In the “Western” world, we are success driven. This is not a bad thing of its own accord. We all want to be successful and we ought to desire success. No one wants to be a loser. But how we define success makes all the difference in this life and the life to come.
When Jesus was teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he concluded with powerful illustrations of his exclusive claims of being the God of the universe. In the final two paragraphs, Jesus describes himself as the Judge unto whom many will cry “Lord, Lord” in the final day of Judgment, and the only One who can give life-saving eternal words (parable of the foolish and wise builders). What Jesus shows most clearly in all of this is that he has ultimate, divine authority. So when Jesus confesses that many who do say “Lord, Lord” in that day of Judgment will hear, “Depart from, workers of lawlessness” it is quite shocking. The reason upon which they must depart from the Judge of the world into eternal judgment is expressed with the saddest words of Jesus, “I never knew you.”
To be known by Jesus is the difference between heaven and hell. Though the Biblical theology that God knows them that are his and that he has chosen out a people by his good and sovereign will is true and comforting, in this Matthew 7 passage, Jesus is not speaking of the eternal decrees of God’s election. From the rest of the Bible we understand that the Father decrees those who are chosen, while the Son of God (Jesus) atones for them and the Spirit thus regenerates them. But here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is the one who expresses that he knows people (or in this passage, doesn’t know certain people). Thus, Jesus is not expressing some kind formal decree of election, but the warmth of a loving relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
From this (and many other places in the NT) I understand that being known in relationship by Jesus and subsequently knowing him a mutual relational sense is the only thing that will prevent God from sending me from his presence at the day of Judgment. The Bible often uses the word “know” to refer to close intimacy. When used relationally, the word know is describing familial like bonds that go deeper than factual knowledge and far more profound than mere passing thought. To think that for those who have been born again by the Spirit of God and have experienced faith in the person and work of Jesus by divine grace, are intimately and familialy known by Jesus causes a sinful soul like mine to breathe an everlasting sigh of relief.
Because of the precious promises of God’s Word that those who call upon the name of the Lord, believing in their heart this gospel and with lips confessing unto salvation…because of the mercies of God alone, I am confident that if I were to enter heaven and were to walk to the gates of paradise and some angel were to ask me* what makes me think that I should enter heaven’s glory. I could simply reply, “It’s okay, Jesus knows me, I am with the Son.” That Jesus knows me is what gives me eternal hope.
This is the beauties of the Christian’s glorious salvation, but these eternal truths have an immediate application even as I live today about what then are the most important things in life, what is true success. Of all the things that we could pursue in this life toward some measure of success, I would argue that genuine, simple relationship is what matters the most. First, an ongoing relational view and effort in knowing Jesus in a relational way through the Word of Truth as he knows me. Second a cultivating of and improving of my relationships with the fleshly family members he has given me. Third an increasing devotion to making much of the Church relationships he has brought me into as a member of his new family of grace.
My friends, the most important things that happen to you today will not be what the 24-7 news outlets report. The most important events in your life will not be the politics and their rhetoric that you could follow relentlessly. The most important and successful things in your day today will not be if you got that promotion, made that sale, watched the latest movie release, or had the perfect culinary delight. The most successful moment of your day was not if you do something to be remembered. But if you simply pursue the relationships God has given you today with joy, love, patience, and grace. It begins with cultivating your relationship with Jesus (who knows you!) and flows from there to the rest around us. Be a success today, pursue the relationships with endurance that God has given you.