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
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” Isaiah 29:13
For several years of my life, I declared the Lord with my lips, but I did not do his will. I claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but my heart was far from him and there was little evidence of Christianity in my life. This truth came back to me a few years ago when I was posting an invitation to a Bible study on Facebook. One of my old college friends saw the post and commented, “Jill…in a Bible study? That’s hilarious!” I looked at those words with horror, wondering what my Christian friends might think.
But I couldn’t blame the guy’s response. I had known him for four years and had apparently never given him any indication that I was a Christian. I wasn’t shocked by the comment he made, but I have to admit I was a bit hurt and offended. In my mind, I felt that I had been a Christian all my life; I thought it was part of who I was. Even when I wasn’t living like I was a Christian, I still thought I should be considered one. That’s what some people might call delusional thinking.
God’s not big into delusional thinking; he’s more into truth and reality, and he can see our true hearts. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” He knows us, inside and out, and he knows if we are his or not. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus says that many people will claim to have called him Lord and performed great works in his name. However, Jesus will look beyond all of that to see where the heart of each person is. And to some of them, he will say, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:23).
I don’t know about you, but that verse puts the fear of God in me; it brings me to my knees in humility and in awe of such a sovereign being. I am faced with the fact that I am not in control–Jesus is. It doesn’t matter what I have done in life or what I think I deserve; my perceptions of myself are not what will determine my eternal destination. It is Jesus’ knowledge of me (which is entirely correct and based on truth) that will determine that. All ultimate power lies in his hands.
And although we come face to face with God’s sovereignty and power throughout Scripture, we can be thankful that he is also the ultimate giver of grace. God loves every single one of us; each of us has been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by him because he values us, and we are special to him. 2 Peter 3:9 also shows God’s heart for us: “[He] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God yearns for us to come to him and find eternal security. If we reach out to him, he will reach down to us and grab ahold of us with all of his strength, and he won’t let go. He is the ultimate hero, and he has the ability to save us all, if we are willing.
So why does God also want us to have a holy fear of him? First of all, I think he wants us to understand his nature. God is holy, blameless, and good; we are not. Entering the presence of God in our own human condition is just not possible. But because he loves us so much, he made a way for us through Jesus Christ, and he wants us to embrace that with our whole hearts. Also, God knows that we don’t have an unlimited amount of time to turn to him, so he wants us to take him seriously. Psalm 39:5 reminds us that our “entire lifetime is just a moment to [him]; at best, each of us is but a breath.” God urges us on to make a commitment to him right now, while we can: “ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
I have definitely made that commitment. I praise God that he was patient with me while I ran from him and tried to do things my own way. There were years in my life when I denied God, but then verses like Matthew 7:21-23 made me wake up to the futility of what I was doing. I truly wish I would have come running back to him sooner to find the security and peace in Him that I could never find elsewhere. But the roads I have taken have only created in me a greater love and appreciation for who God is: holy and fearful, yet gracious and kind. There is none other like him.