The Path to Outer Darkness

(updated 7/6/2024)

Hello gentle reader,

[the author has recently become aware of the Lord’s special treatment regarding the “children of the kingdom” that make at least a couple of statements in this writing incorrect, therefore an update will be made soon]

As a Christian, I have often wondered if all my ‘eternal’ worries are over.  Maybe what I am really wondering is, since becoming saved have I missed anything?  I know I have salvation coming to me from the Lord regardless of whether I am alive or not when he returns.  My duty until then is to live as righteous a life as I can until the elect are gathered (raptured) or until my last breath, right?  From the understanding I have gained from reading the Holy Bible, that’s the gist of it.

I am going to suppose that most Christians have followed the same path to salvation.  We have repented for our sins and accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Then, as a demonstration of our faith, we are baptized by immersion in water by brethren filled with the Holy Spirit.  Basically, we are following the examples given in the Holy Bible.  Once we Christians reach this point, it is generally accepted that we have secured the free gift of a future salvation coming to us from our Lord.  Put more simply, we are saved!  In return, we are expected not to sin anymore.  Well, that is the biblical expectation from the spotless lamb, our Lord Jesus.  Of course, we flawed humans are unable to remain sinless.  Not only is it easier said than done, remaining sinless is impossible for us in the flesh.  That’s where this term, sanctification, comes in.

Sanctification is the process where day-by-day we strive to live as righteously as possible and continue to learn and grow in faith by actively reading and studying the Holy Bible.  I find that the Bible is rich with teachings, especially in the New Testament where you learn from our Lord Jesus and his apostles.  Also, in this process of sanctification, good works of some sort should naturally follow.  For some, there may be many good works and for others, very few.  Most Christians should fall somewhere into that span, eventually.  I can’t imagine a Christian failing to have at least one good work in their life.

Salvation & All-clear?

Okay, all good here.  Wait, what do I really mean by the term, “salvation”?  After all, it is a key promise to Christians since we all have sin in our lives.  I have seen various descriptions of salvation, but I like to think of it at the pinnacle moment of fulfillment.  Once the 1,000-year reign of Lord Jesus on earth has concluded, he then judges all of humanity at the ‘White Throne’ judgment.  Reading from the Book of Revelation:

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.  (Rev 20:15 KJV)

So, the ultimate fulfillment of salvation is not being cast into the Lake of Fire.  For all who are cast there, that is their final destination for eternity – eternal damnation.  What happens to those who are saved from an eternity in the Lake of Fire?  Everyone not in the Lake of Fire is clearly saved.  So, is that it?  Do the saved have the ‘all-clear’ signal to enter the Kingdom of Heaven for eternity?  Most Christians believe so.  Is there any reason to question where the saved are going to spend eternity?  Well, there are verses in the Holy Bible spoken by our Lord that can leave even the most faithful and salvation-confident Christian wondering of their placement in the coming eternity.  A specific Bible passage of concern comes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

Locked-out

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 which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.  (Matthew 7:21-23 KJV)

Reading that passage might make any Christian’s heart skip a beat or two.  Don’t doubt that our Lord is addressing fellow Christians for who else would refer to him as “Lord, Lord”?  These brethren are likely seen as strong Christian leaders given the wondrous works they have performed.  Works that they did by the power and in the name of our Lord Jesus.  And yet, even with these powerful works through their faith, the Lord has refused them entry into the Kingdom of Heaven!  What possibly explains why these seeming models of Christian faithfulness are eternally locked-out of the presence of God the father and his son, Lord Jesus?  How is it that some of their fellow brethren who likely never cast out even a single ‘devil’ and whose works are far less significant will manage to gain entry to the Kingdom of Heaven?  Reading the entire Sermon on the Mount for context does not readily provide an answer to this extremely important issue.  The likely answer is provided from within the verses in question.

