Lord, Lord (Matthew 7:21-27)
'It is not those who say to me, "Lord, Lord", who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (Mt 7:21)
This warning of Jesus is addressed, not to the unconverted, but to his followers. And paradoxically, it is these followers who are most unaware of their need to hear it.
Jesus then takes them to the Last Judgment: ‘When the day comes many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!' (Mt 7:22-3) This is a most perplexing Word –Jesus has called men evil that spent their lives doing very good things in his name.
How can this be, especially since he had just finished teaching about how we will be judged by our fruits? (Mt 7:19) Would not prophesying, casting out demons, working miracles –all in the name of Jesus- be considered exemplary fruit of a Christian? At first sight it might seem like we are literally damned if do and damned if we don’t –those who did not bear good fruit are condemned, and, those who did bear good fruit were also condemned. A superficial reading of these neighboring verses might leave one conflicted.
A startling encounter, over three decades ago, has given me an insight into this perplexing Word of Jesus. I had crossed paths with a renowned evangelist who was an inspiring preacher with a ministry for healing eyes –which my wife personally experienced. The last night of his ministering, after a particularly moving healing service, he invited me to dinner. We talked about the Lord and the wonderful things that had happened, but then, the conversation took a surprising turn -he was propositioning me! I was stunned as I stumbled away from that dinner table.
It took a while to process what I had witnessed –how God allows the sinful to speak and do wonders in his Name. I came to see that I was not all that different from the fallen evangelist. As a leader in Christian community, I too spoke and did good things in the Name of Jesus; and I too struggled with sin not known to others. All of the Twelve did wondrous things in the Name of Jesus; and all of them struggled with inner weakness and sin; but only one was eternally defined by betrayal. What can explain the difference? Could the answer lie in Jesus’ concluding parable on Judgment Day?
He tells the story of two men who each built a house. The sensible man’s was on rock and the foolish one’s was on sand. Both weathered severe storms –only the one built on rock remained. The house symbolizes the sum total of our life. The ‘falling’ or ‘standing’ is our eternal destiny. And the foundation (not the storm) determines that destiny.
The house on sand is a life founded on serving selfish desire. The house on rock is a life based on the Father’s Will. Our house may be magnificent, but if it is built on sand, it will fall when subjected to the Storm of flood and wind –the Last Judgment. But the house built on the Rock of Faithfulness, even if it appears small and simple, shall endure into Glory. So it is that we cannot judge by appearances. A Life that appears tidy and secure may be in grave danger of damnation; and a life that seems amiss may be silently forging Eternal Reward.
So what can we learn from this alarming Word of Jesus? For one, ‘Faith without works’ is dead, and, ‘works without Faith’ is just as dead. But for me, the most urgent lesson is the insidious nature of Sin. The “Lord, Lord” followers of Jesus were on the path to damnation. They were beguiled by the good works in their lives. Blinded to their sin, and justified by their righteous works, they came to believe the lie that they lived, instead of the Lord they served when first begun. What makes this so dangerous is that these Deceived Souls, active in ministry, forgot their need for a Savior.
This deception does not happen overnight. It begins with our tolerance of “small” sins. Maybe we excuse a sinful behavior because of the stress we are under as a result of doing good things; or maybe we justify a shady act in order to accomplish a good that we want; maybe we just feel like we “deserve” this one little sin. Imperceptibly, but inevitably, if not repented of, these “small” sins define the character of our soul. The exception becomes the norm –Sin rules our soul and our house is now destined to collapse if subjected to Storm’s Truth.
Jesus provides the answer: “Therefore, anyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like the sensible man who built his house on the rock.” (Mt 7:24) To listen to and act on the words of Jesus is the definition of Obedient Faith. Obedience is a binary choice –yes or no. It is never ‘mostly’ or ‘maybe a little not’. We can never allow ourselves to willfully choose to disobey the Will of God. Likewise, Faithfulness is a binary condition –we are either Faithful or Unfaithful.
To say that I know Jesus, and yet willfully choose to violate his Word, is to place those horrific words into Jesus’ mouth: “I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!” Imagine this scenario: I have publicly professed to be a follower of Christ, yet willfully invite Sin into my life. I die suddenly and find myself exposed to the Light of Truth. Could I have the audacity to look into the Face of God and beg for Mercy? Could I lie to Him and say I do not deserve condemnation? And, if finding myself in the Flames of Hell, would I be eternally consumed with the question “What was I thinking?” Is this the Price of Sin?Jesus, save me from my sins. Holy Spirit, instill in me a hatred for Sin and a Love for my Father’s Will. Father, I desire to be a Faithful Son. Possess me and displace all Selfishness with your Love. I give you permission to do whatever it takes for me to be conformed to your Purpose for my life. Make it so, Lord.