The Will of the Father in Matthew 7:21
What Is God's Will?
A sister in Christ recently shared with me an article regarding Matthew 7:21, where the Lord says that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. The article attempted to define the will of the Father, but I do not think it defined it successfully. In this article, I will try to provide a clear definition of the Father’s will in Matthew 7:21, and to explain how I arrived to this definition.
Salvation Is through Faith Alone
The New Testament makes it clear that human beings cannot be justified by obeying the Law of Moses or doing good works (Galatians 3:11-12, Ephesians 2:8-9). Instead, we are forgiven and given entrance into the kingdom of heaven through faith only (John 3:16, Acts 2:38). Salvation through faith may at first seem unrelated to the will of the Father in Matthew 7:21, but that is precisely what His will is.
God's Will and The Sermon on The Mount
The difficulty with interpreting the Father’s will in Matthew 7:21 consists in that we tend to equate it with the Lord’s sayings in Matthew 7:24. Nevertheless, doing the Lord’s sayings in Matthew 7:24 is not the same as doing God’s will in Matthew 7:21. Doing the Lord’s sayings in the Matthew 7:24 is putting into practice the instructions the Lord has given in the sermon on the mountain (Matthew 5:1 to 7:29), but doing the will of God is putting into practice the point the Lord is making throughout the sermon on the mountain.
Did Jesus Abolish the Law?
While some may regard the Lord's sermon on the mount as a new law for the citizens of God’s kingdom, a law that would replace the Law of Moses, Matthew 5:17-19 makes it abundantly clear this is not the case. Jesus did not come to abolish Moses' Law, but to fulfill it; therefore, the Lord exhorts his listeners to teach and obey the Law of Moses and the Prophets (the entire Tanach, or Old Testament). In other words, the Lord Jesus is not giving us a new set of commandments that we must obey to enter into the kingdom of heaven, that is not the point of the sermon on the mountain, and that is not the will of the Father.
Therefore, obeying the Lord’s commandments does not enable us to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and much less does obeying the Law of Moses and the Prophets make it possible for us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The scribes and the Pharisees were dedicated students and practitioners of the Law and the Prophets, nevertheless the Lord warned that their righteousness was not sufficient to get them into the kingdom of heaven: our righteousness needs to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees for us to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
Repentance and Hypocrisy
I find that when we read through the synoptic gospels, it is important to identify the main points of the authors and to keep them in mind as we read the rest of the work.
Matthew first teaches us that Jesus Christ is the descendant of Abraham and David, and that His birth and ministry fulfilled the prophecies of the prophets. However, beginning on chapter three, Matthew lays the foundation for us to interpret the Lord’s teachings and understand His doctrinal perspective.
Matthew tells us that in light of the Lord’s advent and the kingdom of heaven, John the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Matthew 3:2, 5, 6, 11). John preached that people should repent of their sins so they would be ready to receive the one who was coming (Matthew 3:3), Jesus the Messiah. That is all that was necessary: baptism was only a symbol of repentance and cleansing, a public statement that people were repenting and receiving forgiveness.
But when the Jewish religious leaders (the scribes and the Pharisees) came to be baptized, John rebuked them for their hypocrisy and exhorted them to produce fruit meet for repentance (Matthew 3:7-8). In other words, from John's and Matthew's perspective, the religious leaders were coming to John not because they were repenting at John’s preaching, but because they were hypocrites: they were only pretending to repent. Therefore, John rebuked them and exhorted them to truly repent, to produce works that demonstrated that they had repented indeed.
Legalism and Hypocrisy vs. Repentance
Let's look now at the Lord’s ministry. Matthew tells us that after Jesus was baptized by John and temped by the Devil, the Lord preached the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17 and 4:23). That is, the Lord Jesus was preaching the same message of repentance that John had been preaching (the difference was that God had already confirmed Jesus as His Son, the one who was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and to judge with fire).
When attempting to interpret the sermon on the mountain, it is absolutely important for us to keep in mind that the Lord was preaching the same core message as John the Baptist. Jesus was exhorting people to repent. In fact, he did not even ask them to be baptized; He only asked them to repent. That was the core of John the Baptist’s message, and that is what the Lord Himself was preaching.
In his sermon on the mountain, the Lord was not about to contradict John the Baptist, much less Himself. Instead, the point He was making is the same point John made to the scribes and the Pharisees: don’t be hypocrites, but live in a way that shows you have truly repented.
Just about every instruction in the Lord’s sermon on the mountain is meant to teach people the difference between practicing religion out of hypocrisy and obeying God’s word genuinely (as one who has truly repented). We can easily see this when we study the following verses in the sermon on the mountain: 5:20, 5:21-22, 5:33-37, 5:38-41, 6:1, 6:5-6, 6:7-8, 6:16-8, 6:19-21, 6:31-33, 7:3, and 7:21.
Repent and Believe
From the Lord’s perspective, the religious leaders of his time (most of them) were hypocrites and did not have a real relationship with God; instead, they were only concerned with being praised by society. On the other hand, those who have truly repented and believe in Him (5:11) have a real and meaningful relationship with God the Father because they are his children (5:9, 5:16, 5:45, 5:48, 6:8-9).
According to the Lord, those who were following him while hypocritically calling him “Lord, lord” just to fit in with the rest of his followers would not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21); neither will those who practice religion and work in the ministry enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:22); but only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven.
What then is the will of the Father? The will of the Father is the point of the Lord’s sayings (Matthew 7:24), the point of the Lord’s instructions in the sermon on the mount: that we would genuinely repent and believe in Jesus Christ (see John 6:28-29).
Questions for Reflection
- True or false: Moses taught people could enter heaven by keeping the Law?
- How were people justified in the Old Testament?
- How are repenting and believing different actions but one same process?
- Have you truly repented? How do you know?
© 2019 Marcelo Carcach