Community Group Study Guide — Known by Jesus
This passage of scripture is often referred to as “the scariest passage in the Bible”. The perceived harshness of Jesus, on “that day” which is a reference for judgment day, saying “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness” is hard to swallow. What kind of person is being turned away in these verses? What do we make of this idea that Jesus “never knew” someone? Some of us may have heard this part of the Bible used to cause believers to doubt their assurance and question their faith, should we not feel secure in our faith and salvation?
Jesus is not trying to say that a sincere person who desires to be right with God will be turned away. In fact, reading these verses in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) you see that this type of person is not really sincere at all. They seem to be pointing to their worthiness and not their dependance and that is the opposite message that we have been learning throughout the Sermon. The goal is not to doubt your assurance seeing as there are many passages in the New Testament written so that you may “know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:15). However, Jesus is calling us to think about what it means to be “in Christ” and to be known by God. To be a disciple is to know God and be known by God and to strive to put into practice all he commanded because God has given his followers a new heart and helps them to love him. Yet the warning we’re given in this text of scripture is against making following Jesus about the wrong things or trying to earn position or place with God; instead we are reminded that true discipleship flows from the work of God to renew us and a genuine love for him.
Matthew 7:21-23 tells us that “many” will get it wrong and that not everyone who claims Jesus as Lord really believes it or loves God. Specifically we see three things that are used as a way to justify one’s presence in God’s kingdom, yet they all miss the primary point that to be a disciple of Jesus is primarily about being “in Christ” and being known by God.
First, being a disciple is more than “knowing about” God or saying the right things.
Accurate knowledge about God is essential and important, but one’s faith in Jesus is more than that. The image we’re given in Matthew 7:21-23 is someone who does not have a genuine relationship with Jesus giving reasons for why they belong in God’s kingdom and the first thing they do is confess something true and accurate about Jesus calling him “Lord” and at the same time we learn that they do not really know Jesus. Knowledge about God is excellent and a follower of Jesus should strive to know the God they love well, but knowledge about God should lead us to actually knowing God in relationship. This group appears to have made it their business to know or say the right things but they did not have a genuine relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. This should cause followers of Jesus to examine if they simply know about God or if they actually know him. God has chosen to make himself known to his people in his Word, through the person of Christ and by the Holy Spirit. God knew that we were unable to bridge the knowledge gap on our own so he has reached out to us in love. The trap though is not settling for knowing facts or even really great theology, both of which are good, but rather having heart that desires to know God in real and genuine relationship.
Second, being a disciple is more than feeling passionate about God.
This group of “many” will not just say the right thing about Jesus they will also say it enthusiastically and passionately. They call Jesus “Lord, Lord”. This doubling is important and if we were to look “under the hood” at the Greek text we’d see that this title for Jesus is in a construction called the “vocative” case. We can think of this as typing IN ALL CAPS with lots of exclamation points!!!! They say Lord and they say it enthusiastically as if their passion gives them a place in God’s kingdom. The warning here is to not lean on your emotional experiences or passion for God as a means of knowing if you are in or out of the kingdom of God. Your life will run the full range of human emotion with many times where you will feel passionate and joyful about the Lord and other times where you will question why he feels so far from you or why you are emotionally drained. We see this throughout the Psalms where in one verse the psalmist is exclaiming the joy of knowing God and his delight in his word, and the next they are wondering “how long O Lord?” Indeed many saints of old experienced dark times of depression and sorrow. If our emotions were a gauge for our belonging in Christ’s kingdom then we’d all be doomed. However, look around at church culture in the West. It is not hard to see that this kind of “passion for God” has become something of a measuring rod for a “true believer”. Passion for God is great and wonderful and the Lord has given us bodies to use and emotions to experience as a means to glorify him; and at the same time entrance into God’s kingdom is not based on feeling pumped for Jesus. God would have us use our emotions and passions to honor and worship him, but at the core one can be full of zeal and yet Jesus can say to them “depart from me I never knew you”. Bring your emotion to God, ask him to help you experience passion and joy, but the warning here is to not let that become what you think gets you into his kingdom because that is a subtle form of works based salvation.
Finally, being a disciple is more than just what you do for God.
Matthew 7:22 points out that this group will say that they proclaimed God, casted out demons and even did the miraculous, all in “Jesus name,” and Jesus still says to them “I never knew you.” Many of us can long to see signs and wonders; and we also tend to exalt people in our culture who do powerful things for Jesus in our world. Others of us can feel the need to prove ourselves to God and will rack up ordinary good deeds in an attempt to earn God’s favor like a kid with a “sticker chart” for good behavior. However, the Bible is filled with people who did the miraculous and were not followers of God: the Egyptian magicians, Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 and even the disciple Judas. And, someone’s moral behavior alone is not an indicator that they know and love God (Matthew 6:1, John 5:39-41). God warns us over and over again from making our worth in Christ determined by what we do because salvation is a gift of God by grace, not a result of works so that we cannot boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
What is the goal then?
The goal of being a disciple is to know and love God as he knows and loves us. We desire on “that day” to hear Jesus say “well done, my good and faithful servant” and he will say that to all those whom he knows. Certainly Jesus knows about everyone who has ever lived, but Matthew 7:23 tell us that there is a special relationship he has with those who are saved by his grace and brought into his family of faith. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 highlights this as Paul warns us that we can have prophetic powers, understand all mysteries and even lay down our lives for the Lord, but if we have not love we gain nothing. Jesus desires to remind us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, that the goal of being a disciple is to grow in our love for God. Knowledge, passion and action are all good things but they are secondary to and flow from a relationship with God. We cannot earn our standing before God or entrance into his kingdom based on knowledge, passion or action, even though they are all good things.
Jesus calls his followers to consider what it means to be in God’s kingdom and shows them the danger of finding security or peace in their knowledge, passion or actions. What brings someone into the kingdom of God is being known by Jesus which happens when one is reconciled to God through faith in Christ and united in relationship with Jesus.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 7:21-23
What are some reasons this passage is often referred to as “the scariest passage in the Bible”?
This passage highlights false followers of Jesus, based on these verses what determines if someone is really in Christ or is not in Christ? Matthew 7:21 gives us a hint… what does it mean for someone to do the will of the Father based on what we’ve read in the Sermon on the Mount?
It appears that these false followers were relying on their confession of Christ as Lord, their passion and their activity or works to justify why they belong in God’s kingdom. How are all of those good things but not ultimately the main thing? Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, how does Paul make a similar point in that passage?
Do you struggle with either relying on or feeling deficient in one of those areas (knowledge, passion, actions)? What steps do you feel the Lord is calling you to take as a result of what you learned through the scripture, study guide or sermon?