August 26th, 2018

Does Jesus Know You?
Matthew 7:21-23

As Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount, these were his words:

21 "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.
22 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?'
23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

I was ordained to the gospel ministry on July 9th, 1972, but it almost didn’t happen. Let me tell you why.

As you know, prior to ordination, ministerial candidates face an ordaining council that examines the candidate to be sure he or she embraces the right beliefs and can enunciate those beliefs clearly. And so, on the Sunday afternoon, prior to my ordination, I met with a group of about a dozen pastors who served as my ordaining council.

All went well at the beginning. They asked me what I believed about the Bible, about God, about Jesus, about salvation, and about several other doctrines. All went well until they got to the final question, the question that almost caused the council to reject me.

One of the pastors asked, “Gene, what do you believe about the second coming of Jesus Christ?” My answer was short and to the point. I said, “I believe he’s coming again and we need to be ready.”

Seemingly, that wasn’t enough answer for the pastor, so he pressed me further. “Gene, tell us more. Tell us what you believe about when he is coming, how he is coming and what you believe about his millennial reign.”

Again, my answer was short. I said, “I really don’t know the exact details of his return. I’m not sure anybody does. All I know is that Christ will return and we need to be ready.”

Immediately, the pastor sat on the edge of his seat and said, “Gene if you don’t know any more about the second coming than what you’ve shared, I can’t vote to ordain you.”

As you might imagine, my heart sank; at least it did until one of the other pastor’s asked the first pastor, “Why don’t you give us the answer you expected to hear from Gene.”

At that, the pastor began to describe, in elaborate detail, his view of Christ’s return, giving a timeline and series of events.

When he finished, one of the other pastors took the floor and said, “Well, brother, that’s not how I see it,” and he began expounding his view. Within the next few minutes, several of the pastor’s began to debate the doctrine, each having their own slant on how and when Christ would return. It didn’t take long until their debate turned into a heated argument.

Finally, the eldest pastor in the room interrupted the proceedings and said, “My dear brothers, we need to stop this! It’s obvious that we can’t come to an agreement among ourselves; so I think it would be foolish to reject Gene’s candidacy over a doctrine on which we cannot agree. Therefore, I move we accept Gene’s answer and recommend his ordination.”

Another pastor quickly seconded the motion, the council voted unanimously to proceed with my ordination, and here I am today – but just barely. I came “this close” from getting kicked out because, according to some, I was a heretic and did not embrace the right belief.

Throughout Christian history, the church has been pretty protective of its beliefs. Not only have ordaining council rejected ministerial candidates, but believers have actually been executed because they did not embrace the beliefs commonly held by those in authority. That’s right; Christians have been killed because their beliefs differed with someone in authority.

In the early days of the Church, Christians were often beaten and killed because they didn’t accept the doctrines held by Jewish leaders, but by the fourth century, Christians imprisoned and killed other Christians if they believed something that differed with the official position of the Roman Orthodox Church.

By the 12th century, the Church began conducting “Inquisitions” to deal with those who were suspected heretics. During the inquisition, Christians would be captured and tortured until they recanted their heresy, and if they didn’t recant, they were burned at the stake.

Yes, throughout history, the official church has often been punitive, exacting punishment upon those who refused to embrace what it considered to be sound, acceptable doctrine.

Now before I go any further, let me say, I believe doctrine is important. We all need to know what we believe and we should be able to share our beliefs with others.

But let me say something that may be one of the most important things you will ever hear me say. So listen carefully. In the eyes of Jesus Christ, what we believe is not nearly as important as how we live. Let me repeat that. In the eyes of Jesus Christ, what we believe is not nearly as important as how we live.

In today’s text, Jesus addresses a group of religious leaders who embraced all the right beliefs. They knew the Jewish Law forward and backward. They knew what to do on the Sabbath and what to avoid on the Sabbath. They knew how to tithe everything from their money to their mints. They knew what to believe about God and what to believe about the Messiah. Yes, they have all the right beliefs; but as Jesus talks to them about the Kingdom of Heaven, he says something that must have come as a great shock to them. He says,

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.’

Did you hear that? Jesus told these people who had all the right beliefs that they would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven; that on Judgement Day, he would turn to them and say, “I never knew you.”

To fully understand this text, we need to examine one little phrase found in verse 21. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who DOES the will of my Father.

“Does” is the key word in that text. Our walk with Jesus Christ is not centered just in our believing but in our doing. Saying “Lord, Lord” isn’t enough. True discipleship is proven by those who DO the will of the Father. “Doing, not believing, is at the center of Jesus’ religion.

When I was a child, I was told that if you wanted to be a Christian you needed to believe that the Bible was the Word of God. If you wanted to be a Christian you needed to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. If you wanted to be a Christian you needed to believe that you were a sinner and that Jesus died for your sins, rose from the grave and will return to the earth again.

Do I believe these doctrines? You bet, but am I a Christian because I’ve embraced the right beliefs. Not necessarily!

Jesus indicates that I’m not one of his until I DO the will of his Father. Doing, not believing, is at the heart of my relationship with Jesus.

Several years ago, I was in a meeting where a famous Baptist preacher from this state proclaimed, “If you don’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin, you don’t have a wit's chance of walking through the gates of heaven.” His statement not only got loud “amens” but a hearty applause.

As I sat there, processing his statement, I asked myself this question. “Exactly where in the Bible does it say one must believe in the Virgin Birth in order to get to heaven?” Granted, the Bible tells of the virgin birth, but nowhere in Scripture does it make belief in the virgin birth a prerequisite for going to heaven.

In fact, if you read the red words in your Bible, the words of Jesus, rarely does Jesus ask people to believe in him. Instead, he typically asks people to follow him: To do the things he does; To love people like he loves people; To care for people like he cared for people; To forgive people like he forgave people; And to sacrifice yourself for people like he sacrificed himself for us.

When people asked about being a disciple, Jesus rarely said, “believe in me.” Instead, Jesus’ said, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.” Yes, following Jesus, adopting his way of life, is what Christianity is all about. Granted, it’s hard to follow if we don’t believe, but believing in itself is not enough. Jesus is more interested in how we live than in what we believe.

Now, before you crucify me as a heretic, let me assure you that I do believe in Jesus. I do believe in the virgin birth and all of those other basic doctrines of our Christian faith, and I hope you believe in these doctrines, too. But let me warn you. Belief is not enough.

In fact, James, the brother of Jesus, helps us understand the inadequacy of mere belief as he writes; You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. Yes, even the demons believe, but that doesn't make them followers of Christ.

When all is said and done, mere belief in Jesus is not enough. You can believe in Jesus until the cows come home, but if you do not try to follow him, if you do not try to love people like Jesus loved people, if you do not try to care for people like Jesus cared for people, if you are not willing to forgive people like Jesus forgave people, don’t be surprised if one day Jesus says, “I heard you saying Lord, Lord; but sorry, friend, I never knew you.”

I close with words of the poet.

“I believe,” the zealot said with Bible in his hand.
“These precious words of truth produce the ground on which I stand.”
No fancy, bold, new doctrine will ever change my mind.
These words of old have served me well, I need no other kind.

But as he walked among the crowds and heard their hungry cry.
He never stopped to meet their need. He simply passed them by.
And though he tithed his massive wealth and gave a little more.
He never had a heart of love for the lonely or the poor.

He knew the words of Scripture from beginning until end,
But never were the lonely outcasts numbered with his friends.
He knew the Ten Commandments, the parables and songs.
But held a grudge forever, against those who’d done him wrong.

And when he died and saw the Lord, his Savior face to face.
He knew that Christ would praise him for the doctrines he embraced.
But to his shock, the Lord looked up and in a voice subdued,
Said, “Sorry sir, you may know me, but I do not know you.”