Have you ever asked yourself what the “Lord, Lord…I never knew you; depart from Me” scripture means? Probably you have. Most believers I come across have at some point wondered what it means and have felt frightened by it.
Today I want to bring clarity to this part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Let’s first read the passage we’re talking about.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.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?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away [depart] from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt. 7:21-23, brackets mine)
The will of the Father
The people Jesus never knew were doing many things in Jesus’ Name. They prophesied, drove out demons and even performed many miracles. Yet they were not doing the will of the Father! In fact, Jesus calls them evildoers.
To ensure you never hear Jesus say: “I never knew you, depart from Me, you evildoers” you only need to do one thing…
…the will of the Father.
Thus, to understand what they key phrase “doing the will of the Father” means will unlock this whole passage. What then, is the will of the Father?
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Looking through the right lens
As I’ve said before, we can interpret scripture either through a legalistic lens or a grace lens, also known as an Old Covenant lens or a New Covenant lens.
The big difference is that in the Old Covenant God had to deal with people according to their works (law).
In the New Covenant, however, God deals with people according to Jesus’ work (grace).
Mixing the New with the Old results not only in confusion and condemnation but also creates fear.
Let’s make it practical by defining “doing the Father’s will” through an Old Covenant lens and then through a New Covenant lens.
Old Covenant lens
Remember, under the Old it’s about you and what you do. Use an Old Covenant lens and you’ll interpret “doing the Father’s will” as follows:
- You have to serve God faithfully
- You need to count the cost and give up everything for Jesus
- You need to make sure to obey the Commandments
- You need to deny yourself and take up your cross daily
- You got to be red hot with fiery love for Jesus
- You must live holy to remain saved
- …and the list goes on and on…
There’s bad news and good news taking this path.
The bad news is that you’ll never do enough and never measure up to these self-imposed rules. In fact, you’ll be struggling with pride, sin, lust and envy because the Old Covenant law stirs up sin (1 Cor. 15:56).
This is what Paul has to say about this legalistic approach to scriptures and life:
I know that these regulations look wise with their self-inspired efforts at worship, their policy of self-humbling, and their studied neglect of the body. But in actual practice they do honour, not to God, but to man’s own pride (Col. 2:23, Phillips).
New Covenant lens
The good news is that there’s a way out of this religious matrix. You get of the religious treadmill by learning to understand the New Covenant of grace. Remember, under the New it’s about Jesus and what He has done!
By reading “doing the will of the Father” through a New Covenant lens you’ll come to understand that it has nothing to do with external behavior like:
Doing what God told you to do (e.g. loving your neighbour, fulfilling your calling, renewing your mind, giving money to the poor, witnessing to the lost, etc.), or
Not doing what God told you not to do (e.g. not stealing, lying, cheating, envying, boasting, etc.)
To think that doing the will of the Father is either doing good or avoiding evil is relating to God through the Old Covenant Law.
The logic goes, if you do what He tells you to do, you’re doing His will. Or, if you are not doing what God told you not to do, you’re also doing His will.
This is simply not true because the New Covenant believer does not relate (or is not suppose to relate) to God based on their obedience or lack thereof but based on Jesus’ perfect obedience, which is imputed unto us as a free gift.
In other words, the “will” that Jesus is speaking about is not the keeping or breaking of any of the Old or New Testament Commandments.
Salvation by works
God’s wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). If it were true that doing God’s will was based on something we do or don’t do then it would be possible to be saved by works.
Do this and that, and you’ll be saved.
That’s exactly the lie that the prophetic, miracle-performing evildoers had bought into.
They basically said, “Jesus, Jesus, look at what mighty works we’ve done in Your Name. We’ve done this and that, now let us enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, “We deserve our place in the kingdom because…we’ve professed Your Name and done great things in Your Name.”
As you know, a person isn’t saved by works. Regardless if someone professes Jesus’ Name or does mighty miracles, nobody is saved by works for it is by grace we are saved, through faith – and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8).
Believe in Jesus
These miracle-working people missed out on experiencing Jesus eternal acceptance because they didn’t do the will of God.
“So if doing God’s will does not point to what I do or don’t do, then what does it mean through a grace lens?”
