Truly Knowing Christ, and Better Discerning Between True and False Preachers...

A questioner recently asked us the following question:

"What is the full meaning of the words to 'know' Christ. In particular I am thinking about when Jesus says He will say to some on that day that, despite their works, they should depart from Him, for He never knew them. Does the original language and context add anything to a simple reading of this text? Perhaps a related concern is that His sheep know His voice, or that if we love Him we will obey His commandments, and this is not always easy."

Okay, let us take a good look at all of this:

First of all, regarding to 'know' Christ, Paul the Apostle wrote of the joy, and, indeed obligation, of knowing Christ:

Philippians 3:8: But no, rather, I also count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them to be dung, so that I may win Christ
Verse 9. and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith,
Verse 10. that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death;
Verse 11. if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.

So when Paul wrote about knowing Christ, he clearly spoke from his position of truly being one of God's own people, or, of being of the elect of God. But how one may ever know such a thing? Well, a certain ongoing level of love and commitment to the risen Lord, with a refusal to compromise is one of the strongest indicators. A person who develops a Christian enthusiasm which, however, does not last very long, is showing a very bad sign. Now, such a person may, of course, yet return to their 'first love,' but if they do not do so it is showing a very worrying sign. An even more serious indicator is those who pretend to maintain their true enthusiasm but who have, truthfully, learnt to use the gospel simply for personal gain or prestige. I have to say that modern western 'Christiania' does contain such people, I feel many such people. Some of them are currently very wealthy, but I would nevertheless greatly fear to step into their shoes!

What was Paul's attitude? Let us consider this, and also consider three points which tend to identify the true Christian, then we will go on to consider some further points which our questioner raises.

1. Commitment.

In Romans 1:14-16, Paul declares that he is indebted to God to give the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having heard the greatest message in the world, he was compelled to share it wherever he was able to. So great was this sense of obligation that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:16, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!' Paul writes of, '...the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them to be dung, so that I may win Christ.' (verse 8). Such commitment through thick and thin is rarely found in false preachers who tend to seek out the more easy and comfortable way.

On several occasions Paul was even stoned yet somehow managed to escape with his life. Did that cause him to ponder giving up his mission? NOT ONE BIT! This is the ongoing commitment of a true evangelist for Christ! These people CANNOT be put off their mission, even if it means hunger or imprisonment (both of which Paul suffered).

So Paul was unswerving in commitment.

2. Intrinsic Understanding of the Message.

The message which reveals Christ to be the Saviour of the world is a very distinct message. Think about this: All the major religions preach a message based upon performance, which the adherents of those religions claim are required for salvation. Hinduism preaches a fourfold path to salvation. Buddhism leads its followers down an eightfold path to salvation. The salvation offered by Islam rests upon Five Pillars. Even within Roman Catholicism, salvation is (one is taught), gained through fulfilling certain sacraments, then, even beyond that, there are other things to be fulfilled and penances to be performed. But the biblical Gospel clearly centres upon A Specific Person for salvation;that is, the person of Jesus Christ! (John 14:6). Peter (as Recorded by Luke in Acts) also declared,

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12).

So this ONE PERSON in human history is obviously rather important. The Gospel finds its source, content, and meaning in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Apart from Him, there is no salvation. He alone is the facilitator of human salvation; now this does not mean that any who die without the knowledge of His Name are necessarily lost because the Word of God clearly shows that there are other things to be taken into account (if knowledge of the name of Christ alone can save, the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs are lost! Knowledge cannot save, only divine grace, which a generous and bountiful God may administer where He wills).

We need to understand that most religious messages tell people what they must DO in order to be saved; the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells men what has been DONE FOR THEM so that they may be saved. Here at once is a major difference. Man could never be reconciled to God by performing any amount of 'good works,' or sacrifices, the gap was simply too great. The need was for God Himself to come down, and to reach out to men and women. Understanding this truth and its message of grace and saving faith is utterly intrinsic to understanding the message of the New Testament.

