an atonement, and to redeem man from hell.”  [Ryle, 82]

Berkhof explains that “the Bible clearly indicates that the entrance upon the covenant life is conditioned on faith” and at the same time it also clearly threatens covenant children who ignore and refuse to walk in the way of the covenant.” [Berkhof, 281]

The point is, that while the Scripture preaches a gospel of extravagant grace that requires nothing from us, it also preaches a gospel of radical discipleship that demands everything of us. [Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ, 69.]

Author Rankin Wilbourne asks what are we supposed to do?

“…come and rest or come and die? We suspect this is a false choice. We know it doesn’t have to be either/or. We know both of these messages are thoroughly biblical and sorely needed (Matt. 11:28-30; Luke 9:23). And we can see how either message by itself can be dangerous. [Wilbourne, 69]

Each denomination carries its own baggage. Some lean a little more toward “come and rest” and others lean a little more toward “come and die.”

While grace is preached in some denominations, heavier emphasis might be put on observable and outward compliance to God’s law.

For Presbyterians, we might be more tempted to cling on to our irresistible grace, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints pretty firmly, and can be highly sensitive against legalism and works-righteousness.

But we don’t want to pit these two against each other.  Rather than seeking a 50/50 split balance, we actually need 100% of both. [Wilbourne, 69]

So where do we tend to lean?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, even back in the 1930s, saw the great illness of the church as not a lack of familiarity with grace, but rather our over familiarity with it. He writes:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. Cheap grace means…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 45, 47, 55, 60.]

Bonhoeffer is picking up on what Jesus is teaching here. While we might not be in danger of legalism, we must just be in danger of lawlessness – cheap grace.

And part of that lawlessness, is that we can deceive ourselves by being content with a surface level reading of obedience. We can reduce God’s law to the point that to break it would be unthinkable.

We consider the command to not murder or steal as ridiculous to us as going into a bank to steal thousands of dollars and murdering people. We would never do that.

But it is that sort of Pharisee level reading that gets us into trouble. Jesus is calling us to much more than a surface level reading. Jesus wants change in our inner man. To take that commandment and flesh it out.

But the reality is that…..

The False Disciple Refuses to Change in the Inner Man

See, Jesus’ message, is that the man who hears this message, must obey in all areas of life.

Now, I heard this elsewhere, but I’m going to tell a story to illustrate this point.

Now this is a story about my wife, Alicia and me. See, we will be celebrating 18 years of marriage next week.

Now, picture this. I go to the store and pick out the biggest bundle of romantic-y flowers that I can find. I spend a lot, and then rather than just walking through the front door, I put the flowers behind my back and I ring the doorbell, which is unusual. She comes to the door and is confused, and I say, “Happy Anniversary, Alicia.” And she says, “Oh Nathaniel, they’re beautiful. Why did you go to such an expense?”

What if I said, “Well, it’s my duty. I read somewhere that this is what husbands do.”

What’s wrong with that answer? If you are shaking your head at me, you are right to be.

What if instead I did this? (Rewind five seconds) Ding-dong. “Happy Anniversary, Alicia.” And she says, “Oh Nathaniel, they’re beautiful. Why did you go to such an expense?” And I say, because I love you with all my heart. I just couldn’t help myself. In fact, I’ve got reservations and a plan for this evening, and I can’t wait to take you out so let’s go get changed!” [Adapted from John Piper’s “Delight is our Duty”]

What is the difference? Both are external, but one comes from the heart and manifests itself externally, and the other is merely external and has no heart.

Jesus does not want our obedience without our hearts. He wants our hearts to pursue obedience.

So how do we do that? What does it mean to obey inwardly? Well, it is a call to a radical and thorough obedience.

On the way to school the other day, one of my concerned children asked for clarity, “Um dad, I read in my Bible this morning that Jesus tells us we need to cut off our hand and pluck out our eye.” Good question!

To obey inwardly doesn’t mean our sin is in our hands or eyes, but it does mean that you are willing to do whatever it takes to be rid of sin. That you see the commandments the way Jesus does. You see that these sins are serious sins that require serious action.

If you turn back in your Bible to the Sermon on the Mount, you’ll find plenty of places where Jesus commands a more radical obedience than we are used to. Following Jesus requires us to come and die to our sins. To go further and more radical than we are comfortable going.

What does a more radical discipleship look like to you? If you were to turn over all the rocks in your life, what sins would you find? For starters, what are the more “acceptable” sins that can be found in the reformed community? A few that come to mind immediately are disobedience or lawlessness when it comes to how we use our lips in two senses: 1) in our speech and 2) in our consuming.

Our Speech

First, let’s look at our speech.

