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August 23, 2016


v22 refers to "that day" which is eschatological. It is the same term that is used in Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Zechariah. Jesus is referring to entrance to the millennial kingdom.

Odd that the atheist refers to this as a “seeming contradiction.” Could it be that they recognize this as a non-contradiction, and want only to confuse and frustrate those who are sincerely seeking the truth?

Of course this is a non-contradiction. The foundational verses John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 establish that a man can be saved through belief in Christ, and not by works. Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:21-23 actually echoes this idea, as the men being denied entry to the kingdom of heaven relied upon their religious works to earn their salvation. His point was that it is possible to have religious works without having religious faith, and further that we should be on guard for such as these, which he previously calls “false prophets”.

The reason this is called a “seeming contradiction” is probably because of verse 21, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Reading this as a contradiction requires the atheist to believe that the phrase “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord…” means the same as “Not every one that believes in me…” They fail to recognize the difference between merely believing that the man Jesus Christ exists and holds a certain position of superiority (which these false prophets certainly do), and believing that his life, death, and resurrection are our salvation (which is the will of his Father, which we must do).

I would pull in some extra verses of scripture in order to increase the supposed weight of the contradiction, only then to tear it down. Specifically I'd pull in Romans 2:13, Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. In The two Romans verses it even looks like St. Paul is contradicting himself from one chapter to the next in the exact same manner as the challenge verses. How do we possibly reconcile 3:28 with 2:14 and James 2:24 in light of the challenge verses?

The basic premise of my answer is that Grace is a free gift given by God to Man, but that Man can lose his salvation by rejecting that Grace through His later actions. Below I will justify that conclusion:

The real sticking points here seem to be Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8-9. What seems to be the issue is Paul's reference to Works in Romans- but what is he really referring to? An attentive reader will realize that throughout the opening chapters of his letter Paul is making reference to two works: actions in accordance with the moral/natural Law, and 'Works of the Law', where 'the Law' is the purity laws of Judaism. With this in Mind it becomes clear that Paul is referring to the Mosaic Purity Laws of Judaism when he says we are justified by Faith apart from the Law- I.e., we are given grace through faith in Christ, not by the Mosaic Laws. This becomes clear in the context of these verses, Paul is referring alternatively from righteous gentiles and then to Jews who keep the law; evidenced by his references to circumcision and his posing the rhetorical question 'what advantage has the Jew?'

Again in Ephesians then it becomes easy to see that what Paul is explaining here is that there is nothing Man can do to earn Grace- it is a gift that is unmerited by any works-Mosaic Law or Moral law included.

By reading scripture as a whole we can get a clearer picture of how James 2:24 fits in with Matthew 7:21-23 and with Paul's letters: Saving Grace is given to Man who does not deserve it, however it is possible to reject the gift even after receiving it. Examples in the old testament abound: Adam and Eve fell from Grace, a Grace they did not earn but still lost. The Hebrews were rescued from Egypt, but sinned with the Golden Calf and thus subjected to the Mosaic Laws as a remedial punishment. In the New Testament, Paul's letter to the Romans says we'll receive according to our works (chapt 2), so God, while bestowing us with His Son and the gift of Grace, still acts consistent with His actions in History prior to Christ.

And now finally in John 3:16 it becomes clear that faith in Christ gives grace but in turn demands conversation of ones' life and actions. We are called to 'Take up our Cross', an action, and follow Christ as a response to Grace. Even in Matthew we can see that Christ expects not just Faith and actions that appear to jive with that Faith- but even deeper conversion of our hearts: Such a conversion cannot be real unless we are truly inspired by the gift of Grace to live in accordance with God's will.

This "thinking" atheist needs to show some evidence of thought. This issue is "asked and answered" in several places in scripture.

Just flip your Bible back a page from the Matthew 7 passage the "thinking" atheist quotes above to chapter 6. Jesus talks about people who donate to charity with, literal, fanfare to announce their generosity. He talks about people who pray loudly on the street corners or walk about during a fast looking as hungry and gaunt as they can so people know just how holy and righteous they are. Jesus declares that God ignores these acts of worship precisely because he knows they aren't acts of worship. Jesus says that they've already got the reward they wanted, that is, the attention and acclaim of other people (as opposed to the attention and acclaim of God).

I would refer this person to James 2:14-20
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Even in the Old Testament this was an issue. The people thought they were "chosen". They thought they were righteous. They followed all the temple rituals. They followed all the Sabbath laws. But Amos, for example, notes: You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over and the religious festivals to end so you can get back to cheating the helpless. You measure out grain with dishonest measures and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.

