There is a passage in the Sermon on the Mount that I find both startling and challenging. Jesus says this in Matthew 7:21-23:
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. 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!’
When I first read this in my early days as a follower of Jesus, this passage actually scared me! If there was no guarantee for the greatly anointed men and women of God who were able to do mighty signs, wonders and miracles, then what about little me? Surely, Jesus wouldn’t know me. On that great and terrible day, he’s going to send me away!
Later, as I grew in my faith and in the assurance of my salvation based on the gracious gift of God as I trust in Jesus, I developed a new twist in my interpretation of this passage. (It was definitely a twisted interpretation). As a good Bible-believing evangelical, who flirted with Cessationism, I began to look down my nose in immaturity at Pentecostals and Charismatics: See, you think you’re doing great because you’re pursuing signs, wonders and miracles. You have no idea that you are in danger of being rejected by Jesus!
Of course, that is a massively flawed reading of this passage.
What Jesus was getting at is that there are those (many) who exhibit evidences of being a follower of Jesus but in actual fact were not. They have an outward appearance of godliness but whose relationship with God is essentially dead. In the New Testament, normal Christians manifested the presence of the Kingdom of God by signs, wonders and miracles.
What are the evidences of being a follower of Jesus in contemporary Christianity in the West? Well, it’s going to church regularly, tithing, reading the Bible and saying prayers, being super nice (which translates to being politically correct and trying hard to not offend anyone), being politically conservative, sending your kids to Christian school, having a Christian doctor, dentist … what else?
I quickly add that there is nothing inherently improper about any of these choices. In fact, most of these, especially the early ones in the list, are actually GOOD evidences of a Christian life. Having said that, there is something deeper that Jesus is after in this passage. He desires that we do the will of the Father.
What does doing ‘the will of the Father’ look like?
In one word: OBEDIENCE. “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”, says Jesus. A few statements after this he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.“
In order for us to have the capacity to be obedient to the will of the Father we must turn our hearts towards abiding in Jesus – towards a heart-level intimacy with him. Jesus is looking for those whose Christian life is fuelled by a burning passion for him. These are the ones he knows. These are the ones he calls friends.
How do we get there?
- Start by asking Holy Spirit for a fresh passion for Jesus.
- Ask Holy Spirit to show you thought- and behaviour-patterns that are not the will of the Father for you. Turn away from these.
- Read the New Testament slowly and meditatively asking Jesus to speak to you as you read.
- Be obedient to what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do.
- Stoke the fire of God’s passionate love for you by keeping short accounts with him. Ask for his forgiveness when you miss it.
Father, it is our deepest desire to do your will and to be pleasing to you in every way. Thank you Jesus, for receiving us because we love and trust you. Thank you Holy Spirit, for helping us experience and live in the love of God so that we can do his will. Amen!