“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” — Matthew 7:21–23 (NIV84)
I do not like this verse. If there is a verse I wish Jesus had never said, it is this one. Why? It scares me! It scares me that some (me?) might know Jesus, but He doesn’t know them (me). How can someone know Jesus and not be known by Jesus? How can someone call Jesus Lord, preach His Word, perform miracles, and in the end be called an “evildoer” who is unknown to Jesus? What could go so wrong as to have this be the conclusion on someone’s life? I think of Jonah. He was used by God to share His Word with the people of Nineveh, but he seemed by his judgment to exempt himself from the very message he preached. Jonah’s hard-heartedness and disobedience didn’t stop God from using him. I think of disobedient priests and high priests of the Old Testament who did God’s work on behalf of the people of Israel but themselves lived far from faithful lives in service to God. I think of the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ day. Jesus told the people to listen to their words (because they spoke the Word of God) but not to follow their lives because they were not true believers. They were not kingdom-bound. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus he would not see or enter the kingdom of God unless he was born again.
So, what could go so wrong that a religious person could exempt himself from God’s kingdom? It happened to them, and it can happen to us when our religion is self-defined instead of God-defined. In the context of these verses Jesus warns against the false prophets. He says they are wolves in sheep clothing. You see, they will sound and look like kingdom people, but they are not. They are not because their lives are ruled by a self-defined religion and not the Word of God. Jesus tells us that a closer look will show that their “fruit” reveals their roots. Because their lives are not rooted in God’s Word their fruit will not be grace-produced.
In the context of this verse, Jesus also said that the key is His Word. Those who hear God’s Word, faithfully cling to it, and strive to fulfill it are like people who build their houses on the rock. All others build on sand. Only the homes on firm foundations will last. This is what Jesus was saying. We need to stay true to His Word no matter what. We need to let God’s Word claim, redeem, and define who and what we are.