In Ezekiel this "contradiction" is a burning question. The people of Judah were looking for reasons why God would allow the Babylonians conquer them and destroy Jerusalem. They blamed their ancestors. They blamed the tribes who had joined the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They blamed the royals and the rich people who got carted off to Babylon after the first attack. Ezekiel points out that, among other things, they put the graves of the kings in the temple and worshiped them and other gods at altars they built right next to God's altar. They weren't as holy as they thought they were.

To summarize, in the Sermon on the Mount passage quoted by the "thinking" atheist, Jesus is talking about how a lot of people who thought lip-service to the idea of God would be enough to save them will find out, after it's too late, that lip-service ain't enough. That is no contradiction to the idea of salvation by grace through faith. It's an affirmation, as James points out, that faith is a much bigger idea than simply paying lip-service.

Jmscwss has it right to point out the challenger’s use of the phrase “seeming contradiction.” I wonder why the challenger used this phrase and then failed to pursue possible ways in which the passage might actually harmonize in meaning. I suggest that the challenger is unintentionally exhibiting the true meaning of the passages (s)he seeks to discredit. We need to ask what is meant by a few things:

1) When the challenger sums up the “standard Christian dogma,” what does (s)he mean (or think Christians mean) by saying “simply by believing in Jesus” and “accepting His gift of forgiveness?”
2) When the challenger quotes texts from the Bible, what do the phrases mean: “believes in him,” “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith,” and “only the one who does the will of my Father?”

Interestingly, the challenger, by employing these passages, assumes that their meaning can have a certain enough meaning that they can support a reasonable argument against their coherence. On a side note, many atheists and liberal theologians deny that such meaning exists in the Scriptures sufficient for objective faith. So I’m tempted to think that this challenger is doing well to think so highly of the Scriptures as to take their objective meaning seriously

Unfortunately, (s)he’s not really doing that. Rather, since (s)he used the term “seeming contradiction” there is a an acknowledgement of the semantic domain of terms broad enough to warrant the possibility that these passages are not contradictory. Given that the challenger has chosen not to acknowledge that possibility. In particular, look at the Matthew 7 passage. Jesus says that “only the one who does the will of my Father… is in heaven.” Then he says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ It seems like these folks are actually doing the will of God, that is, unless the “will of God” is something other than all these visible works. It actually well harmonizes with Ephesians 2:8-9 where it is the gift of God, not of works. Is God’s giving the gift of salvation not the will of God? So what does Jesus mean in Matthew where he says that we must do it? By way of example of what it means to NOT do it, Jesus gives the people who think they are doing it, but really aren’t, as a contrast. By going to the Scriptures with the intent of not looking for truth, but to discredit God, the challenger demonstrates his or her own inclusion in this category.

Rather, the will of God is to acknowledge God’s work and our failure. Those convicted by the Holy Spirit who do the will of God are those who look at the example of the people who don’t and grieves because other than by the grace of God they are included in that list. The passage therefore convicts those who are forgiven such that they seek God’s forgiveness for their transgressions. The ones who don’t do the will of God are those who lift up those things they do as examples of how they either have done the will of God or are otherwise sufficient on their own.

Now, I don’t know what the challenger means by “non-standard dogma,” because (s)he hasn’t explained it, but what the challenger means by “standard Christian dogma,” whatever (s)he means by that, isn’t Christian at all. Sadly, there are many who call themselves Christian who would be thrown by this because they themselves aren’t clear on what true Christian doctrine is as taught in the Scriptures. I dare say that this challenge is fruitful for picking off the low-hanging fruit – ever the more reason to disciple Christians into a more mature faith so there isn’t any low-hanging fruit.

and this is the will of my father to believe on him whom he has sent

Thanks Ron (I assume not RonH). That's exactly where I would go with this challenge too.

We don't set the terms of our salvation. God does, and he sent His Son into this world precisely to die for our sins. It is his will that we should trust in that.

Those who cry Lord! Lord! in Matt 7 are trying to set the terms of their salvation rather than God. They are trying to usurp God's's just Satan's (and Adam's) sin again.

This passage in Matthew is addressing false prophets who boast about their works for the Lord. If one continues to read in the Ephesians passage it discusses works that the true believer will do. These are not the believers efforts but God working through the believer. The only boasting from a true believer will be that he knows Jesus. The works a believer does comes from God so he or she has nothing to boast about. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus says nothing about works when he rejects this person. Jesus doesn't say you didn't work hard enough depart from me. He only addresses knowing Him. It is really knowing that separates the believer from the unbeliever and not works.

