“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!’” (Matt. 7:22-23, NIV). I have heard Christians say they think this passage is quite scary. After all, if these people claimed to follow God and were doing all of these miraculous works yet Jesus rejects them, how can we be confident that God will accept us? As I’ve said repeatedly, context is important. Understood properly, I don’t believe the person who sincerely tries to follow God needs to be overly worried about their standing with him. After all, Jesus refers to God as “your heavenly Father”. The Father loves us and wants us to be in good relationship with himself. He isn’t trying to come up with any way to keep us out of the kingdom of heaven. On the contrary, he has gone to every length possible to keep us from being outside the kingdom.
As he has been doing through much of the “sermon on the mount”, Jesus is contrasting those who make an outward show of religion with those who sincerely love God. While some bibles divide them, I believe verses 15-20 are a part of the same thought as verses 21-23. In the former, Jesus states that we can recognize (discern) people’s character by observing the “fruit” of their activities. Galatians 5:13-26 contains a good overview of some bad and good “fruit”.
To give an example of the type of people Jesus is talking about, there are some preachers who are charismatic and who gain a lot of popularity. Yet their preaching is full of shaming and condemnation. This leads to spiritual death and is not life-giving. Read my recent post about spiritual abuse for more on this. Again I think the Message sheds light on this passage:
I can see it now-—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God—sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
This passage in Matthew can be a good reminder to check ourselves and make sure we’re not getting too far off track. However I don’t think that those who are sincerely following Christ need to be worried about whether or not Jesus loves and accepts them. Know that He does!