While the understanding of some on this point will gradually grow, maybe eventually bringing them into the true Faith (if God should allow it), one must expect God's called and chosen to have a sharp awareness of some of these things. Yes, there will be peripheral denominational doctrinal differences, but the main points of the Gospel with a refusal to compromise over that message should be evidenced in God's true people. I have noted that the cults and sects which use the name of Christ, are filled with people who do not truly believe that Jesus is enough for salvation. They think that to be saved they need 'Jesus,' plus works (usually many, specific and detailed). These people just do not understand how different true Christianity is to every human religion.

3. Not Seeking for Personal Glory, Being Prepared to Suffer.

Paul continues to be a very good example for us (1 Corinthians 11:1). This zealous apostle had no interest in seeking personal glory only in faithfully representing the Gospel of Christ wherever he had the opportunity. He accepted the suffering and persecution which usually awaits the truly faithful.

2 Corinthians 11:23: Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as beside myself,) I am more! I have been in labors more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in prisons more, in deaths many times.
Verse 24. Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one.
Verse 25. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the deep.
Verse 26: I have been in travels often; in dangers from waters; in dangers from robbers; in dangers from my race; in dangers from the heathen; in dangers in the city; in dangers in the wilderness; in dangers on the sea; in dangers among false brothers.
Verse 27. I have been in hardship and toil; often in watchings; in hunger and thirst; often in fastings; in cold and nakedness;
Verse 28. besides the things outside conspiring against me daily, the care of all the churches.
Verse 29. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is caused to stumble, and I do not burn?
Verse 30. If it is right to boast, I will boast of the things of my weakness.

Interestingly Paul, unlike certain modern self-appointed "apostles," had no doubt that the sufferings which he had endured were a strong indicator of his true calling:

Philippians 1:29: For to you it is given on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Verse 30. having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

In complete contrast, certain modern ministers seem to think that wealth and success should accompany their "ministries." That is a modern, zany, vain and foolish idea which finds no New Testament support.

Now, what does Matthew 7:21-23 add to our understanding of this matter?

Actually, quite a lot! Let's look at it:

Matthew 7:21: Not everyone who says to Me, Lord! Lord! shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.
Verse 22: Many will say to Me in that day, Lord! Lord! Did we not prophesy in Your name, and through Your name throw out demons, and through Your name do many wonderful works?
Verse 23: And then I will say to them I never knew you! Depart from Me, those working lawlessness! (MKJV).

Many misunderstand these verses and fear that - even they - could be included. The word translated as 'lawlessness' here is the Greek word, 'anomia,' it refers to iniquity (as in the KJV), illegality, wickedness or unrighteousness. Some say that the word means "lawbreaking" pure and simple - they are wrong! The word is far, far broader than that, and even the MKJV's "lawlessness" is not great; the NIV's 'evildoers' is far better. These people knew they had done wrong and this represents a 'last ditch' attempt to get themselves saved! Christ's swift condemnation is because these people were wholly without excuse! Obviously they had performed spectacular works in their ministry, and had (apparently), even "prophesied" in Jesus' Name, cast out demons, and done other "wonderful works" - without doubt they had claimed that such works had been performed by the Holy Spirit, but the rejection of Jesus shows that another spirit - certainly not the Holy Spirit - had been involved in those "wonderful works." Even today we see such things in several modern "faith" ministries. Very strange things often happen and it is claimed that those strange things are only done "through the power of the Holy Spirit" when it would be obvious to many of us who have been around for some while that some such 'strange things,' are certainly not being performed through the Holy Spirit of God!

But the verses surrounding Matthew 7:21-23 also tell us a lot.
Before verses 21-23 we have this warning:

Matthew 7:16: You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?
Verse 17. Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit.
Verse 18. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruits, nor can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Verse 19. Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Verse 20. Therefore by their fruits you shall know them.

So both observers of various "ministries," and those ministries themselves have an obligation before God to check the 'fruits' being produced! I mean, legal, genuine fruit - not falsely-claimed fruit, not lying 'fruit,' not vainglory propaganda. Some "healing ministries," for instance, have consistently refused to produce evidence, or a list of their 'healings' for independent assessment by other evangelicals. Should one ever trust such a ministry? Some have spent years ducking, dodging and diving in order to avoid their legal taxation obligations to the government but will immediately impose a 10% tax on any people (who are unwise enough) to join them, which they then have the temerity to describe as "tithing!"

