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Last week we examined part one of the authenticity test and learned a few nuances behind the statement “a tree is known from its fruit.” We know about wolves in sheep’s clothing: that’s the surface level persona that hides what is really beneath it all. Today we examine what many scholars claim is the scariest verse in the bible, it is the horror of thinking we know who we are (based on what we do) only to discover that God doesn’t even know we exist. So let’s read what it says and learn its bigger message.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
This passage raises a lot of question, among the biggest is that of God’s omniscience. How can an “all-knowing” God not know, nor ever have known, someone? Did he not create them? What’s going on here? In order to answer this, we need to have a wider understanding and this may take a bit of explaining, but I think it will be well worth your investment to learn this. As I weave together a few extra threads, this may be a slightly longer post.
This passage, within this entire Sermon on the Mount, within the greater context of Jesus life and mission all dove-tail into one common theme: the kingdom of Heaven or “the Kingdom” as Jesus often refers to it. This passage is a deep-dive into the authenticity test we established last week, and like last week, if we import a deficient or Hollywood notion of heaven and hell into this passage, then the interpretation quickly goes off the rails. When it does, this passage can and is used to manipulate behavior with fear. This is not Jesus’ goal, and thus shouldn’t be ours either.
The Greek word “eisérxomai” which is often translated “enter” means “to move into, happen, or begin to experience“. It is in the indicative mood which tells us Jesus is describing rather than prescribing. So a fresh translation would be: “Not all the sayers of Lord, Lord will begin to experience the kingdom of heaven.” Since it switches from the present to the future tense we must not conclude this is only a statement of the present, nor only the future, but a statement that reflects both. This is the best way to interpret not only this text, but the corpus of the teaching of the kingdom, which is here now and also not fully come.
We can see this is an authenticity test because some people fail it and are not be able to enter this kingdom. But what is the determining factor? Fundamentalism uses this text to scare people into conversion to Churchianity, but it’s clearly not divided by religious lines. In fact, those who are sent away are those who are doing religious deeds. So lets examine both groups of people.
The first group are those who are able to experience this kingdom. Jesus says it’s based upon their “doing” of the desire/will “thélema” of his Father in Heaven. At first this may seem counter to the verse we examined last week, but as we pull back to the beginning of this sermon we saw how Jesus re-wrote the religion by having us love one another and love our enemies. His will for us was to “be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The “doing” is not a perfunctory religion, but the “loving” of others. Being perfect means to be “authentic” or to be real. This will be very clear as we look at the other group. The desire or will of the Father is to love all people, including his enemies. Jesus himself is the icon of God and man (flesh and spirit) dwelling together (John 10:30). Where he is so his father is also. The kingdom is here. Loving others is what God does in his kingdom. Those who do likewise have already entered the kingdom of heaven.
The second group are the ones who not only don’t gain access, but are those who have never been known, and are sent away. How does a loving God do this? Can you see where odd theologies emerge from here? Again, this is best answered through the lens of an authenticity test. God is another name for perfect and total Truth. Within perfect truth there can be no deception, there can be nothing but truth. Thus the presence of a pseudonym, the false name, is fundamentally impossible in the same way a shadow is impossible in perfect light. Thomas Merton brilliantly put it this way: “The False self is the only self God can know nothing about.” What makes them false? Their doing. Rather than loving, they are doing religious things, they are performing, they are acting out of the motivations of duty, obligation, and not from love.
The false self, our persona or pseudonym, or what I call our fake ID is the persona, that God in perfect truth cannot know and will never know. The false seeks agreement rather than acceptance, scarcity rather than abundance, uniformity rather than unity, transaction rather than transformation. It lives in a binary, win/lose framework, rather than a ternary (three). In Revelation 21:8 we have a depiction of the future judgement where God supposedly throws all sorcerers, sexually immoral and liars into the lake of fire. At closer reading we learn that it is the “pseudo“, or “that part of them” (usually rendered “their portion”) is thrown into the fire. Why? because it cannot go with the true self, the name written in the book of life into the eternal kingdom. Only the real name can enter. This is why Jesus told them to depart. The false doesn’t really exist and could never grasp the kingdom.
Matthew later records a parable about separating two groups of people for the kingdom in chapter 25:31-46. In this metaphor of the kingdom, Jesus separates people like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. In the end, the determining factor was that those who gained acceptance were from all nations (heathen) who loved others and treated their fellow man with compassion. Heaven had nothing to do with religion, only whether one had loved and served others. In today’s text we see the same theme. The false self is focused on doing great works, while the authentic person is focused on the great work of serving others in love. Thus we enter this kingdom the moment we see and obey the law of love, until then we are working what Jesus called “ánomían” lawlessness.
I know we’ve touched a lot of tangents here, but by now we should be able to see the theme. Religion promises us entrance to heaven after we die. Jesus reveals that we can follow a religion our whole life and never find the kingdom of heaven. If we cannot find it here and now as evidenced by the loving of our enemies and all others, then we are following a false faith and there is no guarantee of finding heaven later whether we are religious or not.
On the other hand, if we are able to find that authentic, real part of us, that is able to see ourselves in all others, that is able to find compassion to all others and is able to love even our enemy, then we are demonstrating that we are doing the desire of the father which is to love all and be merciful to all. This is what it means to be real. This is what it means to enter the kingdom of heaven.
That part of us that is prideful, greedy, overly ambitious, a climber and user for the sake of personal gain (even religious gain) is the false self. That is the part that God knows nothing about, and its future is to be burned. Once the false is burned off, the true self will be found in God our Maker where it has been all along. We can either undergo this within the friction of life, or we can be separated into those who will be purified by fire.
“If anyone’s (life) work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)
The authenticity test is this: Can you be compassionate? Each time you do, you enter the kingdom of heaven. True compassion and love can come from nowhere else.