As we know, one of the more respectable, less judged sins in our circles is our speech. We use our words to glorify God and then with the same mouths that we utter praise to our Holy God, we then turn and profane his name.

As Paul noted, the unbelieving world watches us, and the question is, do we lead by example in our speech, or rather is it because of our unholy speech that they blaspheme our God?

Of course, unholy speech can manifest itself in a variety of ways. To name a few, we think of our more frequent “respectable sins”: judgmental comments, underhanded sarcasm, gossip, and anger.

We can go on, but think about just these for a moment.

Good or bad, do you remember something that was said to you in your childhood – by a parent, a fellow student – that has stuck with you all of your life? Consider how our throwaway comments can tear people down and destroy them for days if not for life.

Gossip and sarcasm are like devastating confrontational grenades that are lobbed at a person or their friends. Rather than sit down and talk out an issue in humility as Scripture calls, retaliation and revenge often win the day through the lobbing of a thinly veiled insult at an opponent, or a perfectly placed piece of slander in the hearing of a friend.

While the results of these revenge grenades may seem insignificant, we all know that even an indirectly lobbed comment grenade can cause extensive damage.

Sure, we might justify our actions by reasoning that we are not technically “lying.” But the truth is that the use of sarcasm, underhanded comments, unkind remarks, and gossip, all fall into this category of speaking the truth rather than speaking lies.

What about how we express anger? Be it aggressive anger or passive aggressive anger, our sinful anger is an expression of a deep desire to dominate or humiliate someone in order to belittle them or silence them.

To elevate your power over someone who is weaker than you or in subjection to you in some way, is often oppressive and forceful. How have you let your lips demonstrate patterns of wickedness, rather than godliness? How have you used your power to humiliate and teardown adults, young people, or children?

Addictive Substances

What about addictive substances? How does God’s call to holiness impact how we consider our level of consumption of alcohol, tobacco, food, and desserts?

Wait a minute, we are in the PCA, and we all know that stands for Pipes, Cigars and Alcohol. Don’t start getting legalistic on me.

If this is where you jumped in your mind, know that so did I, and that is why I am saying this. We are quick to protect these gifts because we value our freedom in Christ. And yet, I would remind you that freedom in Christ is not the same thing as overconsumption and abuse. We are called to bring every area of our lives into submission to Christ.

Has someone jokingly or indirectly asked you if you have a drinking problem and/or had to cut you off from having another drink? Do people joke about you needing a drink regularly? Have you become significantly intoxicated or drunk? Have you ever wondered if you drank too much to drive? Or have you had a really close call?

Now, don’t misunderstand me, Jesus made water into wine. Wine and alcohol are not the problem. We can enjoy these amazing gifts that God has given us, when we are of age, and in moderation. But it is another thing to abuse these, and to justify the abuse. Be careful to write this off, or write someone else off as just being too judgmental and encroaching on your freedom, when you have actually allowed yourself to go too far, once too many times.

These areas I have mentioned are ones that might be a little easier to pick out, but there are many, many other areas. What about how we eat? Or perhaps you don’t eat enough? How about how we cling or spend our money? What about your tithes and offerings? How about how we spend our time – in idleness or overworking? Are our watching or reading habits honoring to God?

This exercise in listing out a few key areas of sin is a first step. I invite you to consider how you might have your own Pharisaical tendencies when it comes to tending toward lawlessness.

How will you exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and actually deal with the root of the problem? What next steps will you take? Which friend, elder, or pastor can you turn to in order to be accountable to growing in any of these areas? Start with one or two concrete steps and in this way, seek to put Christ’s commands into practice inwardly as well as outwardly.


Brothers and sisters, Jesus teaches us that he must be Lord over all areas of our lives. He is either Lord of all, or he is Lord of nothing. We cannot allow sin to reign in one area, and think that it won’t seep into others. We cannot live life thinking that there are respectable or allowable sins. If we are his true disciples, we must be disciples in all areas of life.

So come to Jesus, lay down your sins, and your life, and follow him. Make him your sure foundation. As the hymn teaches, 

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

He will not desert to his foes.

Though all hell should endeavor to shake,

Jesus will never, no never, forsake. [How Firm a Foundation modified]


This sermon draws on material from:

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Ferguson, Sinclair. Living Out the Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in A Fallen World. Colorado Springs, Colorado. NavPress, 1986.

Keener, Craig. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Illinois. InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Ryle, J.C. Holiness. Moscow, Idaho: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001.

Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew. Great Britain. James Clarke & Co. LTD, 1965.

Sproul, R.C. Matthew: An Expositional Commentary. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019.

Wilbourne, Rankin. Union with Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2016

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