I’m glad you’re asking.
In John 6:28 Jesus was asked this same question, “What must we do to do the works God requires? In other words, the crowd asked, “what does it mean to “work” the works of God or to “do” the will of God.
Note Jesus’ answer: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Even though this expression “the work of God” seems to imply that we have to do some external action or work, actually refers to an action of faith, of placing our trust in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to do the will of the Father.
God actually considers belief in His Son as work. This one act is all our Father requires from you.
Jesus repeats Himself in verse 40 in case we’ve missed it: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40).
Can it be any clearer?
To believe in Jesus is to do the will of the Father!
Once you believe in Him you do no works any more…from then on everything you do is letting God do His work through you.
To do the will of God does not mean to doing good or avoiding evil, for it has nothing to do with our level of obedience, but it refers having received Christ.
Simply put, if you have accepted Christ, you have fulfilled the will of the Father and you will not be rejected as if He never knew you for “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
May you always remember that to do the will of God means to believe in Jesus!
It follows that the evildoers to whom Jesus said “depart from Me” is referring to the unsaved. It’s important to know that whenever the New Testament refers to “evildoers” or “practicing lawlessness” it does not have the same meaning as under the Old Testament when people were still judged according to the law.
Jesus also said to them “I never knew you”. This tells us two things.
Firstly, that someone who knows the Lord but fails to do everything that He tells them to do has no fear that they will be rejected at heaven’s gates, for they have known Jesus.
Secondly, that in fact He was referring to unbelievers. As a side note: what most people miss is that Jesus is talking about the same people in verse 23 as He was in verse 15 when He warned about the false prophets that would come in sheep’s clothing.
A New Day
Unfortunately it’s commonly believed that someone does the Father’s will when he or she is doing what God called them to do, whether it be a teacher, plumber, stay at home parent, accountant, etc. That would be true under the Old.
Under the New, even if you stopped walking in your calling, God doesn’t consider you having stopped doing His will.
Probably you would be miserable because you are not using the gift that God gave you to do, but you would not have to fear to be “outside of God’s will” or to fear being rejected at the judgment day.
Beloved, it’s truly a New Day we’re living in – His Name is Jesus!
Jesus is not looking at what you do or don’t do. You are not under the law whereby you do your utmost best to be a good Christian in order that God would be satisfied.
God is already satisfied by what Jesus did on the cross for you, as you.
Note, I am not promoting a lifestyle of sin or laziness for our actions do have consequences.
But I am saying that the only work God wants from you is to believe in Jesus. Only believe. Accept His work on the cross as a finished work and you’ll cease from your own works.
As a result, you’ll live more holy and happy by accident, then you did on purpose before!
How can it be that…
You might wonder how anyone can cast out demons and work miracles in Jesus’ Name if they aren’t truly born again.
Have a look at Mark 9. Here we see that an unsaved person was going around casting out demons in the Name of Jesus. The disciple John got upset and forbade him because he didn’t follow Jesus (Mark 9:38-40).
How can an unsaved person perform supernatural deeds? My friend, the Name of Jesus has so much power that even people whom He never knew will (not maybe) prophecy, cast out devils and perform miracles (Matt. 7:21-23).
What’s the flip side? If a person who’s not empowered by the Holy Spirit can prophecy, cast out demons and perform miracles in the Name of Jesus, how much easier should it be for a Holy Spirit’s empowered believer to perform supernatural signs and wonders!
To sum up
To enter the kingdom of heaven a person needs to do the will of the Father. Contrary to Old Covenant teachings “to do the Father’s will” has nothing to do with some external action or work. Rather, Jesus defines doing the Father’s will as man placing faith in Jesus Christ.
Once you belief in Jesus you’re effortlessly doing the Father’s will for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose (Phil. 2:13).
Your job is to believe; that is to rest in the finished work so that God can do His transforming work in and through you.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He (that is not you) who began a good work in you will perform it until the the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6, brackets mine).
P.S. Next week you’ll get an e-mail in which I’m letting you in on an exciting, unique training course…it’s not the Freedom Course 🙂
P.P.S. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please help me out by sharing it with others (you can use the share buttons below).