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Will Christ’s second coming be a good day or a bad day for you? Let’s find out.

Jesus revealed to His disciples a frightening truth. It had to do with how they perceived their place in His kingdom. Were they part of His team or not? Did their lives reflect His will or not? And how would they fare when sin had run its course and He returned the second time, ready to rescue His people from this dark, painful place?

Within that context, Christ identified two groups. Members of both longed for heaven, and members of both would be surprised to discover how things turned out for them at His appearing.

For millions—both those still alive and those who are resurrected at that moment—it will definitely be a good day. Let’s call them “Group 1.” With shouts of joy and admiration, they will ascend upward, leaving this world in its present form forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).

Then there’s “Group 2.” They go nowhere but dead. Some are so afraid of the coming King that they beg for the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the One they ridiculed, rejected, or otherwise reviled (Revelation 6:16)—a very bad day!

Now here’s the most interesting part. Within this second group is a class of sinners who fully believe they belong in the first group. They aren’t just believers—they are very sincere believers, filled with high expectations based on all the good things they’ve been able to accomplish in God’s name.

Here’s how Jesus describes that uniquely tragic subset of individuals: “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 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 in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matthew 7:21–23).

Dire warning

I believe this is far more than a Second Coming pronouncement. To me, Christ’s words represent a powerful and dire present-day warning, one we’d all do well to heed. Let’s begin by updating that portion of the story to better reflect what some in that second subgroup might say to Christ when He confronts them with their lack of acceptance.

Perhaps their astonished response would sound something like this:
“Haven’t we warned people of the coming judgment? Haven’t we worked tirelessly to help our friends, neighbors, and family members identify every sin in their lives? Aren’t we picketing abortion clinics and refusing service to anyone whose sexual preferences aren’t in line with the biblical mandates we hold dear? Don’t we do it all in God’s name—even closing our country’s borders to those whose beliefs don’t match our own? Aren’t we working day and night to bring about legislation that will require compliance with our long-cherished religious dogma?”

Their sincerity is both obvious and boundless.

In the face of such seemingly valuable, heartfelt service, how can Christ refuse to honor their dedication and reward their hard work? What’s the fatal flaw that will keep these sincere Christians out of heaven?

The answer lies with one word Jesus included in His rejection of them. He said, “I never knew you.”

Apparently, our path to glory isn’t built on what we do; it is built on who we know. Doing all the things we feel are right won’t lift us one inch above this dying world at Christ’s return. Such hope is based on a belief that what we do is just as valuable as the God for whom we do it. But, apparently, salvation by works isn’t the proper formula for ensuring eternal life.

Which begs the question that should be on the mind of every Christian today: How do we get Jesus to “know” us? The answer is simple. We learn to know Him first. But how?

Embedded hints

The answer to this question is found in another of Jesus’ parables. Christ’s pronouncement to the fortunate collection of believers in the first group carries a very different tone. Listen to what He says:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’ ” (Matthew 25:34–36).

Hold on a minute! Didn’t Christ just rattle off a collection of works? At first glance, it appears so. But, the real message—the clarifying context—comes next.

“Then the righteous will answer him ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (verses 37–40).

This changes everything. Within this group of shocked but redeemed saints, their sincere works weren’t the result of expressing or following biblical dogma. Their actions sprang from the fact that they knew Jesus. They had internalized His principles to the point that what they did automatically was determined by the divine power sustaining them. They acted righteously by default in ways that they weren’t even aware of.

This group serves as a perfect reflection of what lives in their hearts. And what lives in their hearts is Jesus. They’d heard His gentle knock and opened the door (Revelation 3:20). They’d embraced His pleading mandate to love one another (John 13:34). They’d allowed the kingdom of heaven to set up shop in their minds—crowding out selfish desires and, in their places, establishing God’s law of love as the foundation on which their lives and actions were built (Hebrews 8:10).

He knew them because they were taking the time and expending the needed energy to get to know Him. That’s what saved them.

Knowing Jesus

Getting to know Jesus at this intimate level should be the lifework of every Christian. While this process is underway, people carry what they discover out into the world. It becomes an automatic, unconscious witness to everyone they meet. Love, not condemnation, motivates them to help the unborn as well as the mothers-to-be at abortion clinics—providing options that can save lives and maintain relationships.

Love, not judgment, keeps their hands busy serving all people regardless of sexual preference, cultural diversity, or non-interlacing beliefs. They don’t discriminate based on differences. Instead, they faithfully serve based on mutual respect for every human being. A need to demonstrate that newfound love—not
self-aggrandizement—drives their actions for the poor, the downtrodden, and the disenfranchised. In the arms of these developing Christians, all people find refuge. In their presence, everyone feels valued and at home.

So, while good works are certainly a by-product of the process, they aren’t the determining factor for where this group finds itself when Christ returns. There’s something “peculiar” about them (1 Peter 2:9, KJV), and others who are hungry for truth feel that they may have the answers to life’s most perplexing problems. And—they do!

Christ only had to study His own earthly society to discover evidence of what happens when sincerity doesn’t walk hand in hand with salvation. The Jews of His day “worked” God’s laws to death (sometimes literally). They were so wrapped up in the dos and don’ts of their belief system that when He, the Son of God, actually showed up and started walking among them, no one recognized Him. In short, they didn’t “know” Jesus. They were far too busy keeping His laws as they interpreted them.

But we don’t have to make that same mistake. We can study God’s Word—especially the incredible and very revealing life of Jesus. We can invite Him into our hearts, where He’ll expand on His Word and law to develop a unique relationship with each one of us.

Most important, someday we’ll effortlessly recognize our returning King and be recognized by Him. We will look up and say with unbridled joy, “Surely this is our God; we trusteĀ­d in him, and he saved us” (Isaiah 25:9).

At that glorious moment, Christ will look down on us with pride and announce loudly enough for the entire universe to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).

Sincerity doesn’t guarantee salvation. Knowing and following Jesus does.

Charles Mills is a professional freelance writer who lives in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, USA. He is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times.®

Can Sincerity Guarantee Salvation?

by Charles Mills
From the January 2020 Signs