Have you ever wondered who are the people to whom God may say, “I never knew you; depart from me”? If you are like me, those words ring ominously. We might be tempted to gloss over them, because they are uncomfortable to consider, but there they are.
These words contrast with the verse that inspires this article, which informs the title to this blog piece. But first, I want to focus briefly on people whom God never knew. Jesus described them for us.
They are people who prayed to God, “Lord, Lord.” They are people who prophesied in God’s name. They are people who cast out demons and even did “mighty works” in God’s name. They are highly religious people, but they didn’t “do the will of the Father who is in heaven”. (Matt. 7:23)
What does that mean?
For starters, it means that religiosity is not a ticket to heaven. Public piety is not anything that impresses God; if anything, it may even be repulsive to Him.
Power and influence and doing things that amaze people, even if done in God’s name, are not keys to heaven. An eloquent speaker who can bring people to tears and repentance is not, thereby, assured of any place in God’s kingdom. The prophet and the teacher who speak the very word of God are not, by virtue of the gift of prophecy or knowledge, assured of eternity with God.
In the “Love Chapter” of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul says,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”1 Corinthians 13:1-3
These realities are at once sobering and liberating. Nothing we can “practice” or do will propel us into God’s heaven. We are saved by grace, though faith, of course (Eph. 2:8-9), but even faith that can move mountains is of no gain to us by itself.
And here is the kicker – not even sacrifice, not even the sacrifice of our own bodies, by itself gains us anything.
David knew this when he said, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” (Ps. 51:16)
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Laying one’s life down might be considered a sacrifice, yes; but it done out of love it is more than merely a sacrifice. It isn’t the act itself that is important, but the motivation, the inspiration, the desire behind the act that matters.
Jesus is the ultimate example of love. When he sacrificed himself for our sakes, he didn’t do it to earn some heavenly brownie points. He gave himself for us out of love for us. He gave himself to us for our benefit. This is love, which focuses not one the benefit of the sacrifice to himself, but on the benefit for other another.
“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Legalism and fundamentalism and dogmatism and doctrine and theology can never save a person. It doesn’t matter how much we do, or how much we know, or how accurate our understanding is when we have not love.
God, who we are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24), is love. All the Law and the Prophets are summarized in this one statement: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:40) Thus, Paul says,
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.1 Corinthians 8:3 ESV
This is the verse that got me thinking about these things today. If you love God, you are known by God. The people of whom God will say, “Depart from Me; I never knew you”, are people who don’t really love God. Their motivation was wrong.
They may be doing religious things, but their hearts are not after God. They don’t desire God for His own sake. They are ultimately doing religious things for other purposes – perhaps for money, or notoriety, or influence, or acceptance or any number of things.
If we love God, we have our reward – our reward is God Himself. Thus, Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God….” (Matt. 6:3) Seek it because you desire it. Seek it because God is there. And, by the way, “all these [other] things will be added to you”.
All the things that we think we want. But they don’t deliver. They won’t satisfy us. They aren’t what we really want.
We were made for God. Only in God, only in opening ourselves unconditionally to Him, in seeking Him whole-heartedly and without ulterior motives, will we truly be satisfied.
The idea that we should repent to be saved is ultimately the basest of motivations to seek after God, not that such motivation is below any of us. For many (if not most of us), this may be our entry into surrender to God. We do it for the benefit. We want to be saved.
But that isn’t what God ultimately desires. He desires us to want Him, actually want Him. Yes, God rewards those earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6), but that reward is, ultimately, Him!
If all we want in the end is to be saved, to be free of guilt, to be accepted by people, to have the things that come along with being religious, going to church, being recognized by “people of God”, and so on, we have missed the point. We have lost our first love.
God knows those who love Him. It’s a matter of the heart.
Thus David, who is described as a man after God’s heart, ate the consecrated bread that was not lawful for anyone but a priest to eat without penalty. Why? Because David’s heart was right before God. David desired God above all things. David loved God from the heart.
The law kills, but the Spirit gives life.
If we love God, we are known by God, and God will welcome us into His kingdom. If we don’t love God in our hearts, God doesn’t “know” us. It’s not as if God doesn’t know everything about us already.
The difference is whether we have opened ourselves completely to God, embracing Him fully and allowing Him to have His way within us. It’s the difference between being open in our hearts to God and being closed off.
No outward show of religiosity matters, in the end, but a heart that is contrite and give to God.
God knows us if we love Him, and we will know Him, even as we are fully known, when we see Him “face to face”. This is the ultimate reward for us. This is the purpose for which God made us – to know Him and to be fully known by Him.
Not because He is God and is omniscient, but because we have opened ourselves up to Him and invited Him into the innermost area of our beings.
 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;” (Isaiah 1:11, 13-15) “I hate, I reject your festivals; nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies…take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.” (Amos 5:21-24) “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them….”; And when you pray, … [do not] stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners … [to] be seen by others.” (Matt. 6:1, 5)
 “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
 Agapaó means to love, wish well, take pleasure in and long for; the love of reason, esteem; to be full of good will an exhibit good will. It is demonstrated by God toward us in providing salvation for men exhibited by sending his Son to them and giving him up to death. (John 3:16; Romans 8:37; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 John 4:11, 19) It is demonstrated by the love which led Christ, in procuring human salvation, to undergo sufferings and death. (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2) It is the love with which God regards Christ. (John 3:35) When used of love to God or Christ, the word involves the idea of affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, grateful recognition of benefits received: (Matthew 6:24; Matthew 22:37; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 8:3; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 4:10, 20) It involves taking pleasure God, prizing God above other things, unwillingness to abandon God or do without Him. (Hebrews 1:9; John 12:43; Luke 11:43; John 3:19; 1 John 2:15; 2 Timothy 4:10; Rev. 12:11)
 1 Samuel 13:14
 1 Corinthians 13:12 King James Version
 1 Corinthians 13:12 English Standard Version