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 mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7.22-23)
Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warns that not everyone who calls him “Lord” will gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Even some who have prophesied and cast out demons will be rejected as those whom Jesus never knew. In v.23, Jesus reveals what He will say to these people at the judgment: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Other translations render this “iniquity” and the NLT calls them people who “break God’s laws,” but the Greek is ergadzomenoi thn anomian which is exactly what the ESV has – ‘workers of lawlessness.’
The word lawlessness really caught my attention here, because Jesus uses it to describe people who have prophesied and cast out demons in His name. I find it interesting that Jesus is not at all impressed with such “accomplishments,” since they may come from false prophets (v.15f) as well as genuine prophets. Jesus does not argue with them that they did not do the things they claim; it seems they could do such things even while working lawlessness.
While this isn’t the cheeriest subject for a weekly meditation, I think it is an important one to reflect on. In the verses that follow, Jesus contrasts those who follow his teachings as ones building on a solid foundation versus those who do not as those building on sand. Ask yourself this week – better yet ask the Holy Spirit – if there are pockets of lawlessness in your life. Are there ways in which you are not following Jesus’ teaching in your life? Are there wings of your house that have not been built on the concrete slab of the Gospel?
There’s no shame in that. There’s only shame in getting all the way to the judgement day in such a condition. These things are usually progressive (in both directions). We tend either to progress or regress. Take some time before the Lord this week to make sure of which direction you are headed – no matter how effective your ministry seems right now.