On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.Matthew 7.22-29
This is one passage in the New Testament which never fails to make me anxious. Will I run the race only to be disqualified? Will I live my life only to end up hearing Jesus tell me, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoer?” Jesus certainly minces no words about the obedience he requires of those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven: whatever he has taught from beginning to end in the Sermon must be faithfully lived out. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer eloquently puts it, “Jesus has spoken: his is the word, ours the obedience.” His words are now a line that divides humanity into those who would obey and those who would not.
Jesus’ words in verses 22 and 23 would have stirred much dread in many introspective consciences, for it sounds like one could do great deeds in his name and still be rejected from his kingdom. However, he isn’t setting up a criteria that would make sincere hearers despair. Those whom he rejects in verse 22 aren’t sincere and faithful believers, but those who perform impressive shows of piety and religiosity in his name without true obedience to him. It’s possible to be a great Christian in public but be a terrible human being in private; it’s possible to do things in Jesus’ name but not have any love for Jesus. Jesus is calling us to be obedient to him in all areas of our life, especially in the aspects not seen by others: our inner thoughts and private actions. That’s what the Sermon is treating. Of course, our heart must first be changed by his call such that all that we do—whether in public or private, outwardly or inwardly—emerge from a right desire.
Misunderstandings aside, Jesus’ words can still make us feel some anxiety. Well, I believe a little concern here is good to stave off self-assurance. At least it stirs me to reflection and repentance, lest I be deceived by my own conceit and be led down the path of perdition. While faithful Christians may not be perfectly sinless in this life, we ought to constantly check ourselves against Jesus’ words and cling to them. For to do so, as Bonhoeffer puts it, “will see us through the day of judgement” because “[his] word is his grace.”