Begin Analysis

It is clear from Matthew 7:21-23 that the deciding factor separating these Christians from the Lord is the “iniquity” they have done.  What “iniquity” might the Lord be referring to?  Humans are not perfect.  We all have failings from time-to-time.  Is there even one Christian who has not committed a transgression after accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior and repenting of their sins (the process known as justification)?  Eventually, sin shows up in the life of every Christian no matter how hard we struggle against it.  The Apostle Paul summarizes the condition of all humans:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23 KJV)

Even though we acknowledge this human shortcoming, let’s recall a crucially important benefit we gain by accepting the free gift of salvation from our Lord – the forgiveness of sins by grace!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:  (Ephesians 1:3 KJV)

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;  (Ephesians 1:7 KJV)

Should not this grace cover the iniquity that we commit?  The short answer is, it does!  However, there seems to be something uniquely different about the type and manner of the iniquity the Lord refers to in Matthew 7:23.  Whatever this iniquity is, it is going to have eternal consequences.  Undoubtedly, there is a mystery here that every Christian needs to understand.  Let’s dig deeper and see what we can find.

Type of iniquity

To start, let’s look at the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation of Matthew 7:23:

And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; LEAVE ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’  (Matthew 7:23 NASB emphasis mine)

A strong clue to solving our mystery resides in that word, “lawlessness”.  These Christians who are to be denied entry into the Kingdom of Heaven will have a choice to do what is right or to do what is wrong.  They choose to do wrong by being disobedient to some set of laws.  This lawlessness is not a disregard for mankind’s laws such as driving in excess of speed limits or claiming exaggerated sums of charitable donations on tax forms.  No, their type of disobedience is to the laws of our God.  Breaking man’s laws is not to be condoned and is illegal but generally this is not the same as breaking God’s laws.

So, we know it’s God’s laws that are being broken, but which?  There are many laws and ordinances given by God in the Holy Bible.  For these many disobedient Christians banned from entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, it is nearly impossible they break all of God’s laws and ordinances.  It seems likely there is a specific set of God’s laws and/or ordinances they break that triggers the ‘no-admittance’ decree by the Lord.  To answer this, let’s consider the setting and application of some of God’s laws and ordinances.

First, let’s acknowledge that we should all strive to obey the Lord God.  Even a first-time read-thru of the Holy Bible should impress upon the casual reader the importance God places on obedience to him.  With that said, not all of God’s laws can be kept at this time.  Many of God’s ordinances have to do with the tabernacle or temple of which neither currently exist.  Others, such as animal sacrifices, are either severely restricted or not permitted in many modern nations.  For Christianity, animal sacrifice has no place in worship or otherwise.  Our Lord Jesus was the one-time sacrifice in payment for our sins.

Keeping the commandments

Second, contrary to what many may believe, there are laws given by God that are expected to be obeyed at all times and under almost all conditions.  In fact, throughout the entire Holy Bible, we are told to “keep the commandments”.  By name, the commandments are referred to as the “Ten Commandments” in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 & 10:4.  They are found complete and whole in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  Using a free software Bible tool such as e‑Sword and searching for the exact phrase “keep the commandments” in a KJV Bible produces 10 results in Deuteronomy, Psalms, Matthew, and Revelation.  A widened search for “keep” and “commandments” in the same verse comes back with over 60 results.  Try searching up just “commandments”.  The results are well over 160 and all are connected in some way to obeying or disobeying God’s Ten Commandments.

If asked, most Christians would probably agree that obeying God’s commandments has some value but do we really understand just how important this obedience is?  Other than Matthew 7:21-23, is there anywhere in the Bible where the Lord himself weighed in on this matter by specifically connecting the keeping of the Ten Commandments to a future eternal life?  Well, actually there is! Here is the rich young man posing a question to Jesus:

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  (Matthew 19:16-19 KJV emphasis mine)

Jesus clearly tells this inquisitive fellow that if he is to obtain eternal life, then he must keep the commandments.  Jesus then immediately lists five of the Ten Commandments leaving little doubt as to which of God’s laws he is referring to.  Now it has become clear!  The set of God’s laws not being kept by the many disobedient Christians are the Ten Commandments!  Note that there are many disobedient Christians as opposed to few.  Verse 22 of Matthew 7 begins with the word “Many” in both the KJV Bible and the NASB.  Therefore, there will be (and already are) a large number of believers with saving faith in our Lord Jesus that go about their lives disobeying one or more of the Lord’s Ten Commandments.

