SO great to be back up to teach today. Even after a Bengals loss, cold and snow arriving, and Reed Sapp only preaching seven minutes last Sunday. (He did so well!).
I’ve got some new specs and I can see so much better! You know it might be time to upgrade your glasses (or retire) when you can’t see the print in your Bible!
That’s the theme of my message today as we dig deep again in Matthew 7...seeing clearly what is true and false. Reed covered True and False Prophets and ended with this verse: "Thus, by their fruit, you will know them." Paul lists both the bad fruit and the good fruit in Galatians 5:19-26.
And that leads us to v. 21-23 in chapter 7. In this whole chapter, Jesus is casting the vision that living a life with/about Him is a Better Way. And he juxtaposes the two options or choices we all have. We can do:
The narrow gate/road or the wide gate/road.
We’re on the highway to heaven or the highway to hell.
We can be a true prophet or a false prophet, a wolf or a sheep.
We can produce good fruit or bad fruit.
And today, we can be a true disciple or a false disciple. (And next week, if you want to read on ahead, JT will talk about how we can be a wise builder or a foolish builder.)
I think it’s important to note that Jesus is not speaking here to non-religious people, atheists, or agnostics. He is speaking specifically to people who are devoted and very religious on the outside, but who are compromised on the inside. They are not unlike those described by Paul in the last days… 2nd Timothy 3:1-5.
It’s false. And a “false” anything is never good. But seldom do you know initially that they/it is false because it masquerades as something that sounds true/right. Can this happen? Can people pretend to be Christ-followers, but not really be believers? Can they be posers, fakers, and imposters? Jesus says – absolutely. How do you know? Jesus gives two clear clues.
1) They say, but they don’t do. Their walk doesn’t match their talk. It is believing without acting. James 2:14-19 describes it this way: "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 a sister is without clothes and 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 deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder."
It is Demon Faith. Jesus is talking about people with empty words. People who claim to follow Christ and the Bible but they really don’t.
I heard about a little boy who wanted to go to the zoo for weeks. Finally, his mother talked his reluctant father into taking him. “So how was it?” his mother asked when they returned home. “Did you and your father have a good time?” “Yes. Daddy really liked it, especially when one of the animals came home at 30 to 1!” (THEY SAY, BUT THEY DON’T DO.)
2) They ‘do’ on the outside, but they ‘don’t’ on the inside. Verse 22 – "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?"
Now, this is a compelling and fascinating list they give as evidence here. Look at all the things these professing believers claim to have accomplished. Did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, and perform many miracles? By the way, I’m familiar with this casting out of demons thing (and not just at Halloween!).
Numerous times over the years, I have been asked to come over to someone’s house and cast out a demon and it’s a little creepy. (That’s why I usually send another staff or elder!) Sometimes I am skeptical. They were drinking and watching scary movies. But sometimes it is real, man. There’s a great example of this with some Jewish exorcists who made their living casting out demons. Could I show you? Acts 19:11-16: "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding."
So this is a challenging text here. Authentic Christians will ACT on their faith, but just because someone is active in their faith doesn’t mean they aren’t just "acting." Sometimes there is no parallel between being zealous, active, and diligent in religious work and whether you have a sincere relationship with Jesus or if you truly "know" Him. This is why Jesus says, "I will tell them plainly – I never knew you."
When Jesus says "I never knew you", it was a reference to the Hebrew idiom "to know", which represents intimate relations. It was frequently used of marital intimacy but was also used of God’s special intimacy with his chosen people. The good shepherd knows his sheep intimately.
So Jesus is saying to them (and us) – You may be active, but you’re not authentic on the inside. You might be building a kingdom, but it was not my kingdom - it was your kingdom. It was your definition of organized religion, it was not a true picture found in MY definition of a church of people on mission in a vertical and horizontal relationship.
And Jesus' words to the pretenders are very strong! "I never knew you, away from me, you evil doers!" Depart from me. Because they may have had God’s name in their mouths, but rebellion was in their hearts. I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside… what you see on the outside, doesn’t match the reality on the inside.
Not sure about you, but I noticed more ‘trick or treaters’ than ever two weeks ago. Masks and costumes were on a huge display. Donna was out of town visiting family in VA and I strolled over to my neighbor’s driveway on Halloween (I love them BTW), and Debbie, my neighbor was dressed up as a witch. I said to her, "Debbie, you’re supposed to dress up as something different for Halloween." She said, "Shut up David!" But I think what Jesus is saying today is this - Halloween is not the only time when people wear masks, especially in the church!
Question - How many true/real Christians are there in the US? Depending on the polls you read, researchers have estimated 65% of Americans identify themselves as born-again Christians. This is down by the way. The fastest-growing category is "nones" (or "dones") – folks who say they practice no religion in particular. Two hundred and five million people claim to be Christians in America right now… but based on the Bible’s description of true believers and the fact that Jesus said "few go through the narrow way/gate”, I think those numbers are highly inflated. It all depends on your definition of what/who a Christian is, huh!?
I was talking to someone years ago about this as I didn’t see much fruit in them to indicate they were a Jesus follower. They said, "Well, I’m not an atheist, I’m not a Jew, I must be a Christian!" This was their reasoning. So today, let me ask you some personal questions…
Do you say you love Jesus as your Lord, but don’t actually do anything Jesus said to do? There’s a better way…
Or are you "doing" the right things on the outside, but you are not the real deal on the inside? Do you truly KNOW Him in a relationship? There’s a better way...
What I want is for all of us to do some deep introspection this week about these verses. What I fear is that some of us may have false hope…
Maybe I could use this illustration as a metaphor as I close…
Let’s imagine an airport terminal counter where folks are waiting to board a flight to heaven for eternity. There are three kinds of people waiting at that counter for their zone to be called each holding tickets on their phones or paper ones…
The 1st category is people who have a legit ticket that works, and they know it. Not in a sinful, prideful way, but they have assurance/confidence/peace because their ticket was paid for by Jesus because they’re in a true relationship with him. They have the right heart which fuels the right actions.
The 2nd category in this cosmic airport is people who have a legit ticket that will work, but they are anxious/afraid that when they get to the counter, their ticket won’t work because they are basing it on their own good deeds. I’ve done some bad stuff, I’ve got lots of baggage/luggage!
But the 3rd category is the one I am most concerned about, and the one Jesus is emphasizing today in our teaching. It’s the kind of people who are overconfident of their own righteousness and in their own religious pride can’t wait to get to that counter with their ticket, but when they get up to the counter to board, they find out their ticket is rejected because it’s a bogus ticket. They said they believed in the captain and maybe even did some things for the captain, but their hearts were not truly converted. Their hearts were hard and they deceived themselves into thinking their good deeds would be their ticket to heaven. And tragically for them, the airport terminal is, in fact, terminal…
So my prayer today is to speak to all three groups here who want to get to heaven…
Category 1 – Keep humbly doing what you’re doing and encouraging each other more as you see "the day approaching."
Category 2 – Work on strengthening your spiritual muscles of assurance and accept salvation as a gift of grace and not a wage. “I write these things so you may KNOW you have eternal life…"
Category 3 – You might want to wake up if this shakes you up and humbly talk to someone you know who is an authentic Christ follower and get your heart and actions aligned before it’s too late. Move from the counterfeit to the legit...because there is a better way.
During communion time right now, I’d like for you to consider these categories as you remember Jesus because it was Him who said, "I am THE way, the truth, and the life, and no-one gets to the father except through me."