Consider the following words of Jesus:
21 “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 who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7:21-23, NIV)
When I was growing up, I read these verses under the impression that the people Jesus was talking about included "charismatics" and modern-day "faith healers." The Christian leadership I was under at that time painted a dim picture of the motives of modern-day miracle workers, pointing to this verse as just one evidence that "miracles" are usually associated with false teachers. But when I was reflecting on these verses yesterday, I had a much more chilling thought that hit a lot closer to home.
"I never knew you." I pondered this phrase for a long time. What would it mean for Jesus to say on Judgement Day that He never knew someone? From the testimony of Scripture, it seems that God (and Jesus) would know a lot about us. But perhaps knowing "about" a person is not what Jesus meant when he said, "I never knew you."
When we look at the passage in the context of the entire chapter of Matthew 7, we can see that Jesus is stressing the theme of the struggle between outward appearances and internal character. So when we read the Judgement Day passage, we can safely assume that Jesus wants us to learn a lesson along the same lines.
Now here is where the meaning of "I never knew you" plays an important role in how you interpret the Judgement Day passage of Matthew 7:21-23. We know that the phrase has something to do with the theme of outward appearances versus internal character. In Jesus's description of the scene, many people claim to have performed various works in Jesus's name. When Jesus replies with the words, "I never knew you," is He implying that the people are lying? Perhaps the people thought they were doing works in Jesus's name, but they were in reality led astray by false teachers and could even perform false signs by the power of the demonic realm. Perhaps outwardly they proclaimed Jesus, but inwardly they were in league with the evil one. Perhaps Jesus is implying that these people weren't actually doing things in His name, and so in that sense, He never knew them.
But does this explanation get at the heart of the issue? I don't think it does. As my heart pondered this passage yesterday, the phrase "I never knew you" just kept coming to the front of my mind. Then it hit me. Jesus wasn't calling into question whether or not the people actually did works in His name. No. The issue wasn't the validity or sincerity of their actions. The issue was that they lacked a relationship with Jesus.
Wow--So a relationship with Jesus is pretty important. It's more important than doing miraculous signs and wonders in His name. But what does it mean to have the sort of relationship with Jesus that would merit Jesus's saying, "Hey, I know you! Come on in!"?
Let me share with you the analogy that came to my mind as I pondered the sort of relationship that Jesus wants with us. Consider the following story:
A father plans a special vacation [to Hawaii, perhaps? ;-)] for his family. He creates invitations for each of his kids, and they look forward to this event with much anticipation. Now, the father has established certain rules and principles for the members of his household to live by, but these rules and principles don't contribute to or take away from "family-membership status." The rules and principles simply communicate ways in which the family members can grow deeper in their relationship with one another more effectively. The father's rules and principles, as well as his plans for a family vacation, are widely known in the wider community.Meanwhile, the father's kids spend time with their father, and they grow deeper in their relationship with him. The father even adopts more children, and they are warmly welcomed into the family. All the kids love to be with their father. They invite him to come to their baseball games, plays, and chess tournaments. They tell him their hopes and dreams. They tell him their deepest secrets. They ask him for advice. They ask him to build them a playhouse or to throw a football around with them in the backyard. They learn the best grilling tips in town from him. They value their father's presence and favor, and they seek to please him in all that they do.After some time, the father announces that it is time for the special family vacation. The family starts packing up the car, and then comes a group of kids from the surrounding community. The community kids say, "We want to go on your family vacation. We followed the rules and principles you made for your family, and we know that that is something you would be very pleased with. But not only did we follow your rules and principles--we also told all the other kids about how great of a father you are, and we did our best to demonstrate to them how loving you are. Shouldn't we be included in your family, too?"Sadly, the father explains, "I see all the things you have done, but when did you ever come over to spend time with me? Look, here are some children that didn't even know my rules, but they chose to spend time with me to get to know me more. These children I consider to be part of my family. But you, I have only seen your faces for a brief moment here or there. You are not part of my life, and I am not a part of your life. I do not know you, and you do not know me. How could you be part of my family?"
I believe that Jesus was trying to communicate something that is essential to our lives: We need to spend time with God. God can know a lot about us and not "know" us. We can know a lot about God--and even do great things in His name--without "knowing" God. The ultimate Source of reality desires to be an invited participant in our lives. How could we pass up such an opportunity to get to know Him?
Many Christians place a crucial emphasis on whether or not a person is "saved." I think that this sort of mentality puts God into the role of a means to an end (heaven/salvation) instead of a real, living Being who wants to be in a relationship with us. Our ultimate goal should not be whether or not we say with our mouths or hearts that "Jesus is Lord." It's not even to do many good things for God, or to discipline our hearts, or reaching many people with the Gospel. Our highest goal should be to spend time getting to know Jesus. When the day finally arrives for us all to stand before God, will we be relying on our knowledge about God or our belief that Jesus is Lord or our good works to get us into God's family? I sincerely hope not. Jesus wants us to wake up and realize that we have the opportunity to be part of God's family now. Jesus wants us to spend time getting to know Him, and in the process, He'll get to know us.
To put things in perspective, think about how much time you spend with your closest family members or friends. Do you spend that much time interacting with God each day? Sometimes I struggle to set aside even 5 or 10 minutes each day to be with God. Wow. Considering that I spend most of the day and night with my almost-2-year-old son, 5 or 10 minutes seems like such a small amount of time to spend with the Creator of the Universe!
Let's all make an effort to include God into every part of our daily routine. I have a feeling that it gets easier the more we make the effort. God is so awesome! Once we realize what we've been missing all this time, we won't want to spend any time away from Him! I hope we'll all encounter God in this way while we still have the chance to get to know Him.