Under the law?

I suppose at this point, you might be questioning if it is really necessary to obey the Ten Commandments?  After all, the Apostle Paul tells us we are not under the law.  Here it is:

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.  (Romans 6:14-15 KJV)

Do you read those verses and wonder if Paul is telling us that God’s laws have been done away with?  I know I have heard some pastors go so far as to say it is not necessary to obey the commandments, that they were “nailed to the cross” in reference to Colossians 2:14.  The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that God’s laws are still very much in effect:

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.  (Romans 3:31 KJV)

It might seem a bit confusing when Paul tells us that the law is established by our faith but then says we are not under the law.  Hopefully you will be at ease with this key verse that clears-up this seeming paradox:

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.  (Romans 3:28 KJV)

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that it is our saving faith in the Lord Jesus that justifies us.  It is the Lord’s grace made available after our justification that will see our sins forgiven and us saved from the Lake of Fire.  The Apostle Paul is telling us that we are not bound to the keeping of the commandments for our salvation.  How can we be since none of us remain sinless?

It is important to be very clear on this matter.  At no time does the Apostle Paul declare that the Ten Commandments are done away with.  At no time does he declare that even a single commandment is done away with.  Granted, at times, the Apostle Paul’s teachings may be difficult to understand.  In fact, the Apostle Peter tells us as much:

[…] and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.  (2 Peter 3:15-16 NASB emphasis mine)

To read Paul’s letters to the brethren and interpret his meaning in various passages as the doing away of the Lord God’s commandments is folly.  Surely the Book of Revelation is the final written word from the Lord where nothing is to be changed under extreme penalty from God himself (Revelation 22:18-19).  Consider that and realize in Revelation, twice are keeping the commandments referred to (Revelation 12:17, 14:12).  Certainly, they are not done away with so there is no conflict or paradox.  Let’s continue by examining what support we can find for keeping the commandments.

Support for the commandments

Do we find additional passages in the Holy Bible that support the importance of keeping the commandments?  Actually, there are quite a lot so let’s examine a few of these before moving on to consider the manner of the iniquity or lawlessness.  Note this exchange with the Pharisees when one, a lawyer, asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment.  His answer is somewhat surprising in that it is the summarized essence of at least the first four of the Ten Commandments:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (Matthew 22:36-37 KJV)

The Lord’s response is enlightening and, yet, mystifying at the same time.  How does one go about demonstrating their love for God?  From a parent’s perspective, the answer is easily understood.  How does a parent know their child loves them?  Their child obeys them! Similarly, the Apostle John writes:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.  (1 John 5:3 NASB emphasis mine)

Simply put, if you love the Lord, then obey the Lord!  This means obeying or keeping the commandments.  And, just as the Apostle John indicated, keeping the Ten Commandments is not difficult.  Jesus himself tells us what level of effort this obedience requires:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28-30 KJV)

Next are a couple of verses that demonstrate special significance to keeping the commandments of God.  The first is an excerpt from the 2nd Commandment:

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.  (Exodus 20:6 KJV emphasis mine)

Imagine that!  From within the Ten Commandments, we are told that keeping the commandments can bring about mercy from the Lord God.  That is a promise I want to claim when I have failed the Lord and am on my knees praying for mercy.  The second verse comes from Revelation:

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.  (Revelation 22:14 KJV emphasis mine)

I take notice anytime the Holy Bible indicates that a blessing is available.  I need all the blessings I can get!  In this case, I definitely want to be able to enter the ‘city’ of New Jerusalem and have right to the Tree of Life.

