I KNEW A MAN who was a Christian, and proud of it. But he swore and cursed more than almost anyone else I’ve ever known, and he was particularly imaginative in finding ways to abuse the name of God.
I reminded him of the third of the Ten Commandments: ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain’ (Exodus 20:7). He smiled and said, “It’s just the way I am. I live hard and talk hard. God won’t hold it against me.”
The fact was, this man was entirely confident because he was a Christian, and a good man—as evidenced by the fact that he had been christened as a baby, attended a couple of church services a year, and had never committed a very serious crime. There was no reason therefore why he should not ‘get into heaven’ (as he put it).
But was his confidence justified? It’s worth asking the question—who decides what makes us a Christian. Is it us, or is it God?
‘I Never Knew You’
Jesus Christ once said: “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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23).
He said many uncomfortable things, and this is one of them. You might like to have a look at the context—this saying is part of a wide-ranging discourse which occupies Matthew chapters 5 to 7 and is often known as the ‘sermon on the mount’. It’s a description of the way of life which Jesus expects of his followers, and it is probably the most challenging manifesto for life that anyone has ever given.
The standard of Christian life is so high that nobody has ever managed to keep it (except the Lord Jesus himself). Some find that worrying, but it’s no cause for worry. God knows what we’re made of, He doesn’t expect that we will never fail. That’s why Christ gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins. It’s why forgiveness and the grace of God are central to the Gospel:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23–24).
We are incapable of pleasing God by our own merit, that’s a basic fact. But He expects us to try. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13–14).
How to Be Jesus’ Friend
When Christ returns, some people who expect to be rewarded will be rejected. Who will they be? Those who have not obeyed his commandments. What are his commandments? We need to read the Bible to find out! Only by doing that will we learn the truth about God, the world and ourselves. By reading the Bible we will learn what God expects of us, and also—because Christianity is not just about following rules—we will align our minds with His, and learn to become like Him in our thoughts and ways. Christianity is a faith that transforms life. As the Apostle Paul puts it: ‘We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Different Paths to God
Nobody likes to be told what to do. We like to do things our own way. This applies particularly to deeply personal subjects such as religion. Many people today hold the view that we’re all on different paths which will lead us to God by different routes. Each to their own, follow your own heart. It’s an appealing philosophy, but it’s wrong.
Jesus said: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). In order to come to God, we need to come in the way that He has prescribed—the way He shows us, in the Bible.
This is not necessarily a popular idea. Some prefer to be free to follow their own way. That is of course their prerogative. But there’s an irony, which you begin to appreciate as you look into the Bible and see the way to God revealed there. The irony is this: following your own way will get you nowhere, but the way of Christ is the way to true freedom: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).