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Paul clearly says that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit

1 Corianthians 12:3 NASB

3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking [a]by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is [b]accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except [c]by the Holy Spirit.

But in Matthew we have 'disciples' who called Jesus Lord and even went on to prophesy and cast out demons yet were rejected by Christ

Matthew 7:21-23 NASB

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 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 [n]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

How can we understand Paul's assertion in the above text?

  • Obviously anybody can say "Jesus is Lord", but it can only be said in an accurately Holy Spirit corresponding way by a numbered few. Thus, a person whom Jesus is not Lord over can still say that he is so. But that would be inaccurate. Such person is either a deceiver, or an honest, but deceived person. – Constantthin Feb 24 at 12:00
  • See also John 11:51. – Lucian Mar 7 at 8:12
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These two texts are discussing quite separate matters in the Christian life.

1 Cor 12:3, as with John 16:13 and others, is discussing the Christian's enlightenment by the Holy Spirit.

By contrast, Matt 7:21-23 is discussing the life and work of the Christian which everyday experience tells us is often sadly lacking, despite the Christian knowing and via an informed conscience educated by the Holy Spirit. Many of us have had the same experience - we know we should not do something but do it anyway.

This is the entire crux of the sin problem - this disconnect between what we know we should do and what we actually do. Romans 7 discusses this at some length. No one becomes immediately perfect at conversion. Our Christian knowledge via the Holy Spirit is always ahead of our actions.

Hence the Christian life is characterised by a growing into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18), being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2), “follow after righteousness” (1 Tim 6:11), walking in the “newness of life” (Rom 6:4), “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor 7:1), “partaking in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), “growing up into Christ” (Eph 4:15), “pressing toward the mark” (Phil 3:12-15), “being built up in Christ” (Col 2:7), “becoming complete in all the will of God” (Col 4:12), “fighting the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12), “growing in grace” (2 Peter 3:18), “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8), “walk by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16), etc.

Unfortunately, some reject their salvation. That is, some reject the call of God which comes via the Holy Spirit.

  • Eze 18:21-28 also teaches that the wicked can reform and be saved, and the righteous can apostatise and be lost.
  • 1 Cor 9:27 Paul says he disciplines his body to keep it under control so that after preaching to others he does not become a castaway/disqualified. That is, Paul believed that it was possible that he could lose his way and become lost.
  • 1 Tim 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away. • 2 Peter 1:10, “make your calling and election sure”. This clearly allows for the possibility of losing one’s election.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
  • 2 Peter 3:17 contains a very stern and sobering warning to be on guard that we do not fall from our secure position. Verse 14 contains a similar warning.
  • 1 Cor 10:12 also contains a stern warning from Paul, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
  • Gal 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
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  • @Dotlard,the question is why Paul says no one can say Jesus is Lord in the face of Matthew 7 which seems to say otherwise. Not looking at whether one loses his salvation or not after having been saved.. – collen ndhlovu Feb 24 at 11:35
  • @collenndhlovu - That is the point. One text is saying that we receive the Holy Spirit but have the choice about whether we then act in accord with His promptings. Look again at the first few paragraphs. – Dottard Feb 24 at 19:54
  • I agree with @Dottard. The speakers in Matthew were initially prompted by the Holy Spirit, as 1 Corinthians mentioned, if they did truly believe that Jesus Christ was Lord when they initially believed. Dottard's point is that just because they were prompted by the Spirit to believe, doesn't mean that they ended up following His leading (or followed Christ) as Christians. This passage in Matthew is particularly heartbreaking because it seems as though the ones speaking did think they were obeying Christ/following Him, but they were in fact following themselves and did not truly know Him. – Gremosa Feb 26 at 23:00
  • Thus, Jesus says that merely calling Him Lord (perhaps even merely believing He is Lord) does not mean one will be able to enter His Kingdom. It's only those who obey and do the will of the Father who will be able to enter in. This is a bit nuanced, but it's very possible that those whom Jesus reprimands (and calls evildoers!) in Matthew are still genuine believers and have eternal life as described in John 3:16. That doesn't mean they will enter His Kingdom immediately or be close to Him -- some believe the 1000 years (in Revelation) are to give time to Christians to truly get to know Him. – Gremosa Feb 26 at 23:11
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The Condition of the Heart
The difference could reasonably be a result of the sincerity of the confession. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul is describing a true confession which was made in the Holy Spirit. In Matthew, Jesus is describing those whose proclamation is merely "lip service:"

