My Filipino Catholic friend Bobby shared an interesting insight last week – prompted to him by the World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. That occasion proved to be a significant meeting of Catholic and Protestant youth. He watched the broadcast of the Pope’s mass at Randwick Racecourse, where huge crowds gathered on Sunday July 20.
What he came out with surprised me and tied in with a revelation I had back in 1978.
He noted that Protestants place the emphasis for salvation on faith alone. Catholics, he pointed out, believe that faith must be accompanied by works, as is indicated in several places in the Bible.
But, he added, the Bible suggests that neither the Protestants nor the Catholics are right.
He took me to the teaching of Jesus at the end of His Sermon on the Mount.
“Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23
The faith profession of calling Jesus “Lord” is what many Protestants consider to be all that is needed to be saved. They are sure that no works are needed, only faith.
The Catholic position involves both faith, expressed by these people who say “Lord, Lord”, and works. Jesus points out that these people who come to Him have both! They have faith (Lord, Lord) and works (done many wonderful works).
Yet what would suit both the Protestant and the Catholic positions proves to be less than Jesus is looking for. “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.”
Bobby saw in this text the fact that God looks on the heart. What God is looking for is not a faith confession, nor appropriate works to affirm the faith. But God is looking at our hearts and looking to see that we have a right heart toward Him.
Way back in 1978 I was standing in the foyer of a small church, during the opening songs, desperate for God to give me a message to preach. I was on a travelling ministry tour, as a Bible College student in New Zealand. The Apostolic church which I was about to preach to included many learned and experienced people. I wanted to bring them a message which would be more than just a rehash of my college lectures.
As I prayed, desperately, for a message, three quick images flicked in my mind. One was of the huge brass laver used in the Tabernacle. That spoke to me of my evangelical roots and the emphasis of being washed clean of our sins. The second image was of the golden lampstand from the Tabernacle. This spoke to me of the filling of the Holy Spirit and all that goes with the Pentecostal experience. To my way of thinking at that time, Pentecost built on all that evangelicalism gave us, thus giving greater power to the gospel and Biblical faith I already had.
The third image, however, completely challenged my respect for both the Evangelical gospel and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. I saw a beautiful young bride, dressed in white, ready for her beloved’s embrace.
The impact of that quick sequence of images, which became the basis of my message that night, was that Christianity is all about ‘Relationship’. The end of our life is not a celebration of our faithfulness to the old time gospel, or our exploits in the power of the Holy Spirit. The culmination is a wedding, not a show and tell session. It’s all about Relationship.
When Bobby shared his insights I saw in Jesus’ words the subtext of relationship again. “I never knew you”.
Christianity is not about fulfilling the religious expectations of our brand of Christendom, but it is all about being in wonderful intimate relationship with God and Jesus Christ, through our faith in the finished work of the Cross and through God’s salvation in our lives.