During a youth weekend retreat when I was in the 7th grade, some friends and I were attempting to stay up all night and found ourselves at 2 or 3 in the morning with flashlights on reading the middle chapters of the Book of Revelation. We read about tattoos, dragons, bowls, and all kinds of other things. For most of us, it was the first time we had read this Book of the Bible, and we were terrified. But I suppose that was the point for all of us.
And though I’ve grown up at least a little since then, there are still some scary texts in the Bible. But not scary in the sense that it was that night so many years ago; in some ways, even more so. And I think there is no more terrifying text in all of Scripture than what we find in Matthew 7 straight from the Lord Jesus Himself:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’”
Now there’s a text that will make you take a second look at your life. What’s truly disturbing is the sense of absolute and complete surprise you find in these people. It never, until that very moment, entered their minds that they might be unknown to Jesus. They had lived – possibly for years, or even decades, under the delusion that they were safe. Secure. True servants of Jesus.
If Jesus said what He meant and meant what He said, then it’s not only possible but a certain reality that there will be people among us now that will go to their grave convinced they are eternally safe only to find out they had lived their entire lives in eternal danger. This is indeed a terrifying prospect.
But self-deception is just that – a terrifying reality. The fact that we can fool ourselves into believing all kinds of things about ourselves to be true, when they’re really not, it scary. And it is indeed a fact. Self-deception is real. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t find the surprise in these people. Nor would you find Paul exhorting the congregation at Corinth to examine themselves to see if they are indeed in the faith.
We’re all capable of self-deception. Hopefully not to this degree, but the simple truth is that we don’t know ourselves nearly as well as we’d like to think.
But, in His grace, God has given us the medicine for the disease of self-deception. To see the medicine clearly, we can ask a simple question about Matthew 7:
Where was the church of these self-deceived people?
The church is the medicine. It’s in the church where we are meant to live so closely with each other that we can actually pull each other aside and speak good, hard truth. The church is where our faith is affirmed, and also our faith is tested. We are, as we live in community with each other, one of the checkpoints God has given to us to make sure we do not live in a state of self-deception.
Of course, as with all things, that responsibility can either be humbly and graciously accepted or it can be abused. Rather than treating each other in love, we can become the spiritual police force. Or rather than lovingly correcting one another, we can become mere spectators to an event every week. It can go bad either way.
If we are to be the medicine for each other – the checkpoint for lives of self-deception – then we must first live closely with one another. We must know each other well, and love each other better, so that when the time comes when we must inflict a wound on one of our brothers or sisters, it will be both given and received as a wound from a friend which can indeed be trusted.