The surrounding few passages are often read and quoted in isolation. We tend to place most of our focus on the response that Jesus would say to those who seem spiritual through their acts but whose hearts have not been surrendered to God. This may be due to the headings added to most of our Bibles. This particular verse may be found under a section entitled “True Disciples,” “A Tree and Its Fruit,” “True and False Disciples,” “I Never Knew You,” or something similar, depending on your translation. However, we must remember that these headings were added many centuries after the initial writing of Matthew—Jesus never spoke these to his listeners, and they aren’t found in the original Greek.

In some cases—this being one of them—the headings do us an injustice as they tend to break up continuous thought. The NIV84 gets us closer as this section is adjoined to the previous one that describes a tree and its fruit. However, even it doesn’t go far enough.

In his closing points, Jesus draws a dichotomy between true followers of God and those who seem religious but whose real hope is in their materialism. If we were to remove the headings and take a small step back, we’d see that Jesus actually begins this thought in verse 13 when he distinguishes between two gates. Furthermore, this portion of his message concludes with the overall message itself in verse 27 after describing two types of builders.

Why is this important? Because at its essence, in this final part of his message, Jesus is differentiating between those who appear to do good works and those who are actually doing the will of the Father. It’s a very subtle theme we could miss if we’re not careful and allow the headings to (mis)interpret our reading. While each section depicts characteristics of such people in different lights, a single thread is woven through them all.

Briefly examined, typically, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with choosing an easier path to travel. The problem is when we do so while neglecting the first three-quarters of Jesus’ sermon. We’ve failed to, in short, be the salt and light and have, therefore, become like the others who travel through the wide gate. Many of us would (and, unfortunately, do) attempt to perform some fantastic spiritual acts while we continue living as the rest of the world. But instead, we want to operate with feet in two different camps.

Likewise, the “false prophets” that Jesus refers to in verses 15-16 have performed the very prophesying, exorcisms, and miracles that Jesus refers to in verse 22. These false prophets are the very people entering the wide gate while, ironically, trying to demonstrate spiritual power and authority. No wonder Jesus tells them they have a plank in their eye (Matthew 7:1-5). They can’t see that they, too, are headed for destruction.

After all of this, no wonder Jesus calls them foolish (v. 26). They are building on false hopes of their good works. Essentially, they are taking some of the very materials that Christ has given for building his Church (prophecy, exorcisms, and miracles), and they have chosen an unstable foundation for construction.

It is fitting that all of this should come at the end of Jesus’ message, and this ending serves as a warning to the audience. All that possibly could be accomplished through human effort is in vain if a relationship with Christ Jesus is nonexistent. Of course, good works can be performed on one’s own while traversing the wide path. But performing works like prophesying, exorcism, and healing is like trying to resuscitate someone on a sinking ship or giving a life preserver to a passenger while the plane is heading into the side of a mountain. The effort is foolishness as you (and everyone with you) are still dying regardless of how good your actions may be. In the end, only the will of the Father can be accomplished while one is in step with Jesus. He remains the solid foundation for all who believe.