Paul promises that whoever confesses Jesus as Lord and believes that God raised him from the dead will be saved (Rom. 10:9-10). Jesus warns that in the Day of Judgment he will turn away some people who had called him “lord” (Matt. 7:21-23). A gracEmail subscriber asks how both statements can be true.
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Paul and Jesus are describing two different sets of people. The only thing the two groups have in common is something they say. They both call Jesus “lord,” but the similarity ends there. One group means what they say, and their lives show it. The other group is simply saying words, words, words.
Paul promises salvation to those who truly trust in Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10). These people believe that God raised Jesus from the dead — which means that they also accept him as God’s Son, the Messiah who has laid claim to their own allegiance and devotion. They confess Jesus’ lordship with their mouths — not in empty words designed to mislead, but in heartfelt words that express their deepest conviction. These people know Jesus personally, even if they never saw him in the flesh. They have a relationship with him by faith. There can be no doubt that such faith leads them to obey him also, although such obedience is the evidence of their salvation and not its basis or cause.
Jesus speaks of an entirely different group of people, who are all talk and no substance (Matt. 7:21-23). These folks might fool the watching world with their dazzling religiosity and even their miracle shows, but they do not deceive God. In his eyes, they are “workers of iniquity.” Jesus lifts this phrase from Psalm 6:8, where it describes hypocrities who pretend to serve God but whose hearts are far from him. They say the right-sounding words, “Lord, lord!” but their words are hollow and not genuine. They do not mean that he is their “lord,” for they do not obey his teaching. Although these folks claim friendship with Jesus, they have never really known him at all.