Then, at the conclusion of verses 21-23 we read this:

Matthew 7:24: Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock.
Verse 25. And the rain came down, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on a rock.
Verse 26. And everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them shall be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
Verse 27. And the rain came down, and the floods came, and the wind blew and beat on that house. And it fell, and great was its fall. (MKJV).

How seldom are these surrounding verses taken into account when Matthew 7:21-23 is being considered! The point being that these false ministers and ministries had not done and upheld the sayings of Jesus at all (verse 26), therefore they had built on a foundation of sand, not on solid rock! They were not obedient to Jesus at all and had denied Him by their behaviour no matter how many times they had irresponsibly yelled out, "In the name of Jesus..." They had substituted humanly-devised teachings, fables and doctrines for the truth (Titus 1:14; 2 Timothy 4:4; 2 Peter 1:16).
To look at our three points above, these people had shown no intrinsic understanding of the message of the gospel, and - more seriously - they had sought for personal glory, revealed in their boastful claims before Jesus.

It might be asked, how does all of this fit in with the sheep knowing their shepherd's voice? Were the people of Matthew 7:21-23 ever part of the 'true sheep'? Let's look at John 10:

John 10:27: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
Verse 28. And I give to them eternal life, and they shall never ever perish, and not anyone shall pluck them out of My hand.
Verse 29. My Father who gave them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand.

So the truth is that the false ministers of Matthew 7:21-23 were never part of the true sheep, or the elect of God, they had been interested in the name of Jesus but had never been truly in submission, nor in obedience to Him. This is usually revealed in a faulty understanding of the Gospel of grace. As Jesus said plainly to certain ones in John 10:

John 10:25: Jesus answered them, I told you and you did not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me.
Verse 26. But you did not believe because you are not of My sheep......

True faith and belief are only granted to the elect of God (Matthew 16:16-17). Yes, others may have some interest and enthusiasm, but it will usually not last if it is not the genuine article.

Finally, the questioner also considered the matter of Jesus' 'commandments' as referred to in 1 John.

1John 3:22: And whatever we ask, we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
Verse 23. And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
Verse 24. And he who keeps His commandment dwells in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He gave to us.

It is, of course, a mistake to think of the apostle John's comments in his epistles on the 'commands,' or 'commandments,' as purely being a reference to the Ten Commandments as the legal code of the Old Testament. Rather, John's use of the Greek word 'entole,' rather than 'nomos,' (law) tells us quite a lot. He repeatedly uses the word in a broad way, certainly to focus on the instructions of Jesus but to include the general will of God; the spiritual 'law of Christ' (Matthew 5-7) is probably the best way to sum up John's meaning and intention, especially since John clearly notes the most vital of these commands, or instructions in verse 23.

So, to answer our enquirer, to 'know' Christ is to faithfully walk with Him and to be fully aware of His instructions to us, His people. It is then to fulfil those things in faith.

At His Second Coming, yes, Christ will reject some but He will reject none of His own people, only those who have used and exploited His Holy Name for personal gain (as well, of course, as the unrepentant and rebellious). The true sheep of Christ will never be in that position, nor will they be disobedient to His instructions to His Church.

This, of course, does not mean that such people will be totally perfect. Rather, they will have strengths and weaknesses, they will have 'strong' times and bouts of backsliding, and yet, they will never deny Christ nor be unfaithful to their calling. Altogether, such people will stand in some innocency before Christ in that level of knowledge which they have been granted (and which will tend to grow). On the other hand, I have long noted that certain false preachers have an initially good level of knowledge which tends to reduce as they embrace more and more zany teachings and seek for more and more personal glory. Perhaps the initial doctrinal strength comes from an earlier time when they were relatively faithful to what they had learned.
Robin A. Brace, September 5th, 2009.