“I never knew you. Depart from me”

I can’t imagine more fearful words coming out of the mouth of Jesus. To believe that you are on good terms with God only to find out at the judgment day that your faith was all pretense? It is a horrifying thought to think these might be the words you hear when you attempt to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23 seem to indicate that it is possible to believe that you’re working for the Lord when you are actually doing nothing of the sort. In fact, Jesus tells his listeners that “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 21). This means that some people perform the life of faith without ever actually having faith. This means that there are people on the planet right now who are declaring Jesus to be their Lord, but they are not actually obeying him.

These people, whom Jesus later calls “workers of lawlessness,” are even accessing the very power of God for the benefit of others, but they themselves are not saved. Even those who prophesy, cast out demons, and do many mighty works in the name of Jesus cannot claim that these works will get them into the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps Jesus permits some people to access his power for the benefit of those in the audience, but even the one through whom the power comes are not necessarily saved. An example might be a teacher whose books and sermons have brought many to faith, but who is discovered to have been involved in disqualifying sin that reveals a lack of obedience and faith. Even as his or her works continue to produce fruit, this person him or herself is cut off and pruned.

We do not want to be those who merely appeared to have faith here on earth. If our works are not done with loving obedience to Christ and love for our neighbors, our works are a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). We may draw attention to ourselves or produce a profit with our faith performance, but our works do not honor God.

I do not want to get caught up in my own hype. I pray for the Lord to reveal to me when my actions belie the true state of my heart. I want to remember that no measure of earthly success can compare to the long-awaited words of my Lord Jesus Christ’s approval: “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Luke 19:17).

When I get to heaven, those are the words I long to hear.