They are perhaps the scariest words that Jesus ever spoke.
“I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
The sentence speaks for itself. Jesus is making one final judgement on people. Because of their lawlessness, they will spend an eternity apart from Christ.
But who are these lawless people?
Are they terrorists who devoted their whole lives to destruction? No, that’s not who Jesus is talking to in this context.
Perhaps he is talking to perverts. Again, not in this context.
Well, such a harsh judgment must be directed toward Satan or the AntiChrist. Not this time. Here are the lawless people that Jesus is talking to.
Preachers and teachers who spoke in the name of Jesus.
Exorcists who cast out demons in the name of Jesus.
And miracle workers who did a lot of really cool and powerful things in the name of Jesus.
How can this be? If my son came home and told me that he spent his day at school preaching sermons, casting out demons and performing miracles, I’d be a proud father. So why then would Jesus call these people lawless and condemn them to an eternity in hell?
In a word, it was their performance that did them in.
You see, religious people care about performance. And that’s what these people were doing. They weren’t really casting out demons and preaching sermons and performing miracles. They were just performing. Performance is what matters most to religious people. They love being seen more than they love Jesus.
But Jesus cares about obedience.
“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.” Matthew 7:21 (ESV)
Don’t get me wrong. Preaching and teaching are important. So are miracles and casting out demons. But it’s important to remember that Jesus does not need those things.
He doesn’t need our sermons.
He doesn’t need our power encounters with the dark side.
And he doesn’t need our religious magic tricks.
What he asks for, however, is our obedience.
Every kid on my son’s soccer team wants to score a goal. Some of those kids play positions that make goal scoring more likely than it is for kids at other positions. A few practices ago, there was a kid scoring a few goals in a scrimmage game. He was playing well. His shots weren’t just going in, they were going in with style.
And then the coach told him to switch positions.
“Go play right back.”
A kid can still score a goal at right back sort of like the punter on a football team can still score a touchdown. It can happen but it probably won’t.
The kid was devastated. And he made it known to the coach. The coach’s response was priceless.
“Well, you can play right bench.”
The kid got real quiet and went to where he was told.
The coach didn’t need the kid’s goals, trick shots and back flips. He was after something else. He wanted the kid’s obedience.
You may live your whole life without Jesus ever telling you to preach a sermon, confront a demon-possessed person or turn water into wine. And that’s okay. You can do all of those things and still miss Jesus.
But there are some things that Jesus has told you to do if you belong to him. These aren’t things to be done in order to earn God’s love or saving grace. That’s part of the religious trap. No, the obedience that Jesus calls for comes as a result of already being saved by his grace.
He has asked you to love him with your total being.
He has asked you to love your neighbor.
He has asked you to kill your sin and pursue his holiness.
So Christian, don’t trade in a life of obedience for the glamour of doing religion your own way without Jesus. It may look good for a while. But in the end you will only fool yourself.
Put away the pressure to perform. Instead, devote yourself to obeying Jesus. You can’t obey him enough to earn your way into heaven. But if you belong to Jesus, your obedience, while not perfect, will be a natural result.
These words from Christ scare me. They scare me because I know that there will be a lot of good religious people with perfect attendance in Sunday School who will be told, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
I can’t think of a more frightening thing to hear.
Please, stop wasting your life on religious performance.
Instead, devote yourself to obeying Jesus.