How to avoid hearing Jesus say “I never knew you.”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father 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 deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus then tells the parable of the wise and foolish builders, illustrating and reinforcing his teaching about the importance of not just hearing his words, but acting on them.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Other examples of Jesus teaching on the importance of ‘doing’ include:
“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35);
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14); and
“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
So it is very important that we do the will of God. If we rely on our faith, our beliefs, our creeds or our doctrines to save us, but do not do the will of God, then we may be risking hearing Jesus say “I never knew you”.
What is the will of God that we should be doing? Fortunately the answer to that question is found throughout scripture and it is very clear. We must look after those who are in need. We must give to those who are poor, befriend those who are alone and promote justice for those who need justice. To put it simply we must love our neighbour.
• In Genesis God says: “I have chosen him (Abraham) that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19);
• In the law given to Moses there are many, many examples of commands to look after others. Just one example must do for this post: “Give liberally and be ungrudging …for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.'” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11);
• In the prophets, to take one example, “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8);
• In the gospels, Jesus’ chilling teaching on what will happen to those who do not look after others (Matthew 25:31-46).
Of course, we must not think for a moment that we can earn salvation by our good works. As our brother Paul put it:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Many Christians, unfortunately, use this verse to suggest that works are unimportant. This is a terrible and dangerous thing to teach. Paul himself makes it clear how important good works are in the very next verse:
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God created us to do good works. God created us to love him – Yes. But he also created us to love our fellow human beings. And he is particularly concerned that we should love those less fortunate than ourselves: the poor, the lonely and those who need justice. If our love for others does not result in us taking care of others then it is not love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15).
It is not clear whether Jesus is ordering those who love him to keep his commandments, or whether he is stating a simple fact – if we love him we will find that we keep his commandments. My own experience is that the more I focus on loving God, the more I find that I become less selfish and more interested in the wellbeing of others.
We cannot guarantee our salvation by looking after others. Salvation is the gift of God and God alone – but the scriptures make it very clear that God expects us, his servants, to act on his commands to look after those in need.