I had a hard time naming this post, so I just went with the Scripture reference. Thank you for checking this out despite the vague title.
Please read these words of Christ, as he is teaching his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 7:21-23.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord , Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
Read it again. Does that scare you? Does it give you pause in the slightest? I will be honest with you, that passage terrifies me. If I hear or read this passage and engage it on any contemplative level, I just–I cannot help but pause and reflect. And fear strikes me. If I am reading this passage correctly, Christ is telling his disciples that not everyone who calls on him will be saved; furthermore, not everyone who believes they are doing great, spiritual works in his name will be saved. Only those who actually work toward the furthering of God’s kingdom through their actions, motivated by a love of God and others are known by Christ. Who then can be assured of their salvation? Can any of us?
Now, I am guessing that many of you reading this will be very quick to say, “C.J., you don’t need to be scared. I totally see the Spirit at work in your life, and I have seen you doing the work of the Father, so you have nothing to be scared of.”
First, let me say that I really, really appreciate this sentiment. I do. I am always humbled when people look at me and see Christ–that means that wherever else I am in life, I am getting the most important thing right at least some of the time. Second, let me say that I am the type of person who actually needs that type of encouragement. The world inside my head is intensely self-critical, and I often fall into the trap of despair, depression, and regret. But third, inasmuch as I value this response (and, again, I truly do), I always curb it in my mind with the very somber truth of Matthew 7–that in the end, at the very point when it matters, the opinions of men are not the deciding factor, but Christ alone will determine who is known and who is not known. The final decision rests with him, and a major part of that decision will be the record of works that resulted from a person’s true knowledge of God and faith in Christ. In these three verses, Christ reconciles the works-heavy teaching of the apostle James and the believe-and-be-saved admonitions of Paul. In the end, Christ will know who was truly his disciple and who was not, and those who were will have completed “kingdom work” as a manifestation of their knowledge of God.
I call this is a somber thought, but I also believe–very deeply–that it is perhaps one of the most encouraging truths of salvation ever revealed in the text of the Bible for one simple reason: Christ knows who is real, and he cannot be deceived, and therefore, the determination of those who are in his kingdom and those who are not will be perfect. Perhaps a better way to say that may be this: the final judgment will be flawless, regardless of who goes where.
I find this encouraging because I believe that Christ will be a far more merciful judge than we expect but also be much more fair judge than we can understand. We humans see things with such limited minds, such narrow perspectives, and such a selfish haze that our attempts at justice, valiant as they may be, are always tainted and incomplete.
According to Matthew 7:21-23, however, we can be sure that ultimate cosmic justice will be determined by a perfect judge who sees existence in a far more complex, versatile, and “true” fashion, and that judge will render his verdict with complete and total clarity of fairness and virtue, without anything clouding his vision or affecting his discernment. Those who were serving Christ for their own ends or in name only will be shown to be the charlatans that they truly were. Those who truly desired to further the kingdom of God will be known and welcomed into inheritance. I love that, and when I accept that and believe that truth, the terror I feel is overshadowed by peace.
But to be honest, the terror is not gone. I do not feel it for myself nearly as much as I feel it for others. Our human tendency is to say that we deserve heaven. We say, “Hey I’m a good person; I should get it”, “Who is God to exclude me?”, or my favorite from my early twenties, “I’m awesome. Who wouldn’t want me in heaven?”. These are the normal attitudes of millions of men and women, and they just show how much those individuals do not know God and how they are not known by him either. For these persons, I am terrified. I hurt for them when I engage this passage. Because when they are before Christ, what will they say? How devastated will they be to learn the truth of their own self-glorification? What will they do when Christ says “Depart from me”? For them, this passage is terrifying.
Personally, I am very secure in my salvation, that when I come before Christ I will find my name among his followers, and I will be called into my inheritance. Strangely, it was this whole idea of Christ’s judgment in Matthew 7 that made me so secure. For I have come to a place in my heart wherein I truly believe that if I was sent to hell, God will have done me no wrong and justice will have been served, and I don’t think you can come to that point of faith without believing Christ is who he claims to be–so good and high above oneself that should he pronounce ultimate judgment against one, he is still just and perfect. If Chist judges one’s friends, family, admired peers, he will do no wrong. This is a hard truth, and I believe accepting it requires a certain acceptance of who God is that can only come for the Holy Spirits work in one’s heart.
When I come before Christ, if I can say anything, I am likely going to say something like this, “Please, you alone are my hope. If my debt is not covered through your righteousness, I have nothing–my works alone are as filthy rags, less those motivated for love of you, your kingdom, and others. I know where I deserve to go without you, so do justly, as you will, for you are good.” In that moment, the call will be made–the perfect and just verdict will be rendered. And as I said before, I take great peace in that somber truth. I hope and trust my faith will be rewarded, but if I have been among the self-deceivers and I am sent where I deserve to go, ultimate justice will still be complete. God will have done no wrong. In that, I take great solace.
How bout you? What do those verses do to you when you read them? How will they affect how you live this week?
Thanks for reading, guys. Another verse to check out for today – Phillipians 2:12.