What does Luke 6:46 mean?Jesus has been speaking to a great crowd. This throng includes His twelve apostles, many disciples, and Jews and Gentiles who have come for healing (Luke 6:17–19). He has finished explaining that His followers will be persecuted by the world but that they need to forgive and bless their enemies (Luke 6:20–36). He then explained two general attributes that should describe His followers. First, they ought to be diligent to consider their own sins before they judge others (Luke 6:37–42). Second, their good hearts should produce good works (Luke 6:43–45).
This is the third standard to which Jesus' followers should be held: they base their lives on His commands.
Much of the Sermon on the Plain has to do with speaking, including cursing, blessing, praying, and teaching. Jesus has explained that what we say expresses what is in our hearts. Here, He talks about careless speech that does not necessarily come from the heart. "Lord" is from the Greek root word kurios. In general, it means a ruler—often one that is deified; Luke isn't referring to Jesus as Savior although Matthew's parallel does (Matthew 7:21). To call Jesus "Lord, Lord" but reject what He says creates a disconnect between heart and speech.
This verse brings up the controversial relationship between salvation and good works. Some present this conundrum as a choice between Paul's salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9) and James' note that faith without works is "dead" (James 2:17). This question is often mis-stated as, "How much do we need to obey Jesus in order to be saved?" The truth is that obedience is not what saves—rather, salvation produces obedience. Judging "how much" obedience accurately reflects salvation is the difficult part. At one end is "easy-believe-ism" which teaches that someone merely needs to say a prayer to be saved. At the other end are the hyper-legalistic denominations that insist a true Christian rarely sins and can lose their salvation if they do.
What is usually missed in the conversation is Ephesians 2:10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." The sequence is God's grace, our faith, our repentance, our works, all of which are powered and led by the Holy Spirit. In the simplest terms, "repentance" means a person agreeing that Jesus is right and they are wrong—and that they don't want to live like that anymore. Works are our obedience to Christ. Both are nebulous, ever-growing responses to salvation, but they are always present. If there is no repentance and no works—no obedience—then there was no faith and no grace.
This is especially easy to misunderstand because of the Bible's emphasis on good works. Nevertheless, Jesus makes the distinction for the crowd: do they call Him "Lord" because He heals them or because they want to base their lives on His words (Luke 6:40)? Later, He will scold a crowd that doesn't care that He fulfills the signs of the Messiah—they just like that He can make food come out of nowhere (John 6:26).
At the time Jesus spoke these words, eternal salvation through Christ wasn't fully explained or understood, even by the twelve apostles. Jesus is challenging the crowd to commit to what He commands: accept that following Him will bring persecution and forgive their abusers. He promises that if they do this, their lives will be firmly established no matter what hardships they face (Luke 6:47–49).