In 1843 Charles Dickens penned what has become a Christmas staple and tradition in many households, “A Christmas Carol”. We all know the phrase “Bah! Humbug!”, the term Scrooge forever holds the connotation of a stick-in-the-mud, and from this story also came the now politically incorrect holiday greeting “Merry Christmas”. The story, though secular, exhibits spiritual depth at points as Ebeneezer interacts with spirits throughout the entirety of the play. While completely fantasy, one of the spirits made a comment that has stuck in my mind since I watched it this past Christmas season:
“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
– Ghost of Christmas Present, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
This caught my attention and was etched onto my mind as I immediately reflected it to Jesus’ terrifying teaching in His sermon on the mount:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’.”
– Matt 7.21-23
What is so dramatic about both assertions (Jesus and the Ghost) is that Jesus calls these false believers “you who practice lawlessness”. But they were casting out demons and performing miracles in His name! A person, doing deeds that look like the things of God, if done for their own pride, benefit or betterment, are not of God. In fact, to do the things that He commands in our own strength or not unto His glory is considered lawlessness and damnable.
God is concerned about our hearts and faith leading us to obedience. Hear me. He is concerned about obedience. But it is essential that obedience is performed out of love for Him, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, through His strength.
Thus James can say,
“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
– James 2.26
People who are out preaching and acting like servants of Jesus can be useful for the Kingdom. Paul says,
“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”
– Phil 1.15-18
If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, this is a good thing. Even if the preacher does not know Him. However, it is not good for the preacher to be so deceived as to think he is saved when he indeed is not. And it is a terrible thing when grievances are enacted in the name of Christ which God does not endorse.
This is why we must examine both our hearts and the Scriptures. We cannot believe every spirit and prophet (preacher, teacher, political leader) just because they say that they are a Christian, or just because they have done good in the past. We must examine the Scriptures to find out if what we are being taught is true and of God (Acts 17.11) and we must also test the deliverer of news and deeds to see if he himself is of God (1 John 4.1).
But most importantly we must examine ourselves. Are you living in your own strength? Performing good works, or miracles even, in the name of Christ but of your own effort? Or is Christ living in and through you (Gal 2.20)? This is the issue of greatest importance, as it will mean the difference of the greeting, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matt 25.20) and “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7.21).