The author is against all sin. I agree totally with Paul, God does not want us to sin just because we are no longer under the law that once condemned us.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6:14-15 ESV
Many believers feel fear when Jesus states, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” It used to trouble me too because in Matthew 7 it sounds like those referenced by Jesus had the appearance of being believers.
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Matt 7:22-23 NAS
Therefore, I feel a need to address who this warning is spoken too.
1) The biggest piece of evidence that the verses in question are addressing only unbelievers comes from the fact that the only unforgivable sin is unbelief. Once you understand this truth, the following verses are quickly understood. Here is an in-depth Bible study on this truth: What is the One Unforgivable Sin?
2) Here is an important key to understanding the verses we are about to review: Jesus states " I never knew you." So, how does the Bible tell us a person is known by God?
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 1 Cor 8:3 ESV
Therefore, those who God does not know, are those who do not love God, thus unbelievers. The fact that the verse states "I never knew you" clearly reveals the truth that this verse is not speaking of believers who have lost their salvation. It is speaking of people who Jesus never knew. Those who never loved God.
Believers love God because he first loved us by sending his son to pay for our sins. in other words, Christians believe the gospel so they love God because God first loved us.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10 ESV
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 ESV
Unbelievers in the gospel do not believe Jesus is God's son, the savior of the world so they cannot love God as Christians do.
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. John 8:42 ESV
...Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. John 16:2b-3 ESV
They (Pharisee's, unbelievers) said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” John 8:19 ESV (emphasis mine)
But you (Pharisee) have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. John 8:55 ESV
in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thess 1:8 ESV
Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Matt 25:11-12 ESV
There are many, even in church, who look the outward part of a believer, who give and do, follow the law, but do not believe the gospel and therefore cannot love God as only a believer can, thus they do not know God, and are not known by God.
3) Matthew 7, is an easy one if taken in context. It is clearly speaking of false prophets. False prophets are leading people away from salvation. Despite how they look on the outside they are unbelievers in the gospel, salvation by Christ alone. One of the primary fruits of a true believer is new believers born of their testimony. If a person claims to be a prophet and their followers do not believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone, you know they are a false prophet.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matt 7:15-23 ESV
Even though these verses talk of mighty works done in Jesus name, this does not automatically indicate they were believers as many have the tendency to assume. Thankfully, Matt 7:15 tells us clearly they were false prophets and the next verse speaks of unbelievers doing mighty works to deceive.
For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Matt 24:24 ESV
And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. 2 Cor 11:12-15 ESV
There is a possibility that those described in Matthew 7 could be people who have added back in the law as a requirement for salvation, deceiving believers like the Galatians. Then they were falsely telling others they had to do the same. I state this because those who Jesus tells to depart are pointing to their own works. If a person is pointing to their own works, I can guarantee you they are judging others by what they see as a lack of works. This is a picture of a person who does not truly believe in salvation by grace through faith alone. Therefore, they are unbelievers in salvation by Christ alone. Galatians 5:4 is very clear that people who add the law back in as a requirement to be right with God have fallen from grace and are severed from the grace of Christ.
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Gal 5:4 ESV
Paul points out to the Galatians that through their faith and love for God they had become known to God. He also warns them of the fallacy of adding the law as a requirement: But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? Gal 4:9 ESV
Let me add, that every Christian I know of relies on the law to some degree. None of us have perfect faith and thankfully it is not about perfect faith. It is all about God's promise to all who believe, even with imperfect faith. Believers who rely on the law to some degree, do not lose their salvation, but they are cut off from the true power of the gospel in this life. They will struggle much more than the person who is relying 1,000 percent on Jesus finished work.
Matthew 7 mentions lawlessness and we know sin is the transgression of the law.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 1 John 3:4 KJV
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 ESV
We also know that believers in the Spirit are not under the law, they are under grace.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Gal 5:18 NAS
Therefore, a believer in the Spirit cannot transgress the law. They cannot practice lawlessness, the transgression of the law. Only a non-believer in the flesh can transgress the law and practice lawlessness. God sees a believer in the Spirit, in the perfection of Christ, not in our crucified and dead flesh where sin has been condemned. This is why our flesh dies and is not redeemed. God is looking for our faith in His promises - Luke 18:8 - not our personal perfection. We all fail at times and God's grace is sufficient for us.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Rom 6:14 ESV
For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (Rom 4:15 ESV)
sin is not counted where there is no law. (Rom 5:13b ESV)
then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Heb 10:17 ESV)
I have written several in-depth Bible studies with a multitude of scripture supporting the truth that under the New Covenant a believer is no longer under the law. Here is one of them: Christians Are Released from The Ten Commandments.
4) In Luke 13 we see a similar statement by Jesus. ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil.
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13: 22-30 ESV
These verses in Luke are again talking about unbelievers. It is only unbelievers that scripture refers to as not knowing or being known by God. These verses are quite possibly people who had heard the truth and rejected it. In doing so they most likely had led others to reject it too. “Workers of evil” is speaking of leading people away from salvation because of an evil, unbelieving heart.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. Heb 3:12 ESV
The righteous in the Bible are always those who are righteous by faith, believers. It is only those who refuse to believe that are referred to as wicked or evil. It is His righteousness as listed in Matt 6:33. This difference is contrasted innumerable times in scripture.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 2 Cor 6:14 NIV
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Cor 6:14 ESV
So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Heb 3:19 ESV
The truth that Jesus was speaking to unbelievers in Luke 13:22-30 is further supported by the following. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus tells the listeners to stop comparing themselves to others to justify their sins. In essence, he appeals to them to be honest before God and see themselves in truth as a sinner in need of a Savior, just like those who died in these accidents. Repent (change mind) and believe the gospel or perish.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13: 1-5 ESV
5) Matthew 25:41 is speaking of unbelievers too. Notice unbelievers are always on the left.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matt 25:41 ESV
Read an in-depth study on this here: The Final Judgment Will You Be a Sheep or a Goat?
6) Jesus addressed the purveyor of unbelief in a similar manner. He too was pointing people to a false God, himself.
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Matt 4:10 ESV
7) Conclusion: “Depart from me I never knew you” can only be directed at unbelievers. If you think about it, only a believer loves God and can really get to know, and be known, by Jesus.
Those Jesus referred to as knowing God and being known by God were exclusively believers. In context, the word know is defined as love.
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:7 ESV
For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. John 17:8 ESV
for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I (Jesus) came from God. John 16:27 ESV
Those who love God do so because we believe God first loved us by sending His Son to die for us, we are known by God. We are rich in faith and are promised heirs of the Kingdom.
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? James 2:5 NAS
We love the truth, Jesus brought the truth, Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the word, and the truth has set us free.
And you will know (love) the truth, and the truth will make you free. John 8:32 NAS (emphasis mine)
More New Covenant Bible Studies that Apply:
My Sheep Hear My Voice, and I Know Them
The Final Judgment Will You Be a Sheep or a Goat?
Who Are the Ones God Foreknew to be Conformed to His Sons Image?
Go and Sin No More Does Not Mean God is Going to Get You
Adam's Sin Was Unbelief
These People Will Not Inherit the Kingdom of God
What About Ananias and Sapphira?
Many more New Covenant Bible Studies HERE. Jesus poured out His blood for the New Covenant of grace and truth, replacing the Old Covenant law of Moses. Believers are exclusively under the New Covenant, the last will and testament of Jesus that began after the cross.
And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. Luke 22:20