Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:23)
Sometimes we read something in the Bible and come away wondering. Matthew 7 is an example.
Jesus told how at the last day–that means at the final judgment–“many” would say to Him, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?”
His answer (above) is intriguing. It tells us it’s possible for a person to do all kinds of miracle-working ministry in the name of Jesus and still get it wrong. The “lawlessness” in the NKJV is translated as “iniquity” in the KJV. Knox expressed this as “you that traffic in wrongdoing,” J. B. Phillips has it say “you have worked on the side of evil!” and Beck’s translation says “you who are so busy doing wrong.”
This has always puzzled me. But last week something happened to throw light on the issue. And it came from the unlikeliest of sources.
Best-selling writer Pat Conroy was in New Orleans for a book-signing. Even if you are not a lover of novels, readers will be familiar with his name. His book “The Great Santini” was made into an unforgettable movie starring Robert Duvall.
His latest book, “My Reading Life,” was on my must-read list. As a reader and something of a writer, I’m fascinated by insights and revelations from those who do it well. So, that evening I drove down to the Garden District of New Orleans and joined a hundred or so who crowded into the open space of the tiny mall where Conroy was to speak and sign his books.
“This is the last stop on my tour,” he said. “And I am tired.”
“And with that in mind,” he continued, “and since I love New Orleans so much, I’ve decided to do something I’ve not done at any other stop on this trip. I’m going to tell you some stories.”
I was elated. I love a good story.
He was in Cleveland, Ohio, walking around, killing a little time between appointments. He spotted a small bookstore and went inside. He browsed, found a book he wanted, and went to the counter to purchase it.
The checker and he got into a conversation. She spotted right off that his accent was not local. “I’m from South Carolina,” he said.
She said, “Oh? Are there any writers in South Carolina?” (The audience laughed at that.)
He told her, “Oh, yes. We have quite a few.” And he named a prominent one whose name eludes me now.
From somewhere on the other side of the store, a customer called out, “Pat Conroy is from South Carolina!”
At that, Conroy said, he was faced with a dilemma, whether to admit to the customer that he was Pat Conroy. Humility and pride wage war for supremacy in a moment like that.
He decided to tell her.
Conroy walked over to the customer who had spoken and said, “Funny you would say that. I am Pat Conroy.”
Well, it turned out she was from South Carolina too. So, he told us, they “did the South Carolina thing!” First, they hugged each other. Then they “shagged,” which is a dance endemic to that area of the world and almost nowhere else. They chatted a little more, then Conroy took his purchase and left.
He was not aware that another woman in the store followed him outside and down the block.
“That was shameless!” the woman called to him.
Conroy turned around. Was she talking to him?
“What you did back there was shameless,” she said. “Telling that girl you were Pat Conroy!”
Now, he was speechless.
The woman continued, “I know Pat Conroy. Pat Conroy is a friend of mine. And you are not Pat Conroy!”
By now, his New Orleans audience was in stitches. The very idea of this woman accosting the famous writer and challenging his identity. We could all envision this happening–or ourselves doing it to someone else, which would be far worse–and it’s the very definition of awkward.
Conroy chatted with the woman a little, absorbing her chastisement, and turned away and went on his way. He never told her otherwise.
When the line slowly snaked its way to his table for the book-signing, I decided to ask him about that. Why didn’t he pull out his drivers license and pop her pretentious little bubble?
“Two reasons,” he told me. “I didn’t want to humiliate the woman. And then, it makes a better story this way, don’t you think?”
I guess so. After all, in his writings, Pat Conroy is a story-teller. And a story-teller will make any sacrifice for a great story.
Now, here’s my situation.
Whenever a story will not leave me alone, when it lingers with me and regularly intrudes into my thinking, I have come to recognize the Holy Spirit is sending a message, something to be used in my ministry.
This story speaks to our passage in Matthew 7.
The people standing before Jesus were so dead-sure they knew Him and were serving Him. The woman confronting Pat Conroy was certain-beyond-doubt that she knew Pat Conroy.
They were deceived.
Regarding the Conroy story, I think I know what happened. A few days later, the Cleveland woman woke up in the middle of the night with a start. She realized that she had been mistaken. She had been thinking of someone else, perhaps someone with a similar name, and when she heard “Pat Conroy” she mistakenly thought it was the other person. And now she is ashamed of herself for what she did. But it was over and there was nothing to be done.
The people who stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on the final day of the universe as we know it will learn that He alone is their Supreme Judge. During the time they are waiting to appear before Him, they begin racking their brains trying to pull from memory anything they might have done that will carry weight at the Judgement Bar.
That’s when they come up with the miracles they have done “in Your Name.” Devil-casting, prophesying, wonder-working. By any human measurement, this should suffice.
Jesus measures differently from us. ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)
Among the figures of speech you and I use when referring to salvation–getting saved, being born again, conversion, seeing the light–is one about “knowing the Lord.”
In fact, a common approach used by many Christians in witnessing is to ask, “Do you know the Lord?” or “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?”
It implies that to “know Him” is the essence of the new life God gives to all who repent and turn to Christ as Lord and Savior.
At a funeral I attended, the speakers admitted that the deceased was a hard man. “The most stubborn man most of us have ever met” is how one put it. That about summed it up for me.
However, both the man’s brother and his pastor gave testimony that “he knew the Lord.” One said, “I asked him just a few weeks ago. He assured me that he knew the Lord.”
I certainly hope that’s right.
However, one has to wonder if a more accurate expression might be “whether the Lord knows us.” After all, in our Matthew 7:23 text, the issue is not whether the people claimed to know Jesus, but that He did not know them.
Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; Then it was well. Is not this what it means to know the Lord? Jeremiah 22:15-16
Two things need to be said about knowing the Lord.
1) It involves a dual relationship. The individual comes to a personal acquaintance with Jesus Christ and in the process the Lord Jesus comes to know that person and enters his/her life. From that moment on, the two are intertwined in a spiritual way that defies most attempts to categorize it.
2) It results in a different way of life characterized by fair-thinking and honest-dealing, by compassion toward others and a love for God.
Anything less may be religious, it may be impressive to the world, and it might even be said to be miracle-working. But it will not stand up at Judgment.