“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy 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.’
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
Over the months and years, I must have read this passage, Matthew 7:21-23, ten dozen times. I have thought about the horrific implications of Christ’s judgment-laden words in various contexts. I have thought about it in terms of the sad nominalism, self-focus, soft idolatry, and easy apathy that runs deep through much of the American church. I confess I have engaged such things. I have also thought about these three verses in terms of those involved in the cult manifestations and doctrinal aberrations of Christianity. And there is, I believe, obvious truth to those affirmations, truth that is not forced on the text and to which the text can speak.
Riding to work this morning, I thought about this verse from the perspective of those standing before Christ who are being commanded to depart from His presence. In my gift for sometimes missing the obvious, I note that, beyond the engagement of lawlessness, they are attempting to stand before the Messiah on the basis of their efforts, even efforts done in the name of Christ. It seems they are attempting to stand on a sorely and absolutely insufficient foundation of works righteousness before the Holy One who spoke the universe into existence from nothing.
Now, when I read and ponder on this verse, I will consider even more carefully and understand more dearly and rejoice more heartily in the fact that I bring nothing to the table. We in Christ have nothing of our own to offer our Redeemer than our weakness, our brokenness over sin and our brokenness by sin, a heart that, quickened by God’s sovereign work of grace, becomes more repentant over time as we grow increasingly aware of how miserably far we fall short. We embrace ever more dearly a salvation bought at so great a price by a mighty Redeemer that we may be clothed, both now and through the endless ages to come, in His righteousness. From there alone, from that grace-deposited, ever deepening understanding of the cost and soterial necessity of the Cross, springs a true heart’s growing desire to serve the Messiah, to do works out of praise, worship, and thanksgiving rather than self-exaltation.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)