In considering the importance of keeping the commandments, let’s not forget how the Ten Commandments were issued to begin with:

And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.  (Exodus 31:18 KJV)

And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.  (Exodus 32:15-16 KJV)

The Ten Commandments were not only delivered directly from the Lord God to Moses, but written by the very finger of God himself!  God did not write the Ten Commandments on parchment or some other fragile material; he chose to use something far more durable.  God wrote the Ten Commandments into stone, the strongest and most enduring material of the day.  And even though Moses broke the first set of tables, God directed him to hew two more like the first after which he again wrote the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:1 KJV).  Clearly, the commandments are not a passing requirement to be ignored and forgotten as time goes by.  Our Lord God established the Ten Commandments as permanent law for his children to obey, always and forever.

Whoa, that last statement is rather strong.  In it, I am using the words “permanent”, “always”, and “forever”.  Are you wondering what evidence is available to support such a stout claim as that?  If one carefully reads through the Holy Bible, the necessary assurance proving that claim is readily found.  To demonstrate this, let’s first go back to where we started in Matthew:

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.  (Matthew 7:23 KJV)

Besides pointing out their iniquity or lawless behavior, the Lord will tell the many disobedient Christians that he never knew them!  How can the Lord not know these Christians that call him “Lord, Lord” and performed great works in his name?  These same Christians came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus and yet he states that he never knew them!  This might seem confusing when pondered, but thankfully the Apostle John has explained why the Lord does not know these many disobedient Christians:

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  (1 John 2:3-4 KJV)

Did you ever see those TV commercials that encouraged viewers to drink milk with the final line, “Got Milk?”  Let’s use it here but change it to, “Got Jesus?”  Except, in light of the above, it would be eternally more correct to ask, “Do you Know Jesus? Do you Really Know Jesus?”  In case the connection I am making is not obvious, recall in Matthew 7:21 that the disobedient Christians are forbidden entry into the Kingdom of Heaven by the Lord Jesus.  And, recall from Revelation 22:14, that keeping the commandments allows the obedient access to the Tree of Life.  Hmm, how does one enter eternity if locked-out of the Kingdom of Heaven with no access to the Tree of Life?  Now, that’s a scary thought.

The point being made here is that not keeping the Ten Commandments could have eternal consequences.  Stated another way, keeping the commandments is vitally important in determining the eternal reward of the believing Christian.  So, using the words “permanent”, “always”, and “forever” in reference to keeping the commandments is eternally correct!

Now, hold off on fretting too much and getting ‘all-worked-up’ if you just realized you’ve broken one or more commandments after accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  It is a bit more involved than what has been alluded to before an eternal penalty is to be anticipated from our Lord.  So, remain calm as we now consider the manner of iniquity which will give us resolution to the mystery we are investigating.

Manner of iniquity

Up to this point, we have established that the type of iniquity or lawlessness Matthew 7:23 refers to is disobedience to God’s Ten Commandments.  Now, let’s consider the manner of this disobedience.  We begin by noting that the KJV Bible uses the phrase “work iniquity” while the NASB reads “practice lawlessness”.  It seems clear that ‘work[ing]’ and ‘practice[ing]’ indicate the lawless behavior is not by accident, instead it is done purposely.  This lawless behavior is likely a frequent occurrence performed whenever these disobedient Christians feel their self-need would be served by breaking God’s commandments.  After all, they have forgiveness of sins by grace!  Why not ‘game’ the system and disobey God if there is a perceived benefit or an opportunity for a bit of self-satisfaction?  It’s not like they are going to lose their salvation or at least, that is what they likely believe.  Therefore, the manner of iniquity by these disobedient Christians is to disobey the Lord God as they see fit, knowing they are saved and covered by God’s grace.

