Those Jesus Never Knew (Matt. 7:21-23)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 12th day of October 2014: 

John Giles, Convict

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay was home to the former federal prison of Alcatraz. This prison was in operation from the mid-1930s until the mid-1960s as our nation’s leading federal prison. It housed only the most dangerous criminals like Al Capone, George R. “Machine Gun” Kelly, and many others. Alcatraz was considered an inescapable prison—though 6 inmates attempting escape were never located. Prison records recorded them as drowned in the bay. Others dispute that claim saying they made it to freedom.

The US Army used to send laundry to Alcatraz to be washed. John Giles was an inmate who worked at the loading dock where the laundry was delivered. He was sneaky—piece by piece, he was able to steal over time a complete army uniform. Then on July 31, 1945, he merely dressed in the uniform and walked aboard an army boat, pretending to be an army officer. However, the boat was not headed for San Francisco as Giles expected, as he stepped off the boat on Angel Island, where Fort McDowell was, which was a major processing location for troops during WWII. He was arrested immediately.

He may have fooled the officers on the boat for awhile, but he couldn’t pull of the impersonation forever. He may have worn the uniform of an army officer, but on the inside he was still John Giles—criminal, convict.

One of the most sobering truths in all of Scripture is that not everyone who professes to be a Christian is truly a Christian. That there are some people wearing Christian uniforms on the outside, but are in reality unregenerate, unsaved sinners on the inside. They may fool people for a time, but they will not fool the Lord who knows His own. This theme runs throughout all of Scripture, but in Matthew’s gospel (which we are looking at today), there are some very powerful descriptions:

John the Baptist to the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).

A winnowing fork was a tool used to separate wheat from chaff, by throwing it into the air so the heavier grain/wheat can fall back on the ground . . . And the chaff which would only be on the surface, would be separated from the wheat and the farmers would gather the wheat into their barns, but burn the chaff because it was useless. One day Jesus Christ is going to clear out His threshing floor. He is going to gather into His arms the saved, the elect of God, but there are going to be those who were only on the surface but appeared to be part of the wheat—and they are the unbelievers and according to 2 Thess. 1:9, . ..“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Jesus in the parable of the weeds:

“He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:37-42).

What do you do with weeds in a garden? You take them out because they don’t belong—they contribute nothing, they are of no value to the rest of the garden, they may grow together, but the fruits and vegetables are the real thing. Back in 13:30, Jesus said that both grow together. There are those who profess faith in Christ, appear to be Christians but because they never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and were truly justified by faith—they will not go to heaven, but to hell forever, and they will be surprised to find that out. These are those described by Matthew as those Jesus never knew, and we are going to look at this text together this morning.

The Text: Matthew 7:21-23, ESV

21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

I. They Professed Him (v. 21)

The first thing to notice is Jesus’ introduction to this passage where He talks about the profession of these people: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus points out a limitation on those who say to Him, “Lord, Lord.” In Jesus’ time, “Lord, Lord” would have been a title of immense respect (like “revered teacher”). There may be those who say “Lord, Lord,” who proclaim His name, who highly respect Him, that will enter the kingdom of heaven—but according to Jesus, “Not everyone who says to [Him], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He tells His audience that there is a restriction from heaven, to some who use that title.

But Jesus’ point is not in the use or misuse of His name/title. Indeed, we are to respect His name and boldly proclaim it; the foremost problem is not the use of the title, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but the fact that the people Jesus is describing leave it at just that—it is only a profession of His name. The problem is claiming His name (as they do three times), but not living His way. They simply say in contrast to those who do the will of God (v. 21b). According to Jesus, these who simply profess faith “will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This means they are not going to be born again through profession of faith, and they will be denied entrance into God’s heaven because they never truly believed—it was only a profession; it wasn’t transformation. It becomes clear as you study this passage, that these people were never truly saved; These are not Christians who lost their salvation—that’s an impossibility.

