21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (3 Nephi 14:21-23)
This scripture can alternatively soothe and discomfit us, depending on the elements that we focus on.
Jesus uses the phrase “Lord, Lord” to encapsulate the pleas for entry into heaven by those who believe they are entitled to a place there, but who have fallen short in some important respects in a way that blindsides them at that crucial moment.
These pleaders argue their case that they deserve admittance on the grounds of:
· Prophesying “in thy name” (bearing testimony—the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy)
· Casting out devils “in thy name” (bringing others to repentance)
· Doing many wonderful works “in thy name” (doing good words and even miracles)
Their argument sounds pretty convincing, yes? That they do all these things in Christ’s name makes me think these could even be church members who have used the priesthood.
The terrifying reply comes back, “I never knew you.” What?! Never knew these people when they were doing all those things in Christ’s name? From the very beginning they were off track? How can this be?
“[D]epart from me, ye that work iniquity.” For the longest time, I thought Jesus meant that these people were doing bad things that they thought were good things. I recently realized that Jesus meant that these people had never REPENTED. They knew they could repent, they knew all things should be done in Christ’s name, they knew they should do good,…. But they never actually repented of their sins in the first place..or afterward either. This is why Christ says He never knew them. The atonement is meant to blot out our sins and reconcile us to God, to make us at-one with Him, so that we know Him as we become like Him. But if we never repent, then we are yet estranged from Him and He won’t know us. (I think that “knowing” is in the sense of “accepting someone to be what is claimed, accepting them and acknowledging them” as He would one who had finally become reconciled with Him.) He knows whether we’ve repented or not. We can’t fool Him, we only deceive ourselves.
Another thing we learn from these verses is that the good things that we do will not blot out our sins, as some believe. (Yes, there are people who think that the good things they do will cancel out or balance out the bad things they’ve done.) The truth is, only Christ can blot out our sins, and only when we repent of them.
Too often we may read these verses and say, “It’s those people in those other Christian denominations who are workers of iniquity; they think they are doing things in Christ’s name, but they aren’t. We aren’t doing iniquity.” (Do you ever comfort yourself this way? I know I have..) The problem with this line of thought is that it prevents us from remembering that all are sinners except Christ; ALL have committed sins. So if we think it is those other people over there who have sinned and not us, our own sins remain and we won’t be freed from them. We will be like the Pharisee in the parable:
9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14)
I think the deeper message that Jesus was trying to get across was that all the acts of spiritual discipline and discipleship without sincere repentance will be insufficient to save us. Yes, those acts are important—every tree that doesn’t give good fruit will be hewn down—but by themselves, they are insufficient to save.
I think sometimes repentance is a tricky thing to learn about in our church. I don’t mean it is hard to learn about it in theory, but I mean learning about it in practice. When I think of how well I learn by example, I realize that I don’t often get to see visible examples of repentance. (You may be saying, “Well duh; repentance is very much a matter of the heart.”) How often do we hear people share with us the experience they had as they repented? I think our cultural teachings against confessing our sins publicly have made it so that it is difficult to even get an idea of who else in our church knows how to repent or knows what things we should we repent of, besides the serious sins that require confession to the bishop.
In My line-upon-line education on the Atonement , I talk about some of the things I’ve learned about repenting and applying the Atonement. Will you share with me your experiences with learning how to repent? (No need to share details of the sins..)