7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15) [ESV]

There is also the matter of belief which is necessary to be saved:

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10)

Salvation is a matter of both mouth and heart. Thus someone who says "Lord, Lord..." but does not believe Jesus was raised from the dead would belong to the group in Matthew 7:21-23.

The Actual Text
The English fails to capture a difference present in the Greek:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)

διὸ γνωρίζω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ λαλῶν λέγει ἀνάθεμα Ἰησοῦς καὶ οὐδεὶς δύναται εἰπεῖν κύριος Ἰησοῦς εἰ μὴ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ

  • 2980 λαλέω - focuses on the articulated, distinct sound of the formed word
  • 3004 λέγω - words [usually of systematic or set discourse; whereas 2036 and 5346 generally refer to an individual expression or speech respectively.
  • 2036 εἶπον - to speak or say by word or writing, used only in the definite past tense

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.’ (Matthew 7)

21 οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι κύριε κύριε εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς 22 πολλοὶ ἐροῦσίν μοι ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ κύριε κύριε οὐ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι ἐπροφητεύσαμεν καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δαιμόνια ἐξεβάλομεν καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δυνάμεις πολλὰς ἐποιήσαμεν

Therefore, one could say the difference is also present in the Greek; a sincere confession is described using εἶπον, the other with ἐρεῶ.

There are examples from the LXX showing εἶπον is the best choice to describe sincerity:

And he spoke (εἶπεν) in order to destroy them - had not Moyses, his chosen one, stood in the breech before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying. (105:23 [106:23]) LXX

They did not destroy the nations which the Lord told εἶπεν them. (105:34 [106:34]) LXX

εἶπεν is used to described what the LORD says. ἐρεῶ is used when all the people "say:"

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And all the people will say ἐρεῗ "May it be. May it be." (105:48 [106:48]) LXX

In Hebrew, all three examples have the word, אָמַר, yet the LXX uses both εἶπον and ἐρεῶ in translating. So then saying εἶπον in the Holy Spirit is the same as the Lord speaking εἶπον. Where those saying "Lord, Lord..." are like all the people saying ἐρεῶ...

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Mt 5--7 are spoken about His disciples. The one exception may be 7:15-20. Though believers into Christ can also be "false," deceive. 7:21-23 is certainly about saints who already used His name effectively, at least toward demons. 1 Corinthians 12:3 is God's will, through the apostle, to call "Lord Jesus!" or to say "Jesus is Lord" to learn to prophesy (12:1-2, 8, 10; 14:1-19, 24-32, 39). I say 'learn' because that is the encouragement in chapter 14, and: "You know that when you were Gentiles, you were always being led away to dumb idols, whenever and however you were led," emphasis on "dumb." This in contrast with the normal, Pauline-taught, Christian meeting: "Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation," 14:26. It's interesting, 12:10, like Mt 7:22 in my version also mentions "works of power." The ones in Mt 7:21-23, though believers into the Lord, sound like they don't know their Lord so well. In that it's "in that day," they're facing Christ in person at His judgment seat of believers, and they're advocating for themselves. The difference I see is that this group of Christians apparently was 'using' the Lord's name more than calling on Him. None of this is to say that 1 Corinthians is not full of warnings to believers on the very same subject of the judgment seat of Christ for either discipline or reward, 1 Cor 3:10-17. 3:18 is a good word to both of them, all of us (me, since I'm daring to write to teach another): "Let no one deceive himself; if anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise."