The important thing to notice is the contrast Jesus makes between those who “say” and those who “do” here in v. 21. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In contrast to the one who professes faith, Jesus says that the only person that will enter “the kingdom of heaven” is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

If doing the will “of [the] Father” is what was lacking in those who professed faith, and it is required of those who go to heaven, then what does Jesus mean by doing God’s will? I believe Jesus’ meaning here is two-fold, but inseparable:

A. It is God’s Will for You to be Saved.

Jesus is talking about salvation in this passage. Salvation is needed to go to heaven, after we die. And while not everyone will receive salvation because of rejection of God, it is still God’s desire for all to be saved:

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

B. It is God’s Will for You to Do God’s Will.

But inseparable from salvation, if we are truly saved, our changed lives will be the sure result. Following salvation should be the desire to do God’s will and carry out His commands. Paul writes,

“ . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but in that same text says “it is God who works in you . . .”

A changed life, and living by God’s will is the outworking that we have truly been saved.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3)

Sanctification involves growing in the faith, being delivered daily from the presence of sin. It is God’s will for us to continue in the faith (Col. 1:23), and our lives had better show evidence of our repentance and faith, or we never had repentance and faith.

Doing God’s will involves living by His principles, obeying His commandments, serving Him faithfully. Something doesn’t make sense when our actions deny our beliefs.

Thomas Linacre was physician to King Henry VII and Henry VIII of England. Late in his life, Thomas studied to be a priest and was given a copy of the four Gospels to read for the first time. Thomas lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours under the rule of Pope Alexander 6th, who shamed Christianity with his murder, corruption, incest, and bribery. Reading the Gospels for himself, Thomas was amazed and troubled: “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”

Our lives must demonstrate true belief in Christ—or we do not have true belief.

Does your life reflect what you say you believe? Your behavior is a reflection of what you truly believe. If it doesn’t there’s a problem—either you’re not saved, or you’re not being obedient to Christ. If you’re not saved, you can be—by repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus; placing total faith in His finished work on your behalf. If you’re not being obedient to Christ and doing God’s will—God can give you the strength to. You just need to surrender completely to Him. Whatever is stopping you from living out the faith you say you believe—it will be worth it when you get it out of the way so you can fully surrender to God.

II. They Defend Themselves (v. 22)

Not only did they profess Christ, but the second thing to notice here is how they defend themselves: “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?’” (7:22).

A. “The Day of the LORD.”

Jesus says, “On that day.” What day? He is talking about the Day of the Lord, when all will stand before God in final judgment, where He will separate the wheat from the chaff—and will gather into Him His church, and the unsaved will depart into everlasting fire . . . where He will separate the weeds from the good seeds, where He will separate the believers from the non-believers.

The Old Testament referenced it:

“Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:13).

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:17-18).

Also, Jesus and the New Testament writers warn of it:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

So Jesus is creating the setting for what He’s talking about here. “On that day” of judgment where He will reign as judge (Acts 17:31), He says, “ . . 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?”

Jesus doesn’t say that this is a select “few” who will say to this to Him, but “many.” How do they defend themselves? “Lord, Lord, did we not . . .” You can hear the tone of surprise in their voices—“Did you see what we did Lord? Did you forget? Did we not . . .” They are still saying the same thing as while they were on the earth (‘Lord, Lord’)—that means nothing has changed. They have not been born again, they are still sinners in need of a Savior.

The very fact that they defend themselves is an indicator that they are not saved. Because with Jesus, He’s all the defense you need. He took your case to the cross and settled it. On the Day of Judgment, all you’ll be able to say is “By grace I was brought to faith!” So then, this demonstrates that they were depending on something of their own merit, which they say: “did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” They list off three things to defend themselves. There’s no doubt that they did these things, even Satan and his followers can perform miracles. Even Judas cast out devils in Mark 3:14-15, and he appeared to be a disciple, but it was shown that he was not. They even claim authority behind their deeds: “in your name” is mentioned three times.

