When I sat down to respond and offer my take on the movie The Shack and the uproar it’s causing in certain circles, I thought a few hundred folks might read at least part of what I had to say. But a week later, 68,000 have read that article and it has been shared nearing 20,000 times on Facebook. I’m stunned. It is the most read post I have ever written. I know parts of it may be controversial to some. But it is simply my heart and perspective spilled on a page.
The conversations it continues to provoke has me learning harder on grace than I ever have. I never have a problem with folks disagreeing with me. Heck, I disagree with me 5, 10 years ago. We are all on a journey. Even those who of us don’t know we are. And there is amazing grace in each and every step.
I made a really some really strong statements in that post. I want to unpack one of them and share a bit more of the why behind my emphatic writing.
I did not come to faith in the context of an evangelical church. No one told me the four spiritual laws, had me repeat the sinners prayer or sign any dotted lines. I never even heard of those things until years later.
I was read (and then read myself) children’s Bible stories at bedtime about a guy named Jesus. He did amazingly cool things like walk on water. (Come on, I know you have always wanted to try that… that’s serious superhero skills.) He welcomed kids and multiplied food and healed the sick. He even faced off with death and won.
So when I was seven and facing death and yet another of 23 surgeries with some very scary potential outcomes, I cried out, “Jesus, if You are really Who that books says You are, I want to know You.”
And instantly He was there in my little room. I saw Him as clearly as I see my computer screen now. He was real and present and met me right where I was. I took one look into His eyes and fell in love. Fear vanished in His presence. He became my everything that night.
Jesus is the central reference for my faith. Not a church service or a particular doctrine or a certain prayer. Not a list of rules. Him. Alone. He became my life. When I did start attending church, I pondered quite vocally when I was 11 why we did so many things not in the Bible and why the things of the Bible didn’t seem to be in the church. Mic drop.
My faith wasn’t about being a Christian per say. I didn’t even know what one was at 7. My faith was a love encounter and a real relationship with Jesus. Jesus did not come to start a religion. He came to bring us into relationship with the Father. Which leads me to this post.
One of the scariest passages in the Bible:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from ME, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23
Say what? Those seem like really scary verses, right? Especially for those of us who have given our lives to minister and pursue those things: prophesy, deliverance, freedom, healing, miracles. But this passage has also become one of my favorites because of what it reveals about the heart of God.
I get that there isn’t a magic word to access the kingdom of heaven. It has to be a real, walking it out, doing the will of the Father. What is the will of the Father? Restored relationship.
But then comes the list of high achievers. These folks have signed the dotted line. Obviously. They’ve prayed the prayer. They prophesied in Jesus name. Performed miracles. Cast out demons. They are card-carrying members of Jesus’ fan club. They followed the rules. They’d be the rock stars of ministry, the sought-after speakers, the ones who’ve arrived, the ones we all want to be like.
And what does Jesus say to them? “I never knew you. I never experientially, deeply, intimately knew you. Depart, go away from Me, you who practice, minister with, trade in, labor in lawlessness and illegality.”
Performance, apart from relationship, is illegal in God’s kingdom.
In the church, we are often so focused on getting people to “know Jesus” and accept the four spiritual laws or pray the sinners prayer. But Jesus never said repeat after me, He said come follow me.
I’m beginning to wonder if we might have a few things backwards. Jesus already knows everything about everything that concerns us. So what does He mean by saying “I never knew you”?
From spending much time with Him in that passage, I get the sense He’s saying to the high achievers, “I don’t measure the quality of our relationship by the quality your performance. I measure the quality of our relationship by the quality of our intimacy. You may know a lot about Me. You may have done great things in My name. But you never let Me know you.”
Gulp. What if the things we think make us spiritual, really don’t? What if we are working hard at the wrong things?
What if the whole point of everything is found only in one place… the place where we allow Jesus to know us? Not from the place of His omniscience, but from the place of our permission. Where we say like David, “Search me and know me, God.” Where we intentionally make ourselves vulnerable to being known in the context of an ongoing deepening relationship with Jesus. Knowing it is there and there alone that the kingdom of heaven can be found.