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Those two passages agree if we read them within the larger context. I suggest you have taken Matthew 7:21-23 out of context, which distorts its meaning, then tried to read 1 Corinthians 12:3 in light of that. Obviously, that confuses the meaning. I will endeavor to put the Matthew passage back into context, and into the larger context of Jesus' teaching as recorded in the Gospels. Then I will show how this agrees with Paul's writing to the Corinthians.

Matthew 7:21-23

Matthew 7:21-23 is the second part of Jesus' parable about the Tree and Its Fruit. Jesus begins in V. 15 by saying, "Beware of false prophets." He goes on to say that people, i.e. prophets, can be known by their fruits the same way as trees can be known by their fruits. For example, he says, no one gathers grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles (V. 16). Good trees, he says, cannot bear bad fruit, nor vice versa.

I think all of us have enough life experience and understanding of biology and horticulture to realize that apples don't grow on thorn bushes, but that each kind of plant bears its own seed in its fruit. Likewise, some plants produce fruit good to eat while others produce poisonous fruit. Thorns and thistles, as most of us know, are prickly weeds that pierce the skin--not good.

Jesus compares the false prophets to the poisonous fruit, to prickly thistles and thorns that only hurt. Jesus also compares these false prophets to "ravening wolves in sheep's clothing," i.e. deceivers and/or traitors (V. 15), like the con-people and their scams we are all so familiar with. These false prophets will say "Lord, Lord, did we not do all these good deeds in your name?" V. 22.

Those are the people Jesus rejects. He is saying that they may have deceived the innocent and the gullible but they won't deceive him no matter how much they flatter him. That is what I understand him to mean when he says in Verse 21:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.

Compare Matthew 25:31-46

The passage in Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus speaks about The Judgment agrees with the above explanation. At the judgment, Jesus says, all the nations will be gathered before him; he will divide them, with the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The sheep are the good people who have done the will of his Father and are invited into the Kingdom and the goats are the bad people who have not done the will of God; they are told to "Depart from me!" The good people are surprised at their reward and ask, "What have we done to deserve this?" Jesus will list all the deeds of charity and reply:

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ V. 40.

The bad people will also be surprised at their reward and ask, "What did we do to deserve this?" Again, Jesus will reply with all the deeds of charity that they did NOT do and reply:

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ V. 45

In other words, when people fail to bring forth good fruits (as described above in Matt. 7), Jesus does not look upon them favourably. Pretending not to know what they did wrong, calling him Lord, Lord, will not get them anywhere at that point.

I think we have now established that in Matthew 7.21-23 Jesus is describing unrighteous or bad people, and clarifying that unlike some people he might name he will not buckle to flattery.

Correctly Acknowledging Jesus' Lordship

Jesus did not object to being called Lord when done so in sincerity. From John 13:13-14:

13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

In other words, serving tired servants--even washing their weary filthy feet that had walked the sewers of the city--was the responsibility of a real Lord and Teacher (some translations say Master).

1 Corinthians 12:3

Then, to get even closer to the meaning of Paul's meaning in 1 Corinthians 12:3, there is Peter's Confession of Christ in Matthew 16:13-20.

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. V. 16-17.

I confess that there is a difference between calling Jesus the Christ (which means Messiah, Savior, the Anointed One) and calling him Lord. However, as shown in the passage above from John, Lord was intended to mean something much different in Christian theology from the Roman lords and masters.

It is beyond the scope of this answer to define exactly what Paul means by "Holy Spirit" or the "Spirit of God." I think, however, that we can safely include the concept in Christian theology of the time. See above in Matt. 16:13-20 and John 13:13-14. That would starkly differentiate the use of Lord from that in contemporary Roman society.

3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, being a Christian and cursing Jesus does not go together. Only a Christian will say, "Jesus is Lord." I think that agrees with what Jesus was saying, according to the Gospels.

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