But Jesus isn’t denying that they did indeed do these things—the paramount problem was that these sinners are trusting fully in their own merit—they are defending themselves by pointing to their works. And notice the high standard of their works—I can’t remember the last time I prophesied can you? I can’t remember any time I ever cast out a demon, can you? Those things are things that most people don’t even do or try to do in their lifetimes. But I think that’s Jesus’ point here: It doesn’t matter how great your works are, how high they are—they will not even get you near the presence of God. What if you plant a church on a foreign mission field? Nope. What if you lead thousands to Christ? Nope. What if you give up all you have and serve the poor? Nope.

B. Why Works Won’t Work

Why wasn’t their works enough (they did “mighty works”)? Why aren’t works enough?

1. It’s not the way God saves. (Jesus reveals later the chief problem was “I never knew you.”) It’s not the way God saves, so don’t try to get in that way! The only work you need is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross: “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent” (John 6:29). Jesus also tells His hearers in the Sermon on the Mount, that they must have a righteousness that is greater than outside-righteousness: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). We need His righteousness, and true heart transformation. If you’re going to be saved—it must be God’s way, the only way.

2. Good works cannot justify. We have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23), this demands holy punishment and wrath (Rom. 1:18; 6:23). Good deeds cannot satisfy the wrath and demands of a holy God. Only a perfect substitute can propitiate God’s wrath, and justify us in God’s sight. This substitute was Christ. His perfect work in becoming sin for us, and giving us His righteousness in exchange is enough (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). Again, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

3. The spiritual state of man. The current threat that is causing fear among peoples of the world is the spread of the fatal virus, Ebola. The latest report on the death toll of Ebola is 4,033.¹  But there is a worse spiritual Ebola that has claimed more lives than any other disease in the world. That disease is sin. The Bible says that we are “dead in sins” (Eph. 2:1). If you remain spiritually dead throughout this life, even if good works are done, but nothing changes about your spiritual deadness—then you will go through the second death and be thrown into the lake of fire. We must be born again (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). God must do a supernatural work in you—replacing your heart with a new one, giving you a desire for Him, and breathing into you spiritual life.

I’ve heard many well-meaning evangelists and preachers use this illustration before: “Salvation happens like this: You are struggling at the top of an ocean, wanting to be rescued, and then God throws you a lifesaver and you grab onto it.” But that is a fatal misrepresentation! You have already sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and drowned to death—and God must reach down, pull you out of the water, perform spiritual CPR on you and breathe new life into you. You were dead in sins. You cannot be saved by works because you’re still in a state of spiritual deadness.

On January 1985, there was a large, unmarked and unclaimed suitcase discovered at the customs office at the Los Angeles International Airport. When U. S. Customs agents opened the suitcase, they found the curled-up body of an unidentified young woman. She had been dead for a few days, and as the investigation continued, it was learned that she was the wife of a young Iranian man living in the US. She was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US and join her husband so she took matters into her own hands and tried to smuggle herself into the country. The officials were surprised that an attempt like this could ever succeed. She tried to get in, but it was not only foolish, but fatal.

And if, by good works, we try to get in to heaven our own way, it will prove not only foolish but fatal—with unquenchable fire waiting at the doorstep of our eternity. As a Christian, rest in the cross, your case is settled. Depend on Christ—that gives you true freedom (Gal. 5:1); because you fail too often to depend on your own “goodness” (which is no goodness at all; Rom. 7:18; 14:23). If you are a non-believer, you need to make things right with God—works will never get you to Him. Depend completely on Christ.

III. Jesus’ Dreadful Declaration (v. 23)

These false believers professed Christ, on the Day of Judgment they defend themselves, and then in response to their confession, Jesus confesses something to them: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

Jesus reveals to them what the fundamental problem was: “I never knew you.” Wait a minute. Doesn’t God know everything? Of course He does. He’s omniscient. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here comes from the Greek word for “know.” It’s ginosko, and it’s used here to describe an intimate knowledge—a relationship knowledge—similar to the intimacy between a husband and wife. . . And Jesus is saying that’s what their problem was—there was never a personal relationship. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so He never knew them as His child—God knows who are His: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” (2 Tim. 2:19).

