This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.
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 in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!” – Jesus, Matthew 7:21-23
Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issued a somber warning: Some who think they have salvation in him will not. On the one hand, Jesus did not mean this to terrify the true believer. Jesus intends our lives to be filled with joy in him (John 17:13) not worry and doubt over our salvation. On the other hand, this warning is very real for those who believe they are safe in their religion.
You see, Jesus’ point is simple: Your religion will not save you.
The people Jesus spoke about claimed to belong to him and claimed to do many marvelous things in his name. But, if you dig a little deeper into their lives, they lack something–their faith does not produce true obedience to the will of God.
They claim they want Jesus, they even want the spectacular things he does in the world, but they don’t actually want the life he calls us to live as his followers. They want their religion and their idea of Jesus, but not the things that Jesus himself wants.
This is why this warning has the bookends it does. Before it, Jesus stated that you’ll recognize a tree by its fruit. The tree might look healthy on the outside, but if it’s rotten on the inside then the fruit will be bad as well. A good tree produces good fruit. A true follower of Jesus will be growing in godly character and good works that serve others. After it, Jesus said the wise man hears his words and does them but the foolish man hears his words and neglects them.
The true follower of Jesus can have joy in abundance because they love Jesus and they love the life he provides. They’re seeking to follow him and to do his will; they’re growing in spiritual fruit; and when they fall short, they confess it to God and rest in his grace that forgives all their sins through Jesus. But the one who wants a Jesus-religion without actually following Jesus and his word should take heed to this warning: Without coming to embrace Jesus for who he truly is, the words await, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”