One of the chilling scenes Jesus described at the Sermon on the Mount is the coming judgment day when many people will call him “Lord, Lord” but will eventually be turned away. These are people who honestly believed they would be admitted into the kingdom of heaven because they prophesied, cast out demons, and performed many mighty works in Jesus’ name. They came to judgment with a swagger and an air of confidence that they were getting in. Jesus said he never knew them and then he cast them away forever.
This story scandalizes many people not only because it hints at the very strict standard of salvation but because the people Jesus turned away actually performed great ministerial deeds. Prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles are the kinds of ministries that impress many people today. Countless ministers and church leaders crave this spiritual firepower. Here Jesus puts spiritual gifts to their rightful place. Giftedness and ministry performance play second fiddle to the greater importance of knowing Jesus. You don’t get into God’s kingdom by works but through a relationship with Jesus. Paul would later unpack this and say that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The following are seven lessons I gathered from the last part of the Sermon on the Mount:
1. It is possible to appear like you are a mighty man of God and build a reputation of ministry success but be disqualified from the kingdom of God. This is a strong word of caution for those who are too concerned with public perception in the ministry.
2. Prophetic, miraculous, and supernatural ministries don’t necessarily mean that you have a genuine relationship with Christ. This is tricky on many levels because we usually tend to equate spiritual power and genuine faith. They are not synonymous. After I preached this last Sunday, somebody came up to me and asked, “Is it really possible to have a powerful ministry and not be saved?” My answer was short: “Jesus said it. It must be possible.”
3. We should not be too impressed with bombastic, flashy ministries. The true test of a genuine relationship with God is seen in the fruit of those who claim to follow Jesus. Fruit refers to the godly character of these people, the sound doctrines they teach, and the kind of people their followers are becoming.
4. This is a warning against vain activities. Some Christians are just too busy with church events that they actually don’t have the time and the energy to pursue a genuine relationship with Jesus. Do not be deceived. On the day of judgment, Jesus’ basis of letting you into his kingdom is if he knows you and you know him. In short, he will look for a relationship history with you.
5. If your reason for coming to church is for the next singles’ activity or the next victory group outing or the next ministry bonding, beware. Without a real, thriving, genuine relationship with Jesus, those things actually count for nothing.
6. Being passionate is not enough. In the Bible, repeated words signify intensity. “Martha, Martha;” “Absalom, Absalom;” and “My God, my God” all meant strong emphasis. In this case, those who cry out “Lord, Lord!” were really passionate about their confession and yet Jesus still rejected them. People are often impressed with someone who is very passionate: passionate in preaching, passionate in serving, passionate in vision casting, passionate in church events. It seems like passion is now becoming a character trait necessary to get into the ministry. But passion is never a spiritual barometer in the Bible. It’s not that I think passion is useless; it’s that we give it too much prominence over godliness and character.
7. Jesus sees through our pretensions. He knows when we cover up our spiritual emptiness with too much church activities.