Quick Summary

OK, let’s summarize what we know at this point.  According to Matthew 7:21-23, the Lord will deny many Christians entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.  During their lifetimes, these many Christian iniquity workers will have frequently and purposely not kept a specific set of God’s laws, the Ten Commandments.  It is very saddening to know there are people who have learned the good news of Jesus Christ and accepted him as their Lord and Savior, but then go about conducting their lives willfully disobeying God’s laws.  Well, we have really cleared this mystery up!  Let’s go a bit further for additional clarity and learn about the path to outer darkness.

Losing salvation

I have considered both sides of the ‘salvation-coin’ on whether one can lose their salvation or not.  I am aware that many pastors teach that a Christian’s salvation cannot be lost, ever.  There are also many pastors that teach salvation can be lost.  Honestly, there is very strong support for both positions in the Holy Bible.  If a believer can lose their salvation, then it suggests that exceptions to salvation exist.  For me personally, I am not going to chance losing my salvation.  Roasting in the Lake of Fire for eternity is the ultimate consequence for a possible bad toss of the salvation-coin so I won’t risk it.

Well, what say you?  Once saved, are we free to sin as much as we want?  Is mere whim a sufficient guide as a ‘sin-advisor’?  Surprisingly, we can do just that – if we so choose.  I am not saying that we should go around purposely sinning (remember that salvation-coin) and neither does the Apostle Paul:

♥ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  (Romans 6:1-2 KJV)

All things are permitted for me, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.  (1 Corinthians 6:12 NASB)

Lasciviousness

It is an abhorrent thought that any Christian would behave so corrupt, but the Bible tells us that many do so.  They go about sinning just like the unsaved worldly do, free of concern from eternal consequences.  In fact, this detestable behavior is specifically labeled in the Book of Jude:

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Jude 1:4 KJV emphasis mine)

Lasciviousness, in its broadest definition, is the lack of moral restraint.  Therefore, a lascivious Christian might rationalize their immoral behavior as fully acceptable based on the Lord’s grace.  Unfortunately, an examination of the lascivious Christian’s ‘fruit’ is likely to reveal the trampled remains of the Ten Commandments.

The New International Version Bible provides an excellent description of these lascivious individuals in its translation of the same verse as above:

♥ For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.  (Jude 1:4 NIV emphasis mine)

Based on Jude 1:4, it seems clear that the iniquity workers of Matthew 7:23 could be described as lascivious Christians.  Of course, the lascivious Christians of Matthew 7:21-23 have not completely lost their way since they have apparently performed many notable good works.

Notice in that Jude KJV verse, “…and denying…our Lord Jesus Christ.”  From the Jude NIV verse, “…and deny Jesus Christ.”  In both cases, that is equivalent to saying they don’t know the Lord Jesus.  As pointed out earlier in 1 John 2:3-4, not knowing the Lord is the direct result of not keeping his commandments!  This hasn’t been stated directly yet, so here it is.  If you don’t know the Lord, then the Lord won’t know you when you seek entry into the Kingdom of Heaven and you will be turned away, forever:

♥ But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.  (Luke 12:9 KJV emphasis mine)

Similarly, the Apostle Paul states:

♥ If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:  (2 Timothy 2:12 KJV emphasis mine)

The path to outer darkness

When our Lord Jesus denies the willfully and habitually disobedient commandment breakers entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, they have not lost their salvation.  The ‘insurance’ of these lascivious Christians has already paid-off in that they escaped eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire; they were saved!  Are you surprised?

My dear gentle reader, one’s permanent placement into the Kingdom of Heaven won’t come before the White Throne judgment, it is after.  In that day, after the judgment is complete, only then will the Lord be deciding eternal destinies of the saved.  Those who are eternally forbidden from accessing the Kingdom of Heaven were on the path to outer darkness.  Their eternal destiny is Outer Darkness.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  What is Outer Darkness?  That is the next writing.

The Humbled Teacher

DAC

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