Pastor Josh shares his thoughts on God's greatest gift of all, the invitation for us to know him and be close to him. But how do we accept this gift in full? It begins with a grateful heart.
By Josh Anderson, Pastor
After nearly nine months, we just wrapped up our extended teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount. Before we move on, I wanted to share some additional insights on Matthew 7:21-23.
Ethan taught on this passage as well. I encourage you to watch the Mobile Church video from August 29 on our YouTube Channel. Or you can check it out here:
Let's jump right in.
Having just warned his listeners to beware of false prophets, Jesus makes it clear that it's possible for other people to "put on" a show of faith. From the outside, these self-proclaimed followers of Christ can seem righteous and devoted.
And yet, Jesus says this,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”—Matthew 7:21-23
Here, Jesus offers the other side of the two-part alert he first mentioned when it came to false teachers. This time his warning is to beware of false followers.
Specifically, Christ is warning those who hear him not to fool themselves into thinking they are true believers, when in fact they are not. Jesus goes so far as to declare that not everyone who refers to Him as "Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven.
The title of "Lord" implies a master, a leader, and an authority to whom someone submits. But those who are unwilling to submit to Jesus' authority really can't call him Lord.
In prior teachings, Jesus indicated that mere words and actions are not enough—these outward expressions must all be motivated by inward sincerity and truth (Matthew 6:1, 5, 16).
In that same way, Jesus states in no uncertain terms that merely referring to him as Lord is not enough. Neither are acts of supposed righteousness. As we know, going through the motions and claiming God's name is nothing more than a hollow exercise of legalism.
Entrance to the kingdom of heaven is limited to those who truly, fully do the will of our Father in heaven. With every ounce of our heart, mind, body, and soul, we are called to love God and love others—without judgement or qualification.
So how can we determine if our own motives are true? What can we do to ensure that our intentions are righteous rather than self serving?
One way that we can extract the purity of our motives is by testing ourselves. Paul offers this instruction in his second letter to the church in Corinth:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”—2 Corinthians 13:5
These are tough words from Paul. (Because aren't all of his words hard to take at times?) What he suggests is that self-evaluation leads to self-awareness. If we're honest with ourselves—even brutally critical when examining our intentions—we have the ability to test ourselves and know whether Christ Jesus is in us or not.
Where do we even begin? It starts with sincere faith in Christ.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”—John 6:28–29
The testing begins with our believing. Instead of us thinking that we can do it on our own, we must acknowledge that it is Christ alone who helps us do the works that God requires. This surrendered posture then extends to humility in how we live our lives.
“If you love me, keep my commands.”—John 14:15
God has given us the answer to the test. It comes down to loving God more than ourselves. It comes down to believing in his plan for our lives rather than pursuing our own selfish desires and ambitions. And yet, we consistently fall into a mindset that somehow we must earn our admittance into God’s kingdom.
We think, “Certainly there’s something I need to do to earn the love of God.”
Truth be told, there is no amount of good deeds that will somehow prove our worth or stamp our entry ticket into God's throne room. This is the definition of a works-based faith.
But there is something we can constantly work to improve in ourselves. A test we can administer in our hearts and minds on a daily basis. The test is one of gratitude. Are we living with an attitude of gratitude or have we fallen into the trap of trying to earn salvation and acceptance?
Here’s an exercise we can try together. And it's begins with looking at the bigger picture of our faith.
Examining and studying Scripture verse by verse certainly has its benefits. But it can also lead to a narrow focus and fixation on only what’s written on the page in front of us.
From time to time, it’s important that we step back. Take a look at the bigger picture. And here, I think we need to pause and remind ourselves of the greater narrative of God's Word.
First, let’s begin with Abraham. Here we have a faithful man, to the point that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God. (Read the full story in Genesis 22:1-19.)
And yet just as Abraham is about to plunge a knife into Isaac, God provides a ram as a replacement sacrifice. God goes even further when he promises Abraham that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Fast forward to the rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God brings them into the wilderness so that he might remind them of his ever-presence and provision. He is with them in the form of fire, manna, quail, and ultimately in stone tablets that instruct them on the best way to live. Godly living 101, if you will.
Skip ahead another several generations and God in essence says to the Israelites, "Even though you have struggled to keep my laws, I will provide you with the ultimate gift in the person of Jesus." Christ serves as a new covenant or promise between God and the entire world. Jesus fulfills all the laws given by God. He is the final sacrifice. His death atones for all the sin of the world. And his resurrection defeats the grave for all.
If that weren’t enough, God then gives the gift of his Holy Spirit to live with us and reside within our hearts. To speak to us, for us, and help guide, direct, and counsel us.
All of this is done in part to remind us of God’s redemptive work in the world and in our lives. It's humbling for us to understand that we are a part of God's story, and not the other way around.
God is giving us the gift of hope, healing, and an eternity in his presence. What he offers to us is the choice to receive his gift with open hands and grateful hearts.
The Greatest Gift of All
Essentially, God asks us to believe that we are worthy of this gift. And then for good measure, God even gives us the gift of faith for when we struggle to understand his plans and provisions.
Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus reminds us of God’s grace in this regard:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”—Ephesians 2:8
Gratitude helps us to see that everything is from God, everything. Even our faith in Him.
But the choice is up to us as to what we’re going to do with that understanding. Will we receive God’s gift and allow it to soften and shape us in a Christ-like way? Or will we reject the gift and go our own way?
So often passages like this one in Matthew have been used to scare people into thinking that all God is offering humanity is a ticket out of hell.
And yet, what God is offering us is so much more than that.
Notice what Jesus is suggesting. Read it with fresh eyes:
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”—Matthew 7:23
Is it possible for us to accept what Jesus is really saying here? Or is the negative framing of this language and what we've been taught by others preventing us from hearing his true invitation?
When I read this passage with a heart of gratitude, Christ's offer couldn't be more clear.
When we accept God’s gift of inclusion into his family, instruction of how to live to the fullest, forgiveness for our failings, atonement for our rebellion, and counsel from His Spirit, the invitation I hear is that I will know Jesus and be close to him.
And what that means is that I will know God and I will be close to Him.
I want that gift. I want that gift and I’m willing to give up everything of myself and for myself to receive it. I'm willing to die to myself—daily, moment to moment.
To know God and be close to him.
What could I possibly gain in my own way that is better than the freedom that comes from being close to God again?
Whatever you have heard before, in whatever ways you have been wounded, hurt, chewed up and spit out, I invite you to push all of that aside and hear God’s incredible invitation:
"Know me and be close to me."
What a gift. And is yours and mine. All we need to do is receive it as our own.
Keep up with new posts on theHeart Blog and keep current with everything that is going down by downloading our smartphone app.