"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of the Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!' " --Matt 7:21-23, NIV
People just love to explain away this verse, but Jesus was very specific here: these people thought they were getting into heaven. They thought it with such certainty that they argued with the Lord during judgment, reminding Him of all the great things they did in His name. And they did great things in His name--they did miraculous things that they told their friends, "That was a God thing." They were certain that, as they looked back at their lives, they had evidence that the Lord blessed them and their ministries and their works.
And yet...they were wrong. They weren't getting into heaven.
If that doesn't scare you, then I don't think you understand the passage. Because I would be willing to bet that none of you believers had achieved what they had achieved, and I doubt that any of your senses of security are any stronger than theirs were.
So how can you be sure that you will not be one of them? How can you be sure that you won't stand there on the day of judgment, saying, "Lord, Lord, didn't I go to church each week? Didn't I convert others to your Kingdom? Didn't I tithe and give sacrificially? Didn't I do things that couldn't be explained under my own power?"
Each denomination has its answer for how to avoid being in that group--how to be sure you will not be one of them.
- Catholics say that you can avoid that result by joining their denomination, because they received their authority from a secure link of each Pope back to Peter. (No such link exists, btw, but we will discuss that at another time.)
- Orthodox Christians say much the same, that theirs is the one true Church and therefore, if you are in alignment with the sacraments then you will be fine, again through a link back from Patriarchs to the apostles.
- Charismatics say that such evidence comes through miraculous gifts.
- Evangelicals say that it comes through a single emotional experience followed by a life time of feelings.
- Reformed Protestants say it comes through intellectual commitment to the creeds and theology.
I say none of those protects you from the risk of thinking you are saved when in reality you are lost. And I think anyone who is honest would agree.
So how can we know? I don't have a litmus test for you, nor do I think such a thing exists. But I will give you five questions to ask yourself which might help:
- Do you believe in Jesus and the Resurrection? That is, do you actually really think Jesus was an historical person who actually died and actually rose from the dead? Do you accept the words of the Apostle's Creed? That was the primary method used by most early Christians to see if you were really on track.
- Do you change your politics, your science, and your other philosophies to match Christianity, or do you change your Christianity/Bible to match your previously-held politics, science, and other philosophies? If your view of the world and of human philosophies/politics are the same as they were before becoming a Christian, then there is a risk that you are not really taking your thoughts captive under Christ and making Him Lord. There are a lot of people whose political views are a lot more difficult to change than their Biblical interpretations.
- Are you giving generously to those in need, in practical ways? When addressing similar issues in Mt 25:31-46, Jesus specifically calls out our help of those who cannot help themselves.
- Are you protecting those who have no protection? When discussing the same issue, James (Jesus' brother) says that pure and accepted religion is that which leads people to care for those who cannot help themselves: the elderly and the orphan.
- Would someone describe you using the fruits of the Spirit, or of the world? Those who work with you, live with you, hang out with you...if I asked them, what words would they use to describe you? Would they use words like gentle, kind, patient, and loving? Or would they use words like short-tempered, selfish, and always looking to get what is 'rightfully' yours?
Take a good, hard look at yourself. You can be a very successful minister without doing any of the above. You could be one of those who does good things for the church, but doesn't actually believe Jesus was anything other than a good moral storyteller. Or you could be one of those who was a die hard conservative or liberal or libertarian before being saved, and now just conveniently think that the Bible matches up almost perfectly with the party you already agreed with. Or you could be one of those people who does not give to the poor because they might misuse your gift, or only give to the poor if they also get a gospel tract along with the food. Or you could be one of those who does not defend the defenseless, and sees foster parents as trying to get a free ride or the elderly without a job as the State's problem. Or you could be someone who claims to care about others more than yourself but will berate a customer service rep or try to cheat to get a few free things.
It's not a litmus test, and none of the above (except #1) will get you saved. But I think if you can ask yourself those questions and admit to good, hard, honest self-assessed answers, you will have a good idea of whether you are in danger of being among those who only say "Lord, Lord" but never really put Him in charge of your life.