“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21 – 23
I have always found this verse rather ominous and recently, when I was challenged to check the state of my own heart especially in terms of doing ministry and “Christian-y” stuff, this verse brought a startling clarity into the fog of opinions, emotions, and actions.
It all began innocuously enough. Having been a Christian for several years and being involved in church and various Christian activities, I had fallen into the trap of assuming that I was doing well spiritually because I was doing a lot of things. The more I did, implied I was growing spiritually. Which, in hindsight, I realise is a ridiculous yardstick to measure one’s spiritual condition. However, at the time, it made total sense because I could measure my progress, map how far I’d moved along in my spiritual journey, etc. Using this faulty tool ultimately brought me up short when I did not receive a higher position (the natural progression was thrown off so to speak). It was like not receiving a promotion when you think you’ve earned it. That stopped me in my tracks and I wallowed for a while in self-pity and a sense of indignation.
And it was this verse in Matthew that sliced through all what I was saying, thinking, and feeling, to the root of the problem – the state of my misguided heart.
It forced me to look into the mirror of the Word of the God and ask the hard questions – why was I so upset? What was really troubling me? Had I really failed in the obvious way by not receiving the position or was there something more subtle that I wasn’t understanding about my walk with God? Was God displeased with me or was I displeased with myself?
God in His mercy and grace gently answered all those questions, slowly peeling back layer after layer of my heart, which I had barricaded behind activities and performance. Essentially He showed me how I adept I had become at putting on an act for people around me.
Now, allow me to clarify a couple of things. Firstly, I am not talking about sinful behaviour. I am talking about all good, excellent activities like in the verse above - prophesying, casting out demons, and doing many wonders. Secondly, I am not advocating a life of not “doing” anything for God. James clearly says – faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
So what am I saying?
The real question God asked me was who was I doing these activities for? When I was truly honest with myself, I realised that a lot of times these good, excellent activities were to show people around me that I was a growing, active Christian. I had even fooled myself into thinking that I was doing well spiritually.
Then the Lord drew my attention to something Paul said in Romans -
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28 – 29
Though Paul is talking about circumcision and being a true Jew here, digging a little deeper into the verse showed me the fallacy I had believed – that outward actions, symbols, behaviour – essentially things I could see – were a reflection of the true nature of my inward self. Yet that is not how God measures my walk with Him. He sees my motives and desires. And in this situation, He helped me see that my actions were primarily aimed at gaining the praise of my peers. In the bargain, God’s name was glorified and all that, which was great, but essentially, my sense of accomplishment and fulfilment came from knowing and seeing the accolades I received from my friends. Which was why I was upset when I did not get the position I thought I’d earned.
This was a tough lesson to learn in certain ways because I realised that I needed to be willing to not do certain “good” activities if that was not God’s will for me in that moment. Even if I came off looking like a “bad” Christian, I needed to crave God’s praise; not wonder what my peers thought of me and my spiritual condition.
Even as I wrestled with my ego, I acknowledged that ultimately, at the end of my life, I wanted to hear God say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That meant I had to stop measuring my walk with Him based on the Christian activities I was doing, but rather check my heart – test my motives and desires – and seek His face to know what He wanted me to do, and then obey Him in following through, however that looked.
Honestly, this is not an easy road to walk. But it does bring me closer to Him, into His very arms. It teaches me to be still and allow Him to be God. It enables me to understand how different His will is from mine, and prepares me to humbly obey Him. It beckons me towards a greater intimacy with my Heavenly Father – and for that I can forgo the applause of men and the self-satisfaction of “doing” things.
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