I am excited to enter into the blog world. Jenn does a great job at conveying hers and my emotions during this time of stepping out into foreign missions and I am so grateful to share the same page as her. My effort in this blog and others to follow is to bring up an article of scripture and honestly present the way we have wrestled with it and how we feel the Lord has used it to challenge us, strengthen our faith and redirect our affections towards Him.
Over the past several years, I have taken more serious my time in reading the Word of God. Spending time in the Bible has helped direct my focus on things that matter most but this has been a painfully encouraging process. I say it that way because the words of Jesus have a tendency to slap me in the face on the surface but end up being a warm hug when I grasp the love within the message. There have been many challenging verses that I hope to hit on in the future but one of the first ones I began to wrestle with was Matthew 7:21-23.
"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 might 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
These words of Christ in Matthew 7 attack the idea of security found in religious activity rather than in a deep, life-changing relationship with the Son of God. Growing up in the church has been a gift but has also had the tendency to lull me into a false sense of security. I can honestly confess that I have had periods of time where the appearance of godliness through my religiosity have superseded my actual desire for a relationship with Christ. I feel like that is the falsehood Jesus is attacking here, which can be terrifying to someone like myself who has done well at playing the "church" game over the years.
The people Jesus is illustrating here are pretty outstanding from a religious sense. Not only do they say Jesus is Lord, they are also apart of some amazing accomplishments in His name. I know I have never prophesied or cast out demons and I am sure most of you would identity the same. The scary truth in this text is that even after all their impressive “spiritual activities” they were thrown out of the presence of God for eternity. This is the slap in the face I was referring to earlier and a real wake up call to someone like me who has made a life of saying and doing the right things. In this passage I saw that I can say Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins and even have outward actions that acknowledge that truth but still come up short.
So what now....
These few verses began to penetrate my heart some years ago and required me to truly address the substance of my faith. It was obvious that an outward expression of my Christianity was not worth much if it was not produced by a transformed heart. I was forced to wrestle with the motivations and intentions behind any of my good behavior or activity. I had to ask myself...was I in love with the things of Jesus more than Jesus Himself? Was I stopping at a comfortable knowledge of Jesus without the necessary inner change that comes from being a disciple of His?
"The world is not just divided into two groups: disciples of Jesus and non-disciples. It is divided into three groups: non-disciples, unreal disciples, and real disciples — people who make no pretense of following Jesus, people that say they follow him and have a surface connection with him, and people who truly follow him." - John Piper
The people Jesus is describing in Matthew 7 seem to be ones who fall into that second category that Pastor Piper describes. When it came to my life, I had the knowledge of Christ but was not actively living in discipleship under Him. I was walking in that lukewarm area Jesus talks about in Revelation 3. This is a scary place to land when we look at what Jesus himself teaches in John 15.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." - John 15:1-6
These words are an encouragement to those who abide in Christ as true disciples but should scare the mess out of those that are not producing the inward and outward fruit that comes from discipleship in Christ. The concept of abiding in Christ found in John 15 are also found back in our original passage. We see from Matthew 7:21 that only those who "do the will of my Father" are known by Christ, true disciples, and are welcomed into His eternal kingdom. These are the ones who go beyond a superficial religion to a saving relationship. To understand what God's will is for us we are told more specifically in the gospel of John...
"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life..." - John 6:40
God's will for everyone is that we look at His Son and believe in Him in such a way that we are changed. Not modified but CHANGED. It's not good enough for us to just participate in the good things of Jesus so that on the surface it appears that we are His. We must stand in the work of Christ in such a way that our hearts are transformed and everything we do is an overflow of authentic faith and not some outer, vain act as the Apostle Paul talks about...
"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain." - 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
First Corinthians tells us that true salvation goes further than a shallow receiving of the Gospel as true but an actual STANDING in it. This idea of standing is an active concept, not in a way in which we earn anything, but by which we center our lives on the person and work of Christ. To stand in the Gospel means to take a stance against our affinity to govern our own lives and joyfully surrender to the leadership of Jesus. This is a dramatic transformation that goes deeper than surface level "spiritual activities". The truth that rings out from Matthew 7 and the rest of scripture is that in the end, the only thing that matters is whether I accept or deny Jesus as the Supreme Ruler of my life.
Starting with this truth forced me to begin questioning my thoughts and actions, testing to see if I was lining up under the true lordship of Christ. As I began to spend more time in God's Word and come face to face with the hard truths of the scripture, I was forced to make a decision...was I going to continue playing the "safe" church game, never truly growing in Christ or missing Him altogether, or was I going to stand in the work of Christ and be transformed from the inside-out.