The Worst Words in All the Bible
Dr. Jim Denison
Janet has been out of town this week at a writer’s conference, so I’ve been cooking. So far we’ve had Italian, Chinese, and Mexican—whatever we can order in or eat out. Janet used to cook and stock the refrigerator if she was going to be gone, with sticky notes telling me how long to heat up everything. But when she returned, everything was precisely where she left it. She’s learned better.
She’s lucky if I’ve brought in the mail once or twice, and maybe even run the dishwasher. I am domestically challenged. She married me out of pity, and not much has changed.
If you don’t know how to do something, it’s important that you know someone who does. Someone who can fix your roof or your car, someone who can perform your surgery or calculate your taxes.
These days we’re working with the subject, “Knowing That You Know.” We’re learning how to be sure that we know God and that he knows us. Because none of us knows how to get to heaven. None of us knows how to get our sins forgiven, our hearts transformed, our lives filled with joy and peace and purpose. If we think we can do all that ourselves, today’s text is for us.
So far we’ve learned what salvation is. Today we’ll learn what it is not. And why the subject is crucial beyond all description.
Don’t trust in right words
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21).
“Lord” translates kurios, the Greek word for “master.” The Romans required their subjects to bow the knee before a bust of Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord,” “Caesar kuriou.” Jesus’ followers refused, saying instead, “Jesus is Lord,” “Jesu kuriou.”
To say it twice is to give the word intensity. The Jews didn’t use superlatives like we do—they repeated words for emphasis. The idea here is “really Lord” or “Lord of Lords.”
“Not everyone” shows that some who say this will enter the kingdom of heaven.
To say that Jesus is your Lord is to say that he is your Master, your Savior and King. This is precisely the profession of faith we make at baptism: “Jesus is my Lord.”
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, quoting Joel 2:32). But “call on” means more than words—it reflects trust, commitment, reliance.
And not everyone who uses these words means them like that. Not everyone who knows the right words knows the right Lord. If you say you’re a Rotarian, you probably are. If you say that you support President Bush or Senator Kerry, you probably do. If you say you’re a Christian, you may or may not be.
In our culture, a “Christian” is a good person who believes in God. Most Americans don’t even know that there’s more to the term than that. Most don’t even know that they need to ask Jesus to forgive their sins and become their Savior and Lord. Most use “Christian” without any concept of its biblical meaning.
C. S. Lewis likens the word to “gentleman.” At one time, “gentleman” referred specifically to a man who was part of the landed gentry, a landowner who occupied a specific place in society. But over time the word evolved to mean a person who acts as a “gentleman” once did, who conducts himself with decorum and dignity. And now the word applies to everyone, whether we own land or not. It’s gone from nobility to bathroom doors.
In the same way, “Christian” originally meant “little Christ,” one who follows and imitates Jesus. It was a pejorative term, and was applied only to those who had experienced a personal relationship with Jesus.
Today “Christian” is an ethical term which refers to good people who believe in God. So nearly everyone says that the word applies to them. In that sense, nearly everyone in America calls Jesus “Lord, Lord.”
Raise your hand if you say you’re a Christian. Now be warned—this text may be about you.
Don’t trust in right works
Next Jesus lists the two most persuasive religious actions a person could perform in his day: prophecy and miracles. First, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?”
Again the right words, “Lord, Lord.”
For the right purpose: “in your name.”
“Prophesy” in the Bible doesn’t mean to foretell the future so much as it means to forth tell the word of God.
Jesus means here what we would call “preaching.” He’s referring to people like me—a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a seminary or college professor, a spiritual writer, someone who communicated his word through their words. He’s warning us that we can speak his words in his name, and not know him. Just because I’m your pastor, speaking these words to you today, don’t mean I know him.
A new pastor saw a meeting at his church one evening. He asked a man walking toward the sanctuary what it was about. The man said, “I’m just a visitor, but I came at the invitation of a friend. They’re meeting to pray for the spiritual conversion of their new pastor.” He came into the meeting, and gave his heart to Christ.
Not everyone who preaches or teaches God’s word knows God.
Jesus continues: “…and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”
Again, “in your name,” for his glory and credit. “Drive out demons” refers to exorcism of evil spirits. “Perform many miracles” means just what it says—healings and unexplainable physical phenomena.
Apparently it’s possible to drive out demons without knowing Jesus. Apparently it’s possible to be involved in miraculous healings and works without knowing Jesus. I could be an exorcist or a faith healer without knowing Jesus. I could lead the lost to Christ, build great churches, do great mission work, lead great benevolent and Christian institutions, but not know Jesus.
When John Wesley first came to America as a missionary, he failed miserably. On his return to England he complained to himself, “I came to convert the Indians, but oh, Lord, who will convert me?” It’s possible to speak all the right words and do all the right works, and not know Jesus.
So apparently it’s not enough to do religious works. It’s not enough that our parents were religious, or our other family members, or our friends. It’s not enough that we grew up in the church, or have “always been a Christian.”
“Many” will say this to him on “that day.” Many will make this mistake, and have it revealed on the Judgment Day.
The Bible teaches, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Revelation 20 says that on that day, God will open the “book of works” to show us that none of us has earned heaven. Then he’ll open the “book of life” which records those who know Jesus and are known by him. With this result: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15).
Trust in the One who knows you
So don’t trust in right words or right works. It’s not enough to know the hymns and the vernacular, to come to church and do religious works. Jesus warned us that he would have to say to those who trusted in words and works: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (v. 23).
“Knew” means a personal, intimate relationship. It’s not enough to say that we know him—he must say that he knows us. You would know George Bush or John Kerry if they walked into the sanctuary—would they know you?
What does it take for him to “know” us? We must “do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). Is this works righteousness? Right words and right works?
“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).
“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
Then we will hear the best words in all the Bible: “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).
Then we will know that we know him, not because of our words or works but because of his word and his works. Our assurance is not based on what we can do but on what he has done.
Jesus promised, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). We don’t have to hold onto him—he’s holding onto us.
He knows us, and will never forget us: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 1:14).
“The man who loves God is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:3).
“God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his'” (2 Timothy 2:19).
Once he “knows” us, he never forgets us in all of eternity. He’ll remember us on the day of judgment. He’ll call us by name. And he’ll welcome us home.
Why is it so crucial that we know that we know him and that he knows us? Because this is the only way to eternal life. Jesus was adamant and blunt: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “No one,” no exceptions. If Jesus doesn’t know you, you won’t get in. You can claim that you know him, but he had better know you.
One of the great perks of pastoring in Atlanta was getting tickets to the Masters each year. The former governor of Georgia, Carl Sanders, was kind enough to arrange this remarkable experience. It’s like watching golf played in church—everything is hushed and almost “holy.”
Jeff Byrd, our missions minister, was the Executive Pastor of our church in Atlanta, and he and I would go to the tournament together. One year Carl let us use the clubhouse passes belonging to his daughter and her husband. I got to be David Botts; Jeff had to be Betty Botts. The guards at the door let me in—I guess I looked like a David Botts. But they wouldn’t let Jeff in—he resembled no Betty Botts they’d ever met. It didn’t matter that we said we knew the governor. The guards had to know that he knew us. And we couldn’t arrange that, so we got stopped at the gate.
Don’t get stopped at the gate. Does Jesus know you? Are you trusting in your words, the fact that you say you’re a Christian? Are you trusting in your works—your church attendance, your good deeds, your religious actions? Millions of Americans are. Don’t be one. The worst words in all the Bible are, “I never knew you.” Don’t take the chance that he’ll say them to you.