I was recently asked a serious question to which my answer would entirely depend on whether or not the person asking the question was a true Christian. It was a deep question with eternal implications riding on it. Initially I didn’t want to doubt someone else’s belief in Christ, but it made me uneasy in my spirit as their words and actions didn’t line up when it came to a relationship with God. I opted to not answer the question because I felt there were other people who have been a student of the word longer therefore more qualified to answer it. But this question did spiral me into a few other conversations with God fearing believers about what does it mean to truly be a Christian, how do we know of others are Christians, and how should a Christian conduct his life.
This next sobering passage in the Sermon on the Mount is about this very subject. Last week’s blogpost encompassed the difference between true and false leaders while this week’s blog encompasses the difference between true and false believers.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.
Reading this, it may seem as though Jesus is promoting a works based salvation. If we are good enough, if we follow the Ten Commandments well enough, we will earn our way to heaven. This is not at all what the bible says. It says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God–not by works so no one can boast.” But then what does Jesus mean here? I think James explains this best.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘you have faith: I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without your deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even demons believe that–and shudder.” James 2:14-19 (emphasis mine)
Faith without obedience is lip service to God but doesn’t hold any weight to it. Real faith and relationship with the Savior should propel us to become christlike. Our actions and obedience to God gives our faith weight and authenticity.
The longer you are near the presence of God, the more you should change. To be a Christian is to be in relationship with the God who is there. God is holy and nothing like us. The more we get to know God, the less we should be like the selfish people that we are. A person in a true relationship with God will be obedient to his will and ways and grow more like him in character.
Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” And I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!”
This should make us shudder. There are people sitting next to you or even behind the pulpit in church that God will reject because they never had a real relationship with him. I hope your faith is secure so you are not worried about this person being you, but I hope your heart breaks for those that might be under the illusion that they are sliding into a heaven where God doesn’t know them.
The first portion of this passage I believe addressed those professing faith without obedience. This portion, from what I gather, is addressing those who are relying on their works to get them into heaven. As quoted earlier in Ephesians 2:8-9, we know that our works can’t earn us salvation. There will be people though that are throwing our God’s name and labeling themselves as a Christian all while not relying on the death and resurrection of Jesus to save them. All their striving will get them no where. On judgment day, God will broken heartedly say to them, “I never knew you.”
Just as faith without obedience is sin, so is obedience without faith. Relying on ourselves to keep the commands of God to earn our way to heaven is idolatry. We are in essence saying, “what Jesus did on the cross isn’t good enough. I can do better than he.” This is sin and it separates us from God. All the good we do without faith is meaningless.
True disciples of Christ will have both faith and obedience. Simply having faith makes you no better than a demon. Only having works will not enter you into an eternal relationship with God. Both situations should make us shudder to think about. I regret not having a deeper conversation with the person in the opening paragraph, not about what was asked, but rather about what christianity truly is. We can’t ride a wave of either words or works and expect it to splash us into heaven. Both faith and obedience are required to be a true disciple and live in the abundant gift of salvation God offers us. Let us be a people of faith that is displayed by obedience.