Doing great works in ministry is no substitute for a personal relationship with the Lord. In Matthew 7:22-23, we read: “On judgment day, many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” (NLT)
When we look at this text in the Greek, it appears that these ‘many’ will come before the Lord fully expecting their great works of ministry to garner the Lord’s approval. But much to their surprise, the Lord will reject them! The interesting thing is that the Lord will not dispute their claims to have done many might works in his name! Now this raises an interesting possibility: Could it be that it is possible to be successful in ministry and yet be ultimately rejected by the Lord? Many people today take ministerial success as a sign of God’s approval, ‘anointing’ and blessing, but according to this text, these people will have had all of that! They will do great things and actually perform many miracles in ministry, but in the end, they will still be rejected! The Lord will not deny the fact that they actually did mighty works; but he will deny them! Why?
The answer is found in the Lord’s reply. He will say: “I never knew you!” In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “know” and “knew” are often used as euphemisms to denote close, intimate, and sometimes sexual relationships. It first shows up in Genesis 4:1, where it says: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” (ESV) In that verse, the term “knew” is used to indicate the fact that Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve. So, in Matthew 7:23, the term “knew” does not just indicate intellectual or cognitive knowledge, but also suggests intimate and personal relationship. The Lord will say to the many; “Yes! It’s true, you did all of those things, but you did not have a personal relationship with me! And because you did all of those things without a personal relationship with me; all of those things you did were illegitimate or illegal works! You didn’t do them according to my law! My law is this: The ministry is no substitute for a relationship with me, but rather the ministry evolves, develops and is done as a result of the relationship with me! You substituted the ministry for the relationship, but the relationship is the basis of the ministry! It is the relationship that makes the ministry valid and legitimate!
All too often today, we get so busy with ‘doing’ that we forget to be! We were not created as “human doings,” we were created as human beings! Doing is no substitute for being! We don’t “do” to be; whatever we do is ultimately because of who we are.
Now, here’s another scary thought about this text! All these ‘many’ will die believing they were saved, to discover only after death; they weren’t! That is a terrifying thought! There are some who teach that you should never doubt your salvation. That’s good teaching if you are really saved in the first place! But I’m afraid there are many people in church today, who are saved; only in their own minds! Their salvation is based on their feelings or the word of some preacher who told them they were saved just because they walked down the aisle and repeated a simple prayer! But real salvation is based on the word of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures and the Apostle Peter advised his readers to be diligent to make their calling and election sure! (2 Peter 1:10) Your salvation is too important! Your eternal destiny is too critical to leave in the hands of some preacher or pastor! You’d better make sure of it yourself! It would be such a tragedy to die, convinced of your salvation, only to hear the Lord say in the end: “’I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer!