In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus confronted a man possessed by an evil spirit. The evil spirit shrieked at Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!”
Did you catch that? The evil spirit KNEW the true identity of Jesus. But knowing the truth about Jesus’ identity did not do any good for that evil spirit. It was still an enemy of Heaven and destined for eternal torment.
The Bible offers additional teachings on this subject. For example, in St. James’ epistle, he wrote, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (James 2:19).
Also, in Matthew’s gospel Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Scary stuff, huh? Knowing that God is real and knowing that Jesus is His Son, and even referring to Jesus as, “Lord, Lord,” just doesn’t cut it. Possessing knowledge about God is not the same thing as having faith in God. Knowing ABOUT Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus.
Faith in God, the kind of faith that gets us into Heaven, requires that we put our full trust in the Lord. We need to do the most difficult thing known to mankind: forget about ourselves. Instead, we need to focus on God.
It’s not easy to put God at the center of our lives. It wasn’t all that easy a century or two ago when most citizens were Bible literate and understood that pride and selfishness were sinful. It’s even harder today when most people are ignorant of Scripture and have been trained by our modern culture to view self-centeredness and pride as the most important attitudes in life.
If you told a group of average Americans that our national motto, “E pluribus Unum,” is Latin for, “What’s in it for me?” many most likely would say, “Yeah, that sounds about right. We gotta look out for Number One.”
Additionally, the Bible clearly teaches that saving faith is not a fleeting emotion that makes us excited for a brief moment in time. And faith is not an intellectual assent to some doctrinal statements that quickly get filed away in the back of our minds. No, faith is a life-changing reality that permeates our whole being, transforming our attitudes and actions.
Now don’t get me wrong. We can’t earn our way into Heaven. No matter what you might have been taught in parochial school, Scripture plainly states that salvation is a free gift offered to us by the grace of God. We can’t do a lot of good deeds — as if we’re building up Brownie points — and buy our way into eternal life.
God doesn’t particularly want (or need) our good deeds. He wants instead our hearts. He’s smart enough to know that if we give Him our hearts the good deeds will follow.
True faith in God through Christ has the power to transform lives. It changes people into new creations. The old sinful nature is put to death on the cross with Jesus, and a new Spirit-directed nature takes over.
Does saving faith instantly make a person perfect? No, perfection is beyond our grasp in this world. But saving faith does change people so drastically that others can’t help but notice. (By the way, if it would come as a complete surprise to your co-workers or neighbors that you claim to be a Christian, then you’d better do an emergency faith inventory.)
Please heed this week’s gospel lesson: knowing ABOUT God is not the same as knowing God. Yes, knowing the true identity of Jesus is crucial. But knowing His identity is just the first step. A vibrant faith and trust and commitment to Him also is needed. It’s the difference between hearing Jesus say to us at the moment of our death, “Away from me, you evildoer. I never knew you,” and hearing Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”