I believe the contradiction is not in the verses but in the interpretation. Ever since Charles Finney and later Billy Graham we have the Gospel being offered as a sacrament that one must choose to accept. Some call it "decisional regeneration" similar to baptismal regeneration.

But the Gospel should be preached not offered. It is an announcement about how Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and God raised him to life on the third day according to the scriptures. And that all who believe this Gospel are saved, but must repent, be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Faith is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. So God must give the Holy Spirit to one before they can believe (Galatians 5:22).

So the Gospel is not a sacrament, but an announcement to the Born Again providing them with the good news of their salvation and instructions on what to do with it.

There isn't a contradiction here. Matt 7 is clearly showing those who "work" for their salvation. "Lord didn't I this, didn't I that". They were focused on their own works and Christ said "I never knew you". They were never truly saved.

Jesus here points to the reality of false converts: those who have an appearance of godliness but it is all outward show. There has been no real change of heart. And their own words betray them: "Have we not done this? Have we not done that?" They plead their cases on the basis of their works rather than on the free forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross. This then actually reinforces the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Although true faith always results in good works, the works themselves do not merit anything. True faith, which clings to the promise of the free forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, saves.

“Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living." (LSB 555).

Jesus is speaking primarily to His disciples (those who are already in relationship with Him - Matthew 5:1) describing life in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5-7). However, in Matthew 7, Jesus warns that not everyone is in the Kingdom. Even though people may do works in His Name, Jesus says, "I never knew you." These individuals have no relationship with Him. They are the ones who are on the broad road that leads to destruction; they are the ones who are false prophets - counterfeits that outwardly look good but are full of rotten fruit; and they are the ones who build a nice looking "house but when the the storm comes - when judgment comes their house will collapse. Only those who build their life on Christ Himself. What does it mean to build their life on Christ - to hear and do what He says. What does He say? "...Then they said to Him (Christ), What must we do to be doing the works of God? Jesus answered them, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent, John 6:28-29.

A really simple explanation of why this is not contradictory:

The first 2 scriptures are referring to people who TRULY believe. If their belief in Christ is true, their actions will naturally reflect it.

In the 3rd passage Jesus is referring to people who SAY the believe in Him, but the way they live their lives proves otherwise. Jesus knows our hearts. It's not enough to say we believe, we have to mean it.

Not everyone who claims to be a Christian will be saved, unless they truly let Jesus into their heart. But anyone who truly believes shall have eternal life.

Good topic to discuss. May I say though that while good logic may win an argument on an intellectual level, salvation is completely the work of God on a spiritual level from beginning to end. Human responsibility is also scriptural in the fact that a sinner must repent and believe. The parallel truths of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility will always run together and must always be held forth.

The writer's statement that 'Jesus refutes this view in Matthew' is what I disagree with. While I see that the words are used to create tension in the argument, Jesus in Matthew 7 does not 'refute' what he says in John 3 nor does he refute what Paul says in Ephesians 2. His statements are mutually exclusive and are never contradictory. It is a true statement that we are saved by grace through faith and it is true that not all who cry 'Lord, Lord" will enter Heaven. How does 'Jesus refute' these claims in Matthew 7?

To attribute something to Christ what He clearly did not say is not only dangerous but reckless. My one request is that we are careful before we post on the internet.

I believe that those whom Jesus refer to are false prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing, apostates. Even then there were I'm certain religious hucksters, swindlers and scammers. There's even a "magician" who wants to utilize Jesus like magic, which reminds me of "New Age" attempts to incorporate Christ. I'm sure there are many other pastors or priests who simply used and abused believers for gain, they never believed themselves, they were whitewashed tombs.

very basically I see this as a matter of your heart. There are people sitting in pews all over the country who have gone to church because thats what their parents did, thats what they think they are supposed to do. But never have they surrendered their heart to Jesus, instead relying on their works, church attendance, money they have given to save them. Its works based instead of grace based salvation

Interesting. I think I disagree with you, Tim, regarding the interpretation of Jesus' words in Matthew 7. I see Jesus' words as being parallel to James 2:24, as others have pointed out. Namely, that those who really believe in Jesus will have righteous deeds to "justify" their faith, but it is still the faith which is counted as righteousness.

I had not considered, however, that the context of Jesus' words is trying to point out that the people who will be condemned, though they claim to know God, actually do have good works ascribed to their name, but not real faith in Jesus' righteousness.

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