I Never Knew You

Those would be frightful words to hear from Jesus on the last day. We find them here:

“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

I don’t know about you, but I want to be known by the Lord. For weeks, this passage was a source of worry for me. Of course, I want to know the Lord, as well as I can, but Jesus’ statement in verse 23 turned that on its head. How, I wondered, can I make sure that the Lord knows me?

The people saying “Lord, Lord” weren’t known by Jesus. I wrote about them a few days ago. God doesn’t know the false prophets, false teachers, and false disciples who put on a show of religion and delude themselves into thinking they’re doing mighty works in his name. Sure, he knows of them, but he doesn’t know them. Nor, it’s clear, do they know him.

It’s interesting to contrast this passage, which comes in the context of a teaching about false prophets with another from Matthew 25.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ​‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ​‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31-46

Here, in Matthew 25, Jesus lists several works of righteousness. In Matthew 7, the people Jesus claims not to know list several mighty works. In Matthew 25, the goats ask when they failed to do the works of righteousness that the Son of Man says they failed to do. The sheep don’t even remember doing the works that he says they did and they question him about when they did them.

But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

The big, showy, flashy works aren’t the ones that matter. It’s the quiet works done in love that make the difference. The sheep weren’t trying to earn their place in the Kingdom of Heaven. They just went about feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, clothing to the needy, and visiting the sick and prisoners, not to earn heaven, but because they loved their neighbors and they loved God, and that’s really the way to be known by Jesus.

But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
1 Corinthians 8:3

Salvation is of the Lord. We are saved by grace, and not by works. When we stand before the Lord on that last day, our entry into the Kingdom of Heaven will be granted not because of flashy works, but because the Lord grants us grace. Repent of your sins, believe in him, trust in him, and you will be saved. Do it on your own and their will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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