Whenever I get into a conversation with Christians who are skeptical about healing, or signs and wonders, I often get Matthew 7:21-23 quoted to me. It starts out with, “Well, you know, brother…Many will say, Lord, Lord…” as if this is what this is what Jesus was actually talking about.
This oft-misused statement of Jesus comes at the end of His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 -7):
21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’’ (Matt.7:21-23 NKJV)
Jesus didn’t say this so people who don’t believe in the gifts of the Spirit can come against people who do! Actually, Jesus was describing normal Christian ministry (you could also add preaching, serving, evangelizing, and helping those in need….). The point He’s making is, I never knew you because you have never entered into a cooperative relationship with Me. And because of this, you don’t look like Me. I don’t recognize you.
Doing ministry (of any kind) without relational obedience is lawlessness. And relational obedience comes down to one word—love.
How can I say that all Jesus’ commandments come down to love? Because He said so. He said it’s all about abiding in His love (emphasis mine):
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10 NKJV)
Abiding in God’s love means living a lifestyle of echoing back His love, and letting that same love resound to everyone around us. It all starts with receiving God’s love (1 John 4:19).
Obedience to Jesus is abiding in His love because love fulfills all the commandments (emphasis mine):
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt.22:37-40 NIV)
Paul said the same thing…
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law…10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom.13:8, 10 NIV)
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal.5:14 NKJV)
Being “lawless,” then, means that we have not learned how to love. It’s not at all because we performed miracles and didn’t obey all the jots and tittles.
If we actually bothered to put Matthew 7:21-23 back into context with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we would find that His whole teaching was about walking in other-centered love. In other words, being humble, meek, merciful, peace-making, pure at heart, forgiving, non-retributive, not angry or lustful, faithful, graceful, enemy-loving, generous, non-judgmental…are all what love looks like (See also 1 Cor.13:1-13).
But when we focus on trying to obey the fruit of love, we get the proverbial cart before the horse. Jesus’ love for us leads to true obedience, not the other way around. We obey because we’ve learned how to be loved and to love with His love.
And this is the whole point of everything! I’m greatly understating the case when I say that to miss this is to miss everything the Bible has to teach us.
This is how Jesus obeyed His Father, by abiding in His love.
Obeying Jesus’ commandments are not a prerequisite to God; they are the promise from God to those who abide in His love (emphasis mine):
21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21 NKJV)
In other words, when we “have” Christ’s life, we have His love. And allowing His love to manifest in all we do fulfills all the Law.
The religious counterfeit to this is trying obey God so that He will love you. That’s not good news; that’s a nightmare!
Healing someone of a disease or delivering them from spiritual bondage like Jesus did is an act of love. But if I’m only doing for self-validation, or to bring attention to myself, I’m showing that I still don’t really know Jesus. And we can say the same thing about good preaching, teaching, evangelizing, or any other way of serving God we think is important.
Jesus is saying, “I never knew you,” because to know God is to know Love.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NKJV)