They were committed to the power Jesus represented and the status they thought they had, but they had never allowed the will of God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to control their actions.

Jesus also says to them, “depart from me.” These are the words no one wants to hear from Christ—but by this time, at the day of judgment—it’s too late. This is the final destination of those who are not truly saved—eternal departure from the presence of God. The tragic part about it is not that they are surprised about this judgment, the tragic part is not that they cannot see their Christian friends in heaven, the tragic part is not even that they cannot go to heaven—the tragic part is that they will be separated from God forever.

Jesus tells them their fundamental problem, they never knew Him in a personal relationship. He tells them to get away from Him. Third, He calls them “workers of lawlessness.” They thought they were workers of righteousness by their deeds, but in reality they were workers of lawlessness because their deeds apart from spiritual transformation are of no value, and God takes no delight in them if inner faith is missing. Outward acts of righteousness without inner faith is an abomination to the Lord. In Isaiah this is depicted vividly: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me . . .” (Isaiah 1:13).

These who simply profess faith are those described by Jesus in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” They are those who enter through the wide and broad gate that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14); They are those who bear bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20); They are those who built their house on the sand because they didn’t heed the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). They are those described by Paul, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). They are those who need Christ to save them through a personal relationship. Is that you today? Do you know Jesus? There’s a difference between knowing about Him and knowing Him. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, He wants to forgive your sin—just repent and trust the Savior.

Conclusion: Charles Waterman

We’ve seen today that there are those who simply profess faith, but will be surprised to find that their works were not enough for salvation—they will on the Day of Judgment finally be separated from God’s eternal presence. The good news is that God saves those who come to Him in repentance and faith—there is hope! God knows your past, He knows what you’ve done, and He is willing to forgive if you’re willing to come to Him. Is God drawing you to come to Him?

From a home with one brother and one sister, Charles Waterman’s urge was to see the country. This took him to hitchhiking on the railroad to California. He was influenced by the worldly crowd and gave himself to become an alcoholic. Even as such, he worked his way up to become an engineer on the steam locomotive. He married Anna, who had a Christian background and did what she could to keep the testimony before him. Anna was discouraged at the path her husband followed because it was causing him to miss work on some of his hangovers. So she asked a lady in her town in California to meet with her and help her pray for Charles to be saved. His wild life went on for three or more years and one night he became frightened while under the influence and when he finally arrived at home, he told Anna he wanted to be saved. She immediately called her friend who came over to their home and they led him to the Lord. He begged the Lord for forgiveness and to clean up his life, which the Lord did.

The happiness that followed caused Anna to write the song Yes, I Know! with these words:

“Come, ye sinners, lost and hopeless,

Jesus’ blood can make you free;

For He saved the worst among you,

When He saved a wretch like me.

And I know, yes, I know

Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.” ²

Do you know Christ today? Are you depending on your own goodness and works? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Come to Christ, and He will not turn you away.


1. NBC News, Ebola Death Toll Rises to 4,033
2. Hymntime, Yes, I Know! 

Ephesians: Living Out Unity in Diversity (4:7-12)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on September 28, 2014:

An Unbalanced Dichotomy

Unity is a central theme in the New Testament. The Bible reveals clearly that God cares about community. He also never intended our Christian lives to be a purely individualistic pursuit, separate from the covenantal community. Some powerful passages that speak on unity are:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).

“That together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).

But unity is especially prominent in Ephesians—especially in chapter 4. Months ago, we saw how we are to live out unity in our oneness—that we are unified in Christ.

I think, unfortunately, we run into a dichotomy in two ways however, when it comes to our understanding unity: On one hand, we tend to think that the Christian life is entire about our individual relationship with God. We use the phrase, “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But the truth is, there is no such thing as “private Christian faith.” The Bible knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. And while God cares about us individually, we are corporately united into one body. On the other hand, we tend to think of the Christian life as entirely corporate without any individuality. We may think that because we are unified, that individuality is lost—where there is no need for individual spiritual growth because we are to be focused on “building up” the church.

Both of those tendencies are lacking. We need to find a balance in both where we realize that God saved us individually but united us corporately. Unity does not mean that individuality and individual responsibilities are lost. Unity reigns, but Christ does not work merely at the universal level. He works in the individual and gives grace to each person. That’s what our text is about tonight. Paul’s main point in Eph. 4:7-12 is this: grace has been given to every individual in the church, because Christ took as captives and transformed us into people He could use. We are gifts to the church. Specifically, God has given preachers and teachers for the purpose of edifying the people of God to build up the body of Christ.

Now, while explaining this text, tonight I am going to do something that I don’t often do while preaching. The only reason I am doing it tonight is because I feel like it is entirely appropriate for this passage. I am going to try to weed out the misconceptions and the interpretive mistakes that surround this passage of Scripture. Because often times, when you study a passage of Scripture, you can easily read a misconception right into the text without even letting the text speak. And if you’re not letting the text speak for itself, you’ve got a problem (who then, is doing the talking?).

It’s something that we do more often than we’d like to admit. I feel like it is necessary to clear those misconceptions out of the way so we can see what Paul truly meant here in Ephesians 4.

The Text: Ephesians 4:7-12, ESV

“7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,

and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

I. Grace Was Given to Each One (v. 7)

Paul begins this new section of Ephesians 4 by saying, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (v. 7). Paul now focuses on the individuals who make up the universal church. This is seen in the apparent language change here. Paul begins to refer to individuals here in v. 7 on through v. 12. The apparent language change/shift in thought is from Ephesians 4:1-6 to the passage we are looking at tonight. In 4:1-6, the church is pictured as universal and characterized by oneness:

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6).

He turns from the “all of us” to the “each of us”; you will see that Paul is very individualistic in his focus in this passage. So Paul says that “grace was given to each one of us.”

What is this grace? It’s important to know what Paul means here by “grace,” for it is given to all of us in the body—and it is according to Christ’s sovereign distribution that we are given it. It is not saving grace.That was already given to the believer (Eph. 2:8-9). This grace is what you might call “service-grace.” This is the grace which equips God’s people to serve. And just like salvific grace, it is given—not earned. It isn’t given according to how disciplined you are as a believer, it isn’t given according to your own spiritual goodness, it is given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

So, if this grace is for service, and it is given, then to whom is it given? “ . . . each one of us.” Paul includes himself and all of the Ephesians in this and says that “grace was given to each one of us.” In fact he even says that in Eph. 3:8: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This equipping/serving-grace is given to the weakest sinner saved by grace, and it is given to the most seasoned saint in the church of God. Not one is left out. None misses out on Christ’s bounty. Service grace is given to every believer. If this is true, then a few implications can be made:

1) We have no reason not to be used by God in the church. If He has given us the grace necessary, we have no excuse. Often times we think we’re insufficient for the job. Well, you are insufficient for the job! But God has given you grace! In fact, it’s better to recognize that you are weak, because then you will depend on God’s power completely to carry out what tasks He desires for you:

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10, emphasis mine).

Isn’t God’s grace enough? Christ didn’t give us a “little grace,” in fact, according to Ephesians 1, He “lavished upon us” the riches of His grace (1:8). God wants to use us in some way or another, and He has given us the grace necessary to carry out whatever service it may be that He has given us.

2) Since grace for service is given to every believer—we are on equal footing. You cannot be greater than someone else, and someone else cannot be greater than you. Grace is something that is undeserved—God is not obligated to give you grace: He chooses to. So there is no room for pride in saying that you’ve done more than someone else. Grace is given to each one of us.

3) Since grace is given, and it is a gift—we are accountable to use it. We are to use it for “the work of ministry.” We are accountable to use it, and allow God to use us in the church. It is wasted if it is not used.

It’s Going to Take All of Us

The last thing Paul says in v. 7 is that this grace was given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” No one is really sure about what Paul means here by “Christ’s gift”, but there are a few passages of Scripture where Paul speaks about this topic that will give us some clarification:

“4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-8).

“4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

The main difference between Ephesians and those two texts is this: spiritual gifts given to people are the point of focus, whereas, in Ephesians the people themselves are seen as gifts themselves! The other two passages we looked at were about the specific gifts of the Spirit—here in this text of Ephesians, grace is given to every individual. So if your name doesn’t fall under the lists of Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12, you have no excuse whatsoever for not serving in the church in some way.

The purpose for the giving of this grace was for service: use it! If we want success in our church, and in our ministry—we’ve got to get up off of our sanctified seats—equipped by God’s grace and get out into the action. It will require work, but God supplies all the grace we need. I’ve heard it said before, “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” —Anonymous

Two men riding a bicycle built for two came to a long, steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they finally got to the top, the man in front turned to the other and said, “Boy, that sure was a hard climb.” The fellow in the back replied, “Yes, certainly! And if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way, we would certainly have rolled down backwards.” If they had cooperated together, it wouldn’t have been such a struggle now would it? In the church, we need full cooperation to accomplish work that really matters. It’s going to take all of us—working together as God has individually gifted us and given us grace.

II. How Grace is Given (vv. 8-10)

We’ve seen how Christ has sovereignly given grace to all believers, but something made the giving of this grace (and the giving of these “gifts”) possible. What was it? Well, this bestowal of grace by Christ is confirmed by an application of an important Old Testament text. Paul is using a text from the Old Testament as reliable Scripture to explain what he has already said about the dispensing/giving of grace to individual believers.

What text is Paul referring to here?

Paul is talking about Psalm 68 here, focusing on v. 18:

“You ascended on high,

leading a host of captives in your train

and receiving gifts among men,

even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.”

This Psalm is about God’s triumphant victory over His enemies. What you have here in this verse is a picture of God ascending on a high mountain, being victorious in a battle—bringing captives with Him and then receiving gifts among men as spoil/loot. During battles, not only in Old Testament times but just history in general, once one side would become victorious, they would get the treasures and possessions of the losing side—and distribute them among their own people. That is the picture you get of God and His enemies in Psalm 68. Paul says, “Hey, the rising of Jesus Christ, His ascension; is a fulfillment of this Old Testament text.” Paul applies this picture to Christ’s ascension to heaven, not because there happened to be an analogy between the two events, but because Paul say in Jesus’ ascension a further fulfilment of this triumph of God. So it is clear that Jesus is the one who ascended. He was taken back up to heaven before the disciples in Acts 1:9-11.

What Captives?

But what is meant by “a host of captives”? Who did Jesus lead out, and where did He lead them out from? There are many people who have misinterpreted the reference to captives here. What are some misinterpretations?

1) The captives are the Old Testament saints which Christ rescued by going down into Hades. Here is a quote from a popular study Bible to summarize this position:

“When Jesus hung on the cross, He consoled the penitent thief that he would be in paradise with Christ on that day. One of the accomplishments of the Resurrection was to lead “captivity captive,” that is, to remove Old Testament saints from Abraham’s bosom (Hades; Luke 16:19-31) and lead them to heaven.” ¹

While this statement about the Old Testament saints is true, Paul did not have it in mind when penning Ephesians 4:8-10. The text is about the church. If the “captives” are OT saints, then how does the church receive gifts from them? Paul says that “he led a host of captives, and gave gifts to men.”

2) Demonic powers. Some say that the captives here are demons—that Jesus went and preached to the demons in hell (and led them out?) But this text says that Jesus “led a host of captives,” He led them out of somewhere and gave gifts to men. If Paul is referring to demonic powers here, then what spoil is to be received by demons?

So what is Paul talking about here? Paul is referring here to us. We know this because of the context here (being about the church, and people being given as gifts to the church) and because his quotation of Psalm 68 is referring back to Numbers 8, 18. In Numbers, God took the Levites as a gift, and then gave them back to His people in order to minister to the congregation. You need to remember how Paul is applying this Old Testament text. He is saying that this Scripture is proof for the giving of grace to those in the church—and how He has given us gifts.

Paul is saying here that Christ took us as captives, then transformed us into somebody He could use! We we’re the captives—but now we are the “gifts [given] to men.” Paul is talking about how Christ has gifted the church. He has given us to the church as gifts for building her up. We were once useless, now we are useful to Him. We were once captives and slaves to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:20), now we are His servants (Mark 10:43-44; John 12:26). We were once enemies of God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21), now we are His soldiers (2 Tim. 2:3; Philem. 2).

Christ captured us as captives, overcame our sinful resistance to Him (because we couldn’t overcome it on our own) and then transformed us into a people for Himself that He can use for His praise, His honor, His glory, His exaltation—so that Jesus Christ will be known where He is not made known!

Further, Paul mentions something about the descent of God into humanity: “(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (vv. 9-10). Paul says that Jesus came to the earth (v. 9; See also Philippians 2:6-11). But he doesn’t leave out His triumphant resurrection. Paul is saying this to explain how Christ won the right to give us as gifts to the church. He is saying this to show how Christ won the right to take us as captives and transform us into useful people for His kingdom and purpose—through the cross. It happens through the cross, where the grace and wrath of God intersect—where sin is paid for, where Christ will be triumphant over death, hell, and the grave.

III. Specific People as Gifts (v. 11)

So we’ve seen how grace is given to every believer—we’ve seen how Christ has taken us as captives and transformed us into people He could use. We’ve seen that all of this is possible through the triumphant death and resurrection of Christ. But are there specific people Christ has given to the church?

Paul says here that there are specific people that Christ has given to the church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v. 11).

Are There Apostles and Prophets Today?

There are those in a certain Pentecostal sect who claim that there are apostles and prophets today, and that this text is the warrant for that belief. But this text does not support that claim. There were apostles and there were prophets—they were given revelation and we have their revelation. Those of that theological system claim that there are apostles and prophets today who receive new revelations or have apostolic authority—but there is no support in the Scriptures for this. Further, we do not need a new revelation from God. What we have in God’s Word is what we need. This “sword of the Spirit,” (Eph. 6:17) which is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), is all we need—it is sufficient (For more on this discussion, see Are There Prophets Today? by Grace to You).

IV. Purpose of Individuals (v. 12)

Grace was given to each individual—we were taken as captives and transformed into people God could use, this was possible through Christ’s triumphal ascension. He has specifically given evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to us today. But what is the purpose of those whom God has given specifically? It is to equip the saints. My job, and your job if you are a teacher is to equip the saints.

Let Us Live It

We have seen tonight that grace has been given to every individual. Are you accessing that grace? Is God using you in the church? The giving of this “service-grace” was made possible because Christ took the initiative to take us as captives, save us, redeem us, and make us into people that He can use. Do you realize that you are a gift to the church? God has given you as a gift to the church! God has given specifically shepherds and teachers for the purpose of equipping believers for the work of ministry. Christ has given you grace, He has made you a gift to the church—and He’s even given shepherds and teachers to equip you.

Once there was a Chinese prince who died and was given a glimpse of both heaven and hell. First, he was escorted to hell, where he found tables laden with various foods and delicacies, but the people were sitting there angry and frustrated, quarreling with each other. They were not permitted to pick up the food with their fingers, and they couldn’t feed themselves because they were given chopsticks which were ten feet long.
Then the Chinese prince was taken to heaven. Again he found a beautiful banquet, and again only ten-foot chopsticks. But here the people where happy and content, for they sat on opposite sides of the tables, each one feeding the person across from him.

We have to work together. God has given us what we need to be unified and to show this world the power of the gospel in our unity—are we living it? We can—God has given us the power for it! But let us live it. Let us live out this unity until we depart from this world—only to be unified eternally in the presence of our God and Savior.

1. Descent Into Hell, The King James Study Bible (Colombia: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1988), 1835