Depart from Me
“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 mighty 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
Those are, without a doubt, the scariest words in the Bible. What Christian would want to hear such a thing from the mouth of Jesus?
Sadly, it is also one of the verses that, well-meaning or otherwise, can be used for spiritual abuse. I’ve blogged before about the entrance exam for heaven; the idea that we will all have to pass some sort of doctrinal test to gain admittance. Essentially this is some variation of “you can’t really be a Christian unless you….” followed by some doctrinal statement deemed essential. The message is clear; a wrong answer on that issue will earn you the dreaded “depart from me” at the gates of heaven.
I doubt there are very many pastors or Christian leaders who deliberately set out to terrorize people into doctrinal agreement. But a sense of what seems urgent to me can color my view of the importance of others agreeing, which leads me to imply, if not actually state, such a threat. I recall vividly being in an audience of 1,500 full-time Christian workers while a very well-known Christian leader, in his keynote speech, thundered at us “If you are not actively working with all your might to help stamp out the abomination of abortion in our land I seriously doubt you are a Christian!”
The number of issues we want to add to the entrance exam to heaven is nearly endless and often contradictory.
“You can’t be a Christian if you believe speaking in tongues is for today!”
“You can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe speaking in tongues is for today!”
“You can’t be a Christian if you bake a cake for a same-sex wedding!”
“You can’t be a Christian unless you believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old!”
So what exactly is on the entrance exam for heaven? Paul seemed to think that this was it:
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31
But did Jesus over-ride Paul? Is his statement telling us that there will be some, perhaps many, people who sincerely follow him but have screwed upon one or another doctrine and won’t get in? I doubt it. If anything it tells us that those in the “at-risk” category are the ones who want to add things to some sort of must-do list. But I think God is more gracious than that. He knows the thoughts of our hearts and knows when our passion drives us to overstate matters.
The message is simple. Be very slow to use the Matthew passage or others like them as “clobber verses.” Be very quick to throw yourself on the mercy and grace of God when you get clobbered.
I know that in saying this some will accuse me of “hyper-grace,” the idea that nothing in my behavior matters, that only the grace of God is important. But the charge of hyper-grace is a clobber device too. My security rests not in my perfect beliefs or my perfect actions but in Christ. This leads me free to examine my beliefs and actions with a peaceful heart.