The Four Most Terrifying Words in Scripture
And a warning for all of us who serve in Jesus’ name
As I write this blog I confess that I am shaken. I feel as if a warning shot has whistled past my nose, barely missing me but riveting my full attention on its origin. The source of the projectile is a combination of scripture, Oswald Chambers and, I believe, the Holy Spirit speaking through both.
The image they convey is nothing short of terrifying. It is me, standing before Jesus on the final day expecting to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I stand in the shadow of a life spent serving Him. I rest in the knowledge that I toiled tirelessly to build His kingdom, teach His word and accomplish great things in His name.
However, my moment of assured expectation is shattered by a very different pronouncement. “Scott, I never knew you.” Even writing these words I am trembling at the thought.
Impossible! Unimaginable! Inconceivable!
But it will happen. Jesus warned us of exactly this scenario.
“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?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22-23.
I have always written this verse off since Jesus is talking about false prophets and fake disciples – not me. But listen again. These ‘false teachers’ actually prophesied, cast out demons and did miracles. As far as I can remember I’ve never cast out a demon or performed a miracle or prophesied in Jesus’ name. And if someone were walking around today doing all these things I would consider them a super-Christian. How could these amazing works be accomplished if not by the will of God, the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus? These are mighty works, much ‘mightier’ than anything on my to-do list (be honest, how many of you have ‘casting out demons, performing miracles and prophesying in Jesus’ name on your schedule for the week?)
We also must wrestle with the notion that they were surprised! They didn’t see themselves as false prophets or fake disciples. They thought they were doing God’s work. They expected to hear ‘well done’ just like I do.
In all their amazing work for Jesus, what did they miss and how did they miss it? And how do we keep from doing the same?
Enter Oswald Chambers:
“The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for Him. It is easier to serve than to pour out our lives completely for Him…We are not sent to do battle for God but to be used by God in His battles. Are we more devoted to service than we are to Jesus Christ Himself?” (My Utmost For His Highest, January 18)
Can you imagine this? That we could spend our lives working for Jesus but miss knowing Him and being known by Him? Could we achieve success without surrender, productivity without faithfulness? Could we be engaged in His work but not in Him, deciding for Him but not yielding to Him? Could we actually be a stranger to Jesus even as we work in His name? Is our work for Jesus really the greatest hindrance to our knowing Him? Are we in danger of hearing those words spoken to us?
But wait a minute, this text from Matthew follows from Jesus’ teaching that says He will know the true disciples from the false ones ‘by their fruit.’ Perhaps here is our out. If we produce the right fruit perhaps we can avoid the possibility of ending up in this sorry state. We just need to be good fruit producers. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying?
Well, no. This thinking only throws us back on our good works as a demonstration of our suitability to be known by God. And here, again, we have a problem. You see, when Jesus is speaking about fruit here he is not talking about our good works. The fruit He seeks is the Galatians 5:22 kind. You remember; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. In other words, we are once again dealing with a surrendered life that seeks intimate relationship with Christ. A life of knowing and being known. We make an egregious error if we mistake the works of our hands with the fruit that God desires. His fruit is born by branches that are engrafted into the vine. And He reminds us, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing, really? No, not even casting out demons or prophesying in His name. It may all look good, but it is empty and meaningless in the economy of the kingdom of God.
My devotions included one more text that drives this point home from a different angle. In John 5:39-40, Jesus castigates the Pharisees,
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Do you hear this theme again? Jesus is warning against a works-righteousness approach even to reading Scripture. He warns against studying the word of God but missing the Word of God, against exegesis without encounter, against faith by propositional phrase instead of personal oblation. To all those who seek to be good Christians in these ways, Jesus says, ‘I never knew you because you never knew me! We are strangers.’
Where does all this leave us? I believe God asks of us only one thing; to seek Him with all of our heart regardless of the cost. This means to step outside our leadership prowess and stand wanting before Him. I believe God wants leaders who are paupers, irrelevant, weak and helpless in His presence. In this way we throw ourselves entirely on Him. We fall prostrate before Him knowing that our leadership and our very lives depend solely on knowing Him, loving Him and following Him wherever that may lead us. It means we stop fighting our battles in His name and give ourselves up that we might be engaged through obedience in His battles for His sake.
Do you know Jesus in this intimate way? Does He know you? Oh leader, is this all that matters to you? Oh pastor, is this the surrender you are willing to make to be used by Him? Oh follower of Jesus, will you stop toiling for Jesus until you have drawn so near to Him that your work becomes His work and His ways have become your ways?