Matthew 7:21-23 - “ 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 who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
I have heard many sermons and many lessons on the meaning of these words by Yeshua (Jesus). All of them left me feeling somewhat empty. It wasn't until I came to understand that everything in the Brit Hadashah (New Testament) had its origins in the TeNaKh (Old Testament). It is said that 85% of the Brit Hadashah is a direct quote or reference to passages in the TeNaKh. The other 15% of the New Testament primarily tells the story of the life of Messiah Yeshua or the deeds and lives of His disciples.
With that concept in mind, I try to translate difficult or confusing passages by finding a source of reference in the Old Testament. After all someone once said that - “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed”. There is no way to understand the words of the New Testament without a true understanding of the words of the Old.
With that being said I would like for us to take a look at a passage from Ezekiel 18:20-23. (Bold emphasis mine)
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?”
Here we have the simple Christian belief that when a person repents from their sin, accepting Yeshua the Messiah and His atonement, then God no longer remembers our sins, but as we like to say, “God casts our sins as far as the east is from the west”. God does not remember our sins anymore. This is a basic belief.
The next few verses is where I would like to concentrate.
Ezekiel 18:24-32 (Bold emphasis mine)
“But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he hath done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die. Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel: Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth therein; in his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord Jehovah. Return ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, wherein ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves, and live.”
These scriptures make it plain that just as God does not remember our sins when we repent and do what is right according to God's Holy Word, He also does not remember any of our righteous deeds that were done when we turn away from our righteousness and begin to commit iniquity. It is further made plain that a person who turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity and dies in this iniquity, by not repenting, shall surely die. This death being spoken about is the second death.
Notice that the word “iniquity” is used both in Ezekiel and in the scripture in Matthew. What is the difference between 'sin' and 'iniquity'? Are they the same thing, or different? They are different.
Iniquity is breaking the commandments of God after a person has come to understand and acknowledge their truth. A sinner can commit sin, but not iniquity. Only a person who has known right from wrong according to God's Holy Word, and then voluntarily chooses to disobey those commandments, statutes and judgments, can commit iniquity. This is the type of person being spoken about in Ezekiel and Matthew. The House of Israel is specifically mentioned in the scriptures in Ezekiel. The House of Israel knew the commandments of God inside and out but they CHOSE to disobey them. They were guilty of iniquity.
In Matthew, Yeshua testifies to the fact that a person who has known and walked in the truth and done many great things while in the truth, has now voluntarily turned from their righteousness and committed iniquity. Hence, Ezekiel tells us that God states that “none of his righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered”. The scripture in Matthew takes place on judgment day when these type people are standing before Him. Hence we can assume that these people died in their iniquity. They never repented for “turning” back to their sin. Therefore, true to His Holy Word, Yeshua tells them
“I NEVER KNEW YOU”. All of their righteousness was not remembered.
In contrast, a wicked man that repents from their sin will stand before Him on that day and He will say,”well done my good and faithful servant”. All of these people's sins have not been remembered.
The key here to the whole thing is that God requires faithfulness right up until the end. The end for each individual comes either at death or at His coming.
The Apostle Paul reminds us quite well that we are all in a race. He that starts the race must complete the race if they are to receive a crown. Those who quit or do not cross the finish line will receive no reward.
Our Holy Creator gives each one of us a choice of life or death. For more teaching on this important topic please see the teaching: "Individual Choice: Blessing or Cursing/Life or Death".
I pray that this sheds some light on these scriptures.
(All scriptures from the ASV)