This next radical thing that Jesus said hits pretty close to home for me. As a boy, I spent a lot of time at church. We were there every Sunday, Wednesday, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and choirs. We were ushers, deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee members, staff members and pot-luck eaters. Outside of the church building, we prayed at meal time, did Bible studies and had family devotions. Learning and talking about God were important pieces of daily life.
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “familiarity breeds contempt”. I had become so familiar with the common bible stories that I stopped paying attention. I knew the stories, I knew the characters, I knew the setting and the ending and from that, I knew what I was “supposed to learn” from each one so I tuned them out.
By the time I was a teenager, I was simply through the motions of Christianity. I thought I knew how to be a Christian, but I didn’t allow Jesus to have any real impact on my life. And I was miserable. I didn’t like going to church anymore. If given the choice, I would choose something else. But my parents faithfully attended the church, there wasn’t really a question of whether we would go or not. So I sat through the programs in silent rebellion, tuning out the lesson and letting my mind wander to anything else.
Which makes today’s tangible truth totally terrifying. It is found in Matthew 7.21-23.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.”
This may have surprised some in the audience. These harsh words are spoken to those who were identified as believers. Those who thought they had God reduced to a list of “do”s and “don’t”s – People who had had every chance to connect with Him and still missed Him.
That describes my teenage years. I went to church, I acted like I was supposed to act on the outside at least. I gave all the Sunday School answers I could, and I truly believed that I was doing what I was supposed to do. But I now know that I didn’t know God. And if I heard his words “I never knew you” I would plead with him. “Didn’t I have perfect attendance at Sunday School, and memorize the Lord’s Prayer and 10 Commandments? Could I not list alphabetically and chronologically the parables of Jesus and recite the different ways that Jesus healed people? God, can’t you see all that I did to show others that I was living right?” And He would say to me – Chris – You spent all your time trying to look good for me, but you never got to know Me! You’ve never let me in to change your heart or guide your life. I don’t know you!”
I wonder how many in our churches are in this same place. We have learned how to “do” church. We’ve learned how to have the appearance of following God but not actually surrendering our life to Him. We think following God was supposed to look a certain way, but without complete surrender, we are not following God.
We are good at hiding behind masks- at looking good on the outside and hiding what is really happening on the inside. Jesus called out the Pharisees for this exact thing in Matthew 23. He said they were whitewashed tombs – looking good on the outside but dead on the inside. It continues to surprise me how similar we are to the Pharisees. Jesus came to give us life more complete and amazing than we can imagine (John 10:10). But unless we are willing to really let Him be in control, we miss out on that life.
So how do we give Him total control? We realize that our checklist that we are trying to check off really only has one item on it. Trust God. That’s it. Trust that God’s plan dealt with our sins. Trust that his plan for us is the best life we can know. Stop trying to meet his standards on our own. Allow Him to work in our hearts, and ask for Him to change us. It may be hard, uncomfortable and may make us vulnerable in front of others. But it will also connect us to the one that went through all those same things so that He could offer us life. He is patient and willing to work with us over the long haul. We are not a quick fix, we are a pain-staking process. But He is OK with that. Let Him get to work in your life. He began His good work in us and will carry it